Communication, transparency, involvement: 3 steps on the RPA journey

Katie Sadler

Chalotte Stadsvold Olesen, Automation Program Lead at Damco, explains why “open communication, transparency and involvement from the start” is imperative in RPA

Speaking to PEX Network at RPA & AI Week recently in London, Olesen shares insight on an exciting RPA journey with the global freight forwarding and supply chain management company.


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At what stage is Damco on the RPA journey, and do you have any plans to invest in this area in 2018?

We are in our first year of deployment and it’s been quite an exciting journey. I joined the team half a year ago, and with a global team in place, we are progressing well on our journey with multiple robots already implemented. We will definitely be taking deployment a step further next year.

We have three focus areas. This year we solely focused on automation. Next year we will move our attention to also include digitalization and system integration

With your experience in mind, what are the benefits of implementing RPA?

We have definitely seen better productivity and a quicker turnaround time following automation. It has allowed staff to focus on value added customer experience rather than back office or repetitive time-consuming activities.

We have successfully included some customer-specific projects that focus on improving accuracy of invoicing. Automation has helped improve clarity across the entire process.

How do you decide whether a human or a robot is better equipped to deal with certain processes?

It depends on volume and whether tasks can be standardized or not. We especially focus on the part of the business where people are performing repetitive tasks such as filling in templates or updating a system. We specifically focus on RPA opportunities for replicability across the various regions we work in i.e. where large volumes and scalability exists. These opportunities are easy to find in a company where we offer the same service globally. The challenge is to find a standard way of doing these processes allowing room for scalable Automation.

Did you set a deployment timeline?

I wasn’t part of the team when we started the RPA journey but the first half-year was spent on creating very clear governance—sort of like a backpack to the business—and a very clear structure: what is it that we need, templates on how to fill in the PDD, how to set up meetings and how to communicate effectively. All of this was in place before I arrived so I initiated adoption from there. We do have a clear deployment target and ramp up plan which is fairly aggressive but so far, very successful.

Have you experienced any challenges when adopting RPA? And what advice would you give to companies who are starting out on their automation journey?

Firstly, it is imperative to include both the business and IT department in the initial stages of automation. We have experienced challenges when integrating robots with existing IT infrastructure and receiving the right support from IT for a resolution.

I believe open communication is key—it is very important that IT know what the robot is doing. In a lot of the cases it’s a bit scary for them, because they don’t know how it will impact the live production system.

Making sure there is open communication, transparency and involvement from the beginning is really important.

Secondly, make sure the RPA initiative receives support from the business and you share demos on what the robot is doing. In addition, make sure it’s being sold the right way—don’t sell it to the business team as an FTE reduction or a headcount reduction, sell it as a way to improve quality towards the customer by releasing workers from tedious tasks so they can spend time on the more fun things.

Do you think RPA and AI terminology is used too much and is affecting perceptions of what the technology does and how it can help?

That’s a big question… I believe the transparency in many companies is still not good enough. When you mention RPA or automation, people get scared because only thing they hear is, ‘oh my God! I will lose my job’. When you start automating, many people don’t really want to assist in helping with the process because they might end up losing their job, and that’s not what it is. Of course this is a natural way for staff to feel but it’s important that you pair very strong change management with your RPA and automation journeys so staff can see the benefits and not only the anticipated negative side to automation. Focusing on communication and sharing of success stories through regular newsletters etc. helps create enthusiasm and buy in.

Why RPA & AI Week? What have you learnt and what do you enjoy about the event?

There are a lot of really good workshops, but for me it’s mainly about the networking. It’s a real benefit to talk to people who are going through the same challenges as you are and understand what they have done to overcome those struggles. It’s also very beneficial to have discussions with others, not only within my own industry but also other industries, to find out tips and tricks: what to do, and what systems to use. It is something I would recommend to other companies.

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