We were recently invited to take part in a webinar dedicated to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and its role in the Oil and Gas industry organized by PennEnergy and sponsored by Sapient Consulting. Coenraad van der Poel, Managing Director of UiPath Americas, and Amit Singh, Senior Director and Global RPA Lead of Sapient Consulting, discussed the ins and outs of automating oil and gas specific processes and how the industry can begin its digital transformation by selecting an RPA tool with a strong AI component.
As in many other sectors, RPA can be quickly deployed in horizontal functions such as finance, accounting, human resources, legal, customer contact centers, supply chain management and shared services. But it also shines in specific oil and gas processes: exploration analytics and analysis, well production analysis and industrial automation integration, operational reporting, compliance, and optimized drilling performance. Take gas pipeline compliance for example. As a rules-based process, it is a perfect candidate for automation. It allows companies to monitor all the aspects from an operations standpoint and raise exceptions when necessary. And exceptions alerts represent one of the main strengths of RPA tools.
Compliance is a perfect candidate for RPA
Coenraad and Amit exchanged insights on RPA’s key benefits, UiPath’s focus on AI integrations, and developing a sustainable RPA capability in-house. We hope their conversation answers your questions and spurs debates within your enterprise about how RPA can drive business outcomes and competitive advantage.
Can you share some of the results of RPA initiatives that you’ve seen?
Coenraad van der Poel: We’re involved in some of the largest RPA projects in the world. We have a very large banking customer that is seeking to achieve 1 billion dollars in corporate costs over the next number of years and they are well on track to do that. We see customers looking to achieve efficiency gains. For example, a headcount redeployment of 20-25%. We see many transactions where the time it takes a person to perform that transaction versus a robot is reduced by up to 95%. All these are different metrics and outcomes that we deliver.
Amit Singh: What we are also seeing is not just cost reductions and efficiency gains, but also value additions. In one case, we automated the broker information that the customer was supposed to look at before making trading decisions because that would give them better insights into the market. Before, they could look at only so much information and as a result, they had a reduced sense of the market. The limitation was that the broker information came in different formats and someone was manually compiling all that for traders to look at. But now, with the use of automation, you can automate all the broker information and get a better sense of the market. There are use cases like this that also lead to value additions.
Do you have any general feedback on the acceptance of potential staff reduction?
CvdP: This is a sensitive topic where the market is developing a technology, including our own, that has a real impact on how enterprises perform. Individuals can be impacted. As a company, we believe that we enable and empower workers to do more exciting work. We actively support the development of programs at universities to bring more people into the automation space.
UiPath enables and empowers employees to do more exciting work
But the reality is that customers seek to gain efficiencies and redeploy staff and sometimes let staff go as a part of this program. There are a lot of different ways in which customers achieve benefits from RPA, but productivity gains is a major one. I would say that we are closely working with our customers to handle that part of the process as well as we can.
In regards to RPA technologies, what company or companies are leading in the development of AI and how does it integrate with RPA?
CvdP: We’re experiencing a tremendous amount of growth at UiPath. One of the key reasons for customers selecting our technology over our competitors’ is that it’s performing well today and that it takes significantly less time to automate processes using UiPath technology versus any other competitor out there.
Another reason is the broad set of technologies that we enable our customers to use. It’s technologies embedded in UiPath, from computer vision, intelligent OCR or NLP to AI and cognitive engine investments that customers have already made. Many of our customers that are also IBM Watson customers have combined the two, and it’s UiPath software robots that kick off and interrogate an IBM Watson database. Similarly with Google Analytics. Our vision certainly is to create an ecosystem of technologies that customers can use, and an open, extensible architecture is essential for that. From our perspective, that’s one of the leading reasons why we’re selected over our competition.
Our vision is to create an ecosystem of technologies that customers can use and an open, extensible architecture is essential for that
AS: I agree with that. UiPath has been championing the whole idea of venturing into the AI space, and they’ve been pioneers in terms of making sure that we combine RPA and AI. I would say that by now, most RPA vendors have a technology alliance partnership program. It really enables the use of the RPA capabilities that they are providing, thus being able to integrate with some of the AI tools that are available in the market, be it the Microsoft Cortana Suite or be it Google Analytics and AI.
How does one decide between selecting RPA or upgrading their existing applications infrastructure?
CvdP: What I would say is that it’s a multitude of reasons why companies select robotic process automation technology today. In some cases customers say: I want to build an automation framework across my enterprise and I’ll select a tool that helps me best get there for many years to come. There are also customers that say: I’m in the midst of managing or considering large system upgrades and while I do that, I want to make sure that I have access to automation benefits. These customers tend to start out with a more tactical deployment and automate processes right around that upgrade. The deficiencies in current releases of software that would demand an upgrade can many times be overcome with RPA technology typically at a fraction of a cost of the actual upgrade. I think that customers have more flexibility in terms of picking the time at which they would choose an upgrade moment for their large ERP systems.
What is reasonable to consider regarding trainings in RPA implementation within an organization? What roles can be trained and done in-house?
CvdP: A typical Center of Excellence consists of four main roles. One is a business analyst role that performs process evaluations and process documentation, and there is a need to train for that role, and UiPath and Sapient provide that type of training. The second more critical role is the RPA developer. It’s the person that takes the process assessment and analysis, develops that actual automation, and brings it to production. In all enterprise environments we are in, customers will take that automated piece, run it through QA and UAT and all the other logical steps to bring it to production. The UiPath Orchestrator environment actually helps manage these different steps. The training for an RPA developer is key, and UiPath provides different levels of that training all the way to complete certification. Most of this training is available online and is free.
There are also the infrastructure and operations roles that help ensure that the underlying infrastructure for a large RPA deployment is set up and both Sapient and UiPath provide the necessary training. In terms of operations, the management of the software robots and the inputs and outputs of the work being performed belong to a specific role. UiPath provides training for all those roles.
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