Rarely does a technological development appeal to the imagination like robotics. The robots that we see today in warehouses, production halls and even in offices look less spectacular than the metal heroes in RoboCop, Star Wars or Star Trek, “but they are outstanding assistants”, according to Tom De Maeyer. Tom has incorporated more than 100 bots into the processes of a well-known bank. He brought his experience and expertise with him when he joined Ordina, where he now leads the new Robotics business unit.
Robotic process automation at Ordina: Meet the expert
Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a form of business process technology that uses software robots – or bots – to automate repetitive, standardised processes. Bots are rapidly growing in popularity around the world, both in production as well as administrative environments, thanks to their numerous advantages: greater efficiency, lower costs and smaller margins of error. Ordina is also convinced of its advantages – hence our new robotics team, which Tom De Maeyer is putting together.
Banks in the digital era
Tom is a sales engineer who plunged straight into the IT world after completing his studies. Over a period of seven years, he held a number of different positions at CDS, a subsidiary of HP Enterprise, and was later appointed head of the IT consultancy provider Mixity. He then switched domains by accepting a role in a financial institution. “I was hired as programme manager and given a very exciting mission: to prepare the credit landscape for the digital era. We took a very close look at market trends and changing customer expectations and optimised products, channels and processes with the goal of offering smoother, more efficient service. Helping shape the future is an extremely enjoyable and gratifying job,” Tom explains.
Robotics appeared on the scene in 2016. Tom didn’t hesitate to lead this initiative: “I had been closely monitoring developments in the robotics and AI sector for quite some time. Not professionally, but out of personal interest.” Thanks to this interest and his background in both IT and business operations, he was given the opportunity to set up a Robotics Centre of Excellence within the company. The robotics programme became an extraordinary success within a very short period of time.
“We were given a very ambitious mission to accomplish: to introduce robotics within the company on a scale and within a timeframe unprecedented the Belgian market,” says Tom. The team was dazzlingly successful in their mission. In the space of barely two years, the company had incorporated more than one hundred software bots and integrated dozens of business applications. The broad incorporation of robotics freed up a considerable amount of human capital, making the return on investment even greater than the reduction in costs that was achieved.
Return on investment for every euro invested by a company in robotics is usually 200% within the space of one year.
“The thing that makes robotics so interesting is that it is possible to measure the ROI very easily,” says Tom. “Not only that, but you can start off small and gradually scale up the level of automation. At the bank, we also started off prudently with just three cases, but once the possibilities and the ROI had been proven, we shifted up a gear and rolled it out throughout the company.”
“There were some stumbling blocks of course,” Tom continues. “These had less to do with technology, because the technology is easy to implement. Generating employee support was not always an easy feat. In the beginning, they saw robotics as a threat to their jobs. A considerable amount of communication and change management was needed to convince everyone of the advantages.”
Humans and robots working as a team
Tom himself needed no convincing: “I believe very strongly in these technologies as the way toward operational efficiency. 20-40% of all back-office tasks can be automated using smart bots and algorithms, but his means taking people out of the picture. However, the tasks that this kind of bot handles are only routine tasks that people would be better off not dealing with. Thanks to robotics, they now have the time to offer real added value and to focus on those tasks where human beings excel, tasks in which skills such as empathy, intuition, communication and creativity are important. In these instances, software bots act as assistants that support human activities.”
Thanks to robotics, we have more opportunities to tackle creative tasks and provide added value.
Translating IT knowledge to new business areas
In August of last year, Tom decided to transfer his expertise in robotics to the world of Ordina. Why this move? Tom: “Ordina appealed to me enormously: it is innovative and has a great corporate culture, an excellent client portfolio and a robust customer approach.”
Tom’s role as business unit manager can be challenging, he admits: “I worked on the robotics project from its infancy to its maturity, and during this time, I acquired extensive expertise. But I had already worked for years in the financial services sector, and what makes this job so exciting for me is being able to apply the knowledge I acquired there to other sectors.”
Tom’s objective is to transform the new unit into a trendsetter in the world of robotics and technology-driven efficiency. He sees a great potential there: “In any company with numerous administrative processes, software bots can lead to efficiency improvements. In spite of this potential, I still see very few large-scale implementations outside the financial and insurance sectors. Together with the team, I would like to change that.”
This year, Tom would like to expand his team with the addition of technical profiles, data analysts and process experts. “One of Ordina’s great strengths is the large number of teams that work closely together. We hold an unbelievable amount of knowledge under one roof, which makes us really quite unique in the market.”