The death of the disjointed office via technology

Most are familiar with the front, middle and back office. It’s a business model that has existed for decades and one that has delivered tremendous value for organisations around the world.

It’s also a model that, in the wake of new technologies and new digital ecosystems, is no longer an optimised approach for delivering business efficiency. Here we look at the origins of the segmented office and how new systems have given way to better business operations.

The origins of the segmented office

When the concept of having a disparate front, middle and back office was first introduced, the model made a lot of sense: with ‘specialists’ serving as the sole source of particular work outputs, establishing a clear division of labor ensured that workers understood their responsibilities and could develop processes for managing their tasks as efficiently as possible.

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Front office workers tended to sales and customer service issues; middle office workers managed work pertaining to finance and accounting, auditing and compliance, and IT support; and back office workers handled data processing and report generation.

This departmental divide was even more accentuated upon the introduction of business process outsourcing (BPO). Organisations seeking a competitive edge began to delegate repetitive, rules-based and data-heavy tasks to offshore laborers, who would do the work faster and cheaper. This model become so prevalent that back offices were frequently deployed overseas to drive significant labor arbitrage savings.

The transition to technology

While offshoring labor delivered significant financial benefits, organisations also experienced the negative impacts of disjointed business structure – namely disconnect amongst workers separated by borders, working cultures and time zones.

At the same time, we saw the emergence of new automation solutions capable of managing tedious, data-intensive work. With this came an opportunity to rethink tired business models.

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By assigning administrative, repetitive and rules-based work to automation solutions, organisations could empower their employees to focus on improving their problem-solving, customer-facing and high-value skills.

The benefits of this are two-fold: customers receive improved service, and employees feel more valuable and satisfied in their roles. In fact, in sharp contrast to the common belief that automation threatens jobs, organisations that have undergone intelligent transformation by deploying automation solutions have seen reduced employee attrition.

Finally, employees are able to dedicate their time to stimulating work that delivers clear business value. And by enhancing both customer and employee experiences, organisations can achieve significantly better business results.

The call to action for forward-thinking businesses

For organisations looking to break down the barriers of their outdated business models and realise the benefits of a cohesive approach where people and automation work seamlessly together, they must focus less on categorising tasks into siloed areas and more about key qualifiers. While back office tasks are typically viewed as automatable work, it’s not always that black and white.

Organisations should instead consider qualifiers that assess a task’s suitability for automation. For robotic process automation (RPA), the qualifiers for automatable tasks are those that are rules-based, repetitive and have as few exceptions as possible.

With advances in technologies that can process complex data types (including images and voice), however, the range of possibilities can be expanded when those technologies are combined with RPA.

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As business leaders looks ahead it’s imperative for organisations to shift away from the front, middle and back office split, to a model that harnesses the inherent attributes of the resources available to them.

For many organisations, this might mean assigning rules-based, structured and repetitive processes, as well as work involving text and numbers, to virtual workforces, and allowing humans to focus on ad hoc, offline and image-based work. By taking this approach, organisations can:

• Optimise employees’ potential.
• Enhance the client experience through more accurate and efficient processes.
• Ensure business agility and control through a more fluid, stable structure.

By taking advantage of the virtual and human resources available now, organisations will be able to best compete today. And by looking at their business structure comprehensively, they’ll be able to assess, design and implement changes that keep pace with the evolving market and new client needs tomorrow.


Sourced by Pascal Baker, co-founder and chief client officer, Symphony Ventures

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...