Client: Electrocomponents plc Region: Global Industry: Distribution/Technology

A better experience for customers, suppliers and employees drives automation for Electrocomponents plc

Continually improving customer experience is challenging. Electrocomponents deployed RPA to empower its staff to work with more suppliers and serve more customers.

When you’re sending out over 50,000 packages to customers worldwide every day, your business operations have to be as smooth and efficient as possible. Electrocomponents PLC – trading as RS Components (RS) in the UK – understands that automation is a key part of achieving this goal. With rapid growth, Electrocomponents is using Robotic Process Automaton (RPA) globally, across all regions to maximize its existing resources to deliver an excellent experience to its customers, suppliers and employees.

Founded in 1937, the company is a global omni-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions with over one million customers in more than 80 countries worldwide. The Group comprises six operating brands: RS, Allied Electronics & Automation, RS PRO, OKdo, DesignSpark and IESA. With a product portfolio of over 500,000 items from 2,500 suppliers, the company employs more than 7,000 people and has a turnover of over $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) for the financial year ended 31 March 2020.

We want automation to help us do more work and provide a better service by freeing up and supporting our employees. For us, RPA is about empowering our existing people to work with more suppliers and serve more customers.

Greg Lee-PodgorskiHead of Automation, Machine Learning & Technology Platforms

Electrocomponents is focused on delivering a best-in-class experience to its customers and suppliers. It’s a strategy that’s paying off. The company began to investigate RPA a few years ago to help manage that growth and continually improve the experience it provides.

Greg Lee-Podgorski, Head of Automaton, Machine Learning & Technology Platforms says: “Organizations often approach RPA for the financial benefits. And, those are important. You also need to think about wider business benefits. We want automation to help us do more work and provide a better service by freeing up and supporting our employees. For us, RPA is about empowering our existing people to work with more suppliers and serve more customers.”

The 3 B's of RPA

The automation journey for Electrocomponents started with RPA in 2017, running a Proof of Concept to explore its potential and suitability for the business.

The company selected UiPath as their solutions partner because of the product quality and ease of use, range of integrations and partners, as well as their customer success offering.

We’ve worked hard to understand and build automations that focus on the interactions between robots and our staff. We’ve developed excellent feedback loops between the robot and the person to ensure we have really great inputs and outputs.

Greg Lee-PodgorskiHead of Automation, Machine Learning & Technology Platforms

Greg explains: “Of all the solutions we looked at, UiPath was the most powerful and easy to use. In addition, we were impressed by UiPath as a company and by your CEO’s vision of an open and inclusive technological ecosystem.”

The results of the Proof of Concept were that RPA had great potential and UiPath was the best solution. Before moving into creating new automations, the company began to work through what it calls the three B's of RPA:

  • Build the infrastructure
  • Build the team
  • Build the robots

Building the best infrastructure proved to be the most challenging as the company wanted to take advantage of UiPath's module allowing to monitor and manage its robots in real time and in a uniform manner. Electrocomponents had to find a way to integrate the Cloud deployment of UiPath Orchestrator with its on-premise technical infrastructure, which included its robots. The critical path was establishing a fit-for-purpose IT infrastructure and collaborating closely with the technology function.

Greg comments: “We created a hybrid architecture with 80% on-premise and 20% in the Cloud. This allows us to take full advantage of UiPath Orchestrator to manage attended and unattended robots from a single platform.”

The company built a team of RPA Process Analysts and RPA Developers and set in place strict governance based around a Robotic Operations Model (ROM) that covers the process assessment, robotic process design, robot development, functional, unit and user acceptance testing as well as deployment and support of live robots.

The RPA implementation began in spring 2018 and took several months to design, set up IT infrastructure and to establish an internal Automation CoE, before they were ready to undertake the first full automation. The only small challenge was that it was now September and the team had committed to the organization that the automation would be in production by Christmas.

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Working with different business units, the company selected a process to facilitate the translation of content from its English language websites into other languages. The company has over 60 websites worldwide – from which it gains over 63% of its revenues – and relies on third party translators. Files have to be exchanged accurately, efficiently and in a timely manner. The robot was automatically extracting source files from the internal digital content system, making them available to translation providers at specified intervals and then moving the translated files between the FTP servers of the company and its suppliers.

Previously, a staff member had to complete the task manually with roughly two months of her working year taken up by the task. However, the key benefit of this automation didn’t come from freeing up the employee’s time but from ensuring quality and constantly updated localized content delivery to online customers.

From initial pre-assessment to final, fully developed and robustly tested and production-ready robot deployment in the UK, it took less than three months and was delivered just in time for Christmas. “We made it and, in no small part, thanks to the ease of use of UiPath,” comments Greg.

Focusing on the business benefits

To meet customers’ needs, Electrocomponents operates 12 distribution centers worldwide and employs a number of front-line client-facing teams, who handle calls, emails and transactions, supporting the customer journey. The way the company has applied RPA to its business operations in EMEA, the Americas and APAC demonstrates the business benefits that can be gained.

The inventory management team now has better visibility – and faster access – to product data and they can then issue a set of actions to ensure we get the right products to customers quickly and effectively.”

Greg Lee-PodgorskiHead of Automation, Machine Learning & Technology Platforms

The company has created a robot, using the UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform that processes and updates the inventory codes for all products within its ERP system. With up to 30,000 different inventory code changes per request, the fast and accurate updating of data is essential. This not only ensures that the right products are dispatched but also enables effective inventory management. The operation of the company depends on the correct level of stock being re-ordered and an optimum amount of stock in the supply chain.

Automating this single process has increased the accuracy of data and cut the lead-time for inventory management by 50%. Greg explains: “The inventory management team now has better visibility – and faster access – to product data and they can then issue a set of actions to ensure we get the right products to customers quickly and effectively.”

We created a hybrid architecture with 80% on-premise and 20% in the Cloud. This allows us to take full advantage of UiPath Orchestrator to manage attended and unattended robots from a single platform.”

Greg Lee-PodgorskiHead of Automation, Machine Learning & Technology Platforms

Another software robot uses shipping numbers and customer account numbers to continually check that orders are being shipped in a timely manner. When it spots a discrepancy, the robot automatically escalates those that need priority – such as those with an expiry date that require immediate shipping and fragile items that shouldn’t remain on the warehouse floor for long periods of time. This automation has reduced the shipping cycle of certain product ranges in the UK by 20%, meaning customers get their products faster and the payments process is accelerated.

“With power of modern RPA software, these are quite simple processes to automate but we’re seeing definite business benefits from them. Our initial goal was to deliver quick wins that would show what RPA can do. The inventory management automation and others have certainly accomplished that and we’re now seeing a big spike in interest in the potential of RPA from our colleagues across the business.”

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From quick wins to game changers

Since December 2018, Electrocomponents, using only internally established automation CoE resources, has now deployed over 50 robots across its business globally and the company is now accelerating its adoption of RPA.

Greg explains: “Initially we went after quick wins and, with time, we have shifted our focus to processes unlocking the most value for our organization. We have released 10’s of thousands of hours back to the business (HBTB) so that our colleagues can focus on more complex, value-adding activities, increased throughput rates, shortened wait times for process outputs and minimized error rates in our operations, thus delivering significant business benefits to our company. RPA has proved its worth to our board and our staff, helping us make amazing things happen for our customers, suppliers and our people.

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Greg concludes: “The pace of change in RPA is astonishing. The UiPath platform just keeps growing, with new features and an expanding ecosystem of complementary solutions. At times, it's hard to keep up with everything that UiPath is doing nowadays. It’s really exciting to be able to say that as a customer.”

Key benefits

  • 6,000 Over 6,000 hours returned back to the business initially. By now tens of thousand hours have been returned.
  • Over 50robots developed and deployed in under 18 months
  • 50% Leading times for inventory management cut in half
  • 20% Product shipping cycle times reduced by 20%
  • Daily basis Outstanding content from third party suppliers requested, translated and uploaded on a daily rather than weekly basis
  • Hybrid RPA deployment with robots on-premise and Orchestrator in the Cloud

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