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AI in transportation reduces employee workloads

By using intelligent automation, a shipping company trimmed employee workloads, enabling employees to shift from document processing to customer service.

The transportation industry is loaded with paperwork.

Compared to other verticals, transportation, according to David Brajkovich, chief technology officer at Polaris Transportation Group, could be the most laden with administrative documents that need to flow.

A few years ago, Polaris, a Canada and U.S. cross-border transport company (not to be confused with the snowmobile maker) struggled to keep up with all its paperwork. It suffered from slow turnaround times and had difficulty ingesting the many different document types its diverse clientele sent in.

The company used an unintelligent optical character recognition (OCR) system to parse through the documents, but the system was imprecise. It required a lot of manual input and retouching to work properly, Brajkovich said.

AI in transportation

So, Polaris' executives decided to use intelligent process automation, a form of robotic process automation (RPA), still not widely used in the transportation industry, to more quickly and cheaply ingest flow administrative documents. They decided to use technology from intelligent automation vendor WorkFusion.

During a WorkFusion-sponsored virtual roundtable event, Brajkovich detailed Polaris' digital transformation with the New York City-based vendor.

"We wanted to gain visibility and intelligence where we didn't have it before, and we certainly wanted to overall improve customer and employee satisfaction," he said.

AI and RPA can help reduce manual processes in the transportation industry.

The company had a few specific intelligent automation applications in mind, including using automation in its customs clearance and order management workflows. Marred with the clunky OCR system, as well as poor data quality, the workflows required much manual input, taking up a lot of company money and employee time.

Now, using RPA and machine learning technology from WorkFusion and in-house teams, Polaris automates about 80% of the customs clearance document workflow, with over 100 bots working the front and back ends.

It reduced human intervention, so much so that Polaris Transportation Group reskilled much of its staff, moving employees from simple document processing to customer service work.

"In our customs process, we had about 22 people touching that process," Brajkovich said. "We now have about two and a half to three people at most, managing only exceptions."

There's a lot of automation, intelligent automation that has been pushed ahead with this surge of digital transformation.
Craig Le ClairAnalyst, Forrester

The RPA and machine learning technology also enabled the company to quickly move its employees to remote work when COVID-19 hit.

"We never missed a beat, as our bots kept working," Brajkovich said.

Automation during a pandemic

Even as Polaris was able to transition to remote work during the pandemic, many other businesses that did not use automation couldn't. COVID-19 pushed many organizations to use automated tools, said Forrester analyst Craig Le Clair, who also took part in the roundtable.

"There's a lot of automation, intelligent automation that has been pushed ahead with this surge of digital transformation," Le Clair said.

Even as the pandemic-induced economic recession will likely cause a reduction in technology spending over the next year or so, "the AI technology community will be one of the winners" as organizations are forced to buy or build automation tools to tackle workflows their employees can no longer do, LeClair said.

There will be a flattening out of organizations as the middle management function, which historically has relied on face-to-face interactions, is not as relevant. The pandemic has also forced companies to lay off employees, leaving them with holes in their workflows.

Automation and AI, LeClair noted, can help fill those gaps.

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