The Robotic Process Automation Journey

Robotic Process Automation doesn’t entail a tin body and mechanical movements like what comes to mind when you hear the word “robot” – it is an application of software configured to emulate and integrate rule-based tasks typically done by users carrying out business functions.

Although this technology has been in the works for a few years, it recently started gaining more traction. Arrow’s “automation journey” started about eight months ago – Director of IT, Global ECS BI & Automation Deepak Agarwal was closely involved in the process with many of Arrow’s internal IT teams.

RPA is best suited for the highly manual and repetitive processes within the enterprise computing solutions business at Arrow, enabling workers to shift their focus away from simple, mindless tasks and further utilize their creative talents and cognitive ability.

What Can the Bot Do?

Arrow’s first launch in late 2018 deployed four different processes performed by virtual workers, affectionally called “BOT.” So how much can BOT really do? Basically, any tasks that don’t require cognitive decision-making.

Arrow’s BOT helps with customer order processing, data validation, matching, booking orders and specific provisions for suppliers. On the immixGroup side, the bot can navigate to the external partner’s website and find information around lost RFQs, send packages to sales reps to work on, complete a simple copy and paste from a PDF into a system and more.

Crossing what Agarwal named the “copy-paste hustle” off their daily to-do list when processing forms, some of Arrow’s partner specialist teams are already seeing massive benefits from utilizing BOT to employ repetitive and mundane tasks.

Let’s talk hours. What kind of ROI are we looking at in terms of time consumption? According to Agarwal, “we continue adding more processes for BOT to perform and have already saved more than 1,000+ business hours since launch – but who’s counting?”

The bot never goes offline, working 24 hours a day instead of the average 9-5 shift. This is particularly advantageous to those who collaborate across different time zones. Many Arrow sales teams no longer need to wait on supporting teams to process simple requests – they are instead able to provide the value of time, focusing on selling with increased exposure time with the customer.

For example, BOT is taking on all of the low-value tasks processing orders for Partner Specialist Randy Privett, who has been in his role only nine months and is able to manage a large account without another person on his team. With his time freed up, he is able to help other team members in addition to his current account.

“Randy is now able to provide a lot more customer focus and interaction on a daily basis,” added Inside Sales Manager Alan Cohn, who works closely with Privett. Cohn described this relationship building and ability to connect with customers as “key to our success and growth.”

“RPA has been a huge factor in allowing Randy to focus his time on these more value-added tasks, rather than the monotonous copy and paste tasks,” said Cohn. After this team’s success with RPA in the Purchase Order to Sales Orders process, BOT is now working in the quote processing space as well.

BOT has received a standing ovation and remarkable positive feedback from those who have acclimated to receiving support from a virtual worker and those who helped drive the project forward.

“The BOT is great! It’s making booking POs so much easier. The BOT also allows us to be more accurate, and avoid human error. It saves so much time, too. I’m very happy with our new friend!”
Regina Vega, Partner Specialist

Overcoming Challenges

The bot thrives with highly rule-based processes, which has posed a few roadblocks along the way. This includes, for example, working through unexpected things like a pop-up on your screen. Any human worker would know to exit out, click “OK” or “Remind me tomorrow” (hopefully not too many times). For the new BOT, however, this is essentially like walking into a wall. BOT would have no knowledge or set rules of how to navigate through this unless it’s programmed to do so.

This lends perspective to just how many obstacles were encountered while developing and programming this process. Despite overcoming many hindrances like any company pioneering a new technology would, including limited resources and funding, Agarwal shines a positive light on the current and future possibilities of RPA. “When you’re starting the automation journey, you have to plan big but start small,” he said.

Agarwal also attributes the success of this solution to the professionalism and cooperation of all involved in the process and those who have adapted to a new way of working. “It is due to their openness to change and ongoing support that we have been able to expand and automate these processes.”

What About My Job?

RPA is one of the answers, it is not the answer. It can do many things, but not human things. Despite the bad rap RPA is getting due to the concern of bots replacing workers, a multitude of sources claim that RPA is intended to complement a human workforce, not replace them.

One of the biggest challenges with an innovative concept like this is ensuring that the workers’ relationship with an unknown technology runs smoothly. As employees confront what this technological innovation means for them, Agarwal continually strives to clarify that these bots pose an advantage to workers – not a threat. “These are very real concerns,” said Agarwal, “I value these concerns, hearing them out helps us avoid augmenting the wrong processes.”

According to Forbes, Robotic Process Automation will free employees to focus on more complex, higher-value customer challenges.

The Future of RPA

Although this journey began internally, Agarwal offers insight to Arrow partners and customers who are starting their own automation journey. He advises thinking twice if you are considering investing in automated processes for tasks that are either low volume or require complex cognitive abilities, since you may not get your desired ROI.

“The technology business at Arrow is fluid, we keep changing. The transactional cost of doing business has to reduce and we need to stay efficient without affecting our service levels, so why not leverage RPA?
–Deepak Agarwal

Congratulations to Agarwal and all Arrow IT teams and individuals involved in driving this huge success! Thank you for helping drive innovation forward.

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Last modified: July 22, 2019