The use of “digital employees" to perform tasks of SAP system users is no longer science fiction but a present-day reality. Simulating users’ actions in order to perform selected tasks in business systems is a fashionable trend. It is of interest to large organizations, where it is possible to identify many processes that are easy to operate automatically and thus to achieve significant cost reductions.
Rising labor costs are not the only argument in favor of Robotic Process Automation. Companies are increasingly willing to invest in employee experience and relieving highly qualified employees of tedious and repetitive tasks that can effectively distract them from more ambitious work and simply annoy them, which is a value in itself.
Our counterparties (customers and suppliers) also expect an increasing level of service and demand immediate responses to their enquiries.
In an increasingly competitive and volatile market, we can be sure of one thing. If we do not react quickly enough to technical innovations, we will fall behind our competitors, who will be first to benefit from new solutions.
Robotic Process Automation is the creation of software robots (bots) or, to put it more nicely, “digital employees", simulating the actions of users by performing specific, repetitive tasks in IT systems.
RPA solutions are applications that can control the operation of other applications, such as ERP systems, mail clients, etc. They can run on a workstation, in a company network or over the Internet.
RPA solutions communicate with other applications in three ways:
- communication interfaces/protocols (API),
- simulating the user’s work,
- other (additional) operations, e.g. text recognition (OCR), saving screenshots, etc.
A particularly interesting case is the simulation of the user’s work (i.e. operations such as filling in fields on the screen, choosing options from the menu, clicking the mouse cursor in the right place), since it allows you to automate any application, even if its manufacturer did not provide a programming interface or we cannot use it. This is good news for companies that want to take advantage of RPA facilities but do not have the ability to do their own programming work in the SAP system (e.g. a strictly controlled central corporate system).
What is worth automating
When considering which business processes can and should be automated, it is recommended to use a few basic criteria that determine whether it will be easy and profitable to apply RPA to the process:
- an action in the process should be repetitive, often performed;
- a process described by unambiguous rules (an unambiguous question, a standard process);
- actions involving two or more applications (time-consuming for an employee who has to switch between different solutions).
We present several examples of processes in the SAP system that can be easily automated:
- mass creation or change of master data,
- updating price lists,
- updating credit limits,
- periodical data posting based on files (fuel cards, settlements of corporate payment cards, etc.),
- automatic sending of balance inquiries or generation of balance confirmations for counterparties, based on incoming e-mails,
- performing other sequences of activities related to the month-end closing or year-end closing,
- supervising the operation of interfaces (e.g. comparison of the list of technical IDOC messages and invoices posted in the system to verify whether all messages have been processed correctly),
- preparing reports for the management board, combining information from several data sources in the system (e.g. costs, sales, working time),
- additional checkpoints in the processes (e.g. cyclical verification whether all deliveries are made on time or whether there are no overdue sales activities in the sales department).
A sample RPA in SAP scenario
Let’s discuss the operation of a bot using the example of a scenario of one of the above mentioned cases, prepared for an SNP customer: handling of balance inquiries or generation of balance confirmations for counterparties. In many companies there are dozens of such inquiries per week. The process is easy to operate but tedious and time-consuming, in addition, it is impossible to plan, it is performed ad hoc, in response to incoming inquiries. It is difficult to find an employee who would not be irritated by such ungrateful tasks that can take even several hours of work a week. A high standard of counterparty service is important, but we do not have to accept its high cost.
This process is a good candidate for automation and “employing” the RPA program to handle it.
It takes a few seconds to handle such a process in the program prepared by SNP.
A bot checks e-mails that come to a dedicated address (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). Next, it logs into the SAP ERP system and verifies the sender’s address on the list of contacts of a given supplier in the system. After confirming that it is an authorized person, it establishes the account number of the supplier. Then, for a given supplier, the bot runs a billing report (e.g. a list of open documents), saves the results to a file in the selected format or takes a screenshot and sends it by e-mail (the sent messages are available in the outbox of the mail program).
Finally, the bot records the operation performed in a dedicated report, along with information about the date and recipient (e.g. in an Excel file). The report contains information both on the successful completion of the process and on problems, e.g. it highlights questions from a person who is not in the database. It is enough for a “live" employee to review the report from time to time, focusing only on unsuccessful operations, and e.g. to correct typos in the address or add a new person from the supplier to the list of authorized contact persons.
Effectively, faster, more
Key RPA benefits include reduced labor intensity, faster execution of processes, relieving employees of repetitive tasks, possible introduction of additional reports that were previously too labor-intensive to prepare.
SNP Poland carries out RPA implementation projects both in the “proof of concept” version and as a full implementation of tools used to automate processes in the organization. Based on extensive experience in the implementation and development of SAP systems, we can identify and automate a number of activities in SAP, which may generate a profit in the form of better relationships with counterparties, better employee experience and lower costs of process handling.