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December 10, 2015
Can digital operations help maximize value in a volatile energy market?
By: Julian Greenfield

The sustained reduction in the price of oil has forced executives at energy companies around the world to look at new ways to reduce their cost base. However, in some cases, cost savings measures have served to weaken essential back-office functions and diverted management time to the transactional part of the business, negating the cost reductions. New models for digital business process outsourcing (BPO) and as-a-service are a good way to avoid those mistakes—not just by shrinking bottom-line costs but also by adding top-line value. Here are four ways digital operations are changing the game:

  • Automation and robotics. The advance of automation and robotics has been much publicized and is driving a step change in the BPO market. For example, Accenture is working with a pioneering technology business, IPSoft, to pilot a finance and accounting vendor enquiry solution at an oil and gas company. The solution, referred to as ‘Amelia’, provides a flexible and personalized digital experience. This incorporates artificial intelligence and communicates in ordinary spoken language, while responding to invoice and payment queries. Machine learning is being leveraged to continually improve quality and first-contact resolution over time.

  • End-to-end management. Bundling multiple functions under a single contract can improve back-office productivity. That’s what some energy companies have already done in outsourcing both finance and procurement to Accenture. Such an integrated approach avoids the siloed, transactional focus that leaves gaps in the overall process performance and fosters efficiencies.

  • Value Hunting using Analytics. With an effective BPO model, mature analytics come as part of the package. For example, at one energy company, analytics tools are being applied to historical trends, payables and medium-term commitments. As a result, the last two years have seen an improvement in the company’s cash forecast accuracy from 50 percent to 85 percent.

  • Flexible consumption. Many energy companies are exploring as-a-service models, which enable them to plug in to standardized, scalable services. Instead of committing to services that may not be needed, they only pay for what they use. In a volatile energy market, the benefits of such a capability are pretty obvious.

It is critical for energy companies embarking on an outsourcing engagement to devote sufficient attention to the change management activities. Executing a proven change management plan can reap long-term benefits—not just in delivering the anticipated business case, but in ensuring management have the necessary skills and tools to deliver a sustainable program.

Accenture experience finds that these technologies and approaches have created a step change in the level of cost reduction through BPO. Even more important is the impact on the business: improving process performance, raising levels of productivity and service, and supporting the C-suite with fresh business insights. In this era of digital operations, it’s time to ask whether you’re getting all the value possible from your essential business functions.

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