Meet Your New Virtual Coworker: Mr. RPA

By Clinton Jones on February 24, 2016

I have discussed Robotic Process Automation (RPA) before in the Rise of the Robots, but a new pair of articles published by the Wall Street Journal  [subscription required] and CFO Innovation outlining how robotic automation can not only save money, but also accelerate processes presented a new opportunity. retro robot on white

I remain skeptical about the likelihood that the back office will be overrun with robots, and Wayne Butterfield, Head of Digital Service Innovation & Transformation at European telecom Telefonica confirms my suspicions by clearly stating that the prerequisites for any automation to be successful reinforces this theory:

The process to be automated should be well-defined and uncomplicated…

This statement pretty much rules out use cases where humans apply their judgement and intellect to solving a problem.

This should certainly be applied to processes that have duplicate efforts or processes with low value tasks being performed. Only through earmarking manual processes and implementing automation can finance personnel and others in the back office free up time for more valuable activities.

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According to Butterfield, Telefonica’s RPA saved them almost £1m that first year. However, it was important to come up with an initial projected ROI. This is also something that I addressed in How to Calculate ROI on Automation Projects – clearly identify what you’re trying to achieve with your automation initiative.

Reaching the wrong answer faster

Using Winshuttle for automation solutions can help you achieve some of the same objectives as RPA. In fact, an RPA approach is used when you adopt ‘autopost’ or ‘autorun’ options to execute your data management activity with Winshuttle Foundation.

Building rules into the data collection and validation process are an important facet of process orchestration. I am constantly reminded that headless (no humans involved), automated processes carry some risks – risks that are often held up by automation skeptics.

Risks are accidentally introduced in automation when scenarios are not clearly defined. When this happens, problems and errors are discovered faster and sometimes automation needs to be switched off to prevent compounded problems. This happened recently when changes were made to an SAP environment and the RPA process wasn’t exhaustively tested (this was not a Winshuttle RPA). This resulted in the creation of hundreds of inbound purchase orders with missing data.

With Winshuttle, you have the ability to neutralize these problems in two different ways; the first is to utilize data validation, the second is to inject a gate keeper role into any given workflow, so that a pair of eyes can review the data before the data is committed.

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not all processes need to have automation – only the high value ones do. Select wisely and don’t adopt automation for automation’s own sake.

Sixty percent of your day is wasted!

According to CFO Innovation,  “academic research has found that it can take people 15 to 23 minutes to get back to what they were doing before they took a break to check email or send a quick text.” This is in addition to other productivity challenges that finance teams labor under, (namely up to 20% of time burned on rework and up to 10% of productive time spent on document search).

It very quickly becomes apparent that anywhere between 30% to 60% of a given user’s time is spent on low value effort, especially if the email time burn is as high as 28% as suggested by an article in Fortune magazine.

According to a July 2012 McKinsey report on “the social economy” the average knowledge worker now spends 28% of their work time managing email. If you work a 40 hour week, that’s just over eleven hours trawling your inbox!

You can learn more about how Winshuttle customers are reaping the rewards of process automation in finance by reading the recently published white paper: How Finance Professionals can Thrive in Changing Business Structures.


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About the author

Clinton Jones is a Director for Finance Solutions Management at Winshuttle where he has worked since 2009. He is internationally experienced having worked on finance technologies and business process with a particular focus on integrated business solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Clinton serves as a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance for finance organizations globally. Prior to Winshuttle he served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP and with Microsoft in their Global Foundation Services group.


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