Domo Arigato, Mr. Robotic Process Automation

By: Matthew Mattingly

The term Robotic Process Automation may have a different definition depending on the person or reference.  To my wife, the term Robotic Process may conjure the image of a dance move that her husband does WAY TOO early and often at parties. However, we will not be talking about dance moves in this blog entry. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a new coming, game-changer in the utility bill management world. RPA is an automation tool that uses software bots to handle high-volume, repeatable, rule-based tasks (Insert Wikepedia definition). Our bill management software, Choice Data Connect, has been using RPA to help clients streamline the bill management process to extract invoices, organize data, and automate Accounts Payables. Clients are now getting their data faster and more accurate than ever before.  As we will further explain, the old bill management process is making way for the new. Domo arigato Mr. Robotic Process Automation!

Invoice Extraction – The Old Way

Utility bill management (UBM) programs have been around for years, but typically requires a manual process. The process involves changing billing addresses to a centralized location, paper invoices to be opened/scanned, and human interaction to physically monitor/input data. Although this UBM process does provide value in a centralized process, it still requires a time consuming and costly human touch. Human touch leads to human error, which leads to payment delays and billing errors.  Basically, people ruin everything, they are the worst.

Old Technology – OCR and EDI

Another complaint of UBM providers is aging technology. Many providers still rely on OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology to view and extract data from scanned invoices. OCR can be helpful, but the process depends upon high resolution images of invoices and may have difficulty with poorly imaged scans.  Just think how many times you looked at a scanned invoice and wondered, is that an eight or a nine?  Heck maybe it’s a niner?  OCR technology will have the same issues. Additionally, OCR technology is could never accurately report the hand-written invoice sent by the rural county water department.

EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is also a technology used by several UBM providers to receive utility invoices. EDI allows utility vendors to directly transmit data, providing a prompt and paperless delivery. BUUUUUT, there is a major flaw with EDI invoices and that is they are not the true invoice copies.  In fact, EDI invoices look more like binary code, making it impossible for someone to review and interpret cost and usage data from the file. See the example below.

New Way – Robotic Process Automation

Choice Energy Management takes invoice extraction to the next level.  By using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) our bill management team can DIGITALLY download over 80% of our client’s accounts. Software Bots take the place of human interaction and manual invoices, by pulling digital invoices directly from a supplier or utility portal.  The diagram below illustrates the process flow chart of the software bots within the utility/supplier portal.

Invoice Validation

As shown by the above diagram, our Robotic Process Automation doesn’t stop with invoice extraction. Invoice templates are created to extract ALL invoice data and import directly to Choice Data Connect. However, the data is not imported into Choice Data Connect unless it passes a 225+ audit checklist. Failure of the audit requires a Choice Data Analyst to review the invoice and data before submitting to Choice Data Connect.  This ensures all data within Choice Data Connect is 99.5% accurate. Basically, Lloyd Christmas has the same chance with Mary (Samsonite) Swanson as an invoice error of hitting Choice Data Connect.

Summary

Through leading technology (such as Robotic Process Automation), Choice Data Connect is taking utility bill management to the next level.  Our clients are now getting faster, more accurate data, all while having access to the true invoice copy. This is just the beginning for Choice Data Connect. In the next year, Choice plans to incorporate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to reach our goal of having 100% digital invoices within Choice Data Connect. This will lead to even less human touch. In the meantime, we will celebrate the advances Robotic Process Automation has provided Choice Data Connect.  In fact, the lyrics of Styx’s 1983 #1 hit, Mr. Roboto may say it best.

Thank you very much, Mr. Robotic Process Automation
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to
And thank you very much, Mr. Robotic Process Automation
For helping me escape just when I needed to
Thank you, thank you, thank you
I want to thank you, please, thank you