I recently took part in the Blue Prism Café with thought leaders from Equinix and its implementation partner, WonderBotz, to discuss how the world's global interconnection leader employs connected robotic process automation (RPA) and other technologies - across its finance operations as part of a larger Digital Transformation initiative. This blog will cover the company’s process optimization journey, how automation is now driving productivity gains, how visual recognition can be implemented, and key lessons learned.
Equinix has embarked on a supply chain digital transformation, program that spans its people, process and technology – across its finance operations. The company wanted to achieve several business case benefits from this program that included; improved quality, efficiency, better sourcing decisions, more efficient supplier management and cost savings.
To move the program forward, Equinix established a global procurement operating model to streamline processes, defined new operating norms in supply management and related finance processes – while rolling out a global, end-to-end, ‘source-to-pay’ platform. This is now being delivered via a center of expertise that supports Equinix’s business users across the organization.
One activity that was ripe for transformation was the company’s Accounts Payables (AP) team where it had globally-distributed FTEs, manually creating and paying vendor invoices each day.
How RPA and OCR drive productivity gains
Equinix wanted to optimize its end-to-end payables processes - while reducing paper use and deliver a significant reduction in this manual repetitive work. To achieve this, the company created a new, collaborative way of working – using Blue Prism’s connected RPA platform to run Digital Workers that manage tasks – while working in tandem with other technologies and staff members too.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was introduced using ABBYY’s software to open the eyes of the Digital Workers – while adding efficiencies and accuracy to Equinix’s internal payment operations. This enables the Digital Workforce to scan paperwork, PDFs or digital forms, as they can automatically ‘see’ the contents and turn that resulting data into a meaningful output for the business. Digital Workers manage invoice processing, receipt - through to registration in Oracle, by ingesting new invoices, structuring them for conversion from PDF to XML file, validating the extracted data, loading it into the AP system and then use Oracle functionality for managing invoice approvals.
As well as invoice processing, the system executes user-defined business rules such as; ‘invoice currency’ or ‘vendor exists and in good standing’ - to ensure invoices are of highest quality before being entered into the AP system. Additionally, every installment, payable item, and batch payment is then automatically evaluated before a payment is issued. Digital Workers send rejected items or exceptions, to the accounts payable team – enabling human workers to handle these tasks and confirm values on low confidence extractions.
Working closely with WonderBotz, Equinix has transformed a range of accounts payable tasks and will soon be automating account reconciliation and customer service. So far, Equinix has optimized its procure-to-pay process and is projected to liberate over 14,000 hours per year for the finance team – so resources can focus on higher-value tasks – while cutting time from the procurement cycle. This has also reduced the ‘supplier query’ response time by 50% thus improving vendor satisfaction
Processing capacity has also increased - from one - to two full payment runs per week - for approximately 100,000 annual payments. Compliance risks have been reduced too, as all the required documents are saved consistently and then shared with the company’s SOX team.
Equinix has carefully managed change – anticipating the inevitable automation anxiety of its staff by highlighting RPA’s value early in the journey. The company reassured employees by explaining that automation would liberate them to refocus on higher value, more rewarding roles - and these messages were communicated broadly via workshops and internal newsletters. To encourage further employee engagement with RPA, the Digital Workers are humanized, with staff naming them - as each process goes live.
Key lessons learned
When asked about lessons learnt, Equinix and WonderBotz, cited 4 key actions that they believe will make an RPA journey easier for others:
- Ensure the senior business owners and IT stakeholders are on board at the beginning of your journey to ensure a smooth progress.
- We looked at the project as process improvement - rather than just automation – it makes everything easier – especially if you plan to standardize across multiple regions.
- Prepare the right use cases for automation – keep the focus narrow – so you expend minimal effort and gain maximum value.
- Look for an RPA partner with a proven delivery track record - and size or brand status really doesn’t matter here. By getting this selection right, will help you start automating effectively - and in far less time.