RACING WITH THE MACHINE : IS YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN JOB IN PERIL?
At the release of the white paper on the benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) released by The Logistics & Supply Chain Management Society and Automation Anywhere on 27 th August , it was highlighted that Small to medium-sized forwarders and logistics providers are failing to reap all the productivity benefits of robotic process automation (RPA), according to one of the world’s leading logistics experts.
Professor Richard Wilding OBE, of Cranfield University, in the UK, said that most small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the forwarding and logistics sector could free up resources and reduce costs by automating basic, repetitive processes.
Repetitive processes are a waste
Companies should identify any processes that are repetitive in nature, document the process and look at how RPA can be applied to automate the task, he said in a response to a question raised by co-host and leading supply chain expert, Dr. Raymon Krishnan.
“One of the key things in implementing [RPA] is to get everybody in the business to actually think about the types of processes they’re undertaking,” he told the press during a press briefing organised by LogiSYM.
“If you’re an SME, have a workshop and identify all those repetitive rules-based processes that you’re undertaking because that can help identify particular things which are going on within your organization which you can start applying [robotic process automation] technologies to.”
Wilding continued: “These repetitive processes are a waste. If you have to do the same thing over and over again, that’s a waste of resource within your businesses.
“We can use some of the lessons from ‘Just In Time’ thinking for improving businesses, which we were all so good at and actually apply them now, but to repetitive processes.”
RPA technologies are already deployed by leading 3PLs to manage multiple processes including inventory and freight management, returns and refunds processing and invoice management.
According to Wilding, one common process deficiency in SME logistics firms is the failure to fully integrate systems. “It could be that you’ve got these two[systems] that don’t talk to each other and you have somebody sitting there being a robot, taking data from one and applying it to the other,” he said. “If so, look to your IT department or get support from another organisation to join these things together. This is a real opportunity.”
Also speaking at the press briefing was Serene Keng, senior director for ASEAN, at Automation Anywhere, who said that for many companies, the business area that typically comes out top in terms of automation potential is finance.
“Approximately 75% of processes in finance potentially can be automated because they are rule-based,” she explained. “Somebody has made a decision, it’s documented somewhere and therefore you don’t really need to have discretionary parameters to execute. So finance is a great hunting ground for processes to start automating.”
Acceleration in RPA adoption
Covid lockdowns, which have forced employees to work from home, have accelerated RPA adoption across industries as managers have sought out new digital work processes, Wilding noted.
“When I’m talking to companies they are saying, ‘We were told by IT that it would take two years to implement that particular thing’. But now they’ve suddenly found out it took three weeks because necessity is the mother of invention. So what we’re finding is that people are looking at these things and saying, ‘We can do this’.
“I’m talking to big companies with thousands and thousands of employees [which are now implementing better] payroll processes, for example, and what they’re finding is they are getting a 20% [productivity gain] in the way people are working.
“They’re working remotely and had to think differently about the processes and have now removed all the non-value adding activity.”
Keng added that Covid-19 lockdowns had shined a light on the process weaknesses of many companies.
“It has shown that there are a lot of events that can actually be done by muscle memory – by a something, rather than a someone.”