How 150 bots are helping HDFC Life improve efficiency and experience

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Mumbai: HDFC Life insurance company has put immense faith and trust in the capabilities of bots. It has been investing in technologies like RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and experimenting with bots since 2016.

In fact, HDFC Life first deployed a set of 8 bots in October 2016 and then gradually increased the bot count to 22 in 2017 and didn’t stop there.

By 2019, the company already deployed an army of 150 bots across the organizational functions. These bots are not only helping the company to improve the efficiency but also creating seamless experience for the staff and customers.

Parvez Mulla, COO – HDFC Life

“This journey started a few years ago when HDFC life introduced various stand alone and workflow systems across the value chain of insurance covering new business, policy servicing and claims,” said Parvez Mulla, COO – HDFC Life.

“Given the complexity of the insurance products, spread across geographies, multi-distributor model, HFDC Life has strategically identified, experimented and deployed RPA to automate and simplify its processes,” added Mulla.

Today, these 150 bots are working in 26 functions across the organization. Among these bots, more than 40% are complex in nature and perform various transactions on a daily basis.

Being an insurer, HDFC Life relies on vendors for its technology needs and follows an evaluation process for selection.

“As a process, HDFC Life evaluates vendors and conducts PoC on many use cases. Based on the soundness of the platform and cultural fit, the partners are selected,” informed Mulla.

Having said that, the company actually has an internal unit called the ‘Business & Service Excellence team’ that oversees the business processes, services and technology initiatives such as bot building and deployment.

“HDFC Life’s Business & Service Excellence team drives the ‘HDFC Life Way of Excellence’; putting a rigor on Business Process Management, Project and Change management initiatives in the organization,” he added.

In fact, the team has been significant in driving the bots initiative right from building technology solutions for business problems to building bots and deployment in a time frame.

Jitendra Agrawal, EVP – Business Service Excellence, HDFC Life

“With added capability of RPA, we have expanded our horizon to drive ‘HDFC Life Way of Excellence’ to a new dimension. Now we have a scalable and secure platform in the organization to address emerging opportunities and systematically address the chronic business problems,” said Jitendra Agrawal, EVP – Business Service & Excellence, HDFC Life.

This team, according to Mulla, focuses on building RPA & AI/ML solution for the business. “It does the program management with business functions and the core IT team builds bots in 3-6 weeks time depending on the complexity of the process,” he explained.

Since HDFC Life has deployed 150 bots, it is important to know and understand about the purpose of these bots, their functions and management.

About the bots, Mulla informed that they are designed to remove NVAs (non value adding activities) from the process, make a process digital that creates secure and scalable performance.

“Each bot opportunity and solution is worked out on a project basis, merit of use case, fitting to desirability, viability and feasibility norms,” he added.

Although, these 150 bots are built and assigned different roles in 26 functions, the company hasn’t been able to gauge the bot to tasks or users ratio.

Such metrics would further give more insights and clarity on the number of bots deployed versus the tasks performed in any organization.

And that would encourage more businesses and companies to make investment decisions in bots and related technologies based on ROI ( return on investment) and business benefits.

But that certainly seems to be a bit complex estimation, difficult to put in plain business terms. “Given the type or nature of the business processes across the value chain, there is a huge skew on the manning to a process, which is difficult to gauge through a ratio,” explained Mulla.

Instead of ratio, HDFC Life has followed the process classification and bot category metrics, which broadly evaluates two aspects – first, bot’s tangible benefits against the cost. And second, the intangible benefits and the risk factors like TAT (Turn Around Time) and others.

“Processes are classified as Simple, Medium and Complex and bots are categorized as Cat A (where the tangible benefits of the BOT > cost), Cat B (where tangible benefits =< cost) and Cat C bots (giving intangible benefits on one or more metrics viz risk, TAT, error etc),” pointed out Mulla.

So putting this into HDFC Life’s perspective in context to those 150 bots, over 75% of bots are actually in the category A and B.

And the 26 functions assigned to these bots includes Sales, Scrutiny, Central and Groups Operations, Customer Connect, Medical, Underwriting, Persistency, Payout, Policy Servicing, Claim, Service Recovery, Accounts, Audit & Risk, Online Business, Product, Actuarial etc.

The functions assigned to bots are quite exhaustive in nature to an extent. Through the deployment of bots, HDFC Life has not only been able to increase tangible gains and accuracy, but it has also managed to move its staff to company’s other business. Basically, a better utilization of human staff by leveraging bots.

“There are tangible improvement on the TAT (>80%), NVA reduction (>60%), increase in accuracy (>90%) apart form reduction in risk through mistake proof solutions. More than 100 manpower resources have migrated to other growing business of the organization,” informed Mulla.

These are among many positives that HDFC Life has achieved at the end of three years long journey dealing with bots and automation.

Probably, the numbers look promising not only for HDFC but also for any other business that wants to move in the direction of RPA and AI powered bots.

“The deployment of 150 bots across 26 functions is just a beginning of a continuous effort to make composite use of RPA platform and solution along with AI/ML, Analytics to create ‘Cognitive bots’ to reimagine the processes and create a significant shift in customer experience and deliver business value, across the value chains,” commented Agrawal.

Besides the business benefits, these bots also bring along its own set of challenges such as security risks, software glitches, malfunctioning, process downtime or even failure instances.

Obviously, when there are large numbers of diverse bots, those possibilities cannot be ruled out. And that’s where organizations are likely to see adverse impact on their business with financial losses and other risks.

Given this situation, HDFC Life had to come up with an innovative solution that would address the manageability, functioning and other risk aspects. So it designed and built a ‘Superbot’ with a capability to manage all the live 150 bots.

Basically, it’s a ‘virtual supervisor’ that comes with a supervisory console providing not only functioning status of each bot but also visual triggers for action by the operating as well as the central support team.

“Each bot before going live, is run with rigorous BRD (business requirement document) creation, development and UAT (user acceptance testing). There is a 1-2 weeks parallel run, where the info security and risk assessment is done before fully deploying the bots,” informed Mulla.

Though, HDFC Life had some instances of process downtime, according to Mulla there’s been no malfunctioning of bots.

“Yes, there are instances when process downtime requires RCA (root cause analysis), but no bot malfunctioning or skipping of the deterministic rules/flow designed has been reported,” concluded Mulla.

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