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Home Team UPGRADE: Bot-Avengers, Assemble!
Learning new skills to redefine their work – how three Home Team officers applied Robotic Process Automation to do things better!

Home Team News RPA Cover
GRAPHIC: Cheryl Soh
Learning new skills can be daunting, but such challenges often yield the biggest rewards. 

Take Mrs Cheok Geok Leng, for instance. A Management Support Officer, she has served with the Singapore Police Force for 35 years. Though it was difficult for her to learn programming, her can-do spirit helped her take that crucial first step. 

In July 2019, Mrs Cheok and other Home Team officers attended a training programme on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) facilitated by Republic Polytechnic (RP). The officers learnt how to programme simple bots – software apps that perform structured, repeatable processes. This allows officers to focus on higher value work that requires judgment and decision-making. 

Tackling the Unfamiliar
“RPA was new to most of us, though it shares certain similarities with Microsoft Excel,” recalls Mrs Cheok. “At first, even those among us adept at Microsoft Excel struggled with RPA.” 

Home Team News SPF RPA Mrs Cheok
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The training programme comprised a two-day course followed by a workshop during which the officers had to conceptualise and develop their own bots. “The project I worked on was a bit complicated,” says Mrs Cheok. “In order to find the right solutions, we went through a lot of troubleshooting, consulted with our trainers and checked online resources.” 

After numerous discussion and trials, Mrs Cheok came up with “Do, Re and Mi” – three bots that automate the generation of finance reports, conduct journal analysis and merge different files for budget reviews. 

Home Team News SPF RPA Mrs Cheok Collage
Productivity tool: Want to cut down on structured, repeatable processes in the workplace? As Mrs Cheok discovered, bots are just the thing for achieving this. PHOTOS: Desmond Ang

“I named the bots ‘Do, Re and Mi’ because they perform certain functions based on the returns of the bot before it, in sequence,” she explains. “We perform these processes every month in my office, and the bots save us time and let us focus on other important matters.” 

Having put "Do, Re and Mi" to use, Mrs Cheok wants to programme bots that can extract data from reports in PDF format. “This will make our work much easier, because it is often difficult to find specific info we need from PDF reports,” she says. 

Embracing the Potential of RPA
For Nicholas Lim, a Finance Officer with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the decision to use RPA was akin to taking a leap of faith. 

“The first time I heard about RPA was when my supervisor asked me to join him for a meeting earlier this year with a leading RPA company, to review our requirements,” recalls the 32-year-old officer. “At that meeting, I learnt what could be accomplished with RPA and was really impressed. Over the next few months, we bounced ideas around and came up with a bot concept to improve our workflow.” 
Home Team News SCDF RPA Nicholas
PHOTO: Phylicia Poon

Having joined SCDF in 2018, Nicholas quickly picked up programming skills and worked hard to ensure that his RPA project met the needs of his team. “It was tough at first, and I definitely felt stretched because I knew how important the project was in terms of our change management goals,” he recalls. 

The end result was a bot with multiple functions: it can generate multiple reports, save them properly, check data within Microsoft Excel for anomalies and finally send attachments of checked reports via email to staff. “It was really satisfying to see how quickly and easily the bot completed these tasks,” says Nicholas. “It was even more satisfying to know that our efforts supported the work of the whole team by saving up to four man-hours per week.”
Home Team News SCDF RPA Nicholas 2
Always learning: Nicholas joined SCDF in 2018 and quickly upskilled his knowledge of RPA to meet his project goals. PHOTO: Phylicia Poon

Nicholas and his fellow officers are now planning to develop bots to target other structured, repeatable tasks. “RPA is challenging but very doable, and the results have been encouraging,” he says. “By leveraging RPA, we can allow officers to do higher-value tasks and achieve better outcomes!”

Early Starter, Smoother Transition
It was an RPA course that helped ease Andrea Yeo into designing her own bots. A Senior Assistant Executive (Finance) at the Home Team Academy (HTA), Andrea attended an in-house RPA course organised by HTA and conducted by Singapore Polytechnic earlier this year. In July, she attended another RPA workshop at RP.

“Before I started the course at RP, I spoke to my supervisor, who had a plan for HTA to build its own bots,” recalls Andrea. “As I manage the fixed assets portfolio, I have plans to design a bot that could help me and my Home Team colleagues with fixed asset accounting.”
Home Team News RPA HTA Andrea
PHOTO: Phylicia Poon

Whenever Andrea hit a road-bump in her RPA journey, she sought guidance from her colleagues at the Ministry of Home Affairs' Finance Transformation Office, or found solutions online. “There may not be only one way for a bot to perform a certain function,” she explains. “In fact, there may be several options in writing a script which can lead to the same outcome.”

Home Team News RPA HTA Andrea 1
Upcoming upgrades: Andrea is adding new functions to the bot she designed, to extend its usefulness. PHOTO: Phylicia Poon

Together with her colleague, Andrea built a bot that generates outstanding Purchase Order reports that alert users if there are any outstanding ones that haven’t been utilised. The bot also adds information for follow-up actions. 

Having completed her first bot, Andrea is keen to modify it further, to enhance productivity and decision making. “Eventually, we want the bot to email users and provide more information on invoice and payment statuses, for better decision-making,” says Andrea. “We’re refining the bot’s functions, and that requires a new level of familiarity with the process, RPA and bot design!”

To deal with ever-evolving threats and tighter workforce constraints, we need to leverage the opportunities offered by technology and become more innovative in the way we operate. The Home Team thus needs to constantly redesign jobs to support new ways of working, and officers need continuous skills upgrading to remain effective. Find out how Home Team officers have upskilled themselves:
Home Team UPGRADE: Design Thinking for People-centric Solutions
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 03 December 2019
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