Innovation & Future

RPA as an opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis

Immediate, efficient process automation for small and medium-sized companies

More and more companies are recognising the enormous potential of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and are investing in this forward-looking digital working method – during the COVID-19 crisis too. By using RPA, small and medium-sized companies in particular can confront the effects of the global pandemic and ensure that their business processes operate continuously. As a result, companies can increase their productivity and the level of customer and employee satisfaction and successfully cope with the crisis.

On the road to success with RPA

The Covid-19 crisis is confronting many companies with enormous challenges. Both small, medium-sized and even large firms are feeling the significant drop in demand and face the challenge of maintaining their capacity to act and demonstrating their resilience. Some companies have been closed for almost one year, short-time work has been introduced, employees are working from home and income is shrinking. This is a global pandemic that is subjecting all those involved to extreme levels of pressure.

However, the crisis is also opening up opportunities and is a catalyst for the process of digital transformation. Digital solutions and intelligent technologies have become much more important in this new normal world. Process automation in particular has become a focal element for many companies during the last few months. It is helping them meet changed requirements and maintain their business operations, even in times of crisis. Although robotic process automation (RPA) was already playing an increasingly important role in digitalisation at companies before the pandemic, this intelligent technology has attracted new levels of attention because of the Covid-19 crisis and the weak points that have emerged in business processes.

Process automation using RPA

But what really lies behind this trend? Robotic process automation does not involve any physical robots, but software robots that imitate human workflows. It is best to visualise the software robot as a virtual employee, which automatically completes routine tasks that are associated with significant manual and time-consuming effort. However, the course of action here is very simple: software robots are shown what they need to do on one occasion and they then use the predefined logic, rules and structure of the business processes to automate them. For example: Log into the system! Open file A! If there is a tick in the left box, place the document in the ‘Invoice’ category. The robot can then complete these specified tasks on its own without any problems and document the results.

The software robots usually work via the graphical user interface (GUI) and can therefore launch and serve various programs, read and send emails, read websites, sort, analyse and extract data, launch follow-up actions and communicate with other digital applications. As they interact with each system in the same way as human beings, it is unnecessary to integrate costly interfaces or even change applications or processes. Nearly every process can be automated using RPA – but robots are particularly efficient when handling manual, recurring and rule-based sequences.

The challenges of the global pandemic

Robotic process automation solutions are proving to be a huge source of support for companies as they face the Covid-19 crisis. The global pandemic is confronting firms with challenges that have never existed before and is causing both society and the business world to rethink matters. External requirements, regulations and situations can change on a daily basis and this also has an effect on everyday business operations. The previous models used by many organisations simply no longer work in the Covid-19 crisis and, in addition to problems in their supply chains and even a total collapse in demand, many firms are fighting the virus directly, too. Companies from every sector are confronted with rethinking their business models and processes.

Maintaining company continuity

‘Robotic process automation is having a positive effect on business operations, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. Thanks to RPA, it is possible to maintain business continuity and guarantee that all the essential tasks are processed without any gaps,’ says Marie-Louise Heidbrink, Team Leader and Process Consultant at Rhenus Robotics. Software robots take over and automate work sequences so that there are no delays in business processes if colleagues are absent from work for a fairly long period. RPA can also automate completely new tasks or activities involving high volumes, which may occur as a result of the pandemic. Guaranteeing these processes is an important step towards making a company stable even in a crisis and maintaining operations despite the restrictions.

Thanks to a rapid development and implementation period of just one week, there is no need for a protracted or costly IT project and the benefits can be felt immediately. Particularly during a pandemic, it is essential to be able to act quickly and respond to significant changes.

The right robot for each task

While RPA has often been used during the past few years in back offices, e.g. in finance and personnel departments, this technology is now increasingly being integrated in other departments as well. The specific examples of usage are extremely varied – ranging from drawing up work contracts, to transferring data between different programs and even processing incoming invoices.

„RPA has its classic fields of use at any point where employees routinely transfer data between applications, documents and databases and the activities involve a high degree of manual effort and are recurrent in nature.“
Simon Tang | Certified UiPath developer for robotics

As a result of their wide-ranging fields of application, RPA solutions are being used across different sectors – for example, at logistics specialists, payment service companies, banks and insurance companies, in the retail trade, at public offices and authorities, automobile manufacturers or in the health care sector.

The new normal world, new tasks

Particular fields of application can also be traced back to the pandemic. Companies are facing new tasks because of the COVID-19 crisis and are having to reorganise their processes. What happens to those activities that, for example, can only be performed in an office for data privacy reasons? Has an emergency plan been drawn up in case several employees are unable to work at the same time? Is the crisis giving rise to new tasks, which can no longer be handled by the employees because of their huge volume?

Software robots provide help and can guarantee that these kinds of work processes are handled reliably and quickly. Accounting and human resources processes, for example, are essential for maintaining minimum operations. It is therefore necessary to guarantee that tasks like entering payroll accounts in the books or settling invoices can be continued without any complications, even in times of crisis. Software robots can process these working stages quickly and reliably and document the results. Thanks to intelligent process automation, companies are therefore still able to function properly.

Competitive, even after the crisis

The advantages of using RPA are obvious: particular processes and partial processes can be completed more quickly and more efficiently when using software robots. After all, a software robot is well-versed in handling routine tasks, is precise, never gets tired and can be used without any breaks. It is not restricted to an 8-hour working day and is available round the clock. As a result, robot-controlled process automation offers enormous potential for saving costs, increasing productivity, easing the pressure on employees and reducing error rates - and these are all the key success points that companies need in order to maintain their competitiveness and innovative capability in the long term – even beyond the crisis.

However, it is not only companies that benefit from automated processes – employee satisfaction levels grow too. Software robots can handle wearisome office tasks and employees are released from time-consuming, repetitive and simple tasks. This means that they have a clear head to concentrate on their key activities and value-adding tasks and can contribute their individual qualities. This also creates more time for innovative ideas and concepts, which will enable the company to make progress.

„We cannot confirm the myth that software robots replace employees: companies are able to focus on easing the pressure on their employees, not dismissing them.“
Marie-Louise Heidbrink | Team Leader and Process Consultant at Rhenus Robotics

Satisfied and committed employees form the basis for any company’s success and indirectly and directly create greater customer satisfaction. Employees with a positive attitude demonstrate their satisfaction to customers too and make every effort to offer high-value services, which in turn makes it easier to tie customers to the firm and increase loyalty. Personal and direct contact is missing, particularly during crisis times; it is therefore important that the customer remains the central focal point and receives full attention from the employees. Customer satisfaction, however, also increases through the newly gained resources and capacities among the employees, who can now take on tasks that indirectly increase customer satisfaction.

Keeping your eyes on the future

“If we keep our eyes on the future, we can imagine that a great deal will change. The Covid-19 crisis will introduce even more challenges and effects and even the time after it has disappeared won’t be easy for companies either,” Marie-Louise Heidbrink concludes. However, new opportunities and openings will follow the crisis. The next few months will be a crucial moment for all companies to plot their course for the future. Will they manage to complete the transition towards a resilience movement and even digital transformation?

It is now time for companies to adapt their strategy and make their business crisis-proof and put it on a solid foundation for the future. Once robotics solutions have been put to use, they plot the course for the future. A fast, positive return on investment (ROI) can be achieved when using RPA: the investments pay off quickly and the desired effects are visible within a very short time. Automating processes also helps companies strengthen their position in the competitive environment and press ahead with digital transformation, which is particularly an important aspect during these special times.

Rhenus Robotics: getting through the crisis together

What is absolutely certain is that Robotic Process Automation is playing a pioneering role in enabling companies to cope with the pandemic. The Rhenus Robotics business unit has specialised in completing the digital transformation process at firms within the Rhenus Group and it has already developed and put into service numerous software robots both for the Group and external customers. Rhenus Robotics stands for target-oriented, customer-focused and innovative solutions and it is helping companies spread their wings even farther and increase their success. Firms with very different sizes and from very wide-ranging sectors are using the intelligent solutions to optimise their business processes, increase their profits and improve customers’ experience. “Many clients have integrated the software robots as virtual colleagues in their working procedures in such a way that they even have names like Herbert, Lara or Zoro,” Simon Tang explains.

The Rhenus software robots, for example, are helping companies handle customs clearance, draw up work contracts and sales reports or even cope with emergency admissions to hospitals by transferring data to the central hospital information system.

What the RPA journey looks like

Rhenus Office Systems is working exclusively with the world’s leading RPA software provider, UiPath, and is a certified silver partner. Customers have the opportunity to choose between two service packages: a rental model with three sizes or purchasing the RPA software. Most customers choose the rental option, the model known as Robotics as a Service (RaaS). The advantage here is that you only pay for the implementation and later for the actual usage calculated in the number of hours. This system can range from a minimum number of 15 hours per month to usage round the clock. The implementation of this kind of RPA solution is subdivided into seven stages:

At the start of the RPA journey, it is necessary to identify processes that are suitable for automation. With the help of the Rhenus RPA Guidelines, companies already obtain a good idea about which of their business processes could be worth considering and where the greatest potential lies. The initial discussions with the customer focus on analysing precisely these suitable processes.

Has a decision been made about which process needs to be automated? Then the process will be discussed in detail during the next stage and possible ‘if/then’ conditions will be considered. This detailed process analysis provides the basis for developing the RPA solution and it also helps identify possible process optimisation opportunities.

Once the process mapping has taken place, the individual software robot, which has been adapted to the company’s requirements, is developed. The pure development time until the robot can be put into service for the first time amounts to between three and five days. This depends on various factors – e.g. the complexity of the tasks involved.

After the software robot has been developed, the process is checked with the customer once again. Several tests are performed to enable a smooth launch to operations.

The process has been fully developed, numerous tests have been performed and it is now ready to go live. Rhenus monitors regularly, particularly during the first few weeks, whether the automated process is running without any error messages and the company is available to answer questions at any time.

Once the process automation project has been concluded, it is important to reflect on it once again. What went well? Did we meet the customer’s expectations? What can we improve next time? Is further process automation already being planned? All these questions can be discussed in a final round of talks with the customer.

The Robotics team is also available to respond to any questions or comments after the implementation phase. In coordination, it is also possible to integrate changes after the start of operations. Customer satisfaction is an issue close to our hearts at Rhenus!

Alternatively it is possible to purchase the software through Rhenus and set up an internal centre of excellence (CoE). The implementation sequence starts in a manner similar to the other operating model with consultancy services, including an analysis of requirements. The employees are then introduced to the topic of RPA with training and familiarisation sessions. This paves the way for successfully introducing a centre of excellence. During this phase, it is particularly important to include all the managers in the training courses so that implementation can take place without a hitch. Once companies have been successfully trained and prepared for the launch, they can then purchase the licences from Rhenus very easily and start developing their first process automation scenarios. Marie-Louise Heidbrink emphasises, “We’re available to help answer our customers’ questions even after they have purchased the licences and can particularly support them during the first automation projects.”

Does process automation sound exciting and innovative? Rhenus is pressing ahead with the process of digitalisation and is revolutionising the business processes at many companies. Ranging from developing the strategy to introducing employee training courses, the Rhenus Robotics experts are helping numerous companies to specifically use the opportunities offered by intelligent process automation and implement them. Thanks to the Rhenus Robotics Guidelines, companies obtain a good idea of their automation potential – and this means that nothing can hinder the process of digital transformation any longer!

Lena Halberstadt

With a passion for innovative solutions, intelligent process automation and forward-looking business models, Lena Halberstadt supports customers as they introduce analogue processes to the digital world. Thanks to her relevant experience in sales, marketing and strategy development, she is organising the digital future of many companies!

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