Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is the use of software tools or modern-day programming languages to partially or fully automate human activities that are manual, rules-based, and repetitive. Below are some great use cases and good candidates for RPA in construction and engineering companies.
A global engineering and construction firm was experiencing cash flow problems resulting from Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) delays. These delays were caused by difficulty in efficiently generating accurate invoices. Each invoice required, on average, more than 150 pages of back-up data that had to be pulled from five to 10 different systems, including ERP and homegrown legacy platforms, time and expense systems, and vendor portals.
Compiling supporting documentation for a single invoice required four to five hours of manual effort — and the company was issuing thousands of invoices per month with a range of different business rules for different business units in multiple geographies. In trying to resolve the problem, the company’s IT department confronted technical challenges and resource constraints, while the finance and accounting unit was mired in a lengthy business process reengineering study.
The firm engaged outside assistance to develop a Robotic Process Automation solution to streamline the activities involved in creating an invoice and providing supporting documentation. Working in collaboration with the billing department, the combined team gained a detailed understanding of the processes and systems necessary to create the invoice.
This information was then applied to the next phase of the project, which involved designing how the RPA solution would work. Key issues during this phase included defining how the robots would access systems in terms of triggers and sequencing, how exceptions would be handled and how hand-offs between humans and robots would occur.
The resulting solution, which took approximately eight weeks to design and implement, has reduced the average time to create an invoice from 4.5 hours to 11 minutes. The bots are doing the work of an equivalent of 20 FTEs who were processing the thousands of invoices each month. Staff who remain are now able to focus on managing exceptions and on customer-facing billing activities. In addition to the cost savings, the solution has reduced DSO and accelerated daily cash flow substantially.
There are a number of other potentials for RPA in the construction industry including:
Rather than an outdated filing system that can lead to errors or lost documents, bots can automatically file scanned documents into a pre-determined file location on the company’s network.
RPA can automatically scan LinkedIn or other employment sources for candidates with specific education, certifications, or experience.
RPA can take over the production of cost-to-estimate reports, pulling in data from contractors and suppliers, importing it into the project budget and generating real-time analytics into regular weekly, daily or on-demand reports.
As vendor invoices come in, RPA can extract the necessary data from them and automatically enter it into an accounting system. RPA can also send a confirmation email to vendors letting them know that the invoices are in processing and highlighting any missing information.
These are just a few examples of use cases that are most common in construction.