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Like many other businesses, AT&T had no choice but to switch from a physical office-based workforce to a largely remote one at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The telecommunications giant was able to transition to a remote and hybrid workforce by turning to low-code application development platform vendor Quickbase.
Quickbase started working with AT&T's customer service and operations organization about two years ago, said Brian Hinshaw, business management principal at AT&T.
The customer service and operations team helps the sales and delivery teams process orders. Team members use the Quickbase platform, as well as robotic process automation from another vendor. Quickbase proved effective during the onset of the pandemic, Hinshaw said.
"We were able to partner with Quickbase and we stood up an app over a weekend," he said. "That got us into a position where we could get a large number of remote workers set up."
He said that without Quickbase, his team would have needed to maintain a SharePoint site, add several spreadsheets and do a lot of emailing back and forth to make the remote work transition go smoothly.
Because Quickbase requires little training, team members can start collaborating on other projects instead, he said.
Hinshaw added that once his team members saw how easy it was to set up laptops, headsets and software deployment with Quickbase, they started using the platform for other tasks such as fulfilling and processing orders. He said that compared with some other self-service platforms, Quickbase doesn't require a long training schedule for his team members.
Brian HinshawBusiness management principal, AT&T
"They want something that they can get into, build quickly, get it out there and then adjust it. And that's where Quickbase has shined for our business," he said.
Quickbase also enabled different team members -- including directors, managers and executives -- to have access to the same project on the same platform.
Unlocking user potential
Hinshaw said AT&T also trained employees to build and manage their Quickbase app themselves when they approach future projects without an expert.
Unlocking potential in users is one of Quickbase's missions, according to CEO Ed Jennings. Jennings said most of the vendor's users have active system builders without extensive technology backgrounds, yet they're doing "drag-and-drop application building with UI [user interfaces] and business logic and relational databases."
"They don't even know any of that sits behind the scenes," Jennings continued. "They're just doing something you do every day in a web app or create a mobile app."
Leveraging bots with Quickbase
AT&T is further able to extend Quickbase's reach with RPA. Hinshaw said AT&T uses bots to reach older systems, get data from those systems and bring that data into Quickbase for the business unit.
For example, an older provisioning system may have screens that look like a mainframe system. Normally, an employee would have to go through three or four screens to get the information needed to process an order.
Instead of having the employee do that, users can create a bot to act like the user, go through the screens and collect the information. Once it collects the information, the bot can call up the Quickbase API and send the information into the Quickbase app.
With this approach, the employee can quickly gain access to the information needed in Quickbase.
"We're leveraging bots to help our teams get information to and from legacy platforms," Hinshaw continued. Since the bots can get data faster than a human, employees can spend more time fulfilling and processing orders.
"So that means we can get the work done faster, provision services to the customer faster and ultimately generate revenue back to the company faster," he said.
This sort of environment where both bots and humans are working together is where Quickbase thrives, Jennings said. He said that bots work well in environments that are rules-based and doesn't require decision making, such as managing payments. However, in other areas such as employee training, bots have their limits.
"In the world of intelligent automation … we're typically very complementary," Jennings said. "We've been described sometimes as a bot of bots. We're the conductor, and … you need that conductor to orchestrate those bots to know what they are, make sure they're performing."
The combination of Quickbase, bot and human creates efficiencies for AT&T, Hinshaw said.
In a scenario in which an agent is handling 100 orders, each order may take about 10 minutes. Instead of taking up a lot of time to complete each order, the agent can have a bot collect the information needed for the orders. This frees up the agents' time and helps them to process orders faster.
"We can combine those technologies and make the agent more efficient," he said.
The cost of the Quickbase platform varies. For small organizations, the vendor charges per user. For larger organizations, it charges on a usage basis.