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Bring on the robots

Ultima has seen productivity in back-end processes rise by a factor of two since it implemented robotic process automation (RPA). James Goulding reports

Scott Dodds
Scott Dodds

Last year Ultima launched a robotic process automation (RPA) solution in conjunction with RPA leader Thoughtonomy (see box opposite). Designed to bring the benefits of RPA within reach of small and medium-sized businesses, the intelligent automation platform is now available to SMEs as part of Ultima’s SaaS offering and, for smaller installations, requires little or no infrastructure and application re-architecture.

Ultima says that using software robots, or ‘Virtual Workers’ as it calls them, to automate time consuming, repetitive back-end processes in HR, legal, finance and IT frees up staff to spend time on strategic projects that offer a competitive advantage, while improving productivity and enhancing compliance and data security by removing human error.

Ultima CEO Scott Dodds told PrintIT that while larger businesses have been enjoying these benefits for years, cloud delivery means that they are now also available to smaller organisations.

“RPA is fairly standard now, it’s a 10-year old technology. The new bit, from our point of view, is the ability to deliver it from the cloud and open it up to mid-market and smaller enterprises where it has traditionally not been much of a focus,” he said.

Enterprises not unlike Ultima, which employs 400 people in offices in London and Reading and has annual revenues of £100 million.

The fast growing provider of on-premise and cloud IT infrastructure and managed services frst got to grips with RPA when setting up a new business practice – Intelligent Automation – of which RPA is a component.

It quickly gained first-hand experience of RPA technology and for the last year and a half has been using the Thoughtonomy

platform to automate back-end processes in its managed services operation, planning, fnance (invoice processing) and HR. Dodds claims that in some areas productivity has increased by a factor of two as a result.

“On the forecasting and planning side, we have introduced a robotic process to collate a lot of real-time information across the business. That runs automatically now and just pulling that data together saves sales and marketing as much as 8-10 hours a day. That one relatively small process is saving us a lot of time and, more importantly, giving us massively increased business intelligence,” he said.

Another process that Dodds says has been made more efficient through the use of Virtual Workers is the administration of leavers and joiners.

“There’s a lot of work involved in setting up new accounts, in automating the process of ordering equipment and devices for joiners. The software robot can take basic information about a starter (including PII information, which is part of GDPR) and manage it in an automated way. It goes away and sets up on various systems, logging into our ERP systems, logging into our payroll systems, our finance systems, polling four or five different systems and pulling everything together. It’s auditable and traceable and, rather than having 3, 4 or 5 people involved in setting up those things, with everyone having to remember to do it on the right day, the process is automatic. As soon as the base information is set up – the name of the person, their bank account details, address – it is automatically managed and automatically audited and qualified.”

Basic process automation is just the first stage. One of the benefits of cloud delivery, says Dodds, is that it makes it easier for organisations to access new capabilities as they are developed, including AI.

“Because the Thoughtonomy platform is running in the Azure cloud, it can take advantage of capabilities being built by Microsoft, and that includes AI and document reading. Once the basic processes are in place, you can start to introduce AI and cognitive stuff on top. That’s where RPA starts to get lever and starts recommending how a process can be improved. Because it’s on the Azure cloud, the Thoughtonomy platform can plug in and add new services all the time.”

Managing growth

Office space
Office space

Dodds claims that RPA has already had far-reaching consequences for Ultima’s employees and customers.

“Taking the highly repetitive stuff that isn’t adding massive value out of the day job gives you time and energy to do other things in the business. It enables people to retrain and learn new skills, which is all part of employee development. And it increases customer satisfaction because you have a faster response cycle – you are using humans to interact with customers rather than managing processes behind the scenes,” he said.

Dodds adds that by enabling the smarter use of resources, RPA is also helping the company to manage high growth levels.

“Ultima is seeing double-digit growth and that needs managing. One of the things that RPA and intelligent automation does for us is enable us to grow without massively increasing our cost base, whilst retaining customer satisfaction and a focus on quality of service. We believe pairing very smart human citivity with smart software robotics is one of the keys to our growth,” he said.

What UK SMEs think about RPA

57% fear the use of RPA by large enterprises will drive them out of business in the next five years.

65% already use, or have plans to use, RPA to automate repetitive tasks.

56% say freeing up staff to focus on more strategic work is a key driver for RPA.

63% believe RPA can help improve IT security.

88% would consider using or investing in RPA to help improve IT security and data compliance.

(source: Ultima)

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