28 Jun Robotic Process Automation – A use case
Robotic process automation, or RPA is a hot topic in the business community these days. Why is it so? What is RPA? What are the benefits and pitfalls? How is it used? I try to answer these questions in a three part blog series. In the first part, I covered the basics of RPA. In this second part, I will go through a real world use case. And in the third part I will talk about implementations and future prospects.
“Well, give me an real life example”
Finding a good example of a RPA implementation wasn’t as easy as I first thought. There are a lot of interesting examples around, but finding a simple but also impactful case took some time. I ended up with the use case in which UiPath, a Forrester Wave top supplier, delivered a RPA solution to the car manufacturer Volvo. Following use case comes from UiPath.
Volvo has quite holistic views of business process automation. Processes are seen from end to end perspective. This of course is an excellent basis for RPA. Also, using mechanical robots was already part of the culture at Volvo.
The case at Volvo involves the accounts payable process. Volvo operates SAP and found that processing supplier invoices through the system required a number of manual interventions, in terms of reading, validating, registering and posting invoices. As part of the efficiency drive, it was decided to try out automation in one of the accounts payable (AP) teams, which processes around 2,000 supplier invoices every day.
By implementing robotics software technology from UIPath, Volvo managed to almost completely eliminate human intervention from the AP process. UIPath is a front-end automation software, which mimics human actions. It operates on top of the existing applications in a non-invasive way, which means there is no impact on the core applications used. The robot logs into the necessary systems, reads the invoice image, registers the invoice in SAP, performs all the necessary validation, including cross-checking against other systems, and ultimately decides whether to post, park or block the invoice. Having the same robot following the entire process flow and communicating with all the systems involved, brings much higher automation benefits than the traditional mix of humans and partial automation.
The new process is now up and running, and Volvo has already gained signifiant benefits. The time saved previously spent on manual work, is in the range of 65%-75%. At the same time there is a positive impact on quality, in terms of reduced errors. A third very important benefit is the structured access to data about the process, which enables people to focus on analysing and improving, instead of being dragged into the execution of day-to-day transactional activities.
This means that robotics has not only directly improved the process, but also laid the foundation for further improvements thanks to process insights and performance transparency.
Figure: KPMG – Strategic visions on the sourcing market (2016)
“Were there any lessons learned at Volvo?”
A key learning from the Volvo RPA use case with the first RPA implementation is the importance of communication and change management. People may perceive robotics negatively, since it is to some extent taking over activities which they themselves were previously performing. It has been critical for Volvo to engage both the leadership team as well as the employees throughout the course of the journey. It has also been clearly communicated that the robots are not stealing jobs, but instead enabling people to focus on more value-adding activities, for which they previously did not find the time. Employees have also been heavily involved in the testing of the robotics solution to ensure that the output of the robots is fulfilling their needs.
There have always been attempts to automate within Volvo as in every organisation, since people’s natural inclination is to try to work smarter. However, previous attempts by individuals, teams and departments within Volvo have led to many locally developed macros, with limited central control over what is happening, and no real reflection on the end-to-end processes. This time, the automation is fully controlled, and sub-optimisation is avoided – something which is not only appreciated by the people working in the process itself, but also by the global IT department that can for the first time govern the automation landscape in a structured way.
Here was a short example of a RPA use case. On the next blog, I shall look at a good target for implementing RPA and what the future might hold. If this blog resonated to you, please follow You-Get on Twitter and Linkedin, so you will not miss the next and final part of this blog series on RPA.
BPM Consultant, Business Analyst You-Get Finland Oy