Increasing Productivity and Reducing Remote Access Issues with Automation (& 3 Free or Low-Cost Automation Tools)

9th April 2020

Mark Barrett

Solving problems and increasing productivity with automation. We specialise in workforce led process improvements releasing time for more rewarding work

There has been a massive and rapid shift to homeworking for the whole nation and where most corporate systems have coped well, some are not. There are many reasons that influence this, that can vary across organisations. One common challenge is that a lot of business systems are not designed to be accessed remotely at scale. This is causing issues when having to process large volumes of work, that in normal times is much more manageable, while accessing over heavily contested Internet connections.

There are different ways to resolve this, such as remote desktop technology and virtual desktops, but one solution, Intelligent Automation, also delivers many other long-term benefits. In a recent study by HFS Research, featured in this Information Age article, 55% of enterprises surveyed, expect to invest in Automation to help cope with the long term challenges created by the pandemic. These include a shift to remote working, failure in supply chains and loss of outsourced services.

Intelligent Automation alleviates the load on workers and networks, by assisting staff in performing time consuming repetitive tasks within the organisations network. Intelligent Automation can also provide a more cost effective and resilient way to perform tasks previously conducted by outsourced service providers. These can include processing invoices, insurance claims, managing employee services such as payroll, furlough, and expense claims. There are many more use cases where automation can rapidly deliver these benefits securely and at scale.

Many of these tasks can be automated utilising readily available tools that deliver a substantial increase in productivity. The three tools below are available at little or no cost and can help organisations start to achieve the benefits of automation. Some of these do have limitations of use or functionality, depending on how they are to be used, so please do your own research into which is the most suitable for your organisation, or ask us as we are happy to help.

First though, we can highly recommend an RPA introduction course on LinkedIn Learning by Ian Barkin. It’s a great place to start and learn about RPA as well as being extremely valuable in the preparation, planning and execution of your automation journey. Link below.

Here is a quick summary of the tools with links to the vendors web sites.

1.     UiPath Community Cloud. UiPath are one of the biggest names in the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market and were one of the first to provide free online courses. The Community Cloud version provides an environment to design your automation, 3 robots to execute automations and a cloud-based orchestrator to assist with scheduling. You also get support through the forum and access to the UiPath Academy

2.     Microsoft Power Automate (Previously called Microsoft Flow). Power Automate is one of the fastest and easiest ways to deliver basic automated processes. It can also handle more complex automation and has its own RPA function called UI Flows, although this is a relatively new feature and is not as powerful as RPA platforms from more focused vendors. That said, its still a very capable tool to automate many business processes that can save large amounts of time and company bandwidth. Although chargeable after an initial 90 trial period this is one of the cheapest tools for production grade automation. There are also free versions for learning and development.

3.     Automation Anywhere Community Edition from another giant in the RPA market. Community Edition is geared towards developers and small businesses, larger businesses may need to purchase a license to use based on qualifying criteria. Automation Anywhere also has free learning resources available to get you started. The latest A2019 release is also a great improvement on ease of use and deployment over previous versions.

There is quite a steep learning curve with nearly all automation solutions, and it does help if you have experience of scripting technologies or at least help from someone who does. Some vendors claim that business users can quickly configure an automation, and certainly some are easier than others, but these tend to be very basic with limited benefits.

It is also essential to clearly document the steps that you want your automation to complete. Inserting these into a workflow diagram will help you capture a lot of the detail required. Be sure to have a clear start or trigger of the process as well as an end output. Also detail the steps in the task that have a variable input where information needs to be obtained from additional systems.

When identifying and documenting tasks for automation, try to focus on small, simple but time-consuming tasks. For example, tasks within payroll, invoice processing and customer order processes. There are many more time-consuming tasks that are highly repetitive and can be performed inside the corporate network (cloud-based options are available as well). Automation can also manage the sending and collation of agreements needed prior to employees being put on furlough.

Which tool is right for you? This depends on what you need and want to automate, as well as what level of technical capability you have access to. It is also worth considering the long term, as automation is a rapidly growing market and likely to be a key feature in nearly all business departments. If you would like help on what can be automated and what is likely to be the best tool, just drop us an email @ .

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