What’s a Bot to Do: There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Automation

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One good thing about going through challenging times is that it offers the opportunity to look at the daily operations of an organization. And I mean really look. Because when you do, it’s hard not to see areas of improvement, whether through process optimization or through automation. Why is a specific process done this way? Are we capitalizing on existing tools and systems to streamline or, better yet, automate a particular process?

Now is probably the best time to peel back the covers for each segment of your organization, to find those hidden areas where automation drives significant cost savings. You see people going about their daily routines and ask, “Why is this done this way? Is there a better (and cheaper) way to do it?”

Truth is, some tasks are still done a particular way because we just overlook the simplicity of task. This is not to say that a task is simple or unimportant; I’m saying we rarely dissect the “how” something’s done, which we have to do before we can determine if the task can be done more efficiently.

Doing things more efficiently always includes some degree of automation. In fact, I would say each advance in business technology is the direct result of our natural instinct to solve a particular problem with automation. Ever wonder why we call these advances “solutions”?

Let’s take a look at the three most common automations you can use: system integration, master data management (MDM) and robotic process automation (RPA). Each has a distinct place in solving organizational problems.

System integration is an easy one to see how automation solves a defined problem. It’s your normal, straight-up way of moving of data from one destination to another, with the intent of sharing information between each system. This could be as simple as well header data or asset information, or it could be as complex as transactional/production information that needs to move from the source system where it originates into a reporting platform or data warehouse.

Unfortunately, many companies overuse system integration as an automation tool and end up creating a nightmare of point-to-point processes that can get out of hand rather quickly if not architected in a manner that allows for extensibility and supportability. But that doesn’t take away from the benefits of system integration as an automation tool when it is properly applied.

Next is MDM, which is a powerful solution to a common “data” problem. In most O&G companies, for example, the same data is held in many line-of-business applications: planning, drilling and completions, production, financial and accounting, etc. The “how” question is, how does your company maintain the same data in each of those applications? Do you have people hand-enter data (hopefully correctly) into each of these? How many person hours does that involve, and how much is the cost in FTEs? How do you know when it comes time for regulatory reporting which system is correct when they show different values?

The beauty of MDM is that you enter data once (in the right system at the right time in the lifecycle of the well), and MDM will handle all the communication to the other systems for you! In real life, there are many advantages around mastering your well, asset and equipment information, and automation is just one aspect of that. But in the context of this conversation, let’s just focus on automation. Mastering your data removes the redundant data entry (and the costs associated with it) and removes the time it takes (again, cost savings) when people have to hunt for data over and again because it hasn’t yet been centralized and automated.

Lastly, let’s look at RPA, which is starting to gain traction in O&G companies and is definitely something to consider when looking at how to reduce costs. Take a look at the number of tasks that are done by your employees on a daily basis and consider whether they can be transformed into automated processes or a hybrid of both a human and robot. Look at every department: HR, IT, accounting, supply chain.

When you really look around, you’ll find there are so many “things” people do that can be mapped and transformed into an automated process that reduces the amount of human interaction needed in your organization. Once you start eliminating the need for a “real” person to do the mundane daily tasks, you’ll be able to decrease operational costs and allow your employees to work on activities that drive quantifiable business value.

Chances are, you are already doing one or more of these types of automation. The question is, are you fully utilizing these tools to streamline the data and processes within your organization that will essentially allow you to reduce your manual business process footprint? Think about that as you continue to consider the various ways you can use technology to efficiently perform repetitive daily tasks and highly manual business processes.

And if you haven’t yet capitalized on automation tools, specifically around RPA and MDM, stayed tuned for more information coming soon around specific use cases and how your peers are using these technologies to reduce costs.

About the Author

Stephanie Wilkin is a principal consultant at Stonebridge Consulting.