Intelligent order processing in materials trading
When it comes to customer satisfaction, we at thyssenkrupp leave nothing to chance. That's why our digital experts at thyssenkrupp Materials Services have developed intelligent software that optimizes and automates quotation and order processing.
At thyssenkrupp Materials Services, the largest mill-independent materials trader in the Western world, thousands of quotations and orders are created by sales employees every day. Each individual customer inquiry has to be read by the employees and then manually processed in the SAP system. This work takes up a lot of time. To optimize this process and make quotation and order processing more efficient, the Process Automation Hub team from the Digital Technology Office (DTO) at thyssenkrupp Materials Services came up with something special: The smart ORDER OCR solution.
This supports sales staff by analyzing incoming inquiries and extracting the information relevant for preparing quotations from them. This saves manual work and enables customers' inquiries to be answered much more quickly.
The success of the solution lies above all in the joint development with the colleagues from the operational area: smart ORDER is a standard solution from the manufacturer Insiders Technologies, which was adapted to a high degree to the special requirements of the business of thyssenkrupp Schulte and other units of thyssenkrupp Materials Services. The intensive cooperation with the business enabled smart ORDER to be deeply integrated into the work processes of the sales department. In the meantime, smart ORDER has established itself as one of the most important IT solutions at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.
AI-powered software analyzes more than 1.5 million pages
Dr. Arne Conrad, Head of Process Automation Hub, and Marco Theis, Product Manager Process Automation Hub, have now established smart ORDER in various units. Now, together with a small team of users and technical specialists, they are continuously developing the system.
With the help of smart Optical Character Recognition software (OCR), more than 1.5 million pages a year are analyzed for information needed to create a quote or an order. If the software is not perfectly familiar with the layout, a verification process is carried out by the employees, which serves to "teach" smart ORDER where to find relevant information.
In this way, the software learns specific layouts over time, gradually automating the quote and order creation process without human interaction in a process known as dark processing. "We are continuously developing smart ORDER further. In the future, for example, we will be working more intensively on analyzing unstructured free-text inquiries in order to further increase the dark processing rate in this area as well," reports Dr. Arne Conrad, Head of Process Automation Hub at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.
Challenges along the way
From the development to the implementation of smart ORDER, the developers had to face several challenges. Probably the biggest: establishing an intuitive and efficiency-enhancing solution in a profitable way. "The solution had to be able to handle the complexity of requests so that employees would see it as a clear advantage over the existing process," says Arne Conrad.
Oliver Bender, Digital Implementation Manager at thyssenkrupp Schulte, has been on board with the project from the beginning: "I've been on board with smart ORDER since it was introduced, and it's worth emphasizing that the project is the first of its kind that I know of in which IT, development, business and externals have worked together so effectively, unbureaucratically and beyond hierarchical levels to make smart ORDER what it is today." Thanks to the support and feedback of many users, the solution has been optimally developed to deliver tangible added value. Organizational changes have supported this process: among other things, special digital transformation managers and experts for smart ORDER have been introduced at thyssenkrupp Schulte.
In order to further develop smart ORDER in the future, users are involved in an agile setup. Since the beginning of 2021, the core team has held weekly two-hour virtual meetings with colleagues from the DTO and sales. "Thought-provoking impulses and suggestions for improvement from Sales - some of which go beyond current technical feasibility - motivate us time and again to think and explore new avenues in order to turn today's visions into tomorrow's reality," says Oliver Bender.
The team always listens to feedback from users and incorporates its own ideas to improve smart ORDER in terms of analysis and recognition and thus anchor it more firmly in the organization.
How will order processing with modern technologies develop in the next few years?
According to our experts at thyssenkrupp Materials Services, the use of online stores and portals as well as the digital exchange of data via Electronic Data Interchange will continue to increase over the next few years. The use of digital assistance systems through connectors, such as the integration of product catalogs in customers' ERP systems, will also increase. Telephone contacts will be further reduced. Written inquiries, on the other hand, will continue to exist due to the increasing use of ERP systems and smaller digital solutions in purchasing. "Artificial intelligence-based solutions such as smart ORDER accelerate order processing in this case. Bidirectional integration into the respective systems of customers and suppliers would also be conceivable," says Dr. Arne Conrad, Head of Process Automation Hub at thyssenkrupp Materials Services.
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