Robotics: speeding up our internal processes for faster customer delivery

Joyjit Gorain, robotics process automation (RPA) expert and Victoria Mavin, head of underwriting services and service transformation for UK commercial insurance – Zurich Insurance Company, explain how RPA is being used to transform global programmes by improving service delivery and ensure quality, speed and efficiency for corporate customers.

What is robotics process automation (RPA) and how is it being used?
A lot of pre- and post-issuance activities such as entering user profiles, validating data on policy administration systems, running of a quality checklist based on various field values, and so on, are very standard with a limited number of variations, defined by a clear set of rules, and we know exactly what the navigations will be on the screen. RPA is putting software on top of the screen, which will mimic those exact set of steps.

How can RPA benefit the insurer and especially the customer?
In the underwriting space, once a policy hits an insurer’s system – for example, a customer or broker request to issue a policy – the underwriting team will follow a set of steps. Once the rate and premium coverage has been set, everything else tends to follow a standard operating procedure. The underwriting services team will fill out the various policy-administration systems based on the specific policy request, and then the policy is generated. Although this is all internal from the insurer’s point of view, it can be a slow process because of the need to upload various systems and this clearly impacts the customer – a long turnaround can lead to customer dissatisfaction. This is where robotics comes into the picture. RPA can mimic all these active tasks and the data entry into the systems, with a suitable degree of human intervention where needed, because robots can leave a clear trail of exceptions cases.

The robot can quickly and systematically work through policy after policy, significantly improving the timeliness of delivery to customers, especially in peak renewal periods. And at all times, it will ensure the utmost quality, through the extensive validations and step-checks built in the robot logic.

Is the main role, in terms of global insurance programmes, aligning master and local policy terms?
Most of the terms and conditions are set at the master policy level. In the issuance of a local policy, there are many aspects to review and validate – this is important to ensure alignment not only with the master policy requirements but also with local country regulations and guidelines. For any one person to remember all of these without referral to checklists and process notes can be a challenge – RPA removes this need and in addition can make the changes where they are necessary.

International programmes also bring with them the challenge of timezones, but RPA can help to minimise this by working around the clock. If a local policy is instructed at midnight, the robot will process it immediately and highlight any intervention that may be needed, so that the policy and invoice can be issued the same working day.

How far can the process go before a human has to become involved (for example with a non-standard policy)?
Robots can operate under three scenarios:
– The first is a complete end-to-end process with no human intervention, from policy order to policy document issuance locally (‘happy path flows’).
– The second is handler exception, where it is clearly defined as to where the robot should terminate and for what reason. Sometimes there are data gaps without which the robot can operate. The robot terminates but leaves a clear trail, so the intervention is partial, and the missing data and information can then be found and included.
– The third scenario is where the robot terminates because of a certain non-standard requirement, and will show where this happened, but not the reason why. This scenario will require analysis to work out what additional scenarios need to be embedded into the robot workflow, with the objective to reduce the error rate over time.

RPA allows our people to focus on more value-added activities, which means improved service delivery and greater job satisfaction. While the third scenario does call for intervention, it also allows them to further refine the process, giving them new opportunities and activities to engage in.

What is the difference between RPA and intelligent process automation?
Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) is a step up from RPA. To get the full benefit from automation, it is important to go beyond the first scenario to the handler-exception scenario. It is about making time and effort to define the exceptions, and embed more and more exception flows and non-‘happy path flows’ into the robot, so that the human handler can clearly understand the reason behind the robot termination. It is an ongoing process and represents a continual improvement approach.

Furthermore, IPA is about combining cognitive artificial intelligence with robotics. Sometimes the input data that comes from the broker or customer is not always structured; it might be in an email, in a handwritten form or over the telephone. A simple robot cannot process that input as it needs to be interpreted in context and provided in a structured manner for RPA. The AI element can make sense of an unstructured document, categorise it and clearly assign designated fields with pre-validated data.

What is the potential for RPA in the future?
Generally speaking, for the insurance industry we are currently just seeing the tip of the iceberg. For many, it is seen as a quick win for basic tasks. It is a start, but that is where many organisations get stuck and they fail to recognise the full benefits of RPA. It is important to look at processes holistically and apply robots on top of an end-to-end process and not just two or three tasks. The future of robotic process automation, and even more so intelligent process automation, is exciting. It is about challenging yourself and the business in regards to what could be achieved and then trying to do it; to see the benefit that we can bring to improve end-to-end processes and the positive impact on the day-to-day activities of our people, allowing them new experiences and opportunities to grow and invest and ultimately improve our customer’s experience and journey with us.

On a pure technical paradigm, the potential is immense. The next big step will be having the robot access the application programming interface (API), picking up business logic and metadata in its original root format. It is accessing the data at source, and this has huge significance because it is cutting out the whole dependency on the screens of an application. Currently, this is one vulnerability that often goes against robotics – if the screens change by significant parameters, robots tend to fail.

Contributed by Joyjit Gorain, robotics process automation expert and Victoria Mavin, head of underwriting services & service transformation for UK commercial insurance – Zurich Insurance Company