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Intellectual Capital – can it be captured and retained?

Operationally many businesses are built on foundations of complex spreadsheets.

Highly skilled people inside the organisation will look for a solution to an issue to help them with their work. That coupled with a knowledge of Excel and a desire to get the answers to questions quickly (bypassing the more obvious but potentially longer route of requesting a report from IT) will result in spreadsheets becoming an integral part of a business. As these spreadsheets grow larger and embed themselves in the business, more is required and expected from them and so they become a hot bed of complex macros, formulas, multiple pages, linked workbooks …and potential issues.

Reliance on of a business-critical spreadsheet can bring issues and such is the concern generally in industry of spreadsheets in business, that a group has been formed; EUSPRIG (the European Spreadsheets Risks Group). This non-profit organisation is the largest source of information on practical methods for organisations to introduce processes to inventory, test, correct, document, backup, archive, compare and control the legions of spreadsheets that support critical corporate infrastructure.

Issues surrounding spreadsheets include;

  • Data accuracy - manually inputting the data can be prone to user error with figures transposed or information misread meaning that any analysis or reports will be incorrect and misleading. In March 2018 it was reported in The Guardian that drinks retailer Bargain Booze blamed their first shock profit warning on a spreadsheet arithmetic error; “profits would be 20% lower than the £70m expected by the City, with £5.2m of the £14m hole that had opened up in its forecast down to a spreadsheet error, while the remainder was a reflection of weakening profit margins.”

  • Duplication of effort – the use of spreadsheets is typically in addition to operational systems, so businesses are in effect paying someone to replicate data from a system already in existence, and “add value” by developing an MIS (management information system) overlooked at the time the system was developed. The first thing to suffer when a system implementation runs late, generally, is the MIS to work the data and inform management.

  • Loss – spreadsheets stored on individual desktops, drives or memory sticks are unlikely to be on the radar of IT and not subject to regular back-ups.

  • Author specific – if the spreadsheet was created, developed and maintained by one person, what happens when they are away from the business or leave?

With the best of intentions of hand-overs or good recruitment of new employees, there is always the likelihood that the spreadsheet that once was a valuable business tool quickly becomes out of date and abandoned when the person that created it leaves, because no-one can quite work out their formula structure, how to spot an inaccuracy or unravel the complex macros.

Imagine for a moment that you could retain the knowledge and expertise when staff leave by capturing their processes as Intellectual Property (IP).

Sounds impossible to achieve, but it is possible with Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Using RPA for the spreadsheet example we have used here, would mean:

  • No dependency – on one person as updating would be automatic and there would be no need to rebuild the system when an employee leaves the business

  • No duplication – rather than multiple people entering the same data into numerous places, processes can be programmed so that multiple systems are automatically populated

  • Efficiency – the automated process would be quicker and wouldn’t need holidays, sick days, toilet or meal breaks

  • Accuracy – processes could be included to check and verify the data accuracy, multiple times if necessary, to ensure the information is correct

  • New roles – the fear with automated processes replacing manual work is that it will lead to the loss of jobs. In truth it is more likely to create new roles, ones that can’t be carried out by a process or robot but where human intelligence is required to analyse, interpret and act upon the results. Future workforces will have Data Scientists who use their human intuition to sniff out trends like a perfumier can when creating a new scent and use the information to feed the AI algorithms.

Enterprise RPA use UIPath technology as the enabler, along with our retail industry expertise we can implement operational automated processes to reduce time and costs at the micro level to help you take the next step to AI.

Don’t fall asleep at the wheel – and miss the turnoff for the future. Plan now.

To find out more or to arrange a demonstration, contact Enterprise RPA on 0333 987 3938


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