Volvo Cars is a Swedish multinational manufacturer of luxury vehicles headquartered in Torslanda, Gothenburg. The company manufactures SUVs, station wagons, and sedans. In 2010, the company was sold to Geely. This year, Volvo Cars announced that it would be a fully electric brand by 2030. Let’s take a closer look at the RPA story of this company presented as a shortened interview with Anton Edlund, Intelligent Automation Leader at Volvo Cars. He joined the company just over three years ago.
Was there a natural demand to work with software robots because Volvo Cars is in the automotive business, where robotic arms have been used in production for some time?
“We have a long history of automating our factories. That history of thinking of always improving with new technologies has certainly had an impact in our different departments. Automation in finance, and the fact that finance stands out, is because it is so strongly connected to the other departments. There are a whole lot of links outside finance. It’s not just a finance flow. The sales and production processes, etc. all pass through finance in one way or another. It’s an excellent center to start and finish, to look at the whole process and improve it. Finance at Volvo Cars engages in dialogue with many stakeholders. That doesn’t come just from a process mindset. It is also a technology mindset. You need both to achieve a good degree of automation. We also have a global footprint. We need to be able to do things the same way in all the countries where we operate. Automation comes as a key concept in that sense.”
How would you grade Volvo Cars in its roadmap to RPA excellence on a scale from 1 to 10?
“That depends on what that excellence would look like (laughs)… If you look at the RPA space in a global context or locally, and our capabilities in cost structure, skills, and benefits, I would put us high. We have a scalable model that fits our current and future organizational needs, and it is available to everyone in finance — which is not so easy at times. Our Belgian entity was part of the journey from day one, and now we’ve got RPA to a global platform. You can base excellence on how well everything is organized or look at the potential and ask: have we reached the full potential of RPA? In capabilities, platform, knowledge, and availability, I would give us 8-9 out of 10. We have done a very good job, scaled efficiently and we have been working with a great team from day one. Do I feel we have reached the maximum potential in RPA? Absolutely not. We still have a lot of work ahead of us. To reach the maximum with RPA… It’s not something you do for about six months and then it’s done. It is a long-term ambition and vision. We have dismantled a number of automations in the last 2-3 years because they have done their job. We now have new systems in our organization for that. I still see a lot of potentials, even after three years. Our business changes every day and in the last year, we have seen that organizations need to be able to adapt to change faster than ever. Having a team ready to respond to change is a big advantage.”
What are the next steps to more automation?
“For me, it is a matter of having more skill sets in automation, so as to be able to broach a broader scope. Everyone wants end-to-end automation. To have this on a large scale, you need to have a large skill set in technologies. That should be the long-term plan for any RPA initiative: Increase the skill set to have more end-to-end automation. Otherwise, you are bound to run into a wall at some point and won’t be able to automate further. You also need to listen and look at the experience of the stakeholders during the process. Do you have a virtual agent or chatbot? Do you have someone to talk to, and are there robots that do that work for you? In what way do you have smart gates to structure data even more? Or robots that translate customer needs? Like a ticket system in the local language, translating Dutch questions into English? That would ensure that RPA has more interaction with the customer. Do we have a scalable solution for this? Especially in times where companies have a more global presence, but help is local… Here, artificial intelligence and language processing with the help of automation could provide customer support round the clock, year-round — in the local language but handled by the central team. We are working very hard on possibilities with virtual agents. How can we work closely with our customers? How can we improve our communication with them? Make everything on-demand? Big tech players already provide these capabilities, irrespective of the platform you work on. So you can combine them to meet your needs. Of course, it depends very much on what your organization aspires at.”