Three two-week sprints were enough for Quanton to deliver a software robot and relieve Timber Barron export staff of their most tedious chores.
Using Quanton’s lean agile robotic implementation methodology the team were able to prototype the robot in less than five days.
The Auckland-based exporter, with 80 staff across the group, provides timber and other bulk building products to the Pacific Islands with a focus adding value wherever possible.
The company harnessed a robot as part of a staff retention strategy to ensure its small export business service team of nine was getting maximum satisfaction from their jobs.
“We have a great team of staff who have been with us for quite a long time,” said managing director Daniel Ludlam.
“They have built up skill sets and knowledge specific to our business, but what we found was that we had a lot of staff spending more of their time doing menial data entry tasks, instead of looking, analysing and actually making decisions based on the data they were inputting.”
The company has a custom production system to process invoices that requires manual data entry for all sales and orders and is in the midst of an ERP upgrade.
“We wanted to get our current legacy piece of software working better for the team until we could implement the new system," Ludlam said.
"Once we stood the bot up and got it working and taking pressure off, we wanted to look at implementing it into our new system so the team still had the same basic interaction, rather than going to a new ERP and having to go back to data entry."
Quanton rolled out automation technology from UiPath to develop the robot which is dubbed, naturally, Robert.
“We didn’t say we were going to charge thousands of dollars to do discovery and up-front work to create design documents and PDDs," said Quanton strategic engagement director Ursula Riemer.
"It was a truly agile approach – we put our automation specialists in front of the client from day one and everything happened in parallel, so it was a really quick turn over of code and we did demos every week."
When Robert joined the Timber Barron crew in 2022, it took some staff several weeks to work out he was not human. They’d been told he was working remotely and should just email him.
“Anything that someone can do on a computer that is a repeatable task is what Robert is doing,” Ludlam said. “So all our data entry, putting stock into the system, dispatching stock, invoicing customers – all of that is completed by Robert."
Timber Barron reaped immediate gains.
“Our team has embraced Robert as part of the team and he’s enabling them to do the more enjoyable, value-add, decision making part of their jobs and everyone is constantly looking towards what else they can off-load and automate as part of our continuous improvement philosophy.”
Riemer said Timber Barron’s experience highlighted the value of bots for staff retention and employee engagement.
“While there is the productivity angle where Timber Barron has been able to increase its sales work thanks to its team not having to spend all the time on data entry, it’s the staff retention aspect that was most important for Timber Barron," she said.
“With so many companies struggling with staff shortages at the moment, we really believe bots can help New Zealand businesses, not just provide an extra worker – who is available 24/7 – but in ensuring existing human staff are better able to enjoy their work.”
When a staff member left, the Timber Barron team reallocated their workloads, passing some additional work off to Robert, rather than replacing the staffer.
“We’re starting at the top level in our export business, which is a professional services business, more than anything," Ludlam said. "But across our other business, it’s taking those learnings and seeing how we can implement it into our manufacturing sites so we can be ahead of the curve."