360i #SideHustle: Building Bots & Automating Processes with Guillermo Cabrera

January 21, 2020

Welcome to the 360i #SideHustle blog series, where we showcase the awesome side projects, hobbies, start-up businesses, and other ventures created by the entrepreneurial employees here at 360i.

What started as a small weekend project quickly turned into a #SideHustyle project for 360i VP of Operations and Business Transformation Guillermo Cabrera and Operations Business Analyst Ken Lin. When the two of them aren’t busy managing the inner workings of 360i, they can be found creating and mastering bots. We sat down with Guillermo Cabrera to learn about his experience building and using bots to improve our processes and workflows.

360i: What made you get into developing bots?

Guillermo Cabrera (GC): When I started working at 360i, the CRER process (the process by which we approve the creation of job requirements for recruiting) was managed by email. I created a submission form which would place the data in an excel sheet. After the initial approvals, I had to write 45 individual emails that night using the same template. At the end of that night I said to myself “I’m never doing this again.” That weekend, I spent 30+ hours learning how to build bots, and now we have over 30 bots performing different types of automated tasks.

360i: How would you describe what a bot is?

GC: There are two types of bots we use: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Bots and Intelligent Automation Bots.

RPA Bots mimic the mouse or keyboard actions of the user to perform certain actions like taking information from an excel and typing it into a desktop application.

Intelligent Automation Bots are usually set up by a trigger – something that “wakes the bot up” (like scheduling it for 9am or when a new form is submitted). Then, it performs functions such as sending approval requests and emails, populating a word document template, and reading a pdf and extracting information – updating a database when completed.

360i: What bots are you currently working on?

GC: There are some exciting things we are finishing up that I can’t disclose just yet, but it includes building internal apps for 360i. Among the cool bots we are releasing in the next month is the new Joiners, Movers, Leavers bot 2.0. Every company has a process for their employees (employees are categorized as Joiners, Movers, and Leavers). In our case, we built a bot that will wake up every day, read a person’s start date in the database, and depending on their department, location, and seniority, send them a welcome email with useful information to get them through their first 30 days. Most of these links connect directly to our internal website to ensure centralization of the information. For example, we share information on how to book a room, how to request a job number, and how to complete timesheets.

360i: What is the most unique bot you have created to date and why?

GC: They are all my babies, so I love them all equally! But one bot that I feel is particularly functional is the LOE Staff Plan bot.

Account leads and their scope of work for the year are in a database. Once a month, the bot wakes up, grabs the staff plan from the database, and sends out about 70 emails saying, “is this still your latest staff plan for account x?” Within the body of the email there are 3 buttons, “Yes,” “No,” and “No, but it is currently being updated.” If the account lead clicks “Yes,” the bot updates the database as completed. If they respond “No,” the bot sends them another email asking them to provide their latest staff plan. When the lead attaches the staff plan to that e-mail, the bot drops it in the database replacing the old file. If they select “No, but it’s being updated,” the bot follows up with them every 3 days until they select either “Yes” or “No.” Then, the new staff plan is sent to Paragon to update in Mavenlink so we can track the pacing of actuals vs. budget. All of this data is then visualized in a PowerBI dashboard which allows us to see who has answered the bot and who hasn’t.

The reason this is so incredible to me is that it would be very difficult and tedious for someone to manually write 70 emails, keep track of who answered and who didn’t, remember to put the attachments in the database, and send the final staff plans to Paragon for updating.

360i: How are bots relevant to your work at 360i?

GC: For me, working in Operations and Business Transformation means creating processes that are “self-sustaining,” that is, processes that will continue to function after a person leaves and when someone new joins the team. Utilizing bots improves data integrity since the data is updated by a bot and not relying on a human being to remember to do it in an excel. Additionally, bots facilitate the creation of processes that stand the test of time. So many companies and operations teams need to write RACIs for people or create processes that need to be constantly adjusted. Alternatively, I can adjust my bot in 5 minutes and it will continue to function whether I’m here, on vacation, or decide to move to Antarctica.

360i: How do you see advertising agencies like 360i using bots in their future business models?

GC: At one point, we had to do the math with pen and paper. Then, we moved on to using calculators, later excel. Bots are the next step, but allow us to automate most manual tasks in our day to day, not just math ones. 360i has a very aggressive automation agenda, better and more robust than any other agency I know. Agencies are going to use bots for everything from invoice processing to having AI read contracts to understand what should be redlined. People keep thinking automation and bots are going to take jobs away. However, this is not the case because automation and bots will remove the 20% of your job you hate doing so you can re-purpose your time to do the things you really want to do.

360i: Best practices on giving a bot the ‘right’ personality?

GC: I recommend the following process…

  • Define: What are we trying to solve?
  • Design: What is the current process and what parts are “automatable”?
  • Develop: What are the database requirements, emails, actions that need to be built?
  • Test: Test, QA, Tweak, Repeat
  • Deploy: Write comms, train if needed, deploy
  • Maintain: Build in some time to do maintenance on the bots. While there are usually not many bugs, people tend to want to add something new when they see it works.

360i: What should we be keeping an eye on in the “bot world”?

GC: We are going to deploy some amazing things this year. We just started building No-code applications, playing with AI and Machine Learning. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll have a bot that answers this interview again. 😉