I recently saw a presentation on how Ryder, a leading logistics service provider (LSP), uses robotic process automation (RPA) to reduce the labor associated with producing transportation plans. The presentation was at JDA’s Icon conference. The presentation was given by Mark Wiebe, a Group Director, and Leslie Mandrell, a Group Logistics Manager.
Robotic process automation is software that is used to automate high volume, repeatable tasks. Over time enterprise systems develop better automation and users can do their job more effectively. But companies using legacy systems may have opportunities to use an external RPA solution to automate the work inside the legacy system. RPA’s do this by performing the same computer keystrokes and opening the same modules humans do. Or in some cases, the robots write data right into the application database.
More commonly, an RPA solution is used to automate an end to end process that requires the use of multiple systems, internal and external websites, and portals.
Ryder is using RPA to automate highly manual tasks associated with planning optimization in their legacy transportation management system (TMS). It is also used to examine carrier websites for appointment scheduling. There are application programming interfaces between their RPA and the TMS.
Ryder is one of the largest providers of managed transportation services. They have 6.7 billion in freight under management based on supporting 42 clients and optimizing 14 million loads per year. Doing managed trans well requires the use of a robust transportation management system. Ryder uses JDA. But their TMS is several versions behind the current version. They are looking to upgrade the solution, but in the meantime the RPA provides significant time savings for the planners and analysts that use this system.
Ryder selected a solution from Kofax. The system was easy enough to use that business users, rather than developers, learned to create the rules that automate the processes. There is a design studio where the bots are created. Many of the bots have a logic that says, “if you see this, do this.” The bots reside in a management console. Users can create a schedule to trigger bot tasks. Or, bots can be manually initiated.
Ryder started the implementation in November 2017 and launched their first bot in January 2018. Only two people were dedicated to the implementation. New bots can be built in about two weeks. In short, implementing the RPA was quicker than upgrading their TMS.
The RPA implementation has also had good payback. They now have 133 bots running that execute 1300 daily tasks. The automation has allowed them to redeploy 6.5 transportation analysts. Optimization runs that use to take 1.5 hours can now be done in half an hour. And the consistency is better. The bots don’t make data entry mistakes.
There are several places that RPA is used in the planning cycle, but one example is for automating client specific business rules not contained in the optimization engine. For example, a client specific rule might be “when shipping to this client, don’t use the standard carriers in the route guide but use these carriers that have higher insurance coverage.” Another example, a bot can examine the loads and determine which loads must ship sooner and must be optimized immediately, and which loads can be pulled out of the optimization queue for optimization at a later time. When you have more time to optimize a load, it increases the chances of saving money though load consolidation.
In the supply chain realm, when we think of digital technologies, Robotic process automation is not top of mind. But for those looking to automate highly manual tasks with a high degree of accuracy and consistency, this can be a good technology to explore.