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Time is money: banking on automation

By Tijl Vuyk, CEO at Redwood Software
The financial services sector is driven by the need to be efficient, transparent and compliant. Second best won’t do in a world where customers are fickle, regulators are ever-vigilant and knowledge is power. The phrase “Time is money” has never been more accurate than in today’s competitive climate.
However, despite these key drivers, many processes within the financial services industry are undertaken manually. This means sometimes the success of process completion comes down to the physical pressing of a button!
This ‘manual madness’ has a knock-on effect that can threaten to kill enterprises from the inside out. For example, if credit card bills are miscalculated because of a human error, incoming calls to the service desk will increase, customer sentiment will fall and increasingly disloyal customers will switch suppliers.
Recognising this, banks are becoming more dependent on technology that will undertake their enterprise processes quickly, accurately and with minimal disruption to the business.

This is where automation comes into its own. Enterprise business process automation can revolutionise key functions such as financial close, reporting and business intelligence, delivering cost and time savings. However, implementing automation solutions is just the start of transforming tedious and risky financial processes into well-managed operations…

Disconnected pieces of the puzzle
Successful process automation only happens when individual tasks or jobs are connected together logically, end-to-end, into an entire, uninterrupted flow. Given the variety of departments, applications and systems involved in the banking industry – that’s a tall order. Think of a simple bank deposit – the process includes tens – maybe hundreds – of separate, supporting IT tasks. These tasks may run sequentially or in parallel, and they probably require substantial manual effort to expedite. In most businesses these steps occur in IT and business unit siloes all their own. Checking for fund availability; transferring funds; credit card processing – these are all separate tasks handled by different departments, different systems, different applications… it’s a fragmented picture.
When enterprises implement siloed automation solutions to fairly narrow process they sometimes lose the ability to easily cross platforms and applications. This means that, while they probably already have several automated processes in place, they’re not really addressing the whole process at all.
Are businesses just cherry-picking the ‘easy’ automation targets across a range of processes rather than tackling them from A-Z?
Business processes inevitably cross IT and business boundaries. So, process automation must use shareable business-oriented IT services to connect all the dots. These services are built on some combination of IT technologies—enterprise resource planning (ERP), business process management suites (BPMS), business intelligence (BI), social apps or any number of other industry-specific tools. If the technologies don’t connect these services, someone has to, manually. And when manual intervention is required, efficiency goes out of the window.
What enterprises need is a platform- and application-agnostic technology that can automate enterprise-level business processes. These solutions connect cross-application and cross-platform jobs into logical automation process chains based on business requirements.

These solutions deliver enterprise process automation – the ability to holistically automate processes across the enterprise using policies that are consistent throughout – removing the traditional constraints of siloed IT. Enterprise process automation gives enterprises the power to connect the dots and align IT processes with the real-time, real-world business – something of critical importance in the realm of banking and finance.

Measurable savings with automation
Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance Ltd. manages 4,600 factoring sales ledgers, 200,000 live debtor accounts and processes 4.2 million invoices and 2.4 million cash items annually. Working in the highly competitive financial market, it is essential that the company has instant access to up-to-date and accurate information 24×7. Staff require timely information to be able to provide clients with the on-going working capital they need. The cash summaries and invoice posting reports produced and distributed daily are therefore business critical.
Brian French, Business Systems Manager said: “The reports produced varied in length from 1 page to 80,000 pages and would often be distributed to up to 460 staff. We calculated that we were consuming somewhere in the region of 400,000 sheets of paper a month in our Head Office alone. Across the company this corresponded to a staggering 50 tonnes of paper every year which had to be bought in, stored, handled, printed and then distributed. It was obvious that we needed a more streamlined, cost-effective process.”
After deploying an automated web-based report distribution solution from Redwood, Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance Ltd saw a dramatic reduction in the complexity, time and costs involved in its report distribution process and made annual savings of £100,000 and 50 tonnes of paper.

Using standard browser software – familiar to all the company’s users – financial documentation is now automatically collected, catalogued and distributed through the automated reporting system. As a result, 460 users in the company’s eight Regional Offices now instantly access, and share up-to-date, accurate information easily, as and when they require it, eliminating the need to print some reports over 400 times.

Innovative process management
The UK call centre at Virgin Money is the hub for all customer related inquiries. Large volumes of calls and web traffic have to be handled as quickly and easily as possible on a 24/7 basis.
All services have to be online and working at all times. When daily transactions and business growth began to explode, management at Virgin Money knew that it needed a unified, automated solution to manage its daily enterprise processing needs. It also needed a solution that would work with its unique Customer Management System (CMS).
David Carney, Enterprise Infrastructure Analyst at Virgin Money explained: “On a typical day as many as 6,000 customers use our website or ring the call centre to check their account status, make transfers and execute other banking functions. This activity generates over 7 million Oracle transactions daily that need to be processed by our CMS.”
Overnight batch processing of this data was taking over 11 hours to complete, leading call centre staff to complain of slow response times when using the online systems. When Virgin implemented an automation solution to manage its overnight processing, it immediately saw this process decrease, along with the user complaints.

Another pioneering use for the automation solution is in the synchronisation of the production system, located in Leeds, with the test system. “This task used to take four days, but with automation, we’ve now cut the job down to three hours,” added Carney. “We are now able to synchronise as and when required, as opposed to every few months!”

Banking on success with automationTijl Vuyk
In banking, as with all sectors, the most critical, profitable processes are what matter most. These processes support an enterprise, enable growth and keep competitors running scared.
With enterprise process management businesses can fully, consistently and reliably support and optimise all their business processes – wherever they need it. They’re no longer bound to manual patches and ad hoc fixes to force semi-repeatable processes to work correctly. With automation, businesses can experience the most efficient, fully integrated and optimised processes possible and truly benefit from the ‘Time is money’ mantra.