Automation

How one consumer goods company took advantage of design thinking and automation

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Key Points:

  • A design thinking workshop helped solve a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company’s challenges with its upstream order management process
  • Robotic process automation proved a pragmatic approach to resolving process imperfections and driving down operational costs
  • This scenario illustrates how implementing automation in one operational domain can impact the broader business

The phrase “butterfly effect” was coined by Edward Lorenz in the 1960s when he was studying weather patterns. Lorenz believed that something as delicate as a butterfly fluttering its wings could trigger tiny changes in the atmosphere and ultimately alter the path of a huge weather event, such as a hurricane. In other words, he believed that a small change in one part of a system could drive significant changes to the broader system.

I recently helped organize an IBM Design Thinking workshop for one of the world’s largest CPG companies. In the last year, the company has been rapidly expanding into new markets and growing its consumer base, while cautiously managing its costs.

Like any other CPG company, this client faces challenges with its upstream order management process—struggling with high order volumes and deductions from trade promotions, leading to profit leakages. Deductions and late payments can cost large companies millions of dollars. This organization was looking for new approaches to this challenge, and IBM was there to help them find an optimal solution.

We kicked off our IBM Design Thinking session by empathizing with end users and other stakeholders, which encouraged an honest discussion about process challenges. Through the ideation sessions, we brainstormed resolutions to process imperfections and the overall operational cost of the deductions process from the perspective of our users and stakeholders. We pinned down automation—specifically robotic process automation (RPA)—as a pragmatic approach.

We then focused on using RPA to improve the end-to-end deduction process across the firm’s global operations. Our automation solution proved transformational for this company, aligning several disparate business areas around a common goal. Client executives realized that digital reinvention through approaches like RPA could bring incremental changes. And when these changes were applied at an organizational level, they could drive out process inefficiencies, reduce costs and bring about tangible business results.

The nature of IBM Design Thinking workshops allows clients to develop deeper insights into back-office pain points, while considering ways to tackle business challenges by making process improvements. During the workshop, the business leaders for this company were able to evaluate automating the back office to spur business transformation on a grand scale. To get started on this path, we worked with the team to identify a series of low-risk operational changes.

Which brings us to the butterfly effect. In this scenario, IBM helped identify and drive changes that impacted one targeted area—yet this resulted in a cultural shift and improved profitability within the broader company. This collaboration and subsequent implementation is an example of how IBM works with organizations to create their automation roadmap. And on that broader level, we help business leaders emerge and transform their industries.

Learn more about how RPA and intelligent automation can help your organization transform business processes and the way work gets done.

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