Assistant and RPA user: 6 questions for Sandra Hoffmann

For Sandra Hoffmann, using RPA to automate processes is now the bread and butter of her day-to-day work. As an assistant to Group Director Service, she works in Customer Service and Aftersales at Sesotec, a customer of Servicetrace. There, one of her tasks is to support the strategic alignment of Customer Service for the future. In this interview, she shares her journey as an RPA user and offers suggestions for other users.

1) What, to you, is most exciting about RPA?

I studied International Management. Before this project, I had no idea what exactly RPA was. But it sounded exciting. I shadowed the experts, meaning I got my practical training on the job right away during the implementation. When you’re sitting in front of the computer and you start “your” bot, the process seems to work by magic on the screen. It’s absolutely fascinating. I find it fun – and it makes me proud to see the bot do everything correctly, step by step. That’s how I know that I’ve done the workflow properly. In addition, the automated processes could now, in theory, run 24/7, except for when IT is running updates, of course. This is a huge advantage for our customers because we are preparing ourselves for the digital future.

2) How did you become an RPA user?

In my job as an assistant in Customer Service and Aftersales, I support projects for the future and digitization projects. One of these projects involves digitizing the ordering process for spare parts. At Sesotec, this process is both important and business critical because we generate revenue with the spare parts. In addition, being able to process and deliver orders quickly has a direct impact on customer satisfaction: When our customers’ production systems are at a standstill, it’s basically a “red alert”. Building an online catalog for spare parts to optimize and digitize this process has been a goal of ours for a while now. However, we just never had the resources necessary to copy all the data manually. So, we wanted to automate the process with RPA. That’s why I learned all about RPA and RPA software.

“I just shadowed the experts for a while and then took over my first tasks in automation.”

Sandra Hoffmann, Assistant Group Director, Sesotec

3) What were the biggest challenges for you when you automated your first process

Sesotec produces sophisticated, cutting edge systems made up of software and hardware components. And there are just as many different spare parts. When a major customer orders a device, we deliver a lot of product data that is extracted for preparation from different systems like SAP and a Product Data Management system in order to accelerate the ordering process for spare parts down the line. We also provide them with detailed product and system drawings for installation. We’ve been doing all of this for these major customers for years, but it has been done manually, which is definitely very time consuming. As a result, when we automate the process, we need to manage a diverse range of products. In addition to data quality, this was the biggest challenge in the ERP system. The reason for this is that a high degree of data quality is required for the RPA Bot to execute cleanly. We achieved this with longer test phases so that we could immediately detect and remedy potential sources of errors.

4) What are your requirements for a good RPA solution?
We use the XceleratorOne platform from Servicetrace. What I found absolutely fascinating about this solution is it’s simple drag & drop concept. Although I would describe myself as good with technology, I had never before automated a process. The basic principles of the X1 platform are very simple and intuitive to use, even though it has a most comprehensive range of functions. In addition, X1 takes users through the individual steps for automation and lets you know about errors or opportunities for improvement.

For me, another requirement is the process diagram. This is because the process is the basis and the starting point for the automation. With X1, I can implement and manage the entire lifecycle of process automation. This starts with identifying and evaluating possible processes using a simple alert model. Next, I can model the process directly using business process management norm BPMN 2.0. Or, if a process model already exists, I can just import it. The process diagram is also really helpful for finding errors. It is also very practical that this step is directly integrated into the X1 platform.

5) What have you learned? What will you do differently going forward?
Our process involves processing and preparing vast quantities of data. This is why we need such high quality data and a detailed roadmap for transferring the data to the Bot. Everything about this task just has to be correct. We didn’t know that at the beginning because people typically just “fix” some things to make them work. When a software robot is involved, we have to provide all the information exactly. This was really challenging sometimes. But I do think this was due, in part, to the fact that we started with a pretty complicated process at Sesotec. Modeling a process down to the smallest detail and also optimizing it before you automate it, if possible, absolutely pays off. Once you’ve understood that and done this preliminary work, the actual automation is much simpler. And, of course, over time you gain more and more experience.

“Corona had no effect on our RPA project at all. The lack of onsite support didn’t detract from the project. I think it actually had the opposite effect. A lot of things were made easier by using digital tools to plan and implement the RPA project entirely virtually.”

Sandra Hoffmann, Assistant Group Director, Sesotec

6) What was your experience with implementing the project during the Corona outbreak?

We started the automating the first process in February and were supported by a partner of Servicetrace. bc-competence had done the first visits for recording the process and then Corona hit. We moved to online meetings and I would say that those were actually even better because we had full access to all the tools and information to clarify questions very quickly by sharing screens. So, the automation went very well despite Corona. The lack of onsite support didn’t detract from the project at all.

Thank you very much for the interview, Ms. Hoffmann!

(Comment: We conducted this interview in July 2020).