Robotic process automation (RPA) is becoming a fast, efficient and affordable system for all kinds of applications. Swisscom has a wide range to offer the financial sector. The public sector, healthcare providers and logistical businesses can all also benefit from this experience.
Author: Ruben Tavares, Images: iStock,
May I interest you in a somewhat unconventional option? There is a way to speed up workflows in a targeted way without falling back on the old 'classics' like standardising interfaces and optimising processes. It is called robotic process automation, or RPA for short. Without rebuilding the entire system from scratch, small-scale software applications, or 'bots', carry out simple but crucial tasks. They overcome obstacles when lines of communication have not (yet) been adjusted or handle the tedious extra work created because workflows have not (yet) been precisely coordinated with each other. To sum up, these software robots take on non-value-adding work that is too monotonous, time-consuming and susceptible to errors for human employees – and they can do it 24/7.
However, the fact that the use of RPA is often still regarded as unconventional is due not to the sophisticated technology, which is ready to use immediately, but rather to a lack of awareness about it in some industries. Swisscom's expertise and comprehensive services relating to RPA have been used by banks for many years with considerable success. Other companies, such as those working in healthcare, commerce and logistics, as well as institutions and the public sector, have only recently had their attention drawn to process automation and its benefits. The added value that it offers is plain for them to see.
In addition to numerous projects in banking and a comprehensive system of smart automation introduced at the company itself years ago, Swisscom has worked with the canton of Zürich to develop and implement a series of RPA use cases for the cantonal authorities. These include a system for handling requests for short-time work.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused short-time work applications among cantonal authorities in Switzerland to skyrocket. The canton of Zürich normally sees ten such requests per month, but the figure abruptly shot up to 30,000. At an average processing time of ten minutes, even recruiting more personnel would not have been enough to prevent severe delays in payment. The canton therefore made use of Swisscom's experience and, early in 2021, introduced an RPA system based on SAP's Intelligent Robotic Process Automation software. The result is that the system has been running stably for more than half a year, while requests now take 85% less work to process. Average processing time has been cut to just 30 seconds. A follow-up project is due to automate further administrative processes in the canton of Zürich in autumn 2021. Other cities and cantons are also planning to step up their use of RPA.
One of the biggest benefits of RPA – overcoming delays caused when seamless data transfer is not possible or when adapting data from one interface to another – appears to be its main drawback at the same time: Bots are no substitute for state-of-the-art processes with flexible, interlocking workflows. They often make for a somewhat one-size-fits-all solution that covers a lack of process optimisation at system level. It is therefore essential to establish beforehand whether using a bot will actually yield the expected added value in the intended task.
Process automation is not optional for Ruben – it is an absolutely essential part of being equipped to face the digital challenges to come. That includes the fact that fundamental obstacles need to be overcome, such as the increasing amount of data to be processed.
Ruben studied business information systems at Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW), focusing on software engineering. Providing advice on and implementing efficient automation systems make up his core area of expertise. He is responsible for Intelligent Automation & Robotics at Swisscom.