Enid isn’t a typical name for a robot. Conjuring up images of the vintage 1950s, in reality Enid is a software bot - a fully integrated member of the Supply Chain project team.
She never sleeps, works at lightning speed, and is single-handedly saving her teammates hours (if not days) of labour-intensive tasks, which is freeing up time for them to focus on higher value work.
Fonterra Supply Chain Manager Helen Cheng admits that Enid is an old-fashioned name for a digital assistant who lives in cyberspace.
“Naming the bot made our business unit more connected,” she says. “We held a competition and two people independently suggested Enid. It’s funny having technology so advanced with a retro name.”
Enid is one of four bots rolled out as part of the Robotic Process Automation (or RPA) initiative taking place at Fonterra. Software bots are taking care of time-consuming manual processes for some of our employees’ biggest time thieves, like inputting data.
RPA doesn’t actually involve robots. At least not in the sense of mechanical-moving humanoids that we see in movies. Rather, its software that runs pre-defined steps on computer systems. Think of a piano that plays itself. It only works with structured processes. It can’t make decisions, such as what song to play, or compose new music.
It’s no different to the vacuum cleaner, ATM machine or Excel – all technology that replaced manual versions of themselves. They save us bucket loads of time and we can’t imagine life without them.
Bots are widely used in industries – you probably just wouldn’t know it. When you make a payment, or apply for a credit card, it’s a bot at the bank working behind the scenes. Airlines use bots to book flights. Insurance companies use bots to process claims and even underwrite policies.
So, what does Enid do? For starters, she’s a whizz at fixing quantity mismatches in planning software SAP.
“Previously the team would have to log into SAP,” says Helen, “and manually do line-by-line checks where there were mismatches. Now, Enid does this for us.”
Some tasks might take someone a quarter of an hour – Enid needs a minute.
Resolving 90% of quantity mismatches, she saves 1 or 2 days a week from across the team.
Helen says Enid is great at taking instructions, even complex ones.
“Enid takes care of roughly half of all the mundane, repetitive tasks, and gives us back time to focus on real issues,” she says.
Warehouse Replenishment Executive Irina Kim is a passionate advocate for Enid.
“Technology saves our time to solve bigger, more complex issues that bots can't do. We get to focus on the heart of the problem, rather than dealing with symptoms.”
Even better the bot doesn’t mind working at 3am in the morning.
“When we come into work in the morning, the team can kick off and focus on the actual issues and not just boring tasks, like correcting data,” she says.
Their customers love it because the supply chain is more efficient and they get their products and deliveries on time.
Irina admits the team’s reaction was mixed at the start. “First reaction was ‘Oh no, are we going to lose our jobs to robots?’ It’s natural. Change can be scary. But once we got used to her, we could see the benefits and how much she can help us. I wish Enid could do more.”
With Enid up and running, the team are looking to expand her workload.
“Quantity mismatch was a small test – but a very successful one,” says Helen. “This is just one small piece of what we’re currently working through. There’s a bigger piece coming down the line that will change how Supply Chain execute orders and exceptions. We’re hoping the next piece means the wider Supply Chain will be able to enjoy the benefits of Enid, not just us.”