RPA really delivers

Editorial Type: Case Study Date: 05-2020 Views: 558 Tags: Document, RPA, Software, UiPath PDF Version:
Changing customer behaviour and new digital communication challenges mean the Royal Mail has to continually improve its efficiency and innovation: in 2018/19 alone RPA delivered over £4.5 million in value to the business

The daily mail delivery service is part of the fabric of everyday life. In the UK, 85% of people say the Royal Mail is an important part of their local community. However, changing customer behaviour and new digital communication challenges means the UK's leading mail provider has to continually improve its efficiency and innovation. The company chose UiPath to help bring the power of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to its central business activities.

Royal Mail is one of the oldest companies in the UK able to trace its history back over 500 years. Today, it employs over 160,000 people and delivers 1.8 billion parcels and 14 billion letters every year. However, in order to achieve its business objectives profitably, Royal Mail has to be lean and efficient in the way it works in all areas of the business.

In 2017, Wendy Hulton, Head of the Process Simplification and Automation Team at Royal Mail established a proof of concept to demonstrate what automation could bring to the business. She says: "I'd seen RPA in action and wanted to show what it could do for the company. Royal Mail needs to find new ways of doing things and is now investing in our digital capabilities. I felt that we could take a lead in automation to help deliver the cost savings and employee productivity gains the company requires."

With the help of consultants PWC, Wendy created a small team and began what quickly became three Proof of Values - each given its own human name to help with user adoption. 'Marvin' automated part of the customer set-up process while 'Winston' helped with supplier set-up. Both were similar processes that took data from forms, checked it, getting additional data and completing the set-up. In a matter of weeks both had been designed, developed and delivered to the business.

Gary Turner, Royal Mail's Head of RPA Implementation, comments: "Both Marvin and Winston were quite simple processes and we were able to show that each saves the time equivalent of two employees. However, we were able to demonstrate something more important: how the robots helped us improve the quality of the processes they automate."

The automation process allowed the team to identify that 40% of the customer set-up forms being received into the process were incorrect. They had data errors or information was missing. The team also discovered that the incorrect forms weren't being returned to the originator but, instead, the person doing the set-up would correct the forms, which added up to wasted time and money. Marvin automatically returned the form and identified where it needed changing. Within three weeks, the number of incorrect forms had been reduced to almost a quarter of the previous total.

Wendy says: "While we got everything right with Marvin and Winston, we weren't so lucky with Ruby. We attempted to automate an entire HR recruitment process end-to-end. It was too big and too complex."

Ruby handled everything from the placement of recruitment ads, to application management to booking interview appointments. While the automation worked, it wasn't robust enough and failed to meet user expectations. It was a very important piece of learning for Wendy and her team.

She explains: "Ruby showed us that you shouldn't automate everything. You should look at the parts of the process that best suit RPA and build a simplified process where people and robots work together. In Ruby's case, it has meant developing six new robots that each undertake very specific tasks. Our mistake with Ruby has meant we build much better automations going forward."

The success of the Proof of Values allowed the team to establish a Centre of Excellence in September 2017 with an extremely important addition. What started as a central hub for automation only, became process simplification and automation.

Gary explains: "The danger with RPA is that if you automate a bad process, you just have a faster bad process. The benefit of the combined approach is that it identifies where there are issues in your current processes. You can look at the process and see where improvements can be made, where people are not working as efficiently as they could and, frankly, where they don't need to be doing things at all. We are able to standardise our processes, then automate and look to create reusable components that can be simply ported from one process automation to another."

By going through process simplification first, the Centre can identify where RPA can deliver the most value to a process and prepare those tasks or process elements for automation.

By May 2018, the Centre of Excellence was fully staffed and operational and had defined four categories of robots - cost saving, service delivery, financial control and revenue improvement - and had successfully delivered nine new live robots for different parts of the Royal Mail business.

That's when people really started to notice as Wendy explains: "People were beginning to see the benefits in terms of cost saving, productivity and employee satisfaction. The business told us that they wanted our automation to get bigger, faster and scale up across the organisation. So that's what we did."

Over the next nine months, Royal Mail went from 9 robots to 50. The strategy was to identify an area of the business with a pressing challenge, investigate all the processes within that area and identify where automation would deliver the best and most immediate effect. With aggressive business targets to meet, the Finance and HR shared service centres were ideal candidates. They both needed to achieve significant cost savings and find capacity without increasing headcount.

The approach was simple and effective: "We worked with the business users to spot 5 to 10 different processes that could be automated quickly and would remove a lot of the repetitive mundane tasks. This wasn't just about cost savings. It was a combination of savings, cost avoidance, revenue generation and freeing up capacity. We estimate that our robots delivered more than £4.5 million in value to the business in 2018/19."

To match the impressive speed of delivery - a new robot averaged between four and six weeks from concept to production - the team began to focus much more on testing and support to ensure high quality, robust automations that could scale across the business.

Gary comments: "Often RPA is brought in at a departmental level and you do things the way you want them - not the way the IT department would. However, we found that imposing some of the IT disciplines when it comes to service delivery is extremely beneficial. If you take longer in testing and roll-out, then your robots are stable, and they do what your business users need."

Royal Mail operates more than 1300 delivery offices throughout the UK. Each office acts like a small business with staff undertaking hundreds of small, manual administrative tasks every day. The processes within every delivery office are very similar but each separate operation has developed slightly different ways of doing things. The team is now looking at ways to use automation to help standardise processes across the delivery offices.

"Every day, the offices are doing many simple things, generally on a variety of spreadsheets, all taking time and effort. We'd like to apply the same approach of identifying the five or ten process steps most viable for automation and show the benefits that would bring to every delivery office. Even if we just free 20 minutes in the day for our managers that would translate to realisable cost savings and better quality of service," concludes Wendy.
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