LONDON -- Managed Services World Congress -- Deutsche Telekom has realized cost savings equal to about 800 full-time employees through investments it has made in so-called "robotic process automation" (RPA) since 2014.
The German telco has been using software robots to automate simple IT processes that have previously required human intervention, such as creating charts in Excel and using those to produce a management report in PowerPoint.
While the cost savings have been described in terms of the employee workload, it is unclear whether the RPA project has had an impact on actual staff numbers at Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT).
The service provider, which operates networks throughout central and eastern Europe, has seen its international workforce shrink from about 228,000 employees in 2014 to roughly 221,000 last year.
The RPA initiative appears to have been led by a consulting group called Detecon International, which forms a part of Deutsche Telekom's T-Systems International GmbH IT business.
Detecon says more than 1,000 robots are used to support up to 30 million "transactions" each year.
An example of a transaction might be when a robot receives an email that includes an Excel file and automatically imports the data into an SAP application.
"There are savings of about 800 FTEs [full-time equivalents]," said Michael Gerke, a managing consultant at Detecon, during the Managed Services World Congress in London earlier this week.
FTE is a term used to indicate the workload of a person in full-time employment.
Gerke described the automation savings as "immense" and said that managers could expect to see a return on investment within a year of introducing RPA tools -- a payback period that compares favorably with that for other technology investments, according to Detecon.
"There are very low risks because it is not an IT integration [project]," said Gerke. "If people move data from one application to another, the robot does exactly the same."
The use of RPA to overhaul customer-facing processes should also lead to improvements in service quality as well as a decrease in costs, claims Gerke.
"If you consider a use case in line with the customer journey then this automation will be felt by the customer directly," he says. "If you start with customer-impacted processes, you can drive a big advantage."
Detecon and Deutsche Telekom appear to be working with a range of software companies on RPA, including New York-based WorkFusion and IPsoft, which has headquarters in London.
But it is still early days for the technology, and some RPA tools are not yet "stable" enough for Deutsche Telekom, acknowledges Gerke.
"Some suppliers cannot be used in a production-ready environment," he says.
Another challenge is aligning the RPA tools with common business processes. Even if this kind of automation does not require much IT integration, departments such as finance have had to adapt to the changes that RPA has brought about.
So far, there has also been relatively little use of artificial intelligence (AI) in RPA, says Gerke.
"At the moment the big portion of robotics is rule-based … robots are doing what they've been programmed to do," he explains. "There are machine-learning algorithms you can use but if you really want to save money in a production-ready environment then at the moment it is not AI."
While Deutsche Telekom has made increasing use of RPA since 2014, Gerke believes the number of robots could fall in future as applications are merged and other improvements are made to back-end systems.
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading