From 7 Days to 7 Minutes: Nichols College Center for Intelligent Process Automation and Bright Horizons
Since 1986, Bright Horizons (BH) has been dedicated to providing childcare services at workplaces, ultimately enabling more parents to enter and stay in the workforce. By 2020, the company offered more than 1000 childcare centers and reported over 2000 employees, while still focusing on “One child and family at a time.” Maintaining that level of growth and service, however, requires a lot of work behind the scenes—like reconciling its database of users every quarter, a manual process that takes anywhere from seven to fourteen days.
To create more efficiency in the quarterly HR Audit, BH turned to Nichols College and its Center for Intelligent Process Automation (CIPA), where three undergraduates born well after BH launched and still too young to make use of its services, applied their knowledge of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to save the company time and money.
Matthew Libuda, Jacob Ortega, and Cody Roberts were tasked with making the HR Audit at BH more efficient. Each of them were business majors, without specific training in computer science, programming, or math. Roberts acknowledged, “I had no prior training in coding at all, I was pretty good at [Microsoft] Excel, but I’m not certified…so I was basically brand new to the tech industry.” But all three gained some experience with automation design through a Research Assistantship with the Director of CIPA, Professor Bryant Richards. The applicability of this skill set aligned with the reasons Ortega chose Nichols in the first place. “I wanted to work with real companies, I didn’t want to just sit in the classroom,” and the way CIPA partnered with external companies meant that “the work was real, and we were really trying to help these people save real time.”
After a semester of trial and error, including one major independent automation project, not only were they proficient in RPA programs but they had also developed the critical thinking required to apply new automations to a company’s existent software. A large, national company like BH saw value in their abilities, and partnered with CIPA. In the Fall of 2020, Matthew, Jacob, and Cody started weekly meetings with BH representatives and began working on a strategy to automate the HR Audit.
Having already built their own bots, which automated everything from trading stocks to identifying potential donors for a non-profit, automating the reconciliation of users in a database did not pose a great RPA challenge. But, as Libuda noted, “one of the biggest challenges that we had was their system didn’t really play nice with the bots”; the software BH used for their data warehouse did not easily integrate with their automations. Over the next three months they devoted approximately 10 hours per week outside of classes, both independently and collaboratively, to create an automation that would work with the existent BH software. Friday meetings with representatives from BH, which Ortega describes as scrum-style status updates, provided an opportunity to test, discuss, and adapt each week.
By the end of the term, the students from CIPA had developed a functional and operational automation. They successfully automated 30,000 rows of user data and did more than just reconcile, as the manual process did, but the bot also color-coded the results automatically as well. And it completed the process—a minimum seven-day manual task—in seven minutes.
“They loved it…they still use it today,” Libuda affirmed. He would know—after the successful project, BH hired him for a paid internship. CIPA students have the ability to earn opportunities outside of the classroom. While all the CIPA students who participated admitted to some trepidation in their first real-life RPA project, one of their primary takeaways was that external partners are invested in the success of the project; they want you to succeed. And that kind of experience cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. For Ortega, “CIPA is fulfilling the dream that I had coming to Nichols…I really do genuinely believe in this kind of experiential learning. Given the considerable time savings their bot provided to BH, they, too, are believers in the real-world applicability of Nichols students trained in creating RPA.