How do you roll out RPA? 8 questions for RPA initiator Marco Augustin

At Sesotec, Marco Augustin heads a five-person team in Production Planning and Procurement. This puts him ahead of the curve on RPA and makes him an RPA initiator at the international high-tech company. In this interview, he shares his approach to RPA and how he successfully took it to the next level. Success speaks for itself: Even just the very first automated process reduced costs, eliminated manual hours of work, and brought significant gains in customer satisfaction.

1) What brought RPA to your attention?

I attended a number of different trade fairs and looked for information about digitization topics on other channels. In 2019, I came across the free event held by Servicetrace, the Robotic Days in Darmstadt. It was there that I was able to get comprehensive information on the subject of automating processes. This was rounded off by personal exchanges with other participants, some of whom already had experience with RPA. That was a good start. After that, I invited Servicetrace to visit us in Schönberg in Bavaria. Over two meetings with Servicetrace, I evaluated the options that RPA offered us and what specific value could be created by automating processes.

2) What results have you seen from the automation so far?

To date, we’ve automated the first two processes. However, we started right out of the gate with the complex, business-relevant order-to-cash processes in spare-part ordering. In addition to the efficiency gains, one of the biggest successes for us has been finally implementing a key digitization project that was only possible with RPA. This project is an online catalog for ordering spare parts. We would have otherwise needed years of manual work just to transfer the volume of data for all the spare parts. As a result, we had been delaying this project again and again.

With RPA, we’ve implemented this online catalog and automated the ordering process. Now, we can serve our customers more quickly. In turn, our customers are much more satisfied with us because production stoppages are much shorter. In addition, this important process is less error-prone and more stable. This is also the case from the perspective of employee absences. Each year, this saves us several hundred hours of manual work and, of course, costs as well.

“By automating cash-to-order processes, we are increasing our revenue, saving some EUR 20,000 annually, and eliminating over 700 hours of manual work.”

Marco Augustin | Head of Production Planning at Sesotec

3) How did you position RPA within your company? How did you go about it?

Once I was convinced of RPA and the opportunities it has for us, I put together an internal presentation. I kept it really short. Just a few slides about it. For example, what is RPA; what opportunities does it offer us; what can we achieve with it? I showed it to the other team managers and sold it to them. Of course, there were a few skeptics at the beginning but, after the first presentation, 95% of the people had a positive view of it. Next, we worked together to collect the possible processes for RPA for each department. The demo version from Servicetrace came in handy for this, helping us to easily identify the possible processes for RPA.

We didn’t involve top management right at the beginning. I wanted to get the other team managers on board and check feasibility. Once we had agreed on five specific processes, we ran the numbers for a business case. Servicetrace’s RPA platform has an integrated added-value calculation for automations that was a big advantage for this, by the way. It let us put a concrete number on how much we would benefit from RPA. Armed with this, we took it to top management and they quickly gave us their support since everything was so well prepared.

4) What helped you move RPA forward internally?

The demo version of the XceleratorOne platform was very helpful. It essentially made RPA tangible. We had something in front of us and an idea as to how the technology could be implemented. In addition, X1 had already helped us to identify and evaluate appropriate RPA processes. We used the query criteria to check the automation potential of the first processes. Then we evaluated which process benefited us more. X1 shows all this in its Heat Map, which is easy to make and uses traffic light colors. I was able to use this map when talking to people in other departments. All processes that are identified and evaluated flow straight into an RPA pipeline.

Considering the situation, it was definitely very helpful that Sesotec is already an innovative and tech-savvy company. Innovation is one of the three pillars of the Sesotec corporate strategy. We’re always open to learning about innovative topics and I was able to make good arguments in favor of RPA internally.

5) Why and how did you decide on the first process?

The majority of the five processes initially selected were focused on increasing efficiency. Two of the processes selected were more complex. Together with management, we then decided to start with the most complex process. That is, to build an online spare-part catalog and enable spare-part orders worldwide.

I’m sure you can imagine the major role that our inspection systems at our customers in the food and waste industry play in the production process. Interruptions to our systems mean that production stands still. This is incredibly expensive. Before automating, we processed spare-part orders from our international subsidiaries, partners and major customers by hand because we need data from different software systems. This process was time-consuming, error-prone, and had a direct impact on our revenue and customer satisfaction. In turn, automation of this process adds huge, measurable value for us. Without RPA, it would have been impossible for us to roll out the online spare-part catalog that had been in the pipeline for such a long time. This is because copying so much data and so many production drawings from one system to another would have taken us years by hand. We didn’t have the personnel to do that.

On the other hand, our idea was that, by having the first project be so complex, we could learn a lot from it and then be well prepared to automate other systems. At the same time, selecting this project did mean a great deal of our attention was focused on RPA. That can also be helpful, though, since it accelerates internal decision-making processes.

„Automation was the only way to implement the project in this situation and in such a short time frame.“

Marco Augustin | Head of Production Planning at Sesotec

6) You started the first RPA project right before Corona hit. How long did planning and implementation take you?

Planning was easy and wasn’t complicated. The X1 platform comes into play before automation is actually implemented, which allows processes to be identified, evaluated, and modelled directly in BPMN 2.0. This is highly practical and is already a help in getting started. From planning to go-live, the first, highly sophisticated process for spare-part ordering took four months. And I do want to say that the sheer complexity of the process certainly cost more time. And, of course, we weren’t working full time on this first process. We were also managing other projects in parallel.

Because the process for spare-part ordering is relevant to our revenue, we took advantage of the support offered by bc-competence, a Servicetrace implementation partner. bc-competence helped us model the processes and develop automation workflows. Corona had no effect on the project at all. Actually, the opposite was true: Virtual meetings were very effective, since everyone had access to their full computers and could share the information for everyone to see.

7) What are the next steps? What are your plans for RPA?

We will definitely continue automating. We have other processes high on our list of priorities in addition to the first two more complex processes of spare-part ordering at our subsidiaries and major customers. In particular, these processes offer leverage for increasing internal efficiency and productivity. These automations will continue to reduce the workload for our employees, allowing them to concentrate on other, more beneficial tasks. We also want to offer the online catalog for ordering spare parts to our merchants and system integrators.

8) What is your recommendation for others looking at rolling out RPA?

Don’t be afraid to dig in. And don’t be scared off by it or any complex processes. The first time you put software robots to work, you have to take a different approach to thinking about processes. You have to start the robots off with more information. I mean, you really have to model the process down to the smallest level. It was a really steep learning curve for us.

And, another thing: Find yourself supporters and help. I had a really good experience with this when approaching other departments about RPA. It pretty much set off a kind of “RPA euphoria”. It basically assured us of the critical mass for potential processes. And I also got our IT involved, since you can definitely say that RPA has technical aspects. So, it’s really helpful when you’ve got your IT team in there with you.

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Augustin!

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