Robots have been used for decades to automate specific processes. Vehicle assembly lines where robots replaced humans in performing monotonous, repetitive tasks is the best-known example of robotic process automation (RPA). In this example of RPA, cognition was not required; i.e., the robots did not require any form of perception, memory, judgment, or reasoning; they simply did what they were programmed to do.
This automation, however, did not stop at the shop floor but continues to be used in other areas of business. With ongoing research into artificial intelligence (AI), robots are gradually becoming more cognitive.
Packaging and paper company Mondi has not only been using robots on the shop floor for years; it has taken things a step further with AI, allowing robots to learn continuously. Jacqueline Wild, global head of applications for Mondi’s Consumer Packaging Business Unit, explained that they collect data on the shop floor system, bringing it back to a machine that then learns from it and improves the product at the end of the day. This is one example of cognitive robotic process automation (RPA).
Taking things to the next level, Mondi is currently working in partnership with IBM to use cognitive RPA to automate processes in the financial sector of the business. To start, they selected the month-end closure process. Wild noted that this area was chosen because it gives Mondi the best leverage and can easily be scaled across all branches worldwide.
According to Sanjay Das, Digital Transformation Leader (SAP) at IBM, Europe, there are many activities currently taking place over a period of a few weeks with hundreds of people involved. Many of the tasks performed are quite repetitive and the aim is to remove those tasks. Ultimately, the goal is “taking the robot out of people” so that people get a chance to do more strategic work, talk to each other, and innovate for better products for their customer.
One of Mondi’s strategic goals is for their customers to have good experiences. If employees are continuously busy with repetitive tasks such as entering data, they can’t think about what the customer experience could be, or how the product should be developed to get a better customer experience. Mondi aims to eliminate the repetitive month-end tasks within an estimated two to three years.
Their journey has already begun, and IBM and Mondi had an opportunity to present their solution at SAPPHIRE NOW 2017. The proof of concepts has been completed, and they will soon be able to showcase how the process can work.
Final advice for companies wanting to embark on cognitive RPA: First create a road map, and then pick use cases based on a balance between value you can get and ease of implementation. Even with a road map, flexibility is necessary, as priorities change quite often in the world today. After completing the month-end automation, Mondi will consider extending the automation to marketing, HR, or possibly order to cash.
To learn more about the work IBM and Mondi are doing in collaboration with SAP, watch this live interview from SAPPHIRE NOW with Bonnie D Graham, with interviews of Jacqueline Wild and Sanjay Das.