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23 April 2019

Is RPA the answer to Excel Hell?

Microsoft Excel is widely relied upon as a data management tool. Many teams and departments use spreadsheets on a daily basis to collect, organise, manipulate and model data for use across a broad range of business processes.

In environments where many other applications and line-of-business systems are used to get work done, however, it can prove challenging to migrate data between Excel and these other software tools efficiently.

The resulting data gaps and synchronicity issues often call for additional manual work. This approach can quickly erode productivity and increase the risk of human error.

Some employees are able to automate repetitive Excel tasks by using tools like Visual Basic for Applications to code Macros. However, this requires some programming skills – and, unless employees undergo extensive training, this can limit a team’s ability to optimise their processes.

Fortunately, technology is advancing and it’s no longer necessary to spend endless hours buried in the rows and columns of multiple spreadsheets. Many of the repetitive, time-consuming tasks that trap employees in ‘Excel Hell’ are so robotic that they shouldn’t be carried out by a skilled human worker at all. These types of tasks can now be delegated to a software robot.

Time to call in the bots

Using a robotic process automation (RPA) platform, companies can build a software robot (or ‘bot’) to replicate the same actions that human workers take when they execute a task involving Excel.

However, unlike with Macros, automation does not only happen within the Excel environment. Bots work at the presentation layer of applications and other systems, which allows them to automate actions seamlessly across a range of software platforms. This rapidly improves data flow and accuracy, while doing away with the need for time-consuming manual workarounds.

Software bots can be configured to handle a wide range of rule-based Excel-related tasks.

Some examples include[1]:

  • Integrating with other applications and databases; and migrating data between these systems
  • Pulling data from spreadsheets into digital forms
  • Categorising data and deleting duplicate rows
  • Comparing the data in various columns
  • Executing analysis reports

Broader business benefits

For any company struggling to streamline business processes that rely on multiple datasets from many different sources, a well-chosen and strategically-applied RPA platform can produce tangible results, quickly.

These benefits include:

  • Productivity gains – Bots can complete rote tasks much faster than humans are able to, without taking tea breaks or being limited by office working hours. On another level, bots liberate employees from the repetitive manual tasks that monopolise their time. With a software robot handling this rote, high-volume work, people can focus on tasks that require their unique human skills, such as handling exceptions to the rule. Working together, humans and bots can resolve business challenges faster and elevate operational efficiency.
  • Enhanced risk management capabilities – When people manipulate Excel data, especially when they’re handling information from multiple spreadsheets and sources, there’s always a risk of human error. Typos and formula blunders can hinder processes or snowball into issues that create a negative customer experience or even put the company at risk of a regulatory compliance breach. Automation eliminates these risks.
  • Increased accessibility – RPA is a no-code technology, which means that users can automate Excel tasks without any programming and with minimal intervention from IT.
  • Integration is easy – Because RPA works at the presentation layer (the human user interface) of software, it can connect multiple applications and legacy systems to create a more seamless flow of data between Excel and other business tools. This quickly plugs gaps that may have been causing process bottlenecks and delays.
  • Minimal disruption – RPA is an ideal approach for companies that want to modernise their processes without having to bear the expense or disruption of a substantial IT change project. An RPA implementation does not significantly impact underlying systems. Teams can continue to work with the technology they’re familiar with – whether this is Excel or another mission-critical system that has taken years to develop and perfect.

Watch a RPA software bot in action

As a real-world example of what RPA can achieve, this video showcases a human worker and then an RPA software bot completing the same task. The demo exhibits a simple and straightforward example that showcases how UiPath RPA tools can deliver a rapid return on your investment. The demo focuses on a highly-definable process – a customer address detail change that uses Microsoft Outlook and a client’s customer portal – the 30-minute video demonstrates the benefits of delegating rote, manual tasks to a bot.


Guiding you out of Excel Hell

As a process automation expert that works with a wide range of technologies, Velocity IT can help your organisation to digitally transform your processes in a way that enables you to gain greater value from Excel and your other legacy systems – arrange a call with one of our RPA experts today and discover how you can start your journey.


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