To build more robots, dtac is counting on all its people

Internal competition challenges employees with no IT skills to build automation software

  • dtac has set a goal of 100 percent automation for repetitive, rule-based processes by 2023. 
  • All employees can build helper robots no matter their IT skill level.
  • Participating employees have positive attitudes towards automation.

dtac recently held a botathon, a “robot hacking marathon” where employees race to build software automating the most tedious parts of their work. The competition kicked off dtac’s bold plans to automate 100 percent of repetitive, rule-based tasks by 2023. More importantly, it helped to dispel myths about automation in the workplace.

Robot Builders Wanted

Robot Process Automation (RPA) consists of building software that can automatically complete human tasks. Although a hot business trend, it also stokes fears of headcount reductions in employees—particularly among those who don’t feel particularly IT savvy. The dtac botathon stressed that no IT knowledge was required to participate and start building robots. And that humans are the key to successful automation.

dtacblog sat down with organizers and participants of the botathon to better understand what it’s like to hand over your work to a robot. And why doing so may not be the self-sabotage we fear it to be.

Rungtip Suptaweewattana works in dtac’s Customer Service Center, fielding calls and receiving LINE messages from thousands of customers each month. “I have zero knowledge in automation or in IT. My first instinct was that the botathon is not for me. But then I saw this video that promised robots could make some of the dull tasks in my job faster and more efficient,” she told dtacblog.

Ms. Rungtip immediately thought of which parts of her job she’d like to hand over to a robot. Every month, her team must process several thousands of new SIM cards, a dull and time-consuming process due to the many steps involved.

“Customers don’t like it when things take time, while robots are very fast and don’t make mistakes. So it seemed like a good match,” she said. “There were two weeks training leading up to the botathon. I struggled a bit with all the IT vocabulary at first, but we had good coaches and they were very accessible. I’m very proud of what the team achieved in the end. Our robot could save us tens of thousands of hours every year.”

Becoming More Human

Pasuta Chitvarakorn, also a participant, was similarly driven by a desire to improve dtac’s services. He works in dtac’s Devices Management Department, where a careful inventory of all mobile handsets must be conducted continually across over 300 shops. Without up to date information, customers cannot be guaranteed which devices are available where.

“Building a robot has made me more human. You have to talk to a lot of people to understand what tools they’re currently using, how often they update them, how the system could be improved. The more I work on automation, the more time I spend talking to people and the less time I spend looking at spreadsheets,” he said.

The robot prototype he and his team developed reduces a three-hour process down to seven minutes. And when deployed, it will vastly improve customers’ experience booking devices online to pick them up in shops.

“The botathon was really great. It felt more like teaching a child, rather than coding. However, robots can only handle simple tasks. Humans are needed to train them and to handle complex issues,” he said.

The Future Belongs to the Curious

dtacblog also spoke to the botathon organizers, Head of Business Automation Thibaut Girard and Automation Delivery Owner Ongart Preedapirat. They were able to attract over 70 participants from across all of dtac and introduce them to robotic process automation. After building scores of robot prototypes during the three-day competition, 30 process were selected for further development.

“The ambition for dtac is very clear. We want to automate 100% of all repetitive manual processes by 2023. For 2021, we aim to complete 100 robots across the organization. And we want employees to be a part of this. We want them to be focused on high-impact work, not low-value tasks,” said Mr. Girard.

Both he and Mr. Ongart were surprised by the positive reactions the botathon received, with Mr. Ongart saying, “As someone with a tech background, I couldn’t believe what the botathon participants achieved, particularly those without IT skills. Everyone can be a part of the automation journey.”

“Every team really came through,” Mr. Girard added. “The future of work doesn’t have to be scary. You have to be curious, you have to ask the right questions and you have to be ready to learn all your life.”