Sonae Arauco is a multinational company based in Spain and one of the largest producers of wood-based panels in the world. With operations in Spain, Portugal, Germany and South Africa, as well as sales offices in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Morocco, Sonae Arauco’s products are used around the world and the firm employs around 3,000 people with a turnover of circa €750 million.
Sonae Arauco was created in 2016, resulting from a joint-venture between Sonae Indústria (Portugal) and Arauco (Chile) and based on the know-how of its people, the company saw itself as an industry leader with state-of-the-art facilities at their Shared Service Center (SSC) in Maia, Portugal. However, after deploying UiPath robotic process automation (RPA) robots, they uncovered new opportunities to deploy technology to improve productivity, efficiency and improve the working lives of their employees.
Sonae Arauco’s RPA journey began in 2017. At the time the company did not believe it had any need for RPA given that its upgraded SSC was considered state-of-the-art. Made up of four departments, the center dealt with all of the administrative aspects for the global company, including Accounting, Administration, Treasury Management and Transaction Accounts among other tasks.
The center was and is considered modern and highly effective, but after a chance encounter during an international conference, the SSC team, led by Alcídio Silva Figueiredo, started realizing that there were a number of processes and tasks that were being performed in a very inefficient manner that could be automated using RPA.
Alcídio Silva FigueiredoAdministrative & Accounting Manager
It was an eye opener for me. When we started our RPA journey, I realised that actually, there were lots of things that we could do better. We were having a lot of people spending a lot of time doing the same things as they were doing since 2001, and we were not aware that there were other ways of dealing with it and we were missing clear opportunities.
The company started working with the consultancy firm Deloitte. Deloitte came to the SSC and, alongside the internal team, started identifying potential tasks and processes that could be automated and the benefits this could bring. The Deloitte team stayed with the internal team on a daily basis, understanding what they did, what tasks they worked on and how much time they spent on those tasks.
The consultancy firm wrote up a detailed report for Sonae Arauco’s team with a number of important outcomes. Firstly, they realized that they were performing a lot of tasks that were redundant, that weren’t required. They also identified a number of tasks that were ripe for automation. Importantly, as the Deloitte team had embedded themselves within the SSC’s team, all the numbers and conclusions that they produced could be immediately validated by Sonae Arauco.
With this report, they were then able to proceed to the next phase which was a Proof of Concept. They first set about deciding which software to use, balancing a number of different RPA providers before settling on UiPath RPA platform due to its ease of management, ease of handling and flexibility. One of the first and most obvious tasks was within the Treasury Management team, specifically the reconciliation of the transitory bank accounts which was used to update the management team on the company’s cash position via a monthly report. For many years, employees would gather information from a variety of sources and collate it into Excel where checks are performed and cleared. This process took a long time – three to four days a month – and took quite a few employees to put together meaning they did not have time to conduct any proper analysis as to the ‘why’ and identify any deeper problems that could be fixed.
Alcídio Silva FigueiredoAdministrative & Accounting Manager
UiPath’s ease of use is a big plus point. The fact that I could take one person that has no experience whatsoever in handling this type of software, and train that person into becoming capable of implementing a software solution somewhere in and outside the company, is huge benefit in terms of people development, and giving people the confidence to do things they normally wouldn’t.
The team set about using RPA robots to automate this process, which could reduce the time taken to prepare the reports from four days to one. With the proper definition of accounts compensation rules, the creation of adequate support files and process reengineering, it was possible to free up time and employees who could then go about performing analysis of the information, understanding exactly why some outputs were as they were and quickly fixing the open amounts. Not only did this result in a better-quality report, but as a first project, it allowed the team to identify some mistakes earlier in the process, mistakes that could be easily and automatically solved, and illustrated to the employees themselves the power and benefits of RPA.
They then set up a center of excellence (CoE) consisting of three employees who had been freed from some tasks that had just been automated, one of them from the Treasury Management team. These three employees already understood the value that RPA could bring, having personally benefitted from it, and also had a background not in IT or technology, but in Economics and Management. This gave them a wider perspective and allowed them to communicate better with other departments. The CoE now works throughout the company, spreading the benefits of RPA across different departments.
The company continued to implement pilot projects and started to build up a number of case studies that they used to persuade department heads to implement RPA. As of December 2020, Sonae Arauco deploy 30 robots and automate over 8,000 hours per year, saving over €185,000.
Not only are RPA robots being used on regular tasks and processes, but teams are now deploying RPA robots on ad-hoc, one-off tasks. For instance, the IT team deployed RPA on a one-off basis to gather information from multiple systems. Previously, this would have taken three persons over three months to complete, yet with RPA they were able to assign a robot who could complete the task much quicker.
The company is proceeding to move the CoE from the SSC, into the IT department as this will allow them to capture more opportunities across more departments. “The organization is still not completely aware of the benefits of the RPA software and I believe that even today we are still missing opportunities. But we are going throughout the organization and helping people identify and think about how RPA can help them and their teams.”