The aspiration to be the Most Irresistible Brand comes with great responsibility. I recently caught up with Shashi Singh in our UiPath - Automation First Café (an automation-oriented thought leadership webinar series).
Singh has been with Virgin Media for 7.5 years, starting as a finance grad contributory to now running Virgin Media’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) program. He surmises his journey as having been ‘busy,’ then again, building an irresistible brand and doing it with Automation, cannot be easy—or can it?
Intro to Virgin Media
Before we tackled that question, Singh described Virgin Media as having originated from the merger of 55 different cable companies within the United Kingdom (UK) and how all of them came together into two main companies, NTL and TeleWest.
In 2007, Virgin Mobile was introduced into this mix and the combined set of entities was named Virgin Media, the first quad play operator (one that offers a combination of cable television, broadband, landline, and mobile) within the UK.
Today, Virgin Media covers 14.9M homes (which is over 50% of the households in the UK), provides 500 megabit broadband (UK’s fastest), and they are just shy of 6M cable customers.
“It’s difficult to find true pure-play RPA providers firstly. But so that was one of the reasons you start thinking about UiPath, I mean a technology company with RPA at its roots of its foundations, that's quite powerful.
And actually, when you start looking at the organizational cultural fit, which is very similar to Virgin in a way sort of disruptive to the market and really challenging status quo, that's obviously a great style for any strategic relationship.”
– Shashi Singh, Virgin Media
Singh shared that his team considered the product direction / innovation in RPA and also ease-of-use, which was a big factor for him in his selection process.
He subscribes to one of UiPath’s core fundamental beliefs that the future of automation within the workplace it needs to be accessible, hence our "automation first" positioning.
“You can't have something as powerful as automation, blocked from any type of use where someone necessarily doesn't have the most technical of background to utilize it.”
– Shashi Singh, Virgin Media
Automation journey and lessons learned
In 2015, Virgin Media launched “Project Lightning”, a £3B investment in broadband digital infrastructure which was the largest the UK had seen in more than a decade. The aim was, and still is, to expand their network and increase the number of homes they reach.
As a part of that there's a process, which involves determining the premises they can sell their services to, and keeping track of that within their customer management system.
This process came into their shared services operation, and they streamlined it, but then rather than offshore it they saw an opportunity here to use this as a pioneer for introducing RPA. The process was repetitive, rules-based, and high-volume—all fundamental characteristics of processes to select when considering RPA.
Let’s say certain apartments or houses are currently under construction. Their sales team will inform them that these properties are being built, where, and that they can sell services to the owners.
There will be a team dedicated to monitor this activity, and they'll receive an email into their inbox. They'll be instructed to change the status of this property at this address from under construction to live and serviceable status, indicating services can be sold to this property.
So, a very manual, repetitive task, with high volume due to the project lightning network expansion.
Some of the lessons learned, are:
- Bring information technology (IT) in from the start. Security, governance, policy management, access control, audit checks, robot IDs vs human IDs and the like, all important and hence don’t delay involving IT.
- Skilling appropriate internal teams early on is critical. Don’t forget the maintenance aspect of automation.
- (Educate and Communicate)^10. Virgin Media ran robotic engagement days (over 8 days with 300 people), in collaboration with UiPath, which are meant to spread the awareness of RPA and AI across their organization and in particular to overcome—what I call—'Automation Inertia.'
They also addressed what automation means within Virgin Media, so when the attendees went back to their desks and to their jobs they would actually envisage the improvement they can bring within their own processes.
We talked about talent augmentation and the massive amount of data that RPA generates.
Talent augmentation is the new talent acquisition of the future. We will not be talking about processes in 10 years. Work will be what we do, i.e. meet, converse, socialize and our robots will listen, contextualize and execute. No more going back to hundreds of emails and missed voicemails.
– Shail Khiyara, UiPath
Singh shared his past where he saw a cultural shift in moving from all modeling on Excel to pushing it to a dedicated planning and budgeting system. That level of change does not come without creating a cultural shift and understanding its impact on your organization.
Absent of that, they cannot drive adoption and a digital assistant will gather dust because people don’t believe in it or don’t understand what it does for them. And the impact is talent augmentation, to help people rise above and beyond their current roles today.
He sees a manifestation of the current state of automation into physical, intelligent ‘extensions’ and a robot for every human.
I believe, work itself will be transformed. We will not be talking about processes in 10 years.
In fact, what we were doing on the webinar, i.e. talking itself will be work—chatbots and other solutions will be picking up our queues and executing work.
So, work itself is the conversation we were having, not what happens after i.e. hundreds of emails missed, voicemails, follow-ups etc.
‘Work transformed’, if what I say, happens in the near future and the seeds are already in place with the dwindling work-life balance aspect.
Q & A
Did you prepare a thorough cost benefit analysis before starting RPA?
We started with a pilot. We trained people. The grass root efforts grew and we saw more and more ideas come through as people realized the power of automation. We are now weighing the benefits to the business and we see tremendous value coming through.
Attended or unattended robots?
Currently unattended but scoping attended opportunities also, and we believe UiPath is best positioned to provide us both.
Have you found bad use cases for RPA?
Where we see a constantly changing process. We have been careful about not automating those just yet. A dynamic process might need to some re-engineering before you can automate it.
How do you handle governance of the processes that your Center of Excellence (CoE) brings forth?
Governance in RPA is such an important topic. Think about security of the robot itself and how you manage credentials. Full audit capability, extensive log activity through additional checks, sign off frameworks, etc. we do this internally within our CoE and in close partnership with IT.
For more insights from Singh and to listen to the full Q&A session here.
Shail Khiyara was previously the customer experience officer (CXO) at UiPath.