This week we had the pleasure of hosting our monthly Blue Prism Café with Nancy Sachdeva, RPA Center of Excellence Lead, together with colleagues from Business area : Spot Buy, Procurement : Hamza Muhammed, AI & RPA Expert, and Dogan Dersüneli, RPA Expert.
As a finalist in Blue Prism’s Excellence in Enterprise RPA Awards this year, the team discussed how they created a federated Center of Excellence (CoE) that collaborates with the wider business to achieve seamless integration between digital colleagues and human colleagues. This blog reveals how Uniper is becoming a truly digital enterprise - using Blue Prism’s connected-RPA, to drive transformation of its processes and culture - to deliver better business outcomes and embed digital culture
The need for transformation
A leading international energy company, with headquarters in Düsseldorf, Uniper has operations in more than 40 countries and around 12,000 people. Uniper’s business is to provide a reliable supply of energy and related services. Its main operations include power generation in Europe and Russia and global energy trading, including a diversified gas portfolio.
Being a process – centric organization, Uniper focuses a lot on reshaping the existing business processes to achieve efficiency and productivity and enhanced customer experience. While undergoing organization transformation, with numerous processes and systems, RPA seemed to be one of the promising innovations and a transformation measure that could add value. Connected- RPA was adopted in the organization in 2016.
Uniper has a culture where employees come first and work to the best of their capabilities, so it’s important for the company to make processes and employees more efficient and effective. This means leveraging technology, streamlining processes and most importantly, empowering people – to drive digital transformation. Uniper therefore sought innovations that could address these challenges and identified Blue Prism’s connected-RPA technology as a potential solution.
Keeping connected-RPA sustainable
Right from the beginning of the journey, a Centre of Excellence (CoE) was created. The topic was aligned and had board level support This led to wider interest and momentum in the roll out but most importantly to the acceptance of a Centre of Excellence and a One_Uniper approach of having standardised ways of working and infrastructure.
The CoE operates as a federated model, with experts that drive organizational transformation - via process re-designs, business architecture and change management. the CoE came together at the start of the journey with a group of business areas, called ‘pioneers’, namely, from Procurement, Accounting and Back office operations – CoE and businesses coming together to reap optimum benefit from connected-RPA.
Nancy Sachdeva explains, “At Uniper, we are building an integrated team with our digital colleagues working with our human colleagues. We want to make our digital colleagues part of the business teams because business knows their processes best and ultimately, it's about the process and the business impact which robot is serving. We have a joint implementation team where business Area is ultimate owner of the robot and business case, CoE is owner of overall Uniper roadmap and is responsible for organization onboarding to RPA and ultimately, key role played by IT to provide IT support model, infrastructure and security.
One of the biggest impacts within the organization is job enrichment, for example: the back-office analyst is now trained on RPA to be able to configure his/her own digital colleague. That analyst will never see his or her work in the same way anymore, for him the lens to view processes has changed. So, what we are doing is: Leveraging technology, streamlining processes and most importantly, empowering people and I think this is key for digital transformation. I strongly believe in the power of community and when doing connected- RPA, we’re all a community of pioneers - learning every day in this journey and solving problems together. Automation is also bringing our teams closer and making us more knowledgeable. When we work together, IT learns about what business processes are, what business people are doing, and business learn about what can go wrong in infrastructure.”
The regulated nature of utilities requires a key focus on process quality, compliance and audit. Therefore an "RPA Handbook" was created based on the Blue Prism ROM, and a pictorial tool to identify whether a process requires improvement, standardization, re-design or automation. Additionally, an Enterprise Architecture tool was used to identify all process dependencies with robots and ever-changing applications.
By choosing the right processes, making them more standardized, and if required redesigned - front to end, Uniper ensures that staff spend more time on value adding tasks - instead of manually comparing large data sets, entering data, or archiving and storing data.
Evolving connected-RPA in practice
With approximately 50 processes live at the end of 2018, Uniper has always envisioned connected-RPA as a starting point and is now adding more capabilities. For example, this includes building more skills to the robot : natural language processing, OCR technology and machine learning to make it smarter, which are also revealed in the following two use cases from one of the business area at Uniper : Spot Buy Desk, Procurement.
Use case: Front desk support for purchasing - Dogan Dersüneli showcased a chatbot called “P.I.A” : integrating a front-end chatbot interface with an RPA bot in the backend . This reduces front office staff having to perform information request tasks including; purchase order status, shopping card status and purchase requisition status – so they spend time performing more complex tasks and delivering improved customer experience. The P.I.A system uses Microsoft Azure infrastructure, for coding Visual Studio, with language C sharp are used and the language understanding service is LUIS from Microsoft.
Use case: Certificate renewal process - Hamza Muhammed, AI expert from Procurement department talked us through this use case. Uniper’s procurement department has up to eight types of security and compliance related certificates that enable them to do business with suppliers.
These certificates are scanned PDF documents which are fed into the computer vision algorithm. A Digital Worker uploads the certificate, tracks its validity and if it’s expired, a supplier request is sent for an updated renewal certificate. AI is used to enable the Digital Worker to differentiate between different types of certificates - based on its content. To make fuzzy images easier to read, computer vision algorithms are applied to sharpen them, OCR extracts data from documents and a final algorithm is applied to create a classified document.
How Uniper builds tomorrow’s RPA talent
Uniper believe that a key part of change management is both educating and training people in connected-RPA. The company created a standard training curriculum covering process assessments, so business teams can find the best candidates for automation. There is delivery framework training for those process experts, developers or business analysts, embarking on RPA journey too. The training modules are created in-house, based on Uniper’s structured framework and governance, and is delivered by the CoE. As a result, 180 Uniper people are already the beneficiaries of these trainings, resulted in a strong RPA Community.
Uniper also leverages a leading training partner of Blue Prism, when required, for specialized training for developers exclusively to embed expertise within business areas to configure their digital colleagues.
Key lessons learned
When asked about lessons learnt, Uniper’s team cited 2 key actions that they believe will make an RPA journey easier for others:
- Connected-RPA must always be a business-led initiative - enabled by IT. Both departments must work together, as IT provides the necessary security, support and infrastructure to enable a successful transformation journey.
- Before you consider automating a process always establish why you’re considering it and if there’s strategic value and business impact in actually doing it.