Dentsu has begun an eight-year project that will weave automation and artificial intelligence (AI) into every process across the company globally.
Max Cheprasov, chief automation officer at Dentsu, is spearheading the strategy. He said the project, which began in Japan 2017, has 9,000 automated processes supported by artificial intelligence (AI).
The Americas began rolling out the project in media and finance last month, with support from UiPath, a robotic process automation (RPA) company.
“I created an eight-year road map that will weave automation into every process by 2025,” he said. “I want AI and automation to become part of Dentsu’s DNA.”
The goal is to teach employees how to build virtual assistants that help them get their jobs done in a fraction of the time. The idea is to leave the repetitive work to machines, freeing up employees to support clients across many industries such as media and advertising.
In one instance, Dentsu was faced with extracting and migrating more than 2.8 million records in six weeks, which would have required 76,500 hours -- the equivalent of 41 full-time employees working a full calendar year. By implementing automation, the company helped employees focus on the more creative tasks that drive better business results for the agency.
These initial steps across the holding company saved approximately 125,000 hours in time with 17 automated workflows and automated 60 bots, and reduced processing time for each transaction by 90% -- from 3 minutes to 18 seconds. Automation enabled the company to finish a project estimated to take a year within six weeks.
Cheprasov believes the media advertising and marketing sector underestimate the value of automation -- which, as a digital industry, trails behind the adoption of this type of technology. He built a global team of automation practitioners all dedicated to the same mission.
It took time to convince C-suite executives and users across the company that this strategy can work. Cheprasov had to find the correct partners like UiPath, and test the processes to separate the hype from the technology, as well as ensure that it could return investments.
Since then the holding company has deployed more than 300 virtual assistants across its businesses. As a result, it has eliminated a dependence on human labor -- more than 500,000 hours annually -- and freed up employees to do other things.
For businesses with about 1,000 employees, for example, the addressable opportunity for automating activities is about 20% for the total annual hours, he said.
Robert Hannan, executive vice president and managing director of operations at Dentsu agency Carat, has been working with Cheprasov to empower employees to build their own software virtual assistants using automation and AI. No coding is required.
“What we do as a full-service agency has become more complex in the past two to three years, and we see that continuing,” Hannan said. “Employees are burdened with technical tasks that can be automated, freeing them up to do other things.”
The virtual assistants support the work that representatives do for clients and brand marketers. “It’s helping them with their jobs, not taking over their jobs,” Hannan said. “These are necessary functions for the business to operate, but take too much time. They’re not what clients want us to focus on.”
Take search, for example. There are specific processes that require entering data into billing systems and confirming and calculating what should be paid. Many activities will be automated, such as processing invoices and receiving invoices.
The project at Carat began in early summer 2020. About 50 employees have completed the training. Since then employees have built technology to support processed designs for search, programmatic, video, social, audio, and more.