It often takes a champion to change minds and bring in new technology to an organization. Karen Chirico, senior director IT at Honeywell International was one of those champions. She and the finance group led a multiyear project to evaluate whether Robotic Process Automation would bring value to the company. And if so, what was the most sensible way to scale it globally? Today, this highly complex organization with approximately 129,000 employees working at 1,300 sites in more than 30 countries is benefiting by automating all types of processes across business functions, including finance and IT.
Karen was one of our top-rated presenters who discussed this topic at the 2018 SAP-Centric Financials conference. She joined Eventful Conferences producer and researcher Katie Walker for a webcast where she described the project’s evolution from its start to present day. We’ve collected some of the highlights of the webcast here. You can also listen to the full webcast anytime.
What’s in the Webcast
- What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
- What was the pilot approach that Honeywell took?
- How did Honeywell scale up its RPA activities?
- What common RPA myths did it dispel?
First, What Is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, keeps appearing on trend lists for 2019. But what exactly is it? According to Karen, “RPA is a process that runs unattended by humans. It acts, essentially, like a virtual employee.” But unlike humans, an automated solution like RPA can theoretically work 24/7, depending on the process it’s driving.
How Bots Fit Within Your Existing Systems
Aside from its efficiency, Karen described some major benefits that come with RPA. “It can sit on top of your legacy applications running manual or repetitive processes,” she explained. Bots will work on top of your existing landscape, so you don’t have to make massive changes to your systems to implement them. Another plus is that it’s possible to implement them without heavy support or resources from IT. “It can be implemented and managed by business users,” Karen said, “so you don’t have to rely on IT resources or funding to keep it running.”
Two other commonly discussed benefits include improved accuracy and productivity. “It’s a very consistent and reliable process,” Karen said. “We’ve experienced double-digit error reductions.” At the same time, RPA makes it possible to offload many of the repetitive tasks that your well-paid and well-trained staff are doing today. “This gives you the opportunity to redeploy the resources that were formerly tied up to do things that are more beneficial to your organization.”
Honeywell’s Approach to Its RPA Pilot Program
Getting to where it is today was a multi-year journey for Honeywell. It started by developing a proof of concept and putting together a pilot program in 2016. Karen and the team reached out across the organization and introduced the idea of how RPA could assist with different functions. “We asked which processes were the most difficult in each of their functions,” Karen recalled. “We wanted to know what was tedious, manual, and transactional.”
Their work resulted in a very long list of potential opportunities for automation, which the team boiled down to just eight processes for the pilot. They used those eight processes as a model to design what RPA implementation would look like and how the organization would support it through a Center of Excellence (COE) architecture.
Supporting and Scaling RPA
As the initial eight processes were implemented, the team moved on in 2017 to build the Centers of Excellence and establish them for each function that was using RPA. For the past two years, their work has focused on how to scale the use of RPA throughout the organization while maintaining the quality of all implementations and managing the road map for development. For Honeywell, the key was developing a structure, governance, and ways to measure success.
The Results of RPA at Honeywell
One example Karen shared was how the team brought RPA to the freight verification process. “When you’re a large company like us, you probably work with freight logistics partners,” she explained. “They provide some data, but that has to be updated in your system before it goes into your accounts payable process.”
Honeywell processes approximately 50,000 of these invoices per month. Before RPA, the team determined that a human worker would go through 10 steps to manage these invoices, which took approximately 11 minutes. After the bot took over, that time reduced to only three minutes. “That resulted in 8,750 hours saved per month, which was a 43 percent productivity improvement,” Karen said. But, she cautioned, “you won’t always see this much productivity improvement. It really depends on the steps in the process and how many of these are standardized or automated already.”
How to Not Become Victims of Your Success
When word got out about the power of RPA, Karen and her team needed a plan to deal with the demand throughout Honeywell. “Once you do this, you’ll have people knocking at your door right and left,” she said. “The demand may far exceed what you’re able to produce, even though it only takes a short time frame to create these bots.” So far, the finance, HR, IT, and supply chain and procurement functions are developing bots for their particular processes.
In finance alone, Honeywell has deployed 85 bots across 350 processes. And it has more than 200 processes in the pipeline. Typically, it takes the team about two to four weeks to get a bot up and running. And businesses can often see payback in five to six months, depending on the organization and the process. “As we’ve gotten better and smarter about what to use RPA for, we’re choosing to deploy things that will give us bigger bang for our buck,” Karen said.
Where Bots Can Take Your Organization
Karen admits that RPA isn’t right for every organization, function, or process. Honeywell has developed a standardized system to evaluate each candidate’s appropriateness. But those who do benefit can find endless value. “The beauty of RPA is getting people involved across the business with the domain knowledge about how these processes work and how they flow in order to get the best advantage and results from the RPA versions,” she explained.
Watch the full webcast on demand to hear the full Honeywell International story, including a review of the critical success factors for introducing RPA and some myths versus facts about this technology.