Process Automation by Citizen
Part 1 - The First Bots
Business of Digital Hearts Group.
The group of Digital Hearts Holdings
Co., Ltd. is recognized as one of the top firms worldwide offering “software
testing service". With its group mission “SAVE the DIGITAL WORLD,” the
group provides software testing to detect defects of various kinds of software including
game software, and security testing such as vulnerability diagnosis. They have 13
test centers in Japan and utilize its approximately 8,000 registered testers all
over the country for testing operation to its client companies like a few globally
known game software makers and IT software developers.
Target task; Time-sheet processing
At the HQ of its subsidiary, Digital
Hearts Co., Ltd., the billing team works non-stop 10 days surrounding the
beginning of every month collecting and processing "timesheets" from
these several thousand of active testers working in the previous month. Due to
the volume of these timesheets arriving in various shapes and forms a
considerable number of manual processes are needed to "normalize" these
formats before they can be entered into their system. Digital Hearts Group chose
this process as the first target for the Process Automation by the Citizen
The Citizen Developers
From this operations division, individuals
Yoshio Nakamichi, Makiko Kikuchi, and one other are assigned to join the
project. All three of them are team veterans who are familiar with the target
process, and they are comfortable using MS Excel including applying Functions
where useful. However, none of them had any experience in computer
programming. According to one, the closest they had come to programming was in
trying to improve efficiency through the Excel Macro which had required some
good amount of Googling time. All three team members assigned considered
themselves qualified as Citizen Developers.
Challenge I: Process Discovery and
Designing of the Bot
Although all 3 Citizen Developers
had thorough knowledge about the target process and its "steps", it
was not so easy to translate the steps for software robots. They quickly
learned that the steps that are optimized for manual processes are often not at
all optimized for software. Then, they asked for guidance from the process
discovery experts. In the end, all the Citizen Developers came to a good
understanding of how they can translate human steps to effective software robot
Challenge II: Testing and Debugging
Bot development itself was not so
much of a challenge for the Citizen Developers although they often found
themselves pausing and questioning if the logics they had implemented were the
most efficient ones. They were able to gain more confidence as again by
receiving guidance and code-review sessions from the software development
experts. The bigger challenges, or perhaps the biggest challenges of the
project, were in the phases of testing and debugging. When the prototype
software robots failed, it was not easy to figure out the cause. Gradually the
Citizen Developers have learned the "divide and conquer" approaches
which made the debug tasks proceed more smoothly. However, there are still
cases where they were not able to isolate the issue without advice from the
coding experts. The low-code tool was helpful as the Citizen Developers could
easily see what changes the coding experts made to the software robot design.
Accomplishment: The Bots went live
After xx weeks of development, 2
bots were deployed with the billing team. Showing immediate benefits. Firstly,
in time saved; around 5 hours a month for the billing teams’ time-sheet
processing. Another benefit was elimination of "mistakes", the new Bots
gave outputs that were 100% accurate. The biggest benefit, however, according
to the team, was the morale boost. The team could focus on
other tasks knowing that the bots were doing their parts. This
reduced pressure, anxiety, and frustration significantly for the team.
Before and After
The changes before and after the bot’s introduction were clear. Previously,
when sorting timesheet files by payment terms, the team had manually read each
timesheet to extract the appropriate data. As each client has different payment
terms, this was a time consuming and exhausting task, prone to human error. Following
this, the data needed to be double checked against the payroll system. This was
done by manually exporting the system data to csv and then merging (copy paste)
it to the original Excel for comparison - Data entry, data export, merging, and
double checking. The huge amount of time and effort needed for these regular
tasks singled it out as the obvious candidate for this project. A project that
quickly proved its value.
Once handed over to the bot, payment term extraction and the double-checking
processes were fully automated, reducing errors to zero and significantly
reducing the workload and pressure placed on the team.
What are the important factors?
From their experience as Citizen
Developers, the team soon identified 3 key factors contributing to the
successes of their project. The first, to start small and deploy fast; focusing
on simple, basic processes to automate and release quickly. The second, to have
regular code review sessions with programming experts. The developers recall
they found these sessions particularly eye-opening in expanding their knowledge
of programming language and logic. Thirdly, an important factor in managing
this project was patience and commitment. The development process requires care
and attention, learning to understand your bots before they can grow. The
introduction of process automation bots is a partnership – one that will keep
giving as the years progress. As the team said themselves "The bots are
still babies. We will raise them together from here."
What is next?
Digital Hearts Group is thrilled with the benefits gained from their Citizen Development and doesn’t intend to stop here. The entire team has gained knowledge on Software Robots and is enthusiastically identifying processes for future automation. The team and their citizen developers are excited to see management making IT investments to not just improve productivity for the business, but to improve the working environment for all. We anticipate many more automation projects from them in the future, following their key 3 factors, they are guaranteed more hours saved, fewer mistakes made, and ever-growing employee satisfaction.