In an exclusive interview with Ultima CEO, Scott Dodds, he told Information Age that the company has increased its productivity by a factor of two just by automating five internal processes – which means the company can focus on growth and providing better customer services as employees have more time to focus on strategic activities and customers.
Ultima is demonstrating how it, as an SME can benefit from RPA technology – which it is also offering to its customers in the form of an RPA SaaS offering that the firm has developed with the British start-up and rising star Thoughtonomy especially for SMEs.
In this interview, Information Age uncovers the real benefits of robotic process automation for SMEs.
How can an SME benefit from RPA technology (in general and specifically regarding your business)?
SMEs can use robotic process automation (RPA), or put more simply – software robots – to automate their business processes, for example, back-office functions in HR, finance, procurement, IT or other core processes. By automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks SMEs stand to improve productivity which will help them gain competitive advantage.
In addition, RPA can help ensure greater accuracy and compliance of data by removing the opportunity for human error, which therefore gives greater security of data and information – a help as we move towards the GDPR deadline.
RPA is no longer the preserve of large enterprises; as part of Software-as-a-Service offerings RPA is now affordable for SMEs. The technology is relatively simple to implement and requires little or no infrastructure and application re-architecture.
At Ultima, we are using RPA technology in five key process areas which has resulted in us increasing our overall productivity by a factor of two. It has allowed staff to focus on growing the business and delivering an improved customer service.
One of the most exciting ways we are using RPA is to automate some of our forecasting and planning tasks within the business. Our software robots – or as we like to call them our ‘Virtual Workers ’ – collate real-time sales and marketing information and process all the information they collect during the day, to produce detailed forecasts and business intelligence for the next morning. Normally this whole process would take between eight to ten hours per day of staff time.
As a result, the business has improved business intelligence to plan with, and staff have more time to spend on customer service and strategic thinking.
We are also using RPA to handle the processing of tickets that come into our IT managed services desk. Where once we had between six and ten touch points for staff logging and dealing with each ticket we now need only two. This reduction in the number of times a member of support staff has to handle each ticket has led to enormous productivity gains.
HR is another area where we are using RPA. When people join or leave the firm there are many routine and mundane tasks that HR staff used to spend many hours completing, for example, ordering new equipment and logging them on to IT, HR and financial systems.
With our Virtual Workers, this is done automatically once the key details of the joiner are inputted. And if someone leaves their equipment is automatically recalled and they are logged off all appropriate systems. In addition, we are automating some of our invoice posting activities.
RPA can be implemented to handle everything from accounts payable, accrual bookings and credit checks, to salary processing, tax reporting and auditing. It can also be used in contact centres to improve the customer service experience by streamlining processes and enabling customers to leverage self-service portals for common requests.
Working out what to automate should be done on a clear ROI basis and by looking at where mundane, repetitive processes are hampering staff’s ability to work on more important tasks.
How are your customers responding to the RPA offer?
Our customers are responding with enthusiasm and excitement to our RPA offering. So far, every company we have spoken to is keen to pursue the technology and can see that the productivity gains they are likely to make will bring them a significant return on investment. Like us, they are also keen to free up employees time to focus on more strategic work.
The key is for us to work in partnership with our customers to examine which of their businesses process they can and should automate; which tasks if automated will dramatically increase their productivity, or free up staff for more important jobs.
Is it easier to implement the technology in a smaller – newer – business, because there is a lack of legacy infrastructure?
To a certain extent it’s always simpler to start from scratch. But our RPA offer has been specifically developed as part of a SaaS offering so that SMEs can implement it relatively easily with little or no need for infrastructure or architecture changes. By partnering with Thoughtonomy, we have developed an intelligent automation platform that requires a simple cloud deployment which can be fully managed by Ultima.
Why is it important to embrace emerging technologies, like RPA, in the era of disruption?
I like to think of us all being part of a huge ‘digital river’ where technology is changing so fast, and changing the way we can operate and do business each and every day, that if we don’t embrace it then we will be swept away.
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Ultima has to make sure its boat is floating and that we are paddling hard; embracing new technologies and evolving our solutions and service offerings for our clients. RPA and intelligent automation technologies have the ability to transform the way we do business and indeed how humans work for the better. If SMEs don’t embrace this disruption and reap the benefits of greater efficiencies and improved productivity they will soon be washed up.