It’s well-documented that robotic process automation is a great boon to back office processes, but other companies are finding success applying it to middle and front office processes as well. Are these labels really helpful? To get the most out of RPA, we have to reconfigure the way we see the daily operations in the workplace.
The distinction between back office and front office work rests on one question: is this operation/process primarily for the customer or the company? The duties that serve to keep an organization running, that “keep the lights on” so to speak, are usually deemed back office tasks. Any sort of customer service or sales role are often labeled front office work. This may have been a more clear distinction in the past, but it seems like the lines have been blurring for quite some time.
Take the IT department, for example. IT began as a service to the company, to provide technological assistance to the employees who dealt with clients. It was strictly back office work. Most departments still spend a majority of their time with software and legacy systems that only employees will see. However, the meteoric rise in demand for customer self-serve applications via the web (like online banking and shopping) forced IT staff to take on another role. Supporting, maintaining, and maybe even innovating these front-end services for customers don’t exactly seem to fit the back office idea anymore.
It’s true that a lot of business processes perfect for RPA are traditional back office tasks – HR, finance & accounting, moving data between databases – but traditional front office work can also get a huge boost from RPA. Imagine how much faster a customer service call would go if the sales rep clicked a single button and software robots returned everything about that customer within seconds. With RPA, the sales rep could see every single piece of customer information at once, regardless of the system in which it was stored. Even if an entire business process can’t be automated, RPA can save time and money for those front office tasks.
We needn’t worry yet about robots infiltrating all front end jobs. RPA is better suited for background work, the kind no one actually likes doing. However, if the self-check-out machines in grocery stores are any indication, it’s clear that people sometimes do prefer interacting with automation when given the choice. Do yourself a favor and remove the back office/front office labels in your mind. They will only hold you back.