Artificial Intelligence Is Making Increasing Headway in the Enterprise Back Office

AI in the enterprise back office PIXABAY

Artificial intelligence is making some of the most remarkable progress in back offices of enterprises of all types. The back office is where business operations that support the main customer-facing parts of the organization operate. It handles finance and accounting, human resources, supply chain and logistics operations, IT and supports technology and all the other bits and pieces of the enterprise that are needed to make the rest of the operation work smoothly. The back office is the place where everything happens that doesn’t directly deal with customers. This can be anything from research, scheduling the receipt and making of payments, or management of facilities. Much of these operations involve human activities and business processes that can be improved and expedited with intelligent, AI-enabled technology and systems.

Improving Order to Cash Processes

One of the places where AI can improve things is through the order-to-cash process. This process involves everything from a customer placing an order to receive payment for that order. For companies to receive payment, they often need to create and send invoices that must be issued, sent, received and then processed. This process involves both payment-related systems as well as accounts receivable-related systems and processes. Surprisingly, many invoices sent by businesses today are still sent via paper. AI-powered accounts receivable technology is helping companies make sure that they can be paid in a timely manner. AI can also help make sure that the products or services a company has provided don’t go unpaid.

Paper invoices can be rife with errors, inconsistencies and missing information, whether it's from a miswritten zip code or address, or something not getting out in the mail on time. AI-powered services for order-to-cash services can help businesses be paid by helping correct some of the errors that occur and keep things running efficiently. These intelligent systems help to resolve disputes, examine and process refund requests and see where things may have gone sideways. It looks at these instances, analyzes them and can help to reduce errors in invoicing and billing due to the AI systems innate ability to identify patterns and anomalies in transactions and documents.

Beyond simply handling payment and receiving processes, AI-enabled systems can also identify the best customers. The intelligent systems can identify who pays on time, buys frequently, or purchases certain types of products. Armed with this information, companies can create personalized incentives for those customers. Machine learning-powered analysis also helps to identify problems in products that could be happening, and from here, it can help to initiate conversations with slow or dissatisfied customers and in turn make the process smoother for everyone involved. When human workers have to deal with these things, it can be a bit of an annoyance, but using AI allows for an always pleasant tone to improve the customer experience.

Companies are increasingly using electronic payments for invoices, which helps with many of the paper-based issues. Even in these cases, AI-based systems are helping with back-office processes. AI systems help enterprises keep tabs on their customers and make sure that payments are being processed in a timely fashion. AI can follow the entire process and make sure companies are receiving their payments on time. This can be especially helpful in larger organizations such as government agencies or hospitals that deal with a constantly changing body of customers and payers.

The second major area where AI is innovating back office operations is through purchase-to-pay systems and processes. Companies need to purchase and procure a wide range of items from office equipment to manufacturing supplies and everything in between. AI-based systems are speeding up and making more efficient and reliable the processes organizations use to procure and pay for products and services while also ensuring compliance with corporate and regulatory policies. Software tools enabled with AI can help spot anomalies, identify relevant data to enhance procurement systems, assign procurement items to the right people for approvals and expedite purchasing processes. AI can help turn internal purchasing and procurement process into efficient, high-powered operations that can reduce or eliminate bottlenecks, spot opportunities for bulk purchase discounts, consolidate purchases across departments, reduce waste, fraud and abuse, and keep purchasing in compliance with various rules and regulations.

As these AI-enabled systems become more integrated into the workplace, they learn over time, becoming a custom intelligent force behind the scene. The intelligent purchasing systems can learn what typical orders look like and what is and isn’t typical in a particular company or organization. This can prevent other errors in human insight, as it can catch things that people might not realize they have missed. The applications are especially beneficial for large organizations with complicated purchasing requirements. Organizations that buy large quantities of items across many product and service types can benefit from an intelligent system to keep a constant watch over procurement processes. The AI-enabled systems’ ability to recognize patterns help smooth things out by recognizing when things are being bought, run out, or not utilized frequently enough.

AI making Process Automation More Intelligent

AI systems are also good at performing repetitive tasks that also require elements of human cognitive capability. While repetitive task automation or workflow automation tools (such as the ill-named Robotic Process Automation tools) are making significant inroads in enterprises, adding the ability for systems to be able to understand documents, listen to voicemails, interact with customers using conversational interfaces, or using predictive decision making will make these automation tools more intelligent.

Enterprises want AI and machine learning systems to perform tasks that humans would otherwise be doing that require cognitive capabilities and are otherwise very tedious or time-consuming. In the past, it’s been a human that calls someone to try to figure out why invoices or bills haven’t been paid and work through to a solution with the consumer, but often the tactics and methods have been aggressive and it’s really easy to not answer a phone call. AI can help change how people go about collecting debts in their businesses, and it can also relieve some of the common problems like bad records with wrong names, out of date information, and streamline the process. AI can also help learn the best way to reach out to individual people or organizations increasing the chances of collecting debts.

In this same vein, AI improves compliance, especially within industries that are heavily regulated and have to keep meticulous documentation. AI keeps these companies and organizations meeting compliance in the evolving requirements or varied landscapes that they function inside. AI can perform automatic audits to systems or flag and filter conversations that could be going against the company policies. AI also uses recognition of natural language progressing to interact with employees, suppliers, customers and partners, improving operations and accelerating compliance with regulations.

The analytical capabilities of AI help do research and look through company data to provide needle-in-the-haystack information by automatically digging through records and providing automatic insights. Intelligent, AI-based systems are also now helping with employee management through searching through back-office channels and monitoring employees and what is going on throughout the company network. AI systems are keeping tabs on employee engagement, interaction and behavior, and making sure that standards and corporate rules are being followed to prevent any negative repercussions for the organization. These AI systems are also helping make employees more efficient by providing internal support for employees through chatbots and other forms of internal support. Employee-focused self-service chatbots are proving to be very valuable providing assistance for HR-related inquiries or IT support. AI self-management of these areas can cut down on excess time and help them get back to work faster.

AI systems are quickly becoming an indispensable part of the corporate back office environment, serving as an augmented assistant that can significantly reduce the load of human back-office workers, especially in large, multinational corporations. AI is providing much-needed efficiency and automation for areas that previously required large amounts of high-importance but low-value human activity.


https://www.linkedin.com/in/rschmelzer/

http://www.cognilytica.com

Ronald Schmelzer, columnist, is senior analyst and founder of the Artificial Intelligence-focused analyst and advisory firm Cognilytica, and is also the host of the AI Today podcast, SXSW Innovation Awards Judge, founder and operator of TechBreakfast demo format events, and an expert in AI, Machine Learning, Enterprise Architecture, venture capital, startup and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and more. Prior to founding Cognilytica, Ron founded and ran ZapThink, an industry analyst firm focused on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Cloud Computing, Web Services, XML, & Enterprise Architecture, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in August 2011.

Ron is a Parallel Entrepreneur, having started and sold a number of successful companies. The companies Ron has started and run have collectively employed hundreds of people, raised over $60M in Venture funding and exits in the millions. Ron was founder and chief organizer of TechBreakfast – the largest monthly morning tech meetup in the nation with over 50,000 members and 3000+ attendees at the monthly events across the US including Baltimore, DC, NY, Boston, Austin, Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Raleigh and more.

He was also founder and CEO at Bizelo, a SaaS company focused on small business apps, and was Founder and CTO of ChannelWave, an enterprise software company which raised $60M+ in VC funding and subsequently acquired by Click Commerce, a publicly traded company. Ron founded and was CEO of VirtuMall and VirtuFlex from 1994-1998, and hired the CEO before it merged with ChannelWave.

Ron is a well-known expert in IT, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), XML, Web Services, and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA). He is well regarded as a startup marketing & sales adviser, and is currently mentor & investor in the TechStars seed stage investment program, where he has been involved since 2009. In addition, he is a judge of SXSW Interactive Awards and served on standards bodies such as RosettaNet, UDDI, and ebXML.

Ron is the lead author of XML And Web Services Unleashed (SAMS 2002) and co-author of Service-Orient or Be Doomed (Wiley 2006) with Jason Bloomberg. Ron received a B.S. degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and MBA from Johns Hopkins University.