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UiPath & Azure: Data Driven Efficiency

By Automation Initiation, Data Platform, Enterprise PowerBI No Comments

At Talos our goal is simple: to deliver data-driven efficiency. In our experience, the best way to achieve this technically has been through the combination of UiPath & Azure – two very powerful technology stacks that when paired properly will deliver immense value. This blog post examines the relationship between UiPath & Azure, a typical design & use-case, and the data driven benefits of leveraging both together.

     

 

UiPath & Azure

UiPath is the world’s leading RPA company delivering a suite of automation technologies targeted at the enterprise level. Azure is Microsoft’s cloud platform, offering a vast array of services to customers to meet their complex needs. Given the technical strengths of each, it is possible to craft a solution that utilizes both to achieve optimum benefits, and in our case, deliver our goal of data-driven efficiency.

In numerous projects we have worked on, there has been a typical requirement to deliver reporting based on the combination of data from a variety of sources. This simple use-case can actually be quite complex, especially when dealing with legacy data source systems, large volumes of data and a significant reporting consumer-base. However, these requirements can be met with a very straight-forward UiPath & Azure solution design:

UiPath & Azure

This design is composed of the following individual elements:

  1. Azure VM’s
    1a. UiPath Studio
    1b. UiPath Unattended Bot
  2. Azure Blob Storage
  3. Azure Data Factory
  4. Azure DevOps
  5. Azure SQL Database
  6. Power BI

Each of these elements have a specific role in the solution, and fit in easily with each other, making this solution extremely robust, easy to initiate and  scalable.

  1. Azure VM’s

Azure Virtual Machines (VM) are the image service instances that provide computing resources that behave exactly like physical infrastructure, except virtually. The benefits of Azure VM are the on-demand nature of the product and the lower costs associated with management. In our solution, 2 of these VM’s are commissioned to provide separate environments for the UiPath tool:

1a. UiPath Studio is installed on the first VM (this is used as the dev/test environment). UiPath Studio is the development tool used to create and test automations. In our case, we use UiPath Studio to develop the automation steps required to retrieve data from the different legacy systems.

1b. UiPath Unattended Bot is installed on the second VM (this is used as the production environment). Once the automations are developed and tested, they are deployed to be executed by the Unattended Bot on this VM. By having a dedicated VM, this bot acts like a 24/7 worker and is available on the VM to perform any tasks it is instructed to do.

  1. Azure Blob Storage

Azure Blob storage is the scalable and secure object storage service used to store data in a variety of formats. Blob storage is very robust and can scale very easily to suit storage needs. In our case, we leverage Blob storage as a staging area for the bot to store the data it has retrieved, and also serves as a source for the Azure Data Factory pipeline later on. UiPath can communicate with Azure Blob storage natively, making this integration easy and reliable.

  1. Azure Data Factory

Azure Data Factory (ADF) is the data integration service built for complex ETL projects. The benefits of ADF are the ease-of-development as well as the powerful capabilities that allow it to handle complicated data transformations in large volumes. In our case, we use ADF to create a pipeline to move data from Blob Storage into the Azure SQL database, whilst performing sophisticated transformations. Although UiPath possesses some ETL functionality, they lack the advanced capabilities of ADF regarding transformation and speed. For this reason, ADF is a must have in our solution.

  1. Azure DevOps

Azure DevOps (ADO) is the collaboration tool for software development offering work tracking, source control and continuous integration/delivery. ADO allows projects to be managed effectively and collaboratively. In our case, ADO acts as the project management tool and code repository for the ADF pipelines. Although UiPath has a native integration with ADO, it also possesses the source control and deployment capabilities out-of-the-box, and therefore can be managed within the tool itself.

  1. Azure SQL Database

Azure SQL Database (DB) is the cloud-based database service built on the SQL Server engine. It has a wide range of deployment options, making it very easy and effective to manage. In our case, this is where the transformed data is stored and made available for analysis. The scalability, availability and deployment ease of Azure SQL DB make this very attractive for enterprise-level analytics and reporting.

  1. Power BI

Finally, whilst not an Azure service itself, Power BI is used as the reporting tool to develop custom reporting on the data in the Azure SQL DB. Power BI is an excellent reporting platform for enterprise-level reporting due to its scalability and self-service capabilities. With this tool in place, the data is modelled and reported to the business.

Although every project is different, the above represents a good design for a typical solution and is used by us as a list of ‘minimums’ that we need. For our work, this design is very common, but is also great as a default because it can be restructured very easily to suit any additional needs (for example adding Azure Machine Learning can be integrated into the above design as part of a CASSIE deployment). With the above solution, a business can very quickly leverage the benefits of UiPath & Azure working in unison and delivering data-driven efficiencies: businesses are able to get the insights and reporting they need without having to expend any staff time to deliver it.

If you want to know more about UiPath & Azure together, please contact us.

Invoice Processing: The Case For Automation

By Automation Initiation No Comments

In the context of business administrative activities, invoice processing is the single most important process to get right. These activities ensure that business operations run smoothly without delay or difficulty. As we have seen before, a slow and unreliable process in the accounts payable department will inevitably contribute to inefficiencies across the wider business, costing both time and money. It’s no coincidence then that there has been an explosion in interest in automating invoice processing. On paper, the advantages of automation such as speed, accuracy and reliability, should work well for invoice processes. Through our work with various businesses, we have been testing this hypothesis – and the results are in. Automation is an absolute necessity. This blog post examines invoice processing in detail, the benefits of invoice automation and how to quickly automate your invoice processes.

Invoice Processing

Invoice Processing

Invoice processing refers to the tasks and activities that businesses perform to ensure that invoices are received, recorded and acted upon in a reliable and timely manner. This process is perpetual – new invoices are received virtually every day and must be actioned immediately to ensure that obligations are met. Typical steps involved include:

  • Receiving invoices in a central location (eg mailbox folder)
  • Validating that the invoice is correct (eg 3 way matching)
  • Recording the data into a system (eg entering the data into an ERP)
  • Confirming receipt of the invoice (eg generating reporting on new invoices)

The details of each task are likely to be different in every business, for example the logic used to validate that an invoice is correct may rely on different factors such as amount thresholds etc. However, the steps remain the same for every business – an invoice is received, recorded and reported.

When comparing invoice processing principles to automation benefits, it becomes clear that automation is a good fit:

  • Processing is speed sensitive –> bots are quicker at performing tasks than humans
  • Processing relies on accuracy –> bots do not make mistakes or ‘human errors’
  • Processing must be timely –> a bot is a reliable, ‘24/7’ worker

Invoice Automation Benefits

After automating your invoice processing, the obvious benefits you can expect include:

  • Happier suppliers, as their invoices are processed quicker and are not missed
  • Happier staff, as they are no longer performing this low-value task
  • Better cashflow management, as you are recording invoices quickly and more accurately, allowing you to plan finances ahead of time
  • Reduced risk of unexpected expenses due to mishandled invoices

The above benefits are the most common. However, depending on your business, there are some other features to automation that may be beneficial:

  • Invoice processing in your business may be more complex and require stages of approval. Automation technology, particularly UiPath, make it very easy to design a hybrid-process, whereby a bot performs certain tasks and hands it off to a human for approval. This combination of human and bot has the effect of augmenting each other and can deliver greater efficiency.
  • Before undertaking an automation project, a careful review of the existing processes takes place. During this phase, it is not uncommon for businesses to identify issues or inefficiencies in their processes, especially if the process is either very new or very old. After identifying these issues, businesses can take action to improve them, and drive further efficiencies.

How To Automate Your Invoice Processing

The key with automating your invoice processing is to define your process in detail. This includes all the systems involved, the steps performed, the logic used and the possible exceptions that may arise. Once you have defined these, the actual work in automating the process becomes much easier. In fact, having gained significant experience with invoice processing, Talos has designed and released ROBBIE – our Robotic Invoicing Expert. So much of our work has been in delivering a common invoice processing solution, that we have developed a bot that can learn any invoice process quickly and execute it reliably. ROBBIE has been trained to specifically work on invoice processing and is already in use across Australia. If you want to get started, deploying ROBBIE in your business is quick and easy – better yet, he can start working immediately and returning value in your business.

If you want to know how to automate invoice processing, please contact us.

Meet our New Automated Processing Bots!

By Automation Initiation No Comments

Having been secretly working hard over the past 12 months, Talos is excited to finally announce our new bots for 2022! We are pleased to present to you CASSIE, ROBBIE & CORRIE, our newest additions in the automated processing space. In this post we will introduce each bot, highlighting their expertise, abilities and why you need to hire them as part of your team.

automated processing

CASSIE

One of the most popular areas for automation is in the customer service space – in fact, most of our work in 2021 was focused on this key area. Therefore, to help businesses increase their efficiency in customer-related processes, Talos is proud to present CASSIE – our Customer Assisted Intelligent Expert.

Like all our bots, CASSIE is built on the UiPath platform, and has been rigorously trained using RPA best practices and real-world business process lessons. Her specialty is in delivering efficiency in customer processes such as:

  • Customer on-boarding
  • Customer cleansing
  • Mail triage & customer communications
  • Customer reporting

CASSIE can be trained to follow any customer-related process, as she can learn processes quickly and follow them reliably. At a high-level, her abilities include:

  • Extracting and validating customer data from any data source
  • Leveraging Machine Learning to classify mail and customers
  • Reading and writing data to CRM and ERP systems

With CASSIE as part of your team, you can expect:

  • Increased speed in customer processing
  • Increase in staff time to focus on more valuable tasks
  • Increase in data quality and reduction in process errors

Some businesses that are already using CASSIE include:

Deploying CASSIE is no different to hiring staff, except CASSIE can learn much quicker, works 24/7 and will not make mistakes. You just need to teach her the process once and she will begin work immediately. Better yet, you can teach her as many processes as you want to – she loves to work and help out!

Automated Customer Processing

ROBBIE

Invoice processing is a pillar of every business and is one of the key areas where automated processing can deliver demonstrable value. For that reason, Talos is excited to introduce ROBBIE – our Robotic Invoicing Expert. ROBBIE is dedicated to delivering efficiency in invoice-related processes such as:

  • Accounts payable processing
  • Accounts receivable processing
  • Statements & Reconciliations
  • Ad-hoc & customer financial reporting

ROBBIE can be trained to follow detailed invoice processing logic including 3-way matching, data validation and document verification. At a high-level, his abilities include:

  • Extracting invoice data from any document or file
  • Matching and validating invoice data based on defined logic
  • Reading and writing data to ERP systems

With ROBBIE as part of your team, you can expect:

  • Increased speed in invoice processing
  • Increase in staff time to focus on more valuable tasks
  • Increase in data quality and reduction in process errors

Some businesses that are already using ROBBIE include:

ROBBIE is not constrained by system and can be implemented on any system or application. Just like a regular staff member, all ROBBIE requires is access and he can do the rest!

automated invoice processing

CORRIE

Compliance processing is a specific and crucial area for businesses. If your process is inefficient or prone to error, your business is at risk of non-compliance which can be very costly. For that reason, Talos is pleased to introduce CORRIE – our Compliance, Regulatory & Reporting Information Expert. CORRIE is skilled in delivering efficiency in compliance-related processes such as:

  • Form data extraction & validation
  • Data cleansing & migration
  • Ad-hoc & custom alerting
  • Document filing & metadata management

CORRIE is our best learning bot – she has been skilled to learn any process very quickly. This is useful in the context of compliance processing where regulatory requirements can change and processes must be updated to ensure compliance. At a high-level, her abilities include:

  • Extracting & verifying data from any document, file or system
  • Easy retraining capabilities for document understanding
  • Reading and writing data to case management systems or document management systems

With CORRIE as part of your team, you can expect:

  • Increase speed in compliance processing
  • Increase in staff time to focus on more valuable tasks
  • Reduction in process errors and the risk of non-compliance

Some businesses that are already using CORRIE include:

CORRIE can easily learn and adapt to processes as they evolve over time, greatly reducing the risk of non-compliance. Much like your best staff, she can be relied on to ensure that your business does not fail in meeting your compliance requirements, whatever they may be.

automated compliance processing

With these new bots available, businesses can easily adopt automated processing and quickly obtain the accompanying benefits. Whether it be automated customer processing, automated invoice processing or automated compliance processing, Talos will continue to train and deliver our bots to any business wanting to achieve their goals of increased efficiency and optimum performance. With CASSIE, ROBBIE & CORRIE on your team, we know you can.

If you would like to meet our bots, please contact us.

A Review of RPA in 2021

By Automation Initiation No Comments

With the year almost over, now is a good time to reflect on the previous 12 months and examine the key highlights in order to help plan for 2022. In this blog post, we will be examining RPA in 2021, specifically by looking at the changes we saw in the market and RPA technology, as well as giving some predictions for where we see RPA in 2022.

 

Growing Interest

First and foremost, Talos saw a huge spike in interest in RPA in 2021. This was evidenced by the increased number of attendees at our UiPath Academy Live events throughout the year. The increase in interest meant that we were offering these events monthly to a new audience. What was most exciting was that the audience was typically made up of organisations with little-to-no experience with RPA. This gave us good ground for introducing RPA concepts and technology to a brand new audience, many of which were completely unaware of RPA. These events were particularly successful in helping organisations understand their own RPA opportunities, how they could be easily achieved and helping initiate their automation journey.

We also saw more traffic in terms of enquiries about RPA showcases and demo’s. More organisations were interested in seeing what RPA looks like, and we were more than happy to demonstrate our capabilities. These showcases were very good at providing an entry point for conversations around RPA, as well as giving some great real-world examples of automation that apply to most businesses.

 

New Opportunities

Talos saw a significant increase in RPA project delivery in 2021. We had more projects this year, spread over a variety of different businesses and processes. Key projects this year included:

These projects were all delivered in 2021, and have been instrumental in changing the ways these businesses work. We had a good mix of new and returning customers this year – a good sign that automation produces long-term benefits for businesses, and is not a ‘one-time’ only tool.

We also had quite a few requests for proof-of-concepts (POC) in 2021. Larger businesses typically requested these, along with a process design document, in order to understand the feasibility of implementing RPA in 2021. These POC’s were very helpful to the business, but also to us at Talos, as it broadened our experience with different industries and processes. We now have great experience in automating the ‘Big 3’ business processes:

  1. Invoice processing
  2. Customer on-boarding
  3. Email triage

 

Expanding Technologies

UiPath underwent some massive upgrades in 2021. Notable improvements were evident in features such as:

These were our favourite features in 2021, and were pivotal in some of our larger project deliveries. Businesses who leveraged these technologies were reaping immediate rewards through increased processing speed, volume and efficiency.

We also got to work on more projects, which gave us some more experience in automating technologies such as:

  • Dynamics CRM
  • TechnologyOne
  • HAMBS
  • Carelink
  • Pronto

This is just a brief list of the more significant systems we saw in 2021. We got to experience developing RPA on a variety of different applications and environments – nearly all of it delivered remotely throughout the year. This gave us great experience in knowing how to deliver projects remotely with minimal tech headaches.

 

On The Horizon

If 2021 is anything to go by, we expect 2022 to be another huge year. In terms of interest, we are already seeing more new customers making enquiries about RPA. It’s very likely we will continue our UiPath Academy Live events each month starting in the new year. Opportunities-wise, our pipeline of work is looking big in 2022 – returning customers making up a large part of that. That trend is likely to continue, as we see organisations continue their automation journey. As for technology, we expect more improvements to the UiPath platform, particularly in the task mining space and process discovery suite. Machine learning and document understanding are the other areas we predict will undergo further improvement and sophistication.

All in all, 2021 was a tremendous year for RPA – lots of interest, plenty of opportunities and massive technological improvements. We here at Talos are looking forward to 2022 and seeing where the road takes us!

Identifying RPA Use Cases

By Automation Initiation No Comments

A very common issue we have seen in the last 12 months is identifying RPA use cases in organisations. In our workshop events, we regularly have discussions with attendees around their existing RPA use cases, and it is not uncommon for attendees to really struggle to identify a single existing business process that they think would make a good candidate for automation. However, we actually know from experience that this, in fact, is a good indicator for automation opportunity. This blog post explains how and why the most successful organisations with RPA usually have a difficult time getting started, and what to do if you are in a similar situation.

The Problem

The first part of the automation initiation journey is simply to identify and assess RPA use cases within your business. There are many ways of going about this, ranging from internal business process analysis to sophisticated process mining technologies. Ultimately though, a business will need to identify a single RPA use case to act as a proof-of-concept and good kickstarter to their RPA journey. This candidate use-case will typically possess the following attributes:

  • Clearly defined benefits that have objective advantages
  • Very few downsides, risks or reasons not to proceed with developing it as a proof-of-concept

However, we have seen and spoken to many businesses who say they struggle to identify a single good RPA use case. Common traits for these businesses are that their:

  • Processes are not written down anywhere
  • Processes are not formally revised and updated regularly
  • Staff cannot clearly articulate what it is that they do each day/week/month

At this point, businesses might well be thinking that automation is either too difficult or not presently applicable, and will abandon pursuing RPA altogether. But the reality is that if a business is really struggling to reconcile their internal processes with automation, that is not such a bad thing. In fact, if you can’t identify a single good candidate for RPA, that is a good sign that you are in need of automation. This is because it says that your business, and specifically business processes, are far too reliant on your staff and/or systems. Your business is likely to be operating purely thanks to the efforts of long-term staff, who personally hold all your process knowledge in their brain, and legacy systems that are not being fully utilised, or at the very least, are not being continually challenged as to how the technology can be improved/redesigned to improve efficiencies.

This ‘make-do’ attitude means that your business is exposed in two ways:

  1. You are more at risk and indeed affected by staff turnover. When existing staff leave, tremendous business process knowledge leaves with them, significantly impacting both short and long-term business.
  2. Your business is obviously inefficient – there simply MUST be processes in a business which can be more effectively outsourced to automation. No business has ever demonstrated to us that it did not possess a single process that could not be more efficently done via automation, and certainly all big-businesses and market leaders utilise automation in their organisations.

Despite the abovementioned risks having significant consequences, very few businesses take any steps to meaningfully address or manage them. But managing these risks is actually very straightforward.

How to Solve the Problem

The key is to first recognise that this perceived absence RPA opportunities is not because of a true lack of process candidates, but is because of an internal, cultural approach to business, which over relies on staff/systems to execute processes. By recognising this approach, you can begin to enact change to inject good habits and policies into your business. These will typically take the form of:

  • Documenting all your processes in detail
  • Implementing a continuous improvement framework for your processes (including regular reviews and assessments for risks and opportunities)
  • Implementing proper process discovery technologies, such as UiPath Process Mining, Task Mining or Task Capture

After making the above changes, businesses will very quickly begin to accumulate lots of information about their processes, both known and unknown. More importantly though, they also begin to enhance business processes because the knowledge has now been taken from the minds of employees and put on paper, allowing that knowledge to be collectively analysed. This strategy of diversifying process knowledge away from staff not only reduces the risk of business disruption from staff turnover, but allows existing processes to be challenged and enhanced, making them ripe for automation. It is at this point that the original problem of identifying RPA use cases is now solved, because your business is now flush with well documented and well evolved processes.

It’s surprising that the most successful organisations with RPA have usually gone through the above experience: struggling to get started, realising what that struggle actually means, resetting their approach to business process, and succeeding in RPA initiation and implementation. If you want to succeed with RPA, you need to recognise and accept this experience within your own organisation, and understand what it means and how to successfully navigate it. Otherwise, rejecting the opportunity for RPA can be a very costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.