How to automate your repetitive tasks
We hear about grand ‘Artificial Intelligence’ projects reshaping the future of legal and professional advice every day, but there is another technology revolution quietly underway that has a much more immediate and direct effect on small professional practices.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming a key tool in improving efficiency and performance in a highly competitive world. A small professional practice that gets to grips with this technology has a real competitive advantage.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Automation can be defined as ‘methods of performing tasks and monitoring their performance automatically’.
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The purpose of task automation is to reduce human effort in routine, repetitive, or menial tasks, and to complete tasks more efficiently.
When are robots better than humans?
A robot in professional practice will not be a tin can sitting at a desk; it is software, sitting locally on a device or in a server. Understanding which tasks are best completed by robots and which are best performed by humans will help to create a more efficient practice.
Robots are fast, they don’t get bored or distracted and they don’t make mistakes. In this context, they are also unintelligent, having been created for a simple task. By comparison, humans are smart, creative problem solvers that love a challenge.
So robots give you the time to perform more meaningful, higher-value work, releasing you from low-value, time-consuming tasks.
Why consider automation for your practice?
- Concentrate on valuable tasks – use your skills where they are most needed.
- Save money – automatically process data, speed up your turnaround times, reduce manual hours.
- Offer new products and services – deliver client products that you wouldn’t normally have time to support.
- Standardisation – use standard formats to create consistency and avoid mistakes.
- Mass customisation – template processes can be rolled out across your client base whilst maintaining a personal touch for the client.
- Compliance and audit trails – create tools that allow you to track and timestamp when your documents are received, reviewed, edited and sent back to clients.
- Scaling admin departments – make your admin team more efficient so you can increase your client base.
Two easy ways to get started; Power Automate & UiPath
You can begin using automation very quickly and at no cost.
If you have a Microsoft Office 365 account, you already have access to a tool called ‘Power Automate’. This allows you to connect your Microsoft apps to each other. Want to save all email attachments from a certain client into a dedicated folder? Power Automate can do that as soon as they pop into your inbox. Want to create a portal to allow approvals of documents/invoices/holiday requests and track, record and report on them? Power Automate can do that.
UiPath has greater flexibility and can connect disparate systems by mimicking the actions that you would take as a user and replicate them to run automatically. UiPath comes with a 60-day trial and is more complicated to use, but there is lots of help available. Do you regularly need to copy information from one system to another? Do you need to enter data into a website and save the output somewhere? UiPath can help.
RPA in practice
Sebastian Elwell TEP, owner of Switchfoot Wealth Limited, worked alongside Luke MacKenzie Hill of Automate Office to produce some bespoke tools using RPA.
Power Automate/Office 365 suite
Switchfoot Wealth wanted to automate the production of personalised meeting guides, that any prospective customer – in this case solicitors acting as attorneys/deputies or trustees – could download ahead of an investment meeting. Crucially the guides needed to contain a personalised indicative quote. The indicative quote was formulaic but complicated. Automating the production of the guide makes it a very useful tool for prospective clients as they can order online whenever they need to.
We used a range of Microsoft tools to automatically process, standardise, document and send a bespoke information pack to the client. A Microsoft form was embedded on the website. The user fills in the form and Power Automate takes this data and processes it through Excel to calculate the fees and percentages specific to the client. The automation uses a standard template and replaces the relevant parts of that template with the processed data. The template is saved as a PDF and sent directly to the client.
Switchfoot Wealth can now provide a tailored document pack with accurate and relevant information, automatically, rather than taking 30 minutes to create manually. Without automation, this process would have been prohibitively expensive. A nimble and technologically-aware professional practice is able to bring a new idea or process to market quickly and out-pace larger ‘legacy’ businesses.
How to create a bespoke reporting pack where each client requires different reports and information, based on their investment portfolio. An adviser works with their client to establish what information they really need and decides how best to present that information. Without automation this often only happens annually as part of a review. Having prepared this information once, could it be possible for a robot to update the information and make it available to the client whenever they want to see it?
UiPath automatically logs in to the required reporting tool, selects the relevant client data and downloads the required reports and charts into a shared folder that the client has access to. By replicating this human task, a robot has been taught to login, select the relevant client information and the required report types. Finally, it saves those generated reports into the shared folder.
The robot can perform a daily refresh that would take a human 15 minutes per client to perform every day.
How to get started
Watch these short example videos giving an overview of the tools:
- Microsoft Power Automate overview – YouTube – 1:53
- Introduction to Microsoft Power Automate – YouTube – 1:24
- Introducing the UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform – YouTube – 4:20
Look at your processes and opportunities. You could start with your most frequent tasks or the ones that take the longest and ask yourself:
- Is this repetitive?
- Is the data presented in the same way each time?
- Is the data processed the same way each time?
If the answer is ‘Yes’, there’s a good chance it could be automated!
Robots don’t replace humans; they complement and enhance what we can do. The opportunity for smaller professional practices to improve efficiency and service is limited only by your imagination.
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