Founded in 1938, ONCE (abbreviation for the Spanish name Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles) is a social organization in Spain that is dedicated to helping blind and visually impaired people sustain and support themselves.
The organization has the unique challenge of providing a social service to thousands of ‘affiliates’ while generating revenue from the country’s lottery system, and ensuring they are in compliance with the high regulatory standards expected of them from the Spanish Government. The organization turned to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to solve many of the inefficiencies that had built up over its 82-year existence, leading to better service and more productive employees.
ONCE serves over 70,000 affiliates through its 28 main offices spread around Spain. The organization teaches blind and visually impaired people how to interact with their environment, teaching them how to use and adapt to everyday items such as books, televisions and computers, and eventually prepare them for the world of work and independence.
Their support does not end there, as they help employers adapt their offices for visually impaired people and provide support for older populations with poor or no eyesight. In order to do this, the organization employs over 23,000 people of which 18,000 are involved in selling lottery tickets which forms the main source of funding for ONCE. There are around 5,000 support staff located in the various offices and agencies dotted around the country.
ONCE has a long history and a solid structure, but I quickly understood that automation would be a good way to revitalize our processes and relieve our employees.
As effective as ONCE is at supporting its affiliates, the organization is faced with a number of unique challenges. Despite growing rapidly over its 82-year existence, ONCE still relied on old processes and procedures, including a heavy reliance on paper and manual work. Their IT system is specially designed for use by both normal sighted employees as well as blind employees and so any new technology solution needed to be compatible to its system and accessible to all employees.
The organization draws its funding from Spain’s lottery system and organizes the lottery on a daily and weekly basis. This involves employing thousands of lottery sales people to sell tickets and lottery products, as well as the logistics of delivering these products throughout Spain. As a government-regulated NGO, ONCE is subject to stringent regulation including oversight from multiple Ministries, compliance requirements surrounding Anti-Terrorist Financing and Anti-Money Laundering as well as regulations on all aspects of the operations such as lottery systems, products, advertising, marketing, communications, general resources, IT, procurement, accounts payable and more.
Given the importance of the service it provides and the sensitivity of its position as a high-profile NGO, ONCE needed to find ways to improve efficiency and be more effective while keeping an eye on costs and ensuring 100% accuracy and safety at all times.
Brought in specifically to aid in ONCE’s digital transformation, Project Manager Emilio Campin turned to the UiPath RPA platform to automate some key processes. Wary that he had to first prove results to ONCE’s multiple stakeholders, he identified a number of processes that were ripe for automation and would allow him to highlight the accuracy and safety of the technology. An additional key objective was to prove that the technology would increase the agility, efficiency and productivity of the organization without resulting in job losses. Rather, ONCE’s employees would be freed from tedious, rules-based tasks and allowed to perform more value-added work.
We got together in the IT department and said OK, from our point of view, let's see if we know of any administrative process that could be easily defined, easily implemented, and the results easy to prove. We identified 2 proof of concept projects using the UiPath RPA Platform which both proved to be huge successes.
Proving its value
The first proof of concept was developed in 2018 and made it easier for ONCE to track and measure its lottery ticket stocks. The organization would distribute 26 different lottery products (from scratch cards to tickets) to 28 different distribution centers around Spain. The tickets would then be picked up by the lottery sales personnel who would sell them to generate revenue for ONCE.
Tracking the lottery ticket stocks was a complicated task. 26 different lottery products distributed to 28 distribution centers resulted in 728 separate reports being generated. In order to generate these reports, employees would have to log into the IT system and manually pull out the individual data, copy and paste the data into an excel sheet before incorporating it into a larger report for onward delivery to leadership. This process would take many hours and as such, reports could only be generated on a monthly basis.
Emilio worked with UiPath to automate this process. With software robots logging into the system, pulling out the required data and inputting it into a master report, they were able to perform this task in a fraction of the time it had previously taken. Human involvement has been reduced to a minimum with only final checking and oversight required, leading to reports being generated on a weekly basis.
Previously, employees were doing all of this manually click-click-click as they logged into the system, opened the Excel file, copy-pasted the information etc. Just so that they could understand stock levels. We told them that we could have a robot doing this for them and they were delighted.
Going outside of the organization
The next step was to prove that RPA could sow integration with external IT systems. Emilio saw that colleagues from multiple departments had to interact with the Government’s Social Security website to download and access important notifications (i.e. employee tax information by the HR department, legal information by the legal team etc.).
This involved logging in daily, identifying which notifications and messages were most relevant to that department, downloading them and then distributing them to the relevant persons. This process was time consuming and required daily checks as the system would not proactively notify them. This was also an important task, as any missed messages could significantly impact their affiliates and employees, for instance on a tax or salary issue.
So, instead of having an employee spending a couple of hours every morning sifting through and downloading these e-mails, Emilio had a robot do this. The robot logs in into the system, understands and identifies the topics of each message – legal, HR, Finance etc. – and automatically sends it to the relevant departments. The robot then flags any remaining notifications that it did not know what to do with, for human intervention.
Gaining confidence, gaining trust
The two Proofs of Concept demonstrated that not only could robots carry out many of the repetitive, rules-based tasks that ONCE employees had previously spent hours doing, but they could do so safely and accurately. As more and more results came in, ONCE began to identify and automate more processes. To date they have two UiPath Robots and one Orchestrator automating, or in the production phase, almost 50 processes, estimating that over 46,000 hours have been saved since 2018.
We were especially proud of our loan's robot, because we were able to quickly and efficiently help our colleagues in HR in the middle of a pandemic.
One recent success came during the COVID-19 pandemic which saw Spain go into lockdown affecting almost every sector in the country. To support their employees, in particular their Lottery Sales teams, ONCE offered a flexible, low interest, long-term loan available to any of its employees to help support them during this difficult period.
Forecasting a spike in applications, Emilio used a software robot to help with the administrative tasks of generating a loan application, sending it to the employee who wanted a loan for digital signing, registering the signed contract, processing it in the system, receiving human approvals and ensuring the loan appeared in the employee’s payslip. Over 500 loans were processed, freeing up Human Resources personnel to do more value-added work such as liaising with employees in times of uncertainty and challenges.
Emilio adds: “Our HR colleagues told us that their demand management team were struggling with the amount of tasks imposed by the pandemic and related lockdowns they had to do and we were able to step in and automate a significant amount of their administrative work, ensuring our colleagues received their loans to help them during this period and freeing up our HR colleagues to do other tasks. This is the value of RPA, it’s not about saving money or even productivity, but taking the robot out of the human and allowing us to do more with less.
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