In the naughties, business process outsourcing (BPO) was the holy grail. The silver bullet that was going to make companies more profitable, and allow them to offer their customers better service.
I should know, as initially I was a fan and oversaw a large outsourcing programme that ultimately moved the equivalent of 100 jobs to India for a large Commercial Real Estate business. The offshore headcount was going to take over the manual, repetitive, formulaic work at 25% of the price of what I was paying in the UK.
My objective was to bring control to the way we process in a world that had core systems, but also had people who wanted to do everything their own way. Indeed, at that point the concept of “processes” was pretty foreign one for Commercial Real Estate businesses. And the outcome was ultimately successful, both from a financial and service delivery point of view — key metrics if you are trying to stay profitable in a rapidly commodifying space.
But I also discovered that BPO didn’t quite do what it said on the tin, and that I was spending my time navigating language, timezone and cultural challenges. Staff turnover was high, and I simply didn’t get the domain knowledge and experience I was promised by my BPO provider. And if you know the Commercial Real Estate world, you know that you can’t simply cut and paste standard processes.
But, at the time, it was the best option.
A robot called Rob
Today though, the pendulum has swung with the maturity of technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), delivered on a Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) basis, and especially those that specialise in Real Estate processes. At Open Box, we named our RPA-enabled Real Estate Automation Engine “Rob Sparke”.
I’d argue that the business case for offshore BPO is fading fast. Not only does RPA fix the challenges inherent in BPO, it delivers additional benefits, at, in the worst case scenario, a slightly lower cost than BPO.
By taking over the manual, repetitive, rules-based processes and jobs such as service charge budgeting or entering leases into your system, Rob Sparke works alongside your team, in-house, freeing them from the boring, but necessary, processing work.
Real Estate-specific RaaS is trained to understand your business processes, so jobs that take humans a couple of hours, can be completed by Rob Sparke in a couple of minutes. This efficiency helps CRE organisations manage overburdened workloads, and allows your skilled professionals to add real value to your organisation by being more strategic, customer facing and creative. Meanwhile Rob has done the boring jobs better than people ever can, ensuring they are done on-time, reliably and accurately.
Sounds good, right?
But there is another major win. You’ve kept control and engaged with your processes, which make up the heart of your business. Knowledge, experience and senior leadership capabilities remain in-house, you have the ability to improve and get better at what you do, and you can invest in your own platforms to take your business into the future.
Today I’d say I could do 90% of the work I sent to India in house, with the help of Rob Sparke. And this is soon going to be 100% as RaaS gets smarter, and works even more closely with humans. Right now, the in-sourcing powered by robots approach is looking rather compelling indeed.
Matthew Burnham, European Principal for Open Box Software and Real Estate Consultant