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June 29, 2018
Demystifying robotic process automation
By: Pierre Mawet and Gordon McGrath

Today's fast-changing technology environment is crowded with competing ideas, so the lack of awareness around robotic process automation (RPA) in the oil and gas industry isn’t that surprising. But the technology itself is fairly simple to understand. Let’s put it this way: in essence, RPA mimics the actions of your most consistent and detail-obsessed employees—and at a fraction of the cost—for, repetitive tasks.

There are so many benefits of the technology that every oil and gas company today needs to have it on their radar. Here’s just one example of how RPA can transform oil and gas operations:

An RPA Case study: Automating procurement

Challenge. Employees at one major upstream oil and gas site were responsible for a large number of mundane tasks – such as downloading procurement catalog files, filtering for global locations, buyers and material statuses, then verifying dollar-value thresholds against catalogs. Realizing this was a drain on their time, they came to Accenture to see how we could help having deployed 9,000 robotics solutions for over 300 clients in various industries.

Solution. Working together we designed a robot – or ‘bot’ for short – which automated these tasks. Within no time at all, not only did the bot take on the burden of these tasks, but it was doing them faster and more efficiently that human employees had been able to in the past – and without variation or distraction.

The bot continues to download files, navigate to webpages, filter for particular items, verify dollar values, validate request types and compare prices against active catalogs. It toggles among spreadsheets, web browsers and company enterprise resource planning systems. It can also send emails with a combination of updated numbers and templated sentences. All without getting tired or daydreaming about more interesting things.

Results. Of course, the main benefit has been that the company has saved on the number of employee hours spent on low-value, high-volume tasks. This is great news for the company as it frees resources for more important work; but it’s also great news for employees as they get to focus on more interesting, value-added activities instead of routine tasks.

The company has also seen a significant uplift in processing accuracy by removing human error from tedious work. Moreover, the bot’s attractive price and high capacity allow the company to keep catalogs 100 percent active and accurate. This is a major win for the company as up-to-date catalogs drive cost savings from avoiding old or misquoted prices not to mention errors that now do not need to be corrected after requisitions are placed or purchase orders are created.

Let’s face it: computers are faster and more accurate than humans at carrying out repetitive admin tasks – it makes complete sense to hand these tasks over to the algorithms, so we can focus on what we need to do: enhancing our customers’ experiences.

Additional opportunity areas for RPA

RPA will eventually come to service a wide variety of needs for oil and gas companies, but here’s a list of some of the areas that we think are most ripe for the picking:

  • Supply chain processes: These involve high volumes of structured data (rather than incoming free text emails) and a flow of ‘if/then actions’ to process data for later use. These qualities make them well suited to algorithm-based RPA.

  • Comparison of one data set to another.

  • Procurement is a good candidate due to a high number of repetitive tasks, as discussed in a this Energy blog. Spend compliance, vendor rationalization and warranty cost reduction are all juicy targets.

  • Planning, inventory and order management functions are also prime candidates. RPA can easily automate the creation of high-volume, critical (yet mundane) metrics, such as inventory turns and forecast accuracy while managing order diagnoses and disputes or tracking order complaint management.

  • Logistics can drive down transportation costs by tracking, comparing, auditing, and analyzing data that would require hours of employee time filtering and making pivot tables. RPA can do these tasks reliably and with ease, 24 hours per day, every day.

Take the lead

RPA is fast emerging as a key differentiator for oil and gas businesses. Organizations that deploy the technology will benefit from lower costs, more accurate results and an engaged workforce that’s focused on higher-value tasks to improve business performance. Those that don’t run the risk of falling behind. Make sure that your company is at the vanguard of this exciting new development.

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