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Toll Group starts to scale out intelligent automation

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Toll Group starts to scale out intelligent automation

Toll Group is a bit over a year into an intelligent automation drive and is now looking to scale out use of the technology by more business units.

Global head of digital technology Stuart Robertson told UiPath’s automation breakthroughs conference that the logistics giant had been exploring intelligent automation technology since 2018.

Intelligent automation is an umbrella term for the combination of robotic process automation software and artificial intelligence.

Robertson said Toll first ran an undisclosed proof-of-concept of intelligent automation in one of its divisions.

However, the proof occurred simultaneously with a broader transformation of the Toll Group, and the timing was ultimately not right.

“We circled back to intelligent automation as part of our overall digital strategy last year, and we ran a proof-of-value, because we knew the technology worked so we just wanted to demonstrate that there was actually value within the technology being applied in a Toll environment to Toll processes,” Robertson said.

This time, the technology passed and a business case was drawn up in time for the company to start deploying intelligent automation from April 1 last year, which is the start of Toll’s financial year.

Robertson said that Toll is taking a crawl-walk-run approach to adoption.

“We were very targeted, so the first year we treated [our intelligent automation capability] as a startup,” he said.

“We had a handful of automations that we wanted to focus on, and we knew that would give us the return on what we were investing. 

Word had since “gotten out” and the team has now received a number of unsolicited ideas for further automations.

“As we started to grow and expand, people have started coming to us,” Robertson said.

“We've actually had a lot of demand come in that we've not initiated at the stage, so it's been very positive and well-received by the business.”

With the first quarter of this financial year done, Robertson said that the capability is already tracking ahead of expectations.

“We've only just started the year, we’ve just come to the end of Q1 and I already can see that we're going to outstrip both what we'd planned to do, and what our benefits are going to be,” he said.

Much of the effort now is scale-out work. Robertson’s team has now set up an internal intelligent automation centre of excellence (CoE).

“We're starting now to broaden the communication to the wider Toll Group to make sure that they are aware that this capability exists within the group,” he said.

“We know that will trigger even more demand, so what we're looking to do to cater to that is actually adopt a bit of a hub-and-spoke model. 

“So we have a central core team that will deliver automations. They have the ability to augment those teams through lots of UiPath professional services, as well as our vendor TCS [Tata Consultancy Services]. 

“But over and above that, we actually want to put the tools in the hands of people very close to the business so we want to go out and get the tools out there - not quite a ‘citizen developer’ model, but getting very close to the technology folk in a division within a business unit who can then apply the tools, send it back into the central function to quality assure and then deploy it as an automation. 

“So that's going to be our journey over the next six months to really scale ourselves up.”

Robertson added that there is no set end date for the deployment of intelligent automation; rather, his team would continue to pursue work where opportunities existed to add value.

“This is not going to have a specific end date,” he said.

“It's going to be more about having a tool in your toolbox that you can take out and apply to different business scenarios, business use cases, and different solutions that you want to solve for.

“It’s about having the capability available to you.”

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