In today’s digital age, companies are increasingly turning to technology to redefine how they do business and gain a competitive edge. Flagged as the 4th industrial revolution, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the newest solution transforming operational processes. A recent report indicates that 72% of enterprises will utilize this technology in some form by 2019. RPA is already taking numerous industries by storm, but how can supply chain businesses leverage it to reap maximum results?
Making the most of RPA
It is a common assumption that investing in automation technology such as RPA must involve committing significant time, money and resources on comprehensive and expensive system upgrades. With this in mind, it is not surprising that many distributors prioritize automating large revenue-generating processes that they perceive deliver the highest immediate ROI, like product manufacturing and order fulfilment.
However, not all RPA initiatives require considerable investments or extensive system overhauls. The agility and flexibility of cloud-based RPA means implementing it can actually take just weeks or months rather than years. As a result, it can be applied to smaller, back-office initiatives that deliver great long-term return on investment (ROI).
First and foremost, it is important to understand how RPA works. Simply put, this technology learns on the job to replicate how humans would typically complete a task, automating the activity. When exploring potential RPA initiatives for your business, the key is to identify where your employees provide the most value and where automation could take over to free their time for more important tasks.
Document processing is one initiative that is primed for RPA. Currently producing significant operational difficulties and inefficiencies in the supply chain, its automation would create remarkable impact across your organization’s workflow and profit margin.
Solving document processing’s costly problems
Time is everything in business and your employees do not have much of it. Daily, hundreds or sometimes thousands of documents pour in for processing, from purchase orders to invoices. In the process, your employees spend hours every day manually keying data into the ERP system.
With these tedious hours of manual processing comes the added issue of human error. Whether entering the wrong part number or misplacing a decimal point on an invoice, making mistakes in document processing can be costly to correct and erode customer satisfaction.
Requiring no human intervention, RPA captures critical line data within minutes and with 100% accuracy, before directing it into your ERP system. The process can even continue overnight while your office is closed. As a result, several key operational benefits are gained. First, business productivity is rapidly increased. Second, the error rate of document processing is reduced to zero, saving your business time and money while simultaneously protecting your customer relationships and vendor partnerships. Subsequently, your staff’s days are freed to focus on real, profit-driving tasks like providing value-added support for key accounts.
A further problem with document processing is the inevitable peaks and quiet periods in customer orders every supply chain business faces. Scaling your business to meet these changes can be a challenge, with the recruitment and training of seasonal staff demanding a significant investment of resources. RPA resolves this issue, functioning as an untiring high tech workforce that scales up and down according to your needs without losing any consistency or quality in the service it delivers.
Finally, with vast quantities of valuable and untapped document data arriving every day for manual processing, you may miss out on vital insights into your sales and customer support processes. RPA has the ability to rapidly collect and analyze this key data, compiling it to show important patterns and trends in each customer’s behavior. In this way, you can customize the service offered to each account to maximize your value add.
Ultimately, RPA can deliver considerable, tangible benefits for supply chain businesses. While large-scale RPA projects optimize profit-generating processes, not all RPA initiatives require substantial undertaking and extensive enterprise wide upgrades to produce high returns. There is significant value in using RPA to automate rules-based, back-office functions, such as manual document processing. In fact, these smaller initiatives can create high ROI results: increasing employee productivity, minimizing operational costs and maximizing long-term customer satisfaction.