Monday, December 17, 2018

The Rise of the Bots: Robotic Process Automation for Business

By Attie Vandermerwe, Mainstay Company

Not long ago, robots were mainly found in the pages of science fiction – or cheesy 1960s TV shows. No longer. Now you can find them in the back offices of businesses and organizations all over the world. I’m referring to software robots – also known as robotic process automation or RPA.

In a nutshell, RPA is software code that performs functions formerly done by people. A simple example might be comparing two sets of transactions. The software bot goes out and analyzes column A and B, extracts selected data, puts it into a spreadsheet, attaches the doc to an email, and sends it out to a distribution group. Following a set of defined business rules, bots can handle everything from processing purchase orders and invoices to distributing management reports.

One reason bots are becoming so popular with businesses is that they can save a lot of time and money. A case in point is a global staffing company we had the pleasure of working with recently. In North America, the company places thousands of people in temporary positions at hundreds of companies across the U.S. and Canada.

Deadlines are tight: tens of thousands of timesheets need to be tallied up and approved at the end of each week and then entered into the company’s payroll system fast enough to pay workers a few days later. The problem is that the timesheet information usually resides in external websites and databases. To collect it, you have to visit each site, copy the data, and transfer it into the company’s internal payroll system. 

In other words, it's a perfect job for a robot, which is why a few years ago the company asked our client to help design a state-of-the-art RPA solution for the staffing leader. The bots were programmed to go out to the various systems and pull it from databases. Today, instead of the staff gathering timesheet data by hand, the company deploys software bots to do it at a fraction of the time and cost. And this is providing the staff with more time to work with clients to fill open jobs, among other revenue-generating activities.

The company also trained a separate army of bots to help manage customer invoicing. The bots again comb through the vendor management systems, this time seeking billing data. Then they assemble the data on invoices in the specific format each client needs.

More recently, the company decided to use bots to unearth strategic business data residing in the vendor system, including open positions, billing rates, and candidate work performance. The information is helping the company formulate more effective recruitment and sales strategies.

All told, we estimate the staffing company is realizing hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct savings and avoided costs by putting software robots to work and giving the staff more time to add real value to the business…

Has your company considered using RPA to save money and have you quantified the benefit impact of your technology deployments? Let me know at