Quality up and hours down with new virtual employee at Swedish Energy Agency

Implementing an RPA solution, the Swedish Energy Agency has initiated the work of eliminating monotonous and repetitive manual tasks in order to save time and make better use of its competence. One of the first RPA processes involves the automation of reporting and accounting routines.

– Our new digital co-worker, robot Arne, has saved us almost a full working week each month on just one reporting routine in the Finance Department. Apart from our being relieved of a boring and monotonous task, the extra help provided by the robot enables us to spend more time focusing on more qualified work. Furthermore, since a robot never makes mistakes, the quality and reliability of our reports and accounting have also improved, says Ida Edling, Finance Project Manager at Swedish Energy Agency.

Faster and more reliable reporting

In working towards the increased security of energy supply, the Swedish Energy Agency furnishes facts, knowledge and analyses of the supply and use of energy in society. The Agency provides support for research on future vehicles and transport fuels, renewable energy technologies and smart grids, as well as for the commercialization and export of energy-related innovations. Participating in international collaborations on climate issues, the Agency is also responsible for Sweden’s official energy statistics and the management of instruments such as the Electricity Certificate System and the EU Emission Trading System.

Channeled via the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, the funding for several of the Agency’s projects is provided by the EU and requires the production of monthly reports of hours spent and costs accumulated on each project. In January 2020 the Agency contacted Precio Fishbone for help in automating a number of the Agency’s manual processes using Robotic Process Automation, RPA, with the reporting routine for the EU-funded projects being selected as the first process for automation.

– We looked at many processes and chose this one since it’s a fairly straightforward and rule-based process, ideal to start with in other words. The pilot project has been a success, but in hindsight, we think it might have been better if we’d selected a process that takes place more frequently than once a month. We’ll therefore shortly start automating other processes, in which we can monitor the robot’s operations more or less on a daily basis. Our management strongly believes in automation as a highly effective strategy to increase our efficiency, says Roger Haapaniemi, Section Manager IT Governance at the Swedish Energy Agency.

The reporting process was studied and mapped during a series of workshops led by Precio Fishbone’s RPA experts, who subsequently programmed the robot to execute the process without any human interference. In broad-brush terms, the robot extracts from the ERP system Unit4 ERP/Agresso the hours spent by each employee on the various projects. This data is then imported into Excel, where the time-related project costs are calculated and summarised together with the time sheets. Finally, returning to the ERP system, the robot rebooks the relevant salary costs as project costs.

– We send the results of the robot’s computations to the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. The report process involves a total of 14 EU-funded projects, with five to ten employees engaged on each project. So previously we had to handle enormous amounts of data and calculations manually. Five of us in the Finance Department worked for several days at the end of each month collecting the data and rebooking the salary costs. Today, with the robot’s help, we don’t need to spend more than an hour or two compiling and dispatching the reports, Ida concludes.

No overtime and 100% independent

An RPA robot is commonly referred to as a digital or virtual employee since it usually executes tasks otherwise handled manually by employees. It’s also possible to communicate with it via email, which further enhances its humanoid attributes. At the Swedish Energy Agency, the robotic processes are either triggered by scheduling via Windows Task Scheduler or by someone sending it an email containing start-up instructions.

– It’s very easy to start up an RPA process. We just send an email to Arne with the instruction to “Start the process”. The robot really is one of us! It’s even in our employee register and has its own user account. But, unlike us, it can work 24/7 all year round and without pay or overtime compensation. With Arne’s help, we can also make many tasks and competence areas completely independent of who´s in the office at any time or even awake, Ida underlines.

More secure payments with Arne

Ida points out that there are in fact many rule-based and repetitive processes in the Finance Department that are suitable for automation with the help of the robot. They are, for instance, looking at the possibility of letting Arne handle approval processes and the compilation of other timesheets in Excel. Another process that’s already underway, relates to the Finance Department’s verification of receiver account details before payments are executed.

– We currently do sample verification tests of the Plus- and Bankgiro accounts that we are about to make payments to, just to make sure that they are correct and active. Frauds are not unusual and someone in-house can mistakenly have entered an incorrect number upon registration. A Plus- or Bankgiro account can also have been deactivated. It’s a very time-consuming process but with Arne’s help we can both save time and ensure that accounts are always accurate before payments are processed, Ida concludes.