Even before the Covid pandemic hit, workers at Ryder System Inc.’s transportation management division had their hands full each day managing transportation networks for their clients. The division says its goal is to put goods into the hands of the people that need them and give customers real-time visibility of all of that inventory, from fulfillment to final delivery.
At the end of 2017, the unit decided to add a new tool to its toolkit, streamlining its workflow with RPA (robotic process automation) technology provided by Irvine, California-based Kofax, a developer of intelligent automation platforms. RPA software is used to automate high-volume, repeatable tasks to help eliminate unnecessary keystrokes, according to the analyst group ARC Advisory Group.
By the beginning of 2018, Ryder had launched a handful of Kofax RPA “bots”—software programs that perform predefined tasks—using them to retrieve information from databases in response to customer queries about, say, the whereaouts of their load or to confirm that a pickup had been made or a load delivered on time.
More recently, Ryder has deployed additional Kofax bots to eliminate its nightly “optimization sessions,” overnight shifts in which Ryder employees would plan the next day’s loads using the company’s transportation management system (TMS). Both managers and employees were frustrated that the skilled analysts were essentially solving the same problem each night. But by applying bots to the task, the company has been able to end those sessions and redeploy its analysts to higher-level tasks during daytime shifts.
Encouraged by that success, Ryder has since gone on to create more than 500 bots to automate transportation-focused tasks, according to Leslie Mandrell, a group logistics manager for Ryder. She notes that Ryder is able to create the new bots in-house without having to hire information technology (IT) experts—all that’s required is a familiarity with common programming tools like application programming interfaces (APIs) or structured query language (SQL). Today, the bots automatically answer queries in a range of business areas, such as planning and control, freight auditing and payment, and freight brokerage operations.
“When we started our journey with Kofax in 2017, we had a lot of manual work. We had brilliant transportation minds doing the same thing every day, and it was non-value–added work,” Mandrell said in an interview. “Today, it’s fantastic. We have improved our efficiency. But what’s also really important to us is that [the bots] are doing the exact same thing every time, so it also improves our accuracy.”
On top of that, the process is fully transparent to clients, Mandrell added. “From a customer experience perspective, they can’t tell if a bot did it or a human did it. So it’s invisible to the clients, but they’re comfortable with the fact that there are bots involved.”
In the four years that Ryder has been using its Kofax bots, the company has been able to eliminate over 55 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. But Mandrell says Ryder hasn’t laid off any workers; instead, it has redeployed them elsewhere in its growing operation.
Looking ahead, Ryder plans to expand the approach to additional departments, adding bots for tasks in overall corporate operations, engineering, and finance, she added.