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PHOTO: Dane Deaner

When Excel entered the scene in the mid '80s, businesses discovered an entirely new way to organize and interact with their data. With Excel, enterprises could keep a growing mass of crucial information on a central platform, reducing paper trails and speeding up data analysis.

Even though the move to Excel occurred 30 years ago and organizational demands and workflows have evolved dramatically, most companies continue to operate in nearly the same way. Many daily business operations and years of data are locked in those same Excel spreadsheets. Employees today must sift through headache-inducing troves of spreadsheet data and then spend valuable hours moving relevant information to different platforms and formatting it to make it usable outside of Excel sheets.

Your organization probably has useful data that hasn’t been touched in years, but you could be accessing it to drive growth and business decisions. Using bots to automate the process of unlocking and migrating data currently trapped in Excel to other business functions cuts down on manual labor required from employees and enables teams to return their focus to higher value work.

Robotic Process Automation’s Transformative Potential

Robotic process automation (RPA) digitizes and automates repetitive processes involving large sets of structured data across a wide span of industries and operations. RPA bots learn to interact with applications identified by employees, mimicking human keystrokes.

Bots are especially valuable to data analysis and migration activities that typically require repetitive interactions between multiple systems — saving employees from the tedious need to constantly flip back and forth between screens as they work to make data accessible across the workplace. From finance to procurement to customer service, bots can be incorporated into everyday manual tasks like opening emails and attachments, completing forms and making calculations.

Introducing bots into your workplace helps prioritize accuracy, consistency, reliability and compliance as you maintain and analyze long-standing organizational data. In addition, it keeps your employees focused on value-adding work, improving retention, productivity and worker satisfaction.

Related Article: Busting 8 Robotic Process Automation Myths

4 Best Practices for Introducing RPA Tools to the Workplace

Enterprises don’t need a software developer to implement RPA across an organization, making RPA a great first step in your journey to digital transformation. Employees can solve pain points directly by choosing processes to automate.

Spreading automation practices across your organization is no small task, so it’s important to break the process into manageable steps. Unlocking and updating inaccessible data quickly demonstrates the tangible impacts of automation.

Here are four tips for kickstarting bot use:

  1. Automate updates to information. Most organizations struggle to keep information accurate and up to date. For example, an employee may be tasked with updating a list of addresses for mailers, requiring them to manually export addresses, pass them through an address cleanup service and then individually enter each account to update an address. With RPA, employees can automate this entire chain of processes, saving hours and ensuring information is updated accurately.
  2. Use bots to migrate information. Organizations are more efficient when they can quickly move data between systems. For example, if two financial institutions merge, all systems must be consolidated. By using bots, data can be quickly exported to a new system while still following the new system’s formatting and storage rules.
  3. Leverage RPA when urgent tasks arise. Human error and capacity often inhibit the speed at which institutions respond to emergencies. When a bank learns a data breach has compromised a list of debit or credit cards, it must close those cards as quickly as possible. But this process takes a long time when humans perform it, underscoring how RPA can help mitigate losses and protect customers’ funds.
  4. Stay up to date with data monitoring. System or website failures can cost millions of dollars if they’re not caught quickly. By using bots to monitor critical business functions, you can ensure instant notifications when something goes wrong. Bots can simulate the way humans interact with online apps to make sure they’re running smoothly, and immediately report the problem using email, text or Slack when a problem arises.

Although there are many signs that it may be time to automate or adjust a process, a good rule of thumb is if you’re doing something the same way you did it in 1985, it might be time for a change.

To stay competitive, companies must break from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. Even though Excel docs sufficed 30 years ago, trapping data in a spreadsheet isn’t a viable way to meet today’s business needs. Using RPA to automate key business processes is essential for keeping pace with competitors — and keeping track of your increasingly chaotic web of information.

Related Article: Navigating RPA Potholes on the Bumpy Road to Digital Transformation