Sector 01/18

When the Future Becomes an Everyday Reality - My Colleague the Robot

An automated software solution relieves employees and customers

Gathering data for a search engine in a short time or initiating maintenance work on a date that was set earlier: this is very easy nowadays using so-called bots, automated computer scripts. Robot solutions are increasingly making their way into the digital working world. They have been used at Rhenus Office Systems, one of the Rhenus Group companies, since last year.

Christian Schulte-Ontrop proudly reports that Rhenus acquired the licences for 14 robots last year. The robots are not machines, but software that imitates human work stages. This is called Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as robotics. The Managing Director of Rhenus Office Systems, the specialist for document and information logistics, is looking after their deployment in Germany. The first software robots were used in Poland in the autumn of 2017. “Our initial experiences with them have been very promising, both for internal processes and as a service provider for our customers,” says Schulte-Ontrop.

Software robots can log any data from different systems and process it according to rules that are defined in advance. As a result, they are in a position to accelerate working processes and make them cheaper. At the same time, errors are reduced to almost zero. It is a real benefit that it is unnecessary to launch an IT project with elaborate interfaces. Depending on the complexity required, a simple robot solution can be made ready for use by a trained employee with a moderate knowledge of IT expertise.

But what does RPA really look like? “You need to imagine something rather like having a virtual employee. It first needs to learn the ropes and be given operating instructions. For example, log yourself into the system! Open file A! If the box on the left has a cross in it, classify the document in the “Invoice” category! The robot can then complete these instructions on its own,” Schulte-Ontrop explains. Rhenus has opted for a server-based software solution from the Kofax company.

Rhenus robots transfer data
The robots are particularly suitable for completing standardised tasks that are repeated regularly. “They tend to be routine tasks with a moderate to high volume, where errors are liable to occur,” says Schulte-Ontrop. For instance, transferring and comparing sets of data. The robots were mainly used at first in the field of accounting. The virtual colleague had to transfer master data from the operational system to the SAP system and check its quality. “An employee formerly had to type the sets of data into the SAP system by hand. That involved a lot of work. The robot extracts the data automatically from the source system and transfers it to the target system,” Schulte-Ontrop reports.

A software robot is quick, workmanlike, accurate, never gets tired and can be used without any breaks. It is completely oblivious to an eight-hour working day. Christian Schulte-Ontrop adds, “In theory, it’s just as productive as four-and-a-half employees. However, we don’t view robots as a substitute for members of staff, but as a support element. A robot cannot make any independent decisions. The aim is to relieve employees of labourintensive, simple tasks. They then have their minds free to concentrate on their core activities and value-creating tasks and are able to contribute their individual qualities.”

This software robot is being used at Rhenus Data Office in Warsaw too, “both for internal processes and in our business process outsourcing centre for outside customers that are having their business processes supported by robots,” says Jacek Dudkiewicz, the manager who is responsible for the Robotic Competence Center in Warsaw. Rhenus regularly invites those who would like to learn more to an information event called “Breakfast with the Robot” in Warsaw.

Use in processing and administration
Using robots within its own company was just the first step for Rhenus. In future, RPA will be increasingly made available to the logistics specialist’s customers. The level of interest is huge. RPA can be used in many different ways – whether for checking invoices, analysing purchases, handling orders, managing contracts or administering data.

RPA is already being used, particularly by logistics specialists, banks and insurance companies, but also in the retail world, the public sector, the automobile industry and in the e-commerce segment. The robots handle things like competitive analyses, tariff and contract administration tasks at insurance companies or provide support in analysing risks. The software can also check whether compliance regulations are being met in the banking sector. Robot-controlled programmes recognise customer preferences in the retail sector and suggest suitable special offers.

“The robotics solution is an outstanding opportunity to accelerate our digital transformation within the company and position ourselves in completely new areas of automated services as we continue to develop,” says Christian Schulte-Ontrop with a great deal of confidence.

ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION
Companies can automate processes efficiently by using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as robotics, and relieve employees of repetitive tasks. This reduces costs, increases the quality and provides reproducible results. Kofax was one of the first providers of a server-based robot solution. The company, which has its headquarters in Irvine in California, offers its products in more than 70 different countries and works for 25,000 customers. 

EMPLOYEE ORIENTATION

RPA

Robotics in figures

  • 1 robot completes the volume of work of 4.5 employees
  • 50 % higher productivity
  • 30 – 60 % savings in costs
  • 80 % lower processing times
  • 100 % data-compatible
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