Level Up your Financial Operations with No-Code Automation Lessons Learned from UL’s Global Business Services team

Arjun Gupta

Process Automation Developer at Underwriters Laboratories

Sameer Patel

Sr. Manager of Finance Automation & Reporting Center of Excellence at Underwriters Laboratories

John Neaylon

Senior Account Executive at Catalytic

Learning Objectives

The UL team will showcase how they used no-code workflow automation to improve their financial operations across invoice to cash, procure to pay and beyond.


Hear a top down strategic overview of how UL got started with no-code automation and what the team is achieving through continuous improvement.


Then, we’ll go direct to the front lines of how UL’s team manages no-code automation projects. Lastly, the team will discuss some pivotal financial operations use cases that digitize processes on top of existing systems, speed up decision making with ML/AI, and reduce time and errors with automated workflows.


"One of the biggest feedback that we've received from the business users from these two use cases is trust in automation as a whole."

Arjun Gupta

Process Automation Developer at Underwriters Laboratories

Sameer Patel

Sr. Manager of Finance Automation & Reporting Center of Excellence at Underwriters Laboratories

John Neaylon

Senior Account Executive at Catalytic

Transcript

John Neaylon

Well, I’m excited to kick things off today be joined by the UL team to talk about leveling up your financial operations using no-code automation. I have, obviously, you UL team here joining me, my name is John Neaylon. I’m an Account Executive with the catalytic team. I’ll hand it off here to Sameer just to introduce the UL side, but really excited to run through their use cases today and understand more about their automation program.


Sameer Patel

Hi, my name is Sameer Patel. I am the Senior Manager of our Data Science Automation Reporting Team. We’re here to give you an overview of our automation process here at UL, and share some use cases with you. I’m going to introduce Arjun Gupta, who is one of our Senior Process Developers, and let him introduce himself.


Arjun Gupta

Hi, my name is Arjun Gupta. I’m the Process Automation Developer here at UL. I’m excited to join Sameer and John to present our business case and the use cases of our automation journey.


John Neaylon

Thank you, Arjun. I had the privilege of being able to work with Arjun for probably almost 3 years here. It’s been really exciting to see the growth of their team, and really the evolution that they’ve taken on process improvement, and really seeing consistencies at UL and origin, I’m sure you’ll speak through and your use cases that we see across corporations, whether they be 5 employees to 500,000 employees. I think one of the most consistent trends that we see across process today is they are chaotic. By that, what we mean is most of what people are doing is either siloed or fragmented in a way that it really follows three consistent trends.


John Neaylon

The processing is informal or ad hoc. It’s, as I mentioned, siloed and consistent. It’s producing more activity in places that you could be reducing the overhead strategies of that work by just creating a more consistent and automated backbone to how that workflow is operating. The last part of that component, you really were catalytic can fill in is a no code workflow tool to help programs digitize appropriately, but also with like less friction. With that, we ultimately look at things as being able to create a more standard instruction engine for really bringing workflow and automation together.


John Neaylon

As you can see here, towards the bottom, that reduction of friction really comes from not just looking at things through the lens of automating, but how do we also incorporate people into that data system or process that we’re working through, as you’ll be able to identify by the use cases we go through today. As we take a look at these trends, I do want to kind of set up the conversation here for the UL team as we look at kind of this rise in citizen development.


John Neaylon

Gartner is really referring to this now as Business Technologists. I think Arjun will be able to speak as one of those Business Technologists on the UL side to a very detailed degree of kind of where a lot of these components are taking place. In a recent report produced by Gartner, specifically mid-sized enterprise CIOs carefully embrace Business Technologists. This report uses the term Business Technologist to encompass a wide range of employees who modify, customize, or configure their own process or analytics for automation. Now, these solutions are a part of their day to day. Business technologists’ tasks range from simple things such as just generating a new automated report to complex applications such as the end to end solutions that Arjun we’ll be walking through here in a moment.


John Neaylon

A large majority of CIOs believe that Business Technologies provide the enterprise capacity it needs to act on digital ambitions and also not run into situations they feel as pain points from the past backlog, and really large overhead strategies to go to tackle some of these victories. 60% of CIOs believe their Business Technologies provide their firms with the necessary capacity for digital initiatives. Now, 71% of CIOs believe that Business Technologists help improve their enterprise operations. While Business Technologists can help their firms advance digital business objectives, CIOs will need to find the right ways to enable both in order to create the proper infrastructure for continued growth. That’s why I think it will be great as a UL team. We’ll talk a little bit about how their automation team has been able to embrace these different components. I think, for a moment here, just kind of looking through these statistics, will give the group a good idea of kind of where that stands in today’s market.


John Neaylon

Now, I’m excited to turn this over to the UL team to kind of run through where they’ve been able to align a successful strategy, and really take a proper approach to the market.


Sameer Patel

UL’s automation journey began as a product of a broader finance transformation effort, which was undertaken to align finance processes globally established process ownership and defined process boundaries, in order to get an insight into what finance processes cost at ul. As part of this effort, there was an effort to document the processes not only for knowledge transfer and training purposes, but also to identify process improvement opportunities. The goal of this effort was to increase efficiency and effectiveness of finance processes. So that finance that you all seen as a true business partner versus a back office function. As process improvements were implemented, there was a need uncovered that needed to reduce manual effort within these global processes. And that’s where automation was a natural next step in the yield transformation journey. So as the demand for automation grew, there was a decision made to establish a dedicated automation team. Our team consists of three developers a business analyst, slash project manager, and currently we are bringing out three future developers from the reporting team. The team developed automations for several internal finance stakeholders using no code automation tools, such as catalytic, and code automation tools, such as Python, C Sharp, SQL, and VBA.


Sameer Patel

We source opportunities from the process owners via a submission portal on our intranet site. As these submissions come in, they are then reviewed and prioritized by the Executive Steering Committee, which is composed of key leaders from finance the controller ship FP&A. We have it representation and of course Global Business Services, which encompasses order to cash and procure to pay. The opportunities are then reviewed using a cost benefit methodology and analysis, and as well as organizational priority and assigned prioritization. Once an opportunity is ready for development, it is designed to one of our developers will work closely with one of our global process owners to help develop the automation and associated documentation. Once development is completed, and testing has been validated, the automation will be deployed to production, and will be migrated back to the process owner. Currently, we have 19 live automations and 10 under various stages of development.


Arjun Gupta

The beginning of 2019 is when the US us payroll team reached out to our team and explained a problem in which they were getting multiple Excel files on the day of the cut off for payroll. Because of multiple Excel files, they had to manually go into each Excel file, get the data and combine the data into one file, which people then import into our payroll software. Of course, a lot of time was being spent by the payroll team just manually consolidating the files. And apart from that, if someone was late to submitting the file, at the end of the day, the onus of completing the task was on payroll. Their task was also being delayed because of someone else’s delay. Apart from that, if you’re manually going into payroll files, that means someone is touching the data, and audit could easily have issues with such things.


Arjun Gupta

Keeping all these things in mind, we deployed Catalytic Automation, in which we put the owners of the inputs on the various people who are submitting the Excel files. We created a standard template that could be used by those people who are submitting the Excel files. Then, Catalytic was grabbing all the data that the people were submitting and consolidating the data.


Arjun Gupta

We built another automation that was hitting this output table, generating those Excel files, and sending them to payroll on a specific time on the day of the cut off, which means that when payroll came to the office in the morning on the day of the cutoff, they’ll have one Excel file with the entire data that they could simply import into a payroll software. No manual intervention, no reaching out to people for the output files, everything automated, and that actually helped payroll save 35% of their time, which they were actually spending during this whole manual task. This resulted in 100% audit compliance because there is no manual intervention in the whole process, from submitting the file to consolidating the results, extending it to payroll—everything is automated. It also resulted in any 5% reduction in payment issues and 95% reduction in errors.


Arjun Gupta

As a result, the other good thing that happened was, the inputs are now standardized, and everyone has fully accepted this process. This has actually resulted in the satisfaction levels of stakeholders increasing, and they now trust Automation and Catalytic as a tool for the future automation purposes. Coming to the next process, and the next use case, this is an extension of us payroll team. And this project touches the global payroll team of US.


Arjun Gupta

As a part of the process. In here we have 1200 US employees who are paid sick payments throughout the year, and each person has its Excel file. This goes through an approval process wherein the Global Sales Incentive team does the entire calculation, and reaches out to the employees manager to get those files approved. The problem here was this was done manually via outlook and a lot of emails were being exchanged. Because of emails being exchanged, it was a possibility that the email could be lost. When the email is sent out, the Excel was attached in an email, so this was also resulting in data privacy issues. The other thing was those emails could not be tracked easily, so there was an audit issue here. This was resulting in payments being delayed for the employees. And that was a big pain point for this team.


Arjun Gupta

This is when we actually deployed another calculated automation coupled with SharePoint and database integration to create a workflow approval process, in which Catalytic was getting all the data about who the employees who their sales controller is who the manager is, location, region. Catalytic was reaching out to various managers for approval and getting those approved, adding it to the output table on which we then run global payroll reports—everything that they ensuring that they only send out the output files to the payroll keep on the day of the cut-off.


Arjun Gupta

This has resulted in 80% saving times for the SIP administration team and 100% audit compliance. The reduction rates here have decreased because now, you have payroll bots sending out files to payroll instead of a human sending out those files, and a 75% reduction in payment issues. Again, the stakeholders are highly satisfied, because we are not only using catalytic for the workflow approval process, but the data that is stored in Catalytic has also been used to create a Power BI dashboard on which the stakeholders can then track whose instance is pending approval, whose instance is approved, sent to payroll—all these critical milestones in the process can now be tracked. Thanks to the catalytic automation tool that we have.


John Neaylon

Well, I wanted to make sure we did have a little bit of time to kind of just understand things that folks and listeners will probably hear and think about quite often, but really just get your perspective on how you guys were able to tackle these. I think the most important thing and kind of primary thing I want to start with is what mechanisms do you employ to ensure your processes meet standards and also continue to drive continuous improvement?


Sameer Patel

Let me take a stab at that one. One of the unique things that we do is we have the Global Process Owner or the person who submits the automation opportunity involved from the very beginning. It’s really a true partnership with that person in the development of the automation review of what we’re trying to solve. Even before we develop a solution, if we can improve, introduce any kind of continuous improvement within the process before we start developing the code. Once the automation is developed, what we do is we work with that person to ensure all of the functionality is present. If not, we go back and change it. We will only release it if we have you know sign off from them as well as our internal team to ensure that it’s a successful automation and can be used going forward.


John Neaylon

I guess as you just kind of addressed it. How is the team working to determine today what processes are ultimately automated or digitized to fit just the core workflow?


Sameer Patel

Typically, it’s based on key organizational priorities. As I had touched on briefly, in the previous slide, our Executive Steering Committee, which is comprised of various members of Finance, Leadership, IT. Other key stakeholders review the opportunities that are submitted on a monthly basis. They look at each opportunity from an emphasis on cost benefit, and which opportunities give us the biggest bang for the buck. On a scale, high effort, high reward, low effort, low reward, and then we determined which ones we prioritized based on that. Sometimes, there are situations that we will prioritize something, because it is a critical business need although the business case doesn’t make sense for it, but it’s usually a consensus is developed amongst the Executive Steering Committee to get there.


John Neaylon

Arjun, I think this last question, I just really want to kind of hone in with you. I look back and remember kind of the day you walked out of training, you were literally building processes using the platform, checking and looking up plane flight tickets, I believe, and figure out what had the lowest cost. Now, we’re taking over the payroll operations lens, so a little different. That being said, what feedback have you had from business users as you’ve approached these first two use cases with payroll? I guess, I should say, two of many that you’ve really looked at. Anything consistent that comes to mind?


John Neaylon

That makes a lot of sense. In alignment with a lot of successful organizations out there looking at it as both the challenge and the time to deployment, but also the business impact and understanding what really makes sense from a process prioritization level. I know some always shoot for the fences on what is the biggest impact, I think that’s a great way of looking at the assessment.


Arjun Gupta

Absolutely. One of the biggest feedbacks that we’ve received from the business users from these two use cases is a trust in automation as a whole. Apart from that, a trust in the tool that we’re using is catalytic. There is a trust that says “Yes, this is working.” Apart from the fact, when we hear things like, ‘We got more time to do postman certification than personal growth’.” Apart from the fact that they now get time to look at other processes in their pipeline and in their work, and reach out to us and say, “Can you automate this as well?” I think that’s our biggest success when we get this kind of trust from them.


Arjun Gupta

The other thing is, we have both of these teams are reaching out to other teams, to their peers, and saying, “There is a team who can use catalytic and other tools to create wonders and help us out, you also should reach out to them.” We’ve had multiple teams, who reached out to us and said that they would like to explore this tool. They asked us obviously audited questions, and then they request us to automate their processes as well. We are getting more and more processes based on the feedback that we’ve got from the users for these two use cases.


John Neaylon

That’s great to hear. Awesome. Appreciate that. I think just as people are hearing this today, I think Arjun did a great job as he walk through his process of providing detail that should align into these three buckets in some way, shape, or form. As you think about your problems today, whether it be around managing purchase orders, invoice approval cycles, or whether it be managing processes within your financial month, then reports or your payroll teams day to day basis. There are consistent patterns that we see across alignments and really in places that benefit and automation can do its finest work.


John Neaylon

As you look at these trends within these kind of three blue swim lights. I think, obviously Arjun has done a really great job today, speaking to that middle lens of being able to create deliverables and really direct assessments and reports off of those core process needs and having catalytic to be a backbone to provide that foundation has really helped the team. That being said, as you even look at kind of the two areas on the left and right of the screen, and you think about processes outside of finance, then obviously folks joining from HR on the operation side or looking on a day to day basis at recruiting efforts and onboarding efforts. Those are things where whether it’s maintaining employee information, customer information, or supplier and vendor information, catalytic can really be leveraged across different solution areas by looking at these patterns, just as Arjun has described in his initial processes, and where it can be used in different parts of the business as well.


John Neaylon

I think, as we turn kind of the page, and I know as Arjun looks at the next set of use cases at UL, I hope that this is helpful, really just to provide kind of a best practice function for where automation can bring you success and, hopefully, catalytic can help align that for you here in the future.


John Neaylon

Well, UL team, I appreciate the time today. We all appreciate you and the greater group joining. Please feel free to contact us if there are any other questions as well. I know the UL team is always happy to jump in and answer questions on where they’ve seen success and best practices. We’re very appreciative of the time, and excited to kind of continue downstream the journey with the group over at UL.


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