Even though the telecommunications industry is well-established, providers continue to face unique challenges in delivering innovative services to their customers. As more and more people turn to telecom companies to keep them connected with globalized networks, telecom providers must compete with one another to provide the fastest, most affordable, and cutting edge services. Yet, many of these companies are burdened with large volumes of operational processes — managing data, controlling cost and business efficiency, increasing business agility, acquiring and retaining talent, developing new services — that prevent them from focusing on the most critical aspect of their business: their customers.
As such, the telecom industry is well positioned to take advantage of innovative automation technologies to help them address their pain points and streamline their business operations, ultimately giving them an advantage in a competitive market. In a 2016 Blueprint Report for Accenture, Horses for Sources suggests that “Intelligent automation and, in particular, robotic process automation (RPA) will become deeply integrated into telecom business processes” within the next two to three years.
The telecom sector is an ideal candidate for the adoption of process automation technologies, such as RPA. With the process automation provided by RPA, telecom providers will be able to more easily manage their back office and deal with large volumes of repetitive and rules-based operational processes - even so, some questions do remain when it comes implementation. How would the technology work for telecom providers, and what results can be expected from RPA implementation? To answer these questions, let's examine some of the most common obstacles that the telecom industry faces and the different ways in which it can benefit from the implementation of RPA.
Challenges for automation in telecommunications
One of the biggest priorities for the telecom industry is managing the customer experience, especially since the satisfaction of customers ultimately drives the success of telecom companies. Ernst & Young’s Global telecommunication study: navigating the road to 2020 report suggests, that among telecom industry leaders, “Customer experience management is emphatically the top priority for [68% of the survey participants]...The drive to put customers front and center in everything they do is also forcing operators to focus on agility, efficiency and network quality.”
Yet, precisely because of their rapid growth and high volumes of processes, telecom providers face challenges that prevent them from realizing their goal of executing the most streamlined processes and fully optimizing the customer experience. Three of the greatest obstacles include:
Low levels of operational agility: Many telecom companies use IT to automate their back office. However, they rely on multiple databases, applications, and operating systems running simultaneously to support operations. Yet, this means that communication between these platforms often occurs at sub-optimal levels. What’s more is that many of these operations tend to involve significant manual intervention, which prevents employees from spending the needed time interacting with clients and developing deeper customer relationships.
Inefficient flow of information: Telecom providers must manage large amounts of data and paperwork on regular basis: from network providers, engineers, sales representatives, and also customers. Much of this data is kept in the form of electronic files and often still physical copies of paperwork. Because there tends to be inconsistencies in how this data is stored and managed between departments and office locations, telecom providers often deal with delays in service delivery to customers and an inability to track progress of their business activities.
High operating costs and capital expenditures (OPEX and CAPEX): Cost control can be a challenge for telecom providers to maintain. Expenses arise from multiple sources: they can include, but are by no means limited to, maintaining data integrity and security, employee salaries, marketing and advertisements, software and hardware costs. Managing these high costs means that not enough operational effort is put towards improving the customer experience.
RPA as a solution
Despite these obstacles, telecom providers are leveraging RPA capabilities to reduce costs, improve data communication, and to drive significant improvements in operational efficiency — allowing them to boost their customer services. In fact, telecom organizations deploying RPA find the following results are achievable within a relatively short time frame:
Higher levels agility and scalability: With a single mouse click, RPA’s software robotic workforce can be easily sized up or down to meet demands — with little to no additional cost. Automated workflows created with RPA software can be replicated or reused across different business departments and between locations, meaning that manual work can be taken out of the hands of employees. As a result, telecom providers can achieve scalability quickly and easily, which is necessary to respond to permanent internal growth, growth resulting from an M&A, or to meet temporary increases and decreases in customer demand.
Improved data communication and transmission: RPA mimics mouse clicks and keystrokes, meaning that it interacts with the user interface just like humans do. The technology is non-invasive, can be implemented alongside existing platforms, and is able to bridge legacy systems. As a result, RPA is able to remove data gaps between disparate information sources. And because RPA software robots also keep track of their actions in a log, employees are able to easily access any needed data and run internal reviews.
Significant cost reduction: While RPA does have initial implementation costs, these are typically not significant compared to the often prohibitive costs that accompany business process management software (BPMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. Even more so, one RPA software license can be used for multiple different processes, be it for a back office task like data migration or for a customer-facing front office activity. This means that RPA is able to provide telecom providers with rapid internal cost reduction and return on investment.
Why RPA suits telecommunications
The operations of telecom providers are varied: database management, invoice and purchase order processing, IT and infrastructure services, customer interaction. Because of its flexible nature, RPA is able to adapt to any scenario, providing either full automation or optimizing processes that only for allow partial automation. This means that RPA provides telecom providers with individualized capabilities. More back-office processes can be fully automated, whereas many processes involving more complex reasoning and human interaction, such as developing customer relationships, can be partially automated.
Regardless of whether tasks are fully or partially automated, RPA can help to reduce costs, to improve data communication, and to drive operational efficiency. As a result, telecom providers are able to boost their own workforce and streamline their operational processes internally. While RPA is generally seen as a way for companies to alleviate employees from the burden of repetitive, high-volume tasks in the back office, RPA can drive front office improvements for customers as well. Through its automation capabilities, RPA is allowing telecom providers to deliver higher quality services and customer experience.
Nick Ostdick is a Digital Content Strategist.