Software that clicks and moves a mouse like a human? Robotic process automation (RPA) does just that, and has proven a particularly relevant tool for housing associations who need multiple repetitive tasks completed at pace.
RPA is computer software that can replicate the actions of a user, much like an Excel macro (but much more powerful). It can ‘press’ keys and ‘move’ a mouse to follow set instructions and logic.
Where any organisation has high volumes of repetitive tasks based on definable instructions, then it’s likely those tasks can be automated. Bots typically perform tasks up to four times faster than a human, so productivity increases, and people are freed up to focus on customer service and other value-adding activities.
Typically, organisations have inefficient processes; perhaps there are legacy systems that don’t integrate, or incoming correspondence that needs to be managed. They might have accounts that need auditing and reconciling; these are all prime candidates for automation.
Unlike larger scale digital transformation, RPA usually delivers payback within 9 to 12 months, which is remarkable. Implementations can take a few weeks as opposed to months or even years.
1. Accounts reconciliation – associations need to make sure that financial accounts reconcile. This can be a highly manual process, but RPA can automate this and present any exceptions as a summary.
2. Managing correspondence – tenants will contact the association using a variety of channels, not all of which may be online. RPA can take unstructured data, such as letters or emails, and classify the content, then allocate it to an appropriate agent. It can even read email attachments and handle incoming repair requests.
3. Bridging systems – where the association has multiple systems data can quickly become out of sync, and there may be ‘swivel chair’ operations to manually check and update data. RPA can ensure that any updates in systems are reflected in the others. RPA can even be used as a proxy application programming interface (API), providing inexpensive integration.
4. Complaint management – RPA can monitor incoming channels for complaints and manage the complaint through to resolution, keeping the customer informed at each stage.
5. Predicting tenant’s rental behaviour – alerts can be raised when rents are due, and can even proactively predict when tenants are likely to default, allowing proactive action to be taken.
6. Predictive maintenance – by utilising the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics, coupled with RPA, some assets such as boilers can be monitored remotely and faults predicted before they occur.
7. Invoice management – RPA can read incoming invoices, match them with purchase orders and enter them into the procurement system for approval and payment.
8. Billing – RPA can collate the relevant information for billing and then issue requests for payment.
9. Rent increases – Changes to rental prices require changes in a variety of systems and can be highly manual. RPA can make the changes across all systems very quickly and accurately.
10. Universal credit verification – RPA accesses the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) portal to verify tenants’ details.
Housing associations are adopting RPA at speed and benefiting from the freed-up time, improved accuracy and faster response times it delivers, transforming their operations at low cost. As demand for housing grows, associations are now able to maintain a flat headcount by improving productivity.
Speak with a James Harvard Intelligent Automation specialist to find out how you can painlessly start automating in your association.
Tim Olsen, National Technology Director
Tim worked in Project Management for 20 years developing solutions to improve user journeys and experience for blue chip clients. More recently he built the UK’s largest RPA CoE from scratch and went on to help organisations overcome their barriers to scaling automation. He is a thought leader and evangelist for Intelligent Automation.