We let the robots do the tedious work
Published on 17th of February 2020
Marc Julian De Leon
Robotic Process Automation Specialist at Vestas Americas
The first thing to get out of the way: The robots that my colleagues and I are making are nothing like what you see in the movies. The robots we create are virtual bots, basically programs and workflow algorithms. What we create are systems that remove the tedious manual parts of each business process, the parts that are often prone to problems and mistakes. The advantages are obvious: reduced errors, cost reduction and the opportunity for my colleagues to free up time to be more productive in areas that they are good at.
When did it become feasible to consider robots? Changes in just the last few years have allowed us to revolutionize the way we can develop and deploy robots across Vestas. When I joined Vestas here in Manilla in 2017, RPA – that’s Robotic Process Automation – was just a buzz word with promises. There were no robots in place, no infrastructure and no clear strategy.
By early 2018 I was devising a strategy and developing the first pilot robot. Now in 2020, we have a team of developers and almost 20 bots in production. It moves very quickly: In 2 to 4 weeks we can now put a bot into a production flow. And when we create an algorithm for one project, we can quickly reuse it and apply it to other projects to increase agility and speed. It’s scalable in minutes.
But what about security? Well, in the early days, bots ran in the cloud, which was not the way we wanted to work. But today’s bots work securely within Vestas internal infrastructure – this was actually part of our 2019 strategy; to move all activity to secure internal networks and make them safe, stable and scalable.
A second leg to our strategy is to empower each business area to develop their own robots. Through shared projects, we reach out to different areas to automate processes. We just develop the initial pilot robot, which they can then invest in and further develop according to our governance.
The next step is where it gets really interesting though. Right now, it’s a great time to be in Vestas, there are so many initiatives and we’re really being asked to get out and explore possibilities. We now have all the quick wins in place, so we’re currently looking at other automation tools. We think it’s now time to push our transition into more intelligent robots, employing chatbots, machine learning and AI: A robot that can trigger responses and communicate with other systems - even mimicking user behavior using a system user interface like Skype.
So, what kind of jobs do robots do best? Basically, job roles that don’t require a certain specific skill or knowledge; actions that are tedious, rule-based and repetitive - and which take time from my colleagues’ more value-adding activities. One place we really see bots making a positive difference is in managing authorizations or requests in our SAP systems. It used to be very time consuming - creating a ticket, getting the service desk to assign it to a service team, who then reviews it… and if wrong access was requested, well, let’s say it took forever. Now, we’re working on a chatbot with AI to eliminate human intervention, making closing the ticket faster and way more efficient.
Currently, we’re focusing on automating back-end finance and procurement processes in our shared services centers and moving forward we’re looking into automating more processes in the commercial side of things: Ultimately, it’s our hope to make a bigger impact by improving processes that affect the end-to-end customer experience with the help of RPA and chatbots.
At conferences, people often ask me if, by creating all these bots, I’m going to put myself out of a job. In reality, that’s not something I’m concerned about: If you’re in a line of work where there is a need for creativity and empathy there is always a job. Personally, because I’m a problem solver, and there will always be problems, I feel pretty safe!