This is #newtk: more time for core activities thanks to virtual colleagues

Digitalisation and industry 4.0 | trends of technology | All over the world, our colleagues at thyssenkrupp are working to safeguard the future of our company by making it more flexible, more efficient and more high-performance. In our new strategy #newtk, we are putting performance center stage. A case in point is digital solutions TIM and RPA, which are designed to take over those monotonous chores for which human labor is too valuable. And which they perform faster, more transparently and virtually error-free.

In modern working environments – and office environments in particular – there is no escaping the term “workflow.” The golden rule is: the more efficiently the work steps flow into one another and the faster tasks are completed within the team, the better the work performance. The problem is that, particularly in the case of complex, recurring tasks, it can come to pass that colleagues sidestep official guidelines in search of new ways of reaching their goal. Here, needless to say, there is a very real risk of mistakes occurring or important steps being forgotten. This is only human – but, thanks to state-of-the-art digital technology, it is also avoidable.

Greater transparency and clearer overview thanks to digital workflows

This is where thyssenkrupp’s Center of Excellence for Workflow Solutions & Robotics team comes in. After all, as Christoph Bruns – Head of Business Processes Services at cross-departmental thyssenkrupp service unit GSS – explains, when experts think of workflows, they think above all of digital workflows: “Let’s say for instance that there is a certain Microsoft Excel template that you fill out, print out, sign and e-mail to a colleague, who then goes through the same process again from the beginning. It is time-consuming, repetitive and above all error-prone manual processes such as these that we want to digitize and automate.”

Many employees wish for a robot or bot – especially for repetitive, monotonous and time-consuming standard tasks. A team of IT experts at thyssenkrupp has now brought such digital assistants to digital life

Many employees wish for a robot or bot – especially for repetitive, monotonous and time-consuming standard tasks. A team of IT experts at thyssenkrupp has now brought such digital assistants to digital life

This cuts down on human labor, creates transparency, provides a clear overview, and makes it far easier to measure exactly how long work processes take. A further advantage of digital workflows is that it frees up human employees to spend more time on other activities that actually add value.

Rule-based and error-free: TIM for a workflow in perfect flow

With digital system TIM, the team is making the dream of digital workflows a reality. The licensed solution for workflow management makes it possible to develop individual solutions for the special needs of business areas within thyssenkrupp. TIM stands for “Task in Motion,” based on the notion that TIM processes never come to rest but are always in motion.

At the same time, the entire system is based on clear rules, as explained by Arnd Willers, Head of Service Infrastructure at GSS-FI: “Depending on the process, I can send out – for example – automatic reminders if I don’t get a response from a colleague. I can also use rules to guarantee that each person only receives information that they are authorized to have. In the same way, TIM can be used for example in invoice approval procedures to define as of which amounts additional reviewers need to be involved in the process – and which these should be. Essentially, the TIM rule system helps to make processes watertight and transparent and to implement them in accordance with all compliance rules.”

In addition, TIM can communicate via suitable interfaces with other systems such as SAP and exchange information in both directions. It used to be the case that a colleague would have to view the received supplier invoice in SAP, forward it to the correct orderer for confirmation and, if they are dragging their heels, send them reminders. TIM undertakes all these steps automatically – once the necessary rules have been programmed. And does so without unproductive idle time, without forgetting anything and without human error.

For Arnd Willer, the rule-based TIM system creates space for important tasks – and thus saves time and money

For Arnd Willer, the rule-based TIM system creates space for important tasks – and thus saves time and money

The advantages of TIM can be felt, for example, in thyssenkrupp’s elevator business, where colleagues in the back office now find far fewer irrelevant or redundant e-mails in their mailboxes. In addition, TIM processes various tasks of the team fully automatically that previously required the manual processing of a human colleague.

Robotic Process Automation: highly efficient robotic assistance

A second approach for process automation at thyssenkrupp is the software solution Robotic Process Automation (RPA for short) which is a series of digital bots that assist colleagues with repetitive standard tasks such as data input and data research – completely independently.

Procurement at thyssenkrupp already enlists the help of digital assistant “Probo,” says Christoph Bruns: “All codes of conduct that suppliers have signed in order to work with thyssenkrupp must be stored in the internal procurement tool – this currently amounts to an estimated 30,000 documents. As a virtual employee with its own login data, Probo looks at a document, identifies the relevant supplier, logs in to the tool of its own accord, uploads the document to the right place and sends a confirmation e-mail. Probo needs a month to do what a person would manage in around six months – not to mention the fact that no one wants to upload documents eight hours a day for half a year!”

One major advantage of RPA software is its flexibility, which allows it to be connected to any system in the thyssenkrupp universe. This means, for instance, that bots are able to call up information from websites and transfer it to SAP systems or Excel spreadsheets. Arnd Willers adds: “Here, too, all the workings are rule-based. The focus of our digital assistants is therefore very much on freeing colleagues from the chore of repetitive manual tasks – if possible, at the touch of a button.”

More time for value creation

Feedback from colleagues has been very positive indeed. As Arnd Willers reports: “The digital assistant is very well received because it eliminates boring, tiring groundwork that ties up valuable man-hours. This allows specialists to concentrate all their efforts on tasks that actually add value – without first having to spend an hour every morning transferring data from A to B.”

For the future, the Center of Excellence team is planning to incorporate further functions based on artificial intelligence. These include automatic text recognition for fast keyword searches and AI-assisted image analysis. This opens up whole new areas of application for all business areas at thyssenkrupp. Such as drones that fly over the steel facility in Duisburg and identify the position of individual slabs. Or bots that analyze the aerial photographs of industrial plants and recommend courses of action for the relevant technicians.

Digital bots: five times faster than people

The advantages of innovations such as TIM or RPA are plain to see – they free up capacity, enhance quality by cutting down on mistakes and save a lot of money. Christoph Bruns is also able to convey the value of these solutions in concrete terms: “With our bots, we are currently able to make time savings of 85 percent. And our investments in development and running costs generally pay for themselves on average after six to eight weeks.”

In the face of such impressive figures, it comes as no surprise that colleagues from more and more thyssenkrupp departments are approaching the Center of Excellence. At the time of writing, the digital experts have produced some 30 different bots – with an additional 50 currently being developed.

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