It was about 10 years ago but I remember the conversation vividly: “How many times did you say you are entering product information?” I asked.
He answered: “Six different systems - some have additional data but the core is the same”
Me: “And how many new products are you doing this for?”
He said: “About 30 each day.”
Stunned at the amount of manual, repetitive data entry involved in the product introduction process, the next time I came across this I was not so surprised. I later discovered people had names for this phenomenon: “Swivel chair integration” was one. My favorite was always “Digital Integration”, expressed while holding up a hand and wiggling fingers. It was like looking into a typing pool back in the 1950’s.
These issues still exist - across all industries - but retail, due to its volume of products, stores and employees, is a particular issue. Often a solution is on the horizon - a new system will arrive next year that will take the issue away; maybe it was supposed to arrive this year but got delayed for whatever reason. Or maybe a new system has been introduced into the business and, while IT has it on the radar to integrate, it just isn’t high enough priority yet.
The truth is, every business has process steps that are manual, repetitive and repeatable. In other words, they are great candidates to be automated. Indeed when it comes to connecting different systems, or pulling data from multiple systems there always seems to be a “long tail” of small projects that IT don’t get to - just because they have too much else on their radar. Business people need tools to address this without involving IT – but where do these come from?
Enter Robotic Process Automation, or RPA.
Robotic Process Automation offers the ability for a business - with only a small amount of training - to rapidly connect systems, enter data across multiple systems or combine data from multiple systems into a report in an automated manner. All this without needing to seek help from the IT team!
In fact, pretty much any highly repetitive, repeatable task can be a candidate for such an approach – saving time, removing tedium but more importantly eliminating errors – errors that humans make when doing repetitive tasks.
The volumes involved in retail in terms of number of employees, products, vendor/business partners make retail environments massively high potential environments for RPA. As part of Software AG”s overall webMethods and ARIS process suite it plays a key part in streamlining, automating and improving productivity.
Examples of where RPA can add real value purely because of the number of times activities are required include:
- Vendor/ business partner set-up
- Employee on-boarding / off boarding
- New product set-up across all systems
- Building reports for Monday morning trading meeting
There are many more candidates – if it is repetitive, repeatable and can be rule driven it could well be a candidate. MWD Advisors has written a report to advise and give a starting point for retailers.