Make your company lean(er) with software robots

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a key enabler for companies who want to become lean(er). Why is that? And how can RPA help you to remove waste in processes?

Lean is a powerful management philosophy focused on removing waste. In lean operations, any process step that is not adding value for the customer, is considered to be wasteful and should be removed. Lean is a way of thinking that forces you to look critically to processes in order to make them more efficient. Its principles are valid not only in the context of manufacturing, but in every industry.

It is not a coincidence that the 3 co-founders of robonext all have a background in lean. Pieter, our CEO, has guided dozens of manufacturing companies throughout their lean improvement journeys. Our CTO Johan has more than 20 years of experience in developing software that helps manufacturers to become more efficient. And myself I was formed by my first job as a process engineer in Atlas Copco, experiencing how a top-class global manufacturer applies lean principles in its everyday operations.

Our company robonext is focused on implementing software robots, by helping companies in various sectors to generate value with an innovative technology called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA software allows you to automate repetitive business processes. It creates a digital workforce of virtual robots that mimic and augment the actions of your employees in digital systems. With RPA, you can essentially automate tasks in every application that your employees use: SAP, Excel, CRM, web browsers, etc. RPA is often used for a wide variety of administrative tasks, and offers your company the ability to change its processes quite quickly, with limited upfront investments.

We are convinced that RPA is a transformative tool for companies who want to become lean(er). To demonstrate this, let’s focus on the seven types of waste in lean, and explore how RPA can help you to obliterate them.

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1. Rework

  • First time right is a mantra for lean companies. Errors lead to rework and time lost, thus it’s essential to avoid them in the first place.
  • RPA robots perform rule-based tasks such as creating reports, processing documents and generating Bills of Materials (BOMs) without errors, minimizing disruption to later process steps. Error-prone processes are especially good candidates for automation with RPA (e.g. by avoiding typos in data entry).

2. Waiting

  • People or parts that are waiting for input generate wasteful delays in the throughput times of your processes.
  • RPA robots are available 24/7 and can perform tasks at the exact time when they emerge. RPA will remove your backlog and significantly reduce the throughput time of administrative processes.

3. Transportation

  • Unnecessary movement of people or parts between processes.
  • RPA robots in itself will not let you avoid transportation, but there are many use cases for RPA in transportation. In a lot of cases, transportation cannot be avoided, and RPA helps you to take care of all administrative procedures related to this type of activity (e.g. processing manifest documents, managing incidents, tracking deliveries, etc) , ensuring that transportation itself becomes more efficient and less wasteful.

4. Motion

  • Motion refers to unnecessary movement of people, parts or machines within a process.
  • Software robots don’t move physically of course, but that is not the primary reason why RPA reduces motion waste. RPA robots can work together with your employees through interaction and immediate feedback, thereby removing overhead in your processes while more output is being generated.

5. Overproduction

  • Overproduction refers to producing products or services sooner and in greater quantities than customer demand.
  • With RPA, you company becomes more agile. Immediately when an event occurs (e.g. an order is received through e-mail), a software robot can be triggered to carry out its tasks, thus allowing you to match supply with demand and avoid overproduction.

6. Inventory

  • Inventory refers to work in progress or finished goods that don’t have added value.
  • RPA enables you to reduce your backlog. For example, one company we are working with needs to process documents in a lengthy administrative procedure and has a backlog of a few tens of thousands of documents. By processing these documents with RPA robots, the backlog can be handled automatically in a few hours.

7. Overprocessing

  • Overprocessing refers to the processing (of a product or service) beyond the standard required by the customer.
  • An IT equivalent of overprocessing that we often encounter in practice is the inclination of some companies to try to build an Application Programming Interface (API) for everything. API’s enable the integration of applications and building them is a right approach in some cases, but in many cases it leads to a huge waste of resources and time. API’s are a type of overprocessing in many cases, for which integrating applications with RPA robots is much cheaper and faster. For more about this topic, see this article by Steve Priesnall

By now, you should realize that RPA and lean work hand in hand. RPA helps you to reduce the 7 types of waste.

But there is one very important element missing. The primary type of waste that RPA helps you to remove is the wasted potential of people. It’s shocking to see how many talented people are spending a large portion of their working days with entering data, with always creating the same reports or with copy-pasting data between applications. RPA is a means for your company to take the robot out of the human, i.e. automate the repetitive, mundane tasks such that your staff can focus on adding value for your business. This will improve output but will also lead to higher job satisfaction.

Would you like to discuss how RPA can make your company leaner? Don’t hesitate to contact Joris Van Ostaeyen, Johan De Mulder or Pieter Celis at robonext: