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30 Aug 17 11:03

As I walked down the hall toward my office, I realised I was being followed. I turned around in surprise to see a slightly out of breath colleague who had seen me across the lobby and chased after me because he wanted to thank me. Mind you, I did not know who this person was until he introduced himself. When he said his name, I immediately knew who he was and that my team had built Marvin for him. Marvin is a software robot which performs some very boring work, and saves him over two hours of work EACH DAY during the peak financial closing periods.

Interactions like this one are what really help to motivate me to come in to work and drive my team to continue helping Swiss Re be more efficient and better serve our customers by streamlining processes and using robots to automate manual, rules-based, repetitive tasks.

The idea of Robotic Process Automation (perhaps in different forms and with other names) has been around for many years. However, it is only in the last two or three years that the technology has matured to the point where it can successfully be deployed by an operations team into an organization while not requiring extensive IT support – although it is always a good idea to have IT on board and work collaboratively.

Since we started, we have learned a lot. About 18 months ago I set up the Robotic Automation Centre of Excellence to implement the technology into Swiss Re. It took less than six months to put our first robot in production. It was clear from the beginning that the technology works well. It was also clear that most of our effort was going to be spent working with corporate assurance functions like risk management to set up the processes and controls to keep the flexibility and speed which RPA offers while making sure that we did not introduce undue risks in the process. Paradoxically, we had to go slow in order to go fast.

That effort is paying off, and we now have a very diverse and reliable family of robots covering over 30 processes at Swiss Re performing value enabling activities.

The most remarkable thing I have found, is that implementing robots is surprisingly human. The change management challenges we anticipated when we first started did not materialize. People feel relief and are happy to get the help. They do not see the robots as a threat to their job. Universally each team which has a robot working for them, is extremely happy – and always wants more. This is because the work the robot does is generally mind-numbing, repetitive and error-prone – in a nutshell work which our brains are not well suited to perform. The human robot collaboration is helping people focus on higher value, more engaging and more rewarding activities.

It has also had an unexpected benefit of helping align processes. When teams across the globe see that a robot can perform a certain set of tasks, they are much more willing to consider whether the differences in their process are really necessary – or is it just because that is the way they have always done it. As a result, we have been able to expand the use of a number of our robots across different geographies where the process could be aligned and where there were market or regulatory differences we were able to make tweaks to have the robot handle those differences.

Robotic Process Automation is not a silver bullet to efficiency and is not the answer to every problem but should certainly be a part of any organization’s digital toolbox as a cost effective alternative. A big task of a Robotic Automation Centre of Excellence is making sure the right processes are selected to automate and that processes have already been aligned and streamlined – because in the end automating a bad process does not help.

If you would like to learn more about Robotic Process Automation and how it may be able to help your organization, or have any questions about it, feel free to join the conversation.

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Alicia Montoya - 12 Sep 2017, 8:26 p.m.

Hmmm, I guess my question is how frequent does the task need to be for it to be worth the automation effort? Is there a threshold?

PS: Love the unintended process alignment :D

Jose Ordinas - 19 Sep 2017, 5:19 a.m.

Hi Alicia - Thank for the question. There is no pre-set frequency threshold. Most business cases are based on higher frequency processes which roughly translates to the equivalent of 0.5 FTE performing the task. However we also have some very successful robots which run less frequently but at peak time periods (e.g. financial quarter close) or which are automating an inneffective or inefficient manual control (e.g. monthly balance reconciliations.)

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