Supply chain teams are dependent on external vendors/suppliers and massive internal software platforms to do their jobs. Working with so many teams and systems outside of the supply chain’s control makes manual processes and data challenges inevitable.
Dumping data from third parties and internal systems quickly overloads Microsoft Excel, and IT teams struggle to keep up with the constantly changing requirements and ad hoc requests of the supply chain team. Tasks that should take minutes take hours and what should take hours requires days or weeks. Some processes in supply chain are so complex, they are impossible with tools like Excel due to processing times and record limits.
Robotic process automation (RPA) tools like UiPath and self-service data and analytics tools like Alteryx give supply chain teams the power to automate processes and deal with massive data sets quickly and efficiently.
Why It Matters
With increased competition, more regulations, and tight job markets, process automation and fast data analysis are more important than ever before. The number of systems and the amount of data collected is expanding faster every day, and over the last several years, supply chains have been hit with unprecedented challenges – global conflict and pandemics, severe weather events and a changing climate, and previously unseen levels of port congestion. In the midst of this unpredictability, it’s critical to use the data you have at your disposal to make the best possible business decisions.
The benefits of doing so are clear. Optimized supply chains generally have 15% lower costs, less than 50% inventory holdings, and a faster cash-to-cash cycle by nearly three times compared to under-optimized supply chains.
Challenges to Overcome
Some of the key challenges we see while working with supply chain teams include:
- Difficulty accessing and combining data from multiple sources including internal systems, vendor portals, and cloud systems.
- Inconsistent data formats and dirty data that need to be cleansed and combined.
- Difficulty getting the data ready for analysis because so much time is spent compiling and double-checking the data.
- Requests for Tableau or Power BI dashboards, but the data challenges make it impossible to keep them running and current.
- So much time spent with manual tasks and data entry, there is no time to do advanced data analysis and proper forecasting.
To alleviate the issues above, we need technology that can fetch data from anywhere, deal with the data, and push the data to reports, dashboards, internal, and external systems. Any time spent repeating manual, time-consuming, and error-prone tasks is a waste of time.
At Capitalize, we’ve helped hundreds of companies build repeatable, automated processes using two key technologies.
- UiPath: Commonly called a “robotic process automation” or “RPA” platform, UiPath gives users the ability to train a “bot” that can mimic nearly any process that requires a person to use a keyboard and mouse. Opening applications, navigating websites, running reports, reading PDFs, filling out form, downloading files, and sending emails are just a few examples.
- Alteryx: Can be classified as a data wrangling and data analytics tool. Alteryx can pull, cleanse, and combine data from nearly anywhere. For users who find themselves spending a lot of time fighting with Excel to merge, analyze, or output data, Alteryx is a game-changer.
How Process Automation with UiPath and Data Automation with Alteryx Can Help
By leveraging UiPath on manual processes and Alteryx on internal and external data, your supply chain teams can fully automate processes and handle large and complex data sets. You will build auditable, documented processes and stop spending valuable time performing tedious and repetitive tasks in multiple portals and Excel. Instead, your time can be spent on higher-value work: focusing on exceptions, gathering deeper analytical insights throughout the procurement process, reducing costs, and improving supplier diversity.
UiPath and Alteryx have the potential to transform every touchpoint in your supply chain, including Spend and Contract Analytics, Supplier Management, and Pricing and Compliance Analytics. It’s end-to-end. Integrating the tools together quite simply revolutionizes the process of exploring, cleaning, and combining data, for greater forecasting and visualization capability than has ever been possible. Used together, these tools help supply chain teams make fast and informed data-driven decisions, while repetitive tasks are automated in the background.
What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and UiPath?
RPA tools like UiPath allow you to create “bots” that replicate manual human actions. Using RPA tools, you can automate keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, log in and navigate websites or applications, fill out forms, monitor events, and call other processes as needed. This allows you to eliminate hours of repetitive tasks working with websites, and emails, pulling data from a variety of sources, managing and manipulating files, and processing documents.
RPA tools give you the ability to scale up without hiring more people, adding capacity to your existing team. Hours of manual processing time can be completely eliminated. They can dramatically increase speed and response times, reducing hours of delivery time to minutes or even seconds. And on top of all that, the automation processes dramatically reduce the risk of human errors that can result from tedious and repetitive work.
For example, one of your clients sends you a daily spreadsheet of orders, which must then be entered through a web portal or application. If there is no API, the team will need to manually type in each product and the quantity, and submit the orders. A UiPath bot has the capability to capture and document the orders, log into the product website or purchasing portal, and complete the order – all without human intervention. If there’s a problem with the order, the bot will notify the team to step in and assist.
In other cases, pulling data together for reporting can be difficult. For reports that require data from many systems, teams can end up running and downloading reports only to then be stuck manually combining everything. RPA tools like UiPath can be trained to go out to dozens of websites, plug in the correct dates, projects, and locations, export the reports to Excel, and then put them on a shared drive for the analysts to begin their work.
Self-Service Analytics: Alteryx
Once you’ve used an RPA tool to gather data, what do you do with it? Many teams pull everything into Excel and beat it into submission. It can be a daunting and onerous task.
Luckily, companies like Alteryx have built platforms that allow teams to quickly pull data from dozens of spreadsheets, systems, and APIs. You can wrangle data from various systems, clients, and vendors allowing you to cleanse and blend the data quickly. You can then transform it to create reports and dashboards. If needed, Alteryx gives you the ability to perform advanced geospatial and predictive analytics or to create highly sophisticated forecasting models.
For example: Your vendors provide weekly sales and inventory data as a report in Excel or CSV, and your historical sales records are stored in your ERP. You want to bring those datasets together and create a forecast of the products you need to ship to keep inventories above safety stock. Alteryx allows you to combine and analyze the data, and generate predictive models and forecasts, giving you a greater opportunity to ship exactly what the vendors need, exactly when they need it.
Putting It Together
When would you use UiPath and Alteryx together? Let’s say you have several datasets, all in different places – some in vendor portals, some in cloud systems, and some in your ERP. You want to use this data to determine what to order, and when.
For the vendor portals with no access directly to the database or an API, we would build a bot in UiPath that would log into each vendor portal, navigate to the correct report, run the report, export it to Excel, and move it to the shared drive.
With the files in Excel accessible on our network, we can use Alteryx to cleanse, modify, and merge the data with the data in our cloud system and our local ERP. The combined dataset can then be analyzed and output to dashboards, databases, or files depending on the business need.
If the output from Alteryx needs to be “hand keyed” into a different system, UiPath can pick up the file and type everything in, submit each page, and send updates when it’s complete.
By utilizing UiPath and Alteryx correctly, businesses can fully automate most data, analysis, and reporting processes, only intervening for the occasional exception!
The Power of Repeatable Processes
UiPath and Alteryx allow us to automate time-consuming, manual, error-prone, and monotonous processes. Each play a different role and not all processes need both technologies. In today’s high-paced, data-intensive world, understanding the tools available to automate processes is not an option, it’s a necessity.
By creating automated processes, you free up highly valuable team members so they can focus on creative ideas for cutting costs, increasing revenue, and keeping clients happy. Spending hours or days running reports, fighting with data in Excel, and hand-keying data into systems should not be how people work anymore!
With UiPath and Alteryx, we analyze a process, automate it, and put it on autopilot!
If you’d like to know more, we’d love to connect. Our team is happy to create a use-case demonstration, tailored to your specific business requirements. If you’re as excited by the possibilities as we think you will be, we’ll set you up with trial licenses, allowing us to show proof of concept before moving into production. It all starts with a conversation. Feel free to touch base today at firstname.lastname@example.org