Process automation can help utilities work more efficiently across the organization. Today, automation solutions can streamline a variety of organizational workflows.
In this article, we provide an overview of process automation, look at a few important related terms, and examine some valuable utility use cases.
Examples we discuss in the article below include:
Process automation simply describes using technology to automate business processes. This term is more relevant than ever because new capabilities like AI and machine learning are making it possible to automate more complex processes than was possible in the past.
You will often hear two terms used to describe related but distinct approaches to process automation: RPA and IPA (or Hyper Automation). We briefly explain the difference below. Collectively, these approaches simply mean that process automation can be used on more diverse types of data than ever.
Robotic Process Automation is a technology approach that allows for the automation of repetitive tasks. In short, RPA can automate workflows that involve a repeated procedure that does not require real-time decision making. The value proposition for RPA solutions is straightforward: save time and money while eliminating human error, allowing professionals to focus on tasks that truly require human input.
Intelligent Process Automation is a technology approach that employs techniques like deep- and machine learning to automate more complicated processes. IPA solutions also save time and money, but they can automate tasks that go beyond simple repetition of the same steps. A well-executed IPA system will actually learn on the job based on human feedback, allowing it to improve performance and become more independent over time.
By drawing on cumulative learning, IPA solutions dramatically expand the range of automation to workflows requiring real-time decision-making. McKinsey goes so far as to call IPA part of the “the next-generation operating model for the digital world.”
Both process automation approaches have myriad potential use cases for utilities. Even relatively straightforward customer-facing automation can offer substantial business value. An article from the Utility Analytics Institute poses the following scenario:
“[During high bill season] imagine that your utility knew that during that time, 100,000 customers went online to make payment arrangements. Of those, only half were successful. About 40,000 of those ended up calling your utility, accounting for more than half of the 70,000 calls received. At a cost of around $6-$7 per call, those 40,000 customers cost your utility approximately $250,000 that year.”
With large annual costs incurred supporting customer service requests, automating even a modest portion of routine requests can offer substantial savings for utilities. Tasks like those payment arrangements discussed above, service start-stops, address changes, and billing balance inquiries can be fulfilled quickly and precisely, usually without human intervention. Customers receive quick service, while service representatives are freed from repetitive data entry chores to focus on more complex customer service needs. Natural Language Processing can even be used to automatically process requests submitted via text, e-mail, or online form.
Customer service is just one example of process automation for utilities. We explore some other important examples below.
The right underlying data infrastructure is an essential foundation for enabling effective automation. Automated processes need access to a consistent pipeline of quality data, requiring careful integration with source systems throughout the organization. Output needs to be carefully communicated to the relevant business unit (or customer). And this automated process needs to work consistently without sacrificing data integrity or interfering with human workflows.
HEXstream has the proven ability to deliver process automation solutions that are founded on enterprise-quality data infrastructure. We take pride in not only offering deep technical expertise, but extensive ground-level experience working in the utility industry.
If you are interested in learning more about using process automation to unlock new efficiencies at your utility, please connect with our team.