What is our primary use case?
We have licenses for 15 robots and they are running internal processes. We develop them using UiPath Studio and we only use unattended automation.
Our primary use case, which is 70% of what we have automated, is related to our booking system. Instead of having 10 agents who handle the booking or creating the reservations, the work is done by the robots. Sometimes, bookings are very simple where you have just airfare or the hotel, but in our case, it's quite complex. We call it dynamic packaging, which will have a flight component, you can have a hotel component, different attractions, meal options, a rental car, and more. Instead of entering all of the options manually, which can take up to 10 minutes or 15 minutes just to create a single booking. It is similar when we perform other tasks, such as making a payment. These things are normally done in our target system. I have created robots and workflows in UiPath that are triggered by the database, and they complete these tasks automatically. We have 15 robots conducting the job.
The second use case replaces the agent when once we get all information from the outside system using a .NET application and store it in the database, it creates parameters for the robots to make a booking or reservation at Universal Studios for attractions.
The third use case covers all of Europe and it is a completely automated car booking system.
Basically, our use cases are all about travel and booking systems for Universal Studios, general dynamic packaging, and car rentals.
How has it helped my organization?
UiPath has definitely improved the way our organization functions. It normally takes one agent approximately six hours to create reservations in the booking system manually, and now the job is left to RPA with UiPath workflows. It saves between 40% and 50% of the agent's time, leaving them time to work on something different.
The accuracy of tasks has been improved because everything is data-driven, and there is no problem that comes from human error. The system is almost bulletproof; if you send garbage in then you get garbage out but definitely, there are no human mistakes. For example, instead of entering the name of the customer, it comes straight from the database. The same is true for options like the times of picking up and dropping off your car. The only problem that we have is not related to RPA; it's the case where the target system is not responsive. For example, if you're moving from one screen to another and the system doesn't respond, then we are notified via an alert.
The improved accuracy and shorter time to complete tasks, freeing up resources for other jobs, translate to money saved. Given that our processes are complex, the automation of them takes a load off of our end-users. In some cases, they have to perform data entry in several different systems. For example, in order to make a booking, they have to use three different systems with three different interfaces.
With RPA, in general, there is also a fear that jobs will be lost but when you're always swamped at work, including overtime, night shifts, and working on weekends, RPA is a big help.
UiPath has helped to reduce our hardware footprint by between 20% and 30%. We now have only 15 virtual machines running instead of 15 physical desktops. The amount of hardware required to operate the business is directly correlated to the number of human operators and the software that is running.
UiPath has saved us significantly in terms of costs, primarily because of the manpower we used to have for the booking reservation system. It frees up resources for the agents, IT staff, and people from various departments. For example, we have group reservation systems for car booking, flight booking, and others. UiPath has made an impact in all of these places and the cost saving is very beneficial. In the first year, we saved over $100,000 on the booking systems. After the initial project in the first year, two or three more systems were built, for a savings of $300,000 annually before COVID.
In terms of the time we are saving, it is quite low these days because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions. Pre-COVID, we were saving approximately 80 hours per day. The reclaimed time for our employees is now available for them to work on higher-value work. The savings is not only from the data entry but for troubleshooting errors, which no longer needs to be done.
We have offices in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, and the majority of agents are stationed in Montreal. I am working in the Toronto location, so I cannot comment on the majority in terms of how employee satisfaction has improved. What I have heard from the executive management is that more people are happy because they are able to better focus on what they want to do. This is especially true because they do not have to spend many hours troubleshooting trivial issues. Instead, they are concentrating on higher-value work.
What is most valuable?
We are using approximately 70% of all of the activities that are available in UiPath. These include web scraping and data entry, where the information is stored in a database. We also perform database queries.
The biggest benefit that we have from UiPath comes from using the API.
The features that we use most often are database communication, scraping, and PDF functions. The only features that we don't use are those related to Excel, for spreadsheets.
For smaller projects, we are only passing parameters from .NET applications but in the newer projects, we are using features such as database communication and data scraping.
The ease of building automations is great. When I talk about UiPath, I am usually referring to Studio, which has a very intuitive and easy-to-use interface, yet it is very powerful. This is something that has improved with the help of forums and tutorials. In 2016, it was more difficult because there were really no forums so we had to contact the head office in Bucharest, Romania when we needed help. Getting a demo had to be done in the very early hours and there was lots of communication back and forth. It was a struggle to find solutions, although to be fair, they've been very helpful. These days, it is very easy to use because there are numerous examples, and UiPath Academy is available, along with other resources.
We have been using the UiPath Apps feature and it has helped with the ease and time required for creating automation. Everything has improved over the past several years, as in the past, there were no examples or tutorials available. There was no manual and it was very technical. At the time, you definitely needed programming knowledge in order to handle some of the scenarios. It was at times like this that we relied on support from Bucharest.
Even today, there are only a couple of programmers in the company who develop the bots. Even with the Apps feature, I don't think that the end-users are ready, although this may be because of the way that our organization is structured. Everything is given to the IT department because our scenarios are very complex, and not a simple case of data entry or something like that. With such complex solutions, it is definitely too difficult for our end-users.
What needs improvement?
There are a few areas that need to be improved, one of which we have already raised with the salesperson and technical team.
The first area that needs improvement is backward compatibility. If you have a newer version of the UiPath Studio or any product, then quite often, if you're a year behind or so, you cannot compile the whole project. This means that you have to rebuild system modules. It's not like a Microsoft product that is always backward compatible. For us, that is a huge obstacle because sometimes, we have to rewrite entire workflows. In our case, this is a massive undertaking that will take three or four months to complete. This is the main issue for us and it doesn't happen with minor release updates, but with major ones, we have to rewrite the entire project because it doesn't compile.
The licensing should be more flexible and more affordable.
We used to be able to integrate with .NET applications, where all of the business rules reside, and then invoke robots or workflows from there. Now, that capability has been removed, so we have to use Orchestrator. Converting our projects requires a lot of work because we have to move all of the business logic to the UiPath workflow. It is not an ideal situation for us because keeping the business logic inside our .NET applications is more flexible and more scalable.
When I was taking some UiPath Academy courses, I noticed that they gave us more complex tasks. There were expert-level examples, but the junior examples are missing. Furthermore, they give you high-end, very technical guides, but there are not really any examples. This means that you really have to dig and use the forums and ask people questions. Essentially, you have to try and find the solutions by yourself.
In general, if you have very large and complex solutions as we do, the overall workflow layout could be improved because navigating through the network components can be very inconvenient. You can still see the high-level of the workflow, but not a detailed one. It may take you several minutes to get to the component you were looking for. In terms of navigation, the mapping solution could definitely be improved. There are always workarounds. What you can do in this case is use the flow charts with the sequencing module to break it down to a more general view. This makes it faster to get to the module that you want to improve or fix.
For how long have I used the solution?
I am a Senior Lead Developer in my company, and I have been using UiPath since 2016. I was one of the very early UiPath users.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
Stability-wise, we haven't really found any issues lately.
In the earlier versions, from 2016 and 2017, there were some issues that were never resolved by the UiPath team. The newer versions, especially while performing web scraping, are much more stable. Once it was deployed, we haven't seen any issues with the .NET applications.
Instability in our use case is the result of the target system; for example, the one that is operated by Universal Studios. If they are unresponsive for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds and the robot is expecting to see a certain screen, especially when it normally only takes two or three seconds to move from one screen to the other after submitting a request, it is going to cause a problem. However, that's not the fault of UiPath or RPA in general, but a fault of the source or target system.
I estimate that with all things considered, UiPath is 99.9% stable.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
UiPath is very scalable. We are a mid-sized company with approximately 200 to 250 employees.
There are three or four of us who have hands-on experience with the product, and there are between 100 and 110 end-users. This includes four or five departments spread across three different locations. Our end-users are primarily business users.
Our goal is to increase our usage of UiPath but we are currently downsizing due to the COVID situation. We have some projects in mind, but we have to wait to see what happens with the travel industry. With approximately 50% of our employees laid off, no progress will be made. However, down the road when we get back on track, we plan to use other areas of the system. That will include manipulating spreadsheets, data entry, interoperability with other systems, and interfacing with it.
How are customer service and technical support?
The technical support is definitely good, although there were some issues that never got resolved. The situation is that we are based in Canada and our salesperson from Toronto organizes the meeting with the technical staff from New York in the US. There were times when they couldn't help us because the majority of them had been with UiPath for two to three years. They didn't understand how things were working back in 2016, '17, or '18, well enough. Ultimately, they never found a person who could help us and to me, that is not really acceptable in terms of finding a workaround or the fastest approach to resolve the backward compatibility and .NET Integration.
What we needed was somebody with five or six years of experience and they could simply not find one.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We had some basic automation running prior to UiPath, but it was native SQL and .NET applications. An example is that we were using scaping options available in Microsoft applications, but it wasn't really RPA. UiPath has definitely helped us to reduce the costs of our automation operations. Everything is now run from one application, and you can use the workflows to collaborate between databases, spreadsheets, and booking reservations. Basically, it's end-to-end in terms of the development lifecycle because originally, our tasks were only partly automated.
If you consider automated testing solutions then we were using Selenium for things such as load-testing, in a previous company. I had no experience with a full RPA solution before UiPath in 2016.
In our early stages of automation, the task would start and then only get to a certain point before a different application had to pick it up. We had a scheduler that was responsible for this. The scheduler would see the partly completed task, then take it and put it somewhere else for a third application to take over. Now, all of this is done using the UiPath API.
Specifically, in terms of overhead operations, UiPath has saved us approximately 80 hours a day, which translates to between $4,000 and $5,000 per day, just in one department. If you multiply this by 30 days then it is a lot of money. Given that it is a ballpark figure for just a single department, it could be even more.
How was the initial setup?
Back when we first installed UiPath, it was complex. But now, it is much easier because they have grown. It is much easier than it was five years ago, although, at the same time, we haven't had many issues in the process of implementing and rolling out our solutions.
Our deployment is on-premises and entirely private.
These days, it takes less than a day to deploy. In 2016, it took us almost a week for much simpler deployments because there was no proper documentation. Fortunately, at the time, we got lots of help from the technical staff in Romania.
When we first started with UiPath, it was not even close to what it's today. It was much difficult to create a strategy because it more or less was a black box. We purchased the product and there was only UiPath Studio, nothing else. There was virtually no documentation and more or less, everything was left to us, our team, to develop this strategy.
Implementing it was more of a trial and error process than it is today. Finally, we did it. We moved our automations from the development environment to the staging environment, and then finally into the production environment. Now, it's pretty stable. At the time, however, it was pretty cumbersome and difficult because there was no proper documentation or guidance from UiPath. Nowadays, it's pretty simple.
What about the implementation team?
There are three of us in the company who are responsible for deployment and maintenance. We also handle the monitoring, implementation, troubleshooting, and updating of the product and robots.
We also have an infrastructure team that is outsourced from a company in Toronto, Canada, called Carbon60. Our experience with them has been a little shaky, but we are handling it okay. They could not really help us as much with the initial setup of UiPath because they did not have experience with RPA. We gave them the specs required for our infrastructure, and they set it up. Overall, approximately 90% of the setup was our responsibility.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
Compared to four or five years ago, the licensing in terms of price is less flexible and less affordable. Recently, because of the COVID situation, we need 15 robots. Ideally, we could use five robots and Orchestrator instead, and pay the difference, but the vendor refused to take this offer.
We are currently using the Community Version of Orchestrator for training purposes.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
When we started looking at UiPath, they had less than 100 customers in the world. We had been looking at three different options that included UiPath, Blue Prism, and one other one. In our case, we were using a legacy application that was Java applet-based, and the other products were not able to handle that well.
From what I recall, back in 2016, UiPath was the only option that supported Java applet-based automation. We needed the functionality because one of our internal applications was not web-based, but Java applet-based, and depended on it. It did not work immediately and there were some workarounds, but with some help from the UiPath technical staff, we were able to handle it. This is the main reason that we ultimately chose UiPath.
Essentially, UiPath was the only option that was able to handle Java applet automation. With that covering the front end, we automated the whole process.
In the future, because UiPath was not able to handle the legacy projects that we developed in RPA, we might consider another product like Blue Prism. We would assess potential solutions based on backward compatibility.
What other advice do I have?
We have been thinking about using the Orchestrator with the cloud option, but because of the current world situation, especially because we are in the travel industry, our income has been significantly reduced. At this point, we are more or less in survival mode, so we decided to stay as-is.
We were also supposed to get Orchestrator, the latest web developer, and a production license but we gave up because we cannot afford it at the moment. Travel may be idle right now but post-COVID, which hopefully is next year or by end of this year, we're going to get the official Orchestrator license.
Originally, we were using .NET applications, which is the technology that has driven the business. It's huge, and with the newer versions of UiPath, it is no longer possible because we have to use Orchestrator. At this time, we are more or less working on a workaround and it's a massive project that is probably going to take six or seven months to complete.
We are not using the AI functionality yet, although it is something that we're planning to look into, eventually.
The biggest lesson that I have learned from using UiPath is how much time was consumed by our manual processes. Definitely, we have freed up resources for our business team. In terms of accuracy, there are no human errors anymore. Consequently, we can free up between 30% and 40% of our agents' time in terms of analysis and billing. In summary, the biggest thing that I have learned is that using RPA is about improving accuracy and reliability.
My advice for anybody who is implementing UiPath is to start with the training. These days, especially younger developers, people are very keen to jump on developing RPA and they're doing this stuff without using Academy or other training. Rather than do that, I suggest people get familiar with the product and use the training material first. Use the examples that are provided because the UiPath Academy is amazing in terms of that.
In summary, this product has a very intuitive and powerful interface. There are very good examples and scenarios on the UiPath Academy website, and technical support is very helpful. You can also find lots of good examples in the community forums. There used to be only one OCR option, and now there are two different flavors of OCR, which is definitely one of the pros. However, the major cons are backward compatibility and licensing in terms of flexibility and affordability. We also lost some of the functionality for .NET integration, which was a problem for us because the capabilities are simply gone.
I would rate this solution an eight out of ten.
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