COVID-19 pandemic brought disruption to many industries; the travel industry is one of the most hit during this crisis. With people being mandated to stay at home, hotels, airlines, as well as online travel agencies, are struggling to keep up their “Business As Usual.” However, Thomas Cook India has been one such company that has leveraged the benefits of emerging technologies to run its business process effectively amid this crisis.
Thomas Cook India, an integrated travel services company, with operations across 29 countries in five continents offers a broad spectrum of services including foreign exchange, corporate travel, visa and passport related services, as well as e-business. With a team of over 9,700 individuals and combined revenue of over $ 0.96 billion for the financial year ended March 31, 2019, Thomas Cook India has been a large travel service provider, and therefore managing business processes during this crisis has been a top priority for the company.
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Thomas Cook India realised that traditional initiatives were no longer sufficient for the transformation of the business in this fast-evolving technology landscape. Not only the company required centralisation of their business processes but also realised that traditional cost-reduction processes were no longer sufficient for the company. The back office of the company has also been going under major disruptive revolution as the process was changing the way it functions. And, at this juncture, the company decided to leverage the benefits of intelligent automation and virtual robotic workforce in partnership with Automation Anywhere to operate and engage in the Shared Services Area amid this crisis. The company is also exploring some machine learning solutions for a few of its processes.
When asked, Geeta Degaonkar, Sr. VP of Shared Services at Thomas Cook India said that “In terms of ‘business continuity plan’, considering we had to get into the lockdown in a day’s time frame, we were still able to run our bots remotely, which has been extremely helpful for us.”
Alongside, the implementation partner, Automation Anywhere, has continuously provided support to the company in order to have a smoother process amid this lockdown. “In fact, if a bot goes down because of any technical issue, it gets difficult to connect with it, the technicians of Automation Anywhere have been helpful and effective in solving the issues. Our operations team are able to review and monitor the bots remotely and are also able to gain the necessary output.”
Onboarding the right vendor was indeed a concern for Thomas Cook India, where they evaluated a few companies before bringing in Automation Anywhere. The company assessed factors like successful case studies, product offerings network on the ground, available ecosystem, and the right skilled people who can support them, and understand the Indian industry and the importance of cost-efficiency for Indian companies. The company found Automation Anywhere to be flexible and nimble on the ground with the right attitude to understand business problems to provide appropriate solutions and decided to introduce intelligent automation, which delivered business value in a short period and leveraged robotic process automation to remove any obstacles in the path of their automation journey.
To start their journey, the company deployed bots withing their Shared Services which supports various departments across, finance, accounting and business operations.
The company providing support to their Shared Services, which, in turn, supported different entities across Thomas Group with different IT landscape, infrastructure and processes, therefore required intelligent automation to bring in all the operation of the entities under one umbrella for integrating core platforms in each of these entities. “RPAs fit really well for us wherein we could bring in multiple entity related processes, which were standardised to a certain extent but were still not producing enough efficiency; and there was a manual intervention, which was then dealt with required RPA solution,” said Degaonkar.
Degaonkar also believes that digitisation is the only way forward for businesses to deal with this crisis and other potential ones in the future. Businesses need to digitise as much as possible in terms of enabling people to work remotely, and the critical process can go on operating without human intervention. “The businesses that are sitting on the fence will start jumping into leveraging new-age technologies like bots, machine learning that has enough case studies to substantiate that it is going only to support and help businesses to work very efficiently and smoothly given the situations that might come up in future,” said Degaonkar.
Considering all the industries are currently struggling with their overall revenue, the cost has been a massive concern for businesses, “these new-age technologies like bots will also help in improving their bottom line by reducing their cost,” said Degaonkar.
By building a next-gen shared service operation, Thomas Cook India managed to lower their cost at the SSC by 30 – 40% and also managed to create a scalable platform for driving future growth and improving customer experience. Alongside, the SSC was also able to strengthen internal controls, minimise risks related to errors due to human intervention, frauds, non-compliance, and delays, which, in turn, enhanced customer experience. By deploying these bots, the SSC managed to completely omit human intervention in several of its departments and processes, and therefore, received 100% accuracy, even during the crisis. These bots also helped the SSC to save thousands of human work hours, which would have been lost in repetitive and mundane activities.
The company aimed to transform their processes with the help of robotics and automation, and currently running with 15 bots deployed at various depths of the company, including finance and operations. The company has also deployed automation in critical bank reconciliations along with credit noting, tracking of refunds from airlines and receipt clearances, to name a few.
When asked, Milan Sheth, EVP – IMEA, Automation Anywhere, he said, “Our plans remain to stay by the side of the customers and align our technologies to meet their business objectives. Currently, we are helping Thomas Cook India, to formulate their business continuity plans by enabling the required technology shift to meet the current requirement.”