The term ‘digital transformation’ has been deployed to describe an array of digital projects, from the big to the small. But what does true digital transformation really mean for businesses?

When you strip away the buzzwords, digital transformation is simply about adapting the culture of a business and the way it operates to work with new technology. That’s just what we do for our clients at ISG – specialising in digital transformation consultancy, we work with businesses to help them scrutinise their current operating model and see how they can optimise their performance using the available technology.

Automation is just one-way companies can look to leverage technology, but its results are often the most transformative. The simplest form of automation is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA creates a Level One digital workforce by automating standard, repeatable processes using structured data, such as data in spreadsheets. It’s a tool that is increasingly being adopted by financial businesses looking to streamline and improve their services – although its benefits extend far beyond the bottom line.

To demonstrate the opportunities RPA can present, and the challenges it can overcome, let’s take the example of Western Union. Western Union is a leading financial services organisation which helps businesses and individuals move money – in 2016, the company moved over $80 billion dollars between customers. When ISG began working with Western Union, they had a twofold vision: to empower their workforce and improve customer service through digitisation. Yet there was a significant barrier to achieving the latter goal. Important procedures such as compliance processes were time-consuming and labour-intensive, requiring highly skilled individuals, yet the task itself was routine and left employees unengaged. This contributed to a high staff turnover within these roles.

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A tailored approach is vital when supporting businesses through digital transformation projects, and it’s very important that businesses understand the value technology can add to their specific organisation as a first step. As a leader in global payment services, it was clear that Western Union needed a solution that was both scalable and secure to operate reliably and accurately in a heavily regulated financial environment.

With information security top of the agenda, we worked with Western Union to demonstrate to senior stakeholders how trained virtual workers, through the adoption of RPA tools, are capable of carrying out highly complex tasks, such as compliance procedures, with pinpoint accuracy. In the pilot stage of our work, we implemented pure RPA for a compliance process which freed up the capacity of 12 highly-skilled employees, empowering them to conduct more value-add tasks, boosting staff engagement, and helping the business retain staff as a result.

In addition to creating more resource, automating a compliance process and training virtual workers removed the risk of human error, and improved customer service by facilitating a quicker and more efficient process. Following a successful pilot stage, we worked with Western Union to develop a further seven automation processes, and set up an infrastructure by creating 40 virtual workers ready to be used as a result of automating a number of highly skilled procedures.

As we’ve seen through the Western Union example, automation presents businesses with an opportunity to adapt to new technology, improving their processes and customer service as a result. But a key benefit many organisations overlook is the ability of this new way of working to support individuals within the business.

In the financial services sector in particular, highly skilled staff are required to complete mundane tasks and the turnover rate for these roles can be quite high, particularly amongst the millennial generation. Digital transformation, such as RPA tools, has the ability to address this issue by empowering individuals to conduct more value-add tasks and allowing businesses to utilise their skills in other areas.  It is clear that, when exploring automation, businesses should carefully consider the benefits beyond increased accuracy and efficiency and look at the needs of the organisation more broadly.