The growth of robotic process automation (RPA) has risen steadily throughout the last five years, with multinational companies showcasing its potential and value.
One of these companies, Nielsen, the American information, data and measurement firm, has found widespread success with its RPA use in its financial sector.
With a presence in over 100 countries, operating in more than 30 different business functions, the data company has noted robot-led success across multiple disciplines.
Oleg Royz, the vice president of global digital transformation and RPA at Nielsen, helps to scale and engage the company’s federated programs. He explained that for a company of Nielsen’s magnitude, implementing change within integral functions was a daunting undertaking.
Despite this, in early 2016, Nielsen kicked off its automation strategy with guidance from its senior vice president of transformation and automation, Deborah Fassi.
“She looked at it as an opportunity to complement other digital transformation strategy,” Royz explained. “But traditional IT projects are often very expensive, and they tend to last for many years.
“So, when she looked at the RPA, she looked at it as an opportunity to give the power to the consumer to make them a little bit more independent from IT dependency, and help us close the gap in our fragmented processes.”
In the years since its implementation, RPA has been scaled across Nielsen’s back office, supporting staff in operations, finance, and IT and client services, among others.
The future of finance
While RPA has allowed the finance department to save both time and money, Royz said that it was initially hard to persuade finance teams to embrace RPA.
According to Royz, some of the main concerns were around control, audit requirements, and add-on integrations, particularly with enterprise systems like SAP.
However, RPA allows that information to be shared or stay in-house, depending on its criteria—and most importantly, RPA does not require that everything be fully automated.
“If I’m processing an invoice that exceeds a certain amount, the robots can detect it and they could kick out that maybe, somebody needs to approve that type of transaction,” Royz explained. “So we can help manage the workflow a lot faster.”
According to Royz, the back office is where RPA has been the most useful so far—particularly because the data company processes trillions of transactions every day.
“We’re a 90-plus year old company,” Royz continued. “So obviously, we will have legacy systems, we will push the envelope, we’ll innovate, we’ll build new technology—but sometimes, because of the speed to market, we have those gaps.
“In order for us to scale and deliver something new to a new client, more often than not, the way we do it is by throwing more people to support a lot of our operational processes. We want to change that dynamic to help our internal margins, but also let people do more exciting work.”
A quickly-growing necessity
As unemployment rates in the UK and the US continue to drop, companies have to work harder to both retain and retrain talent.
For example, Amazon has pledged to upskill 100,000 workers by 2025. On the academic side, the US-based College of William & Mary will now provide incoming business students with RPA training.
With more employees becoming RPA-literate, companies will have to decide whether automation is something they want to adopt.
However, for companies that haven’t yet embraced RPA, Royz explained that RPA training also benefits existing employees greatly—particularly within finance.
“Talking to my finance partners, what they’re complaining about the most is that they’re spending time just to hit the deadlines at monthly or quarterly books or cancellations,” Royz said.
“They’re not necessarily thinking or analyzing, because they don’t have physical time to think about how they can better use capitalization investments, how they can better leverage our assets.
“So by automating, we’re going to give them more time to become more free to do those things that can help us grow strategically, leverage our assets better, and ultimately help us make better margins.”
With RPA software revenue forecasted to reach $1.3bn (£1bn) by the end of 2019, it is clear that RPA is quickly becoming industry-standard around the world. Nielsen uses RPA in over 40 countries, allowing it to cut down on outsourcing and wasted time.
However, not everyone has been as eager to adopt RPA as Nielsen. For hesitant IT and finance departments, Royz recommends taking small steps towards automation processes that showcase its power.
“Go for something smaller, tangible,” Royz explained, “but more importantly, that you can showcase to other people to grasp the idea.
“If I talk to you about RPA in theory, it’s difficult, because everything the robots do is in the back office. But, when people see the power of those 30-second transactions and see how fast the robots can executive it, the light bulb goes off.”
Royz said that since 2016, nearly 350,000 hours of manual work have already been automated across Nielsen’s different business functions, with more on the horizon.
Looking ahead to how RPA will be used at Nielsen with new processes and software being launched, Royz said, “I think we’re just getting started.”