As the head of Vodafone’s transformation programs and corporate functions, Paola is always looking to make processes simpler and more consistent for customers, suppliers and employees. Since she implemented an IBM Watson Assistant-powered virtual assistant to support Vodafone’s accounts payable department, the staff spends 20% less time handling inquiry resolutions—freeing them up for other tasks. The chatbot pulls information from internal databases and communicates with users in English, German, Italian and Spanish.

Please tell us about your project and how you’re using Watson in your business.
Vodafone needed to improve the performance of an accounts payable query system that it had consolidated into a shared service center. Employees there were unable to handle an excess of urgent queries about payments and other issues from suppliers, and an attempt to have suppliers shift to e-invoicing had also stalled. Nearly half of accounts payable work in the shared service center was consumed by query management work, when that should have amounted to less than 10%.

What has your company achieved with Watson?
We’ve reduced both operational costs and the time spent on accounts payable queries by 20%. At the same time, we’ve increased the satisfaction of our suppliers by 20%. We’ve also increased the number of on-time payments and the adoption of e-invoicing. Thanks to Watson, we’re on track to have the chatbot handle 85,000 queries a year, representing 79% of total queries.

What makes an AI project successful?
First, any transformation depends on a real partnership between business and IT; both have to be equally engaged in the process. Second, the more that users understand the technology to its fullest extent, the easier adoption becomes. Finally, you need to start small to allow everyone to learn fast and so that you can adjust during the journey.

What advice would you share with others who are considering using AI?
Create a user group with representatives from different areas of the company—employees, vendors—to have a better view and so you can get real feedback from real users early on in the project.

 

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