If you follow the enterprise tech scene, you will see a new buzz about a disruptive new area known as “robotic process automation” (RPA). Whilst technologies like screen scraping have been around for a long time, the disruptive technology we term RPA today is a new and exciting discipline.
If you are wondering what RPA does, the clue is in the name. If you take any process that involves repetitive interactions with systems and applications, that process can be described as robotic. If that process is carried out by people, then RPA can automate it and allow intelligent software to run that process, leaving people to do what they excel at, solving more complex less repetitive problems.
Given that RPA can learn repetitive tasks and take them over from humans, the potential ROI the technology can deliver is huge. It lifts mundane simple yet time-consuming jobs from expensive staff and leaves them with more time to focus on proactive and productive activity.
It seems to be the perfect blend of AI working in harmony with people, it is possible that every employee in a company may have dedicated RPA bots that work alongside and assist them.
A number of well-funded RPA start-ups are grabbing tech news headlines and the leader of the pack is a company called UiPath. We approached UiPath and asked them if we could put their technology to the test. We loved the idea but wanted to see just how easy and effective RPA is in the workplace.
Some background, DSA is one of several titles owned by Asia Online Publishing Group (AOPG). We are a small company with around 20 employees specialising in online publishing. We aim to automate a lot of backend processes on our web portals, but looked for a process that was still manual and challenged UiPath to automate it for us – the results were interesting.
The problem. AOPG have several portals which link to a third-party email marketing product. When someone signs up to receive one of the portal’s e-newsletters that automatically links to the separate email marketing tool and a new subscriber is added to that database. Sounds great. However, one of our portals was never integrated to the email marketing tool, and we realised that once a week, one of our editorial team (Izzah) had to manually download new subscribers. We asked that UiPath take this task away from Izzah, who much prefers spending her time working on articles and stories. UiPath agreed and accepted the challenge.
The first stage in automating the process is to document the process, UiPath asked us to list down is as much detail as possible every task that Izzah had to perform in order to move subscribers into our email marketing database. It’s an interesting process to go through because when you break down what seems like a very basic weekly task, it’s amazing to see just how many repetitive steps are involved.
The simple task of downloading a list from one portal and uploading to another portal involved over 30 separate repetitive tasks including things like.
- Logging in to each portal
- Downloading the subscriber list in a CSV file.
- Reformatting the CSV file based on “comma delimitation”
- Saving the reformatted CSV file.
Once we had boiled down a task by task list, UiPath basically took it from there. We passed the list to them, and they arranged for a consultant to review the list then do a remote session where they “dialled into” one of our PC’s and went through the process under the watchful eye of Izzah, based on running through the process itself they were able to go away and build the actual “robot” within UiPath. One more dial-in session to install the robot onto one of our computers and the job was done. In total, we spent about 3 hours on the whole project, we do not know how long it took the UiPath consultant to write the robot, but we suspect it was hours rather than days.
The end result was exactly as UiPath expected. Izzah no longer spends 30 to 40 minutes a week manually getting new subscribers into our email marketing database, instead the UiPath robot does the task in a few minutes with, completely removing this responsibility from Izzah herself.
Calculating ROI for this project is probably not a great indication of the ROI that UiPath delivers. Typically, an RPS implementation will be applied to numerous processes, and the ROI then quickly adds up.
For this “experiment” we estimate that the RPA robot saves Izzah 40 minutes a week which totals 2080 minutes year. Expressed another way that just over 4 full working days that the UiPath RPA robot just handed back to Izzah. We estimate the cost of the licenses and consultancy to implement this solution would have been around $15,000USD. If we take the metrics from our trial and extrapolate it into a real-world scenario we can see how RPA really can pay for itself. Imagine 10 employees with 3 robotic tasks similar to the one in our trial, the maths plays out as follows. A company would save 130 working man days of staff effort. That’s 130 days of time your staff can spend on a far more productive activity and 130 man days of savings which is a compelling and very conservative ROI.
There are other spin-offs to consider. RPA robots don’t get bogged down with other priorities. If we go back to Izzah’s task, from time to time her week has been so busy that this task gets delayed by a week, this, in turn, means that new subscribers that are expecting to receive our e-news have to wait a week before they start receiving the emails. The RPA removes this problem, it never gets burdened with other tasks. In addition, the RPA robot can run more frequently. Izzah, simply doesn’t have the time to the database upload every day the RPA robot can.
Our experiment with UiPath was simple, but it did clearly demonstrate the power of RPA and the ease with which it can be implemented. It is true that the process we chose was simple, but for many companies even starting with the simple processes could free up unexpectedly large numbers of man days.
After seeing UiPath RPA in action, our heads were buzzing with just how many other areas could the product save us time and resource. The whole experience has turned the team at AOPG into big fans of this technology. It’s difficult to find a solution with a more compelling and easy to prove ROI, and it’s the perfect example of AI working with people rather than replacing them, ultimately improving workplace experience for staff.
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