Warehouse automation solutions | Case Study | Bluestonex

WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION SOLUTIONS

Automation Solutions for Outbound Logistics

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Introduction to the Client

Our client, a leading food and distribution company in the UK, specialises in wholesale food products and contract logistical services for the foodservice industry. With 20 distribution centres nationwide, they serve pub chains, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other establishments.

To enhance their supply chain, the client partnered with Bluestonex. Through a design thinking workshop, they addressed challenges faced by warehouse operatives and administrators. The workshop's focus was on exploring opportunities for improvement, utilising cutting-edge technologies like SAP user experience and Business Technology Platform. The goal was to enhance supply chain efficiency, streamline processes, and optimise the overall user experience for employees.

In a Rush? Watch the Video

6 months after delivering the solution to the client, we went to visit one of their warehouse sites to see how they were getting on. We were thrilled to see how they were using our Maextro solution to do some of the heavy lifting! Watch the video below to see what they had to say.

Business Challenges

Like many companies of the market-leaders size and scale, they were plagued with numerous process complexities. These complexities not only significantly increased the likelihood of errors in transactions and data input, but also created significant challenges for the overall user experience.

These process complexities resulted in a heavy dependence on specialised and skilled employees to carry out manual tasks. The potential loss of these staff members due to user dissatisfaction or other factors would leave a substantial void that would require extensive recruitment, training, and retention efforts to fill. Given the high demand for skilled professionals in the market, the client would face difficulties in competing if it failed to prioritise colleague satisfaction and retention as it continues to strive as a leader in its field.

The challenges they faced with its existing workforce, processes, and technology were:

• A highly competitive and challenging labour market, making it difficult to attract and retain skilled data administrative employees who had a deep understanding of SAP and client customised transactions.
• Poor colleague experience attributed to a subpar user interface, negatively impacting usability and overall satisfaction.
• Complex business processes that necessitated cross-functional execution of SAP transactions, leading to potential inefficiencies and delays.
• Increased risk of errors in manual business processing due to a heavy reliance on manual keying and the need for extensive knowledge across customers, deliveries, routes, and warehouse tasks.
• Over-reliance on manual data entry, with key staff members being the sole "Client SAP experts in logistics processing," creating dependency and potential bottlenecks.
• Insufficient business process automation, with the supply chain systems being a combination of SAP ECC6 EHP4 and various third-party and in-house systems.

Addressing these challenges would require strategic efforts to enhance colleague satisfaction, streamline processes, reduce manual workloads, and invest in automation technologies to improve overall efficiency at their distribution centres.

Engagement Overview

Bluestonex demonstrated exceptional agility in comprehending the clients needs, even those that had not been explicitly stated. Leveraging a combination of Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking methodologies, Bluestonex promptly embarked on their mission. They assembled a talented team consisting of SAP functional experts specialising in Logistics and Warehouse Management (WM), along with seasoned designers and BTP architects. Following their established methodology, Bluestonex initiated a series of discovery and exploratory workshops, aiming to reimagine and enhance the WM operations. Their primary objective was to swiftly formulate problem statements, which proved to be abundant, and translate them into high-fidelity prototypes. This rapid prototyping approach enabled them to promptly gather valuable insights and feedback from the user population, facilitating a more informed decision-making process. The approach, utilising human-centered design and design thinking, proved highly effective in gaining a deep understanding of the data administrators' needs and identifying areas suitable for automation. This not only reduced their workload but also enhanced data governance practices.

By leveraging the holy trinity of UX design innovation—people, process, and technology—we made the strategic decision to utilise Maextro, Bluestonex’s own partner IP, to develop Process Automation. The foundation for this ground-breaking innovation platform was SAP BTP (Business Technology Platform) coupled with this accelerator.

The technical implementation commenced with the deployment of cloud connectors and data services. We utilised the Business Application Studio to create clickable prototypes, while our Partner Managed Cloud Delivery Team provisioned the BTP sub-account. Through active engagement with users, team leads, and stakeholders, multiple iterations of the prototypes were developed, ensuring a collaborative and iterative design process.

The methodology yielded impressive results, with the development and rollout of several SAPUI5 warehouse applications across various devices within a matter of weeks. The process automation application, powered by Maextro and integrated with BTP, was deployed in a phased approach at each site, enabling seamless processing throughout both day and night shifts.

The training process for warehouse operatives involved a remarkably short timeframe, requiring less than an hour to train them in inbound put-away and replenishment procedures. Similarly, process automation administrators were efficiently trained within a single day, ensuring they could effectively manage and maintain the automated processes.

The Maextro Effect

Maextro, a powerful framework for business process automation, played a crucial role in streamlining and optimising the logistics outbound processes within the organisation. Feeding the user interface of (Ui5), Maextro offered a no-code, fully configurable solution, making it accessible and customisable for differing business needs at the plant level.

In the context of implementing business process automation, it was necessary to account for the unique requirements and nuances of each plant. To address this, a template was configured for each plant within Maextro. These templates served as predefined blueprints that could be easily tailored to suit the specific needs of each plant.

By utilising Maextro, businesses were able to:

• Define and enforce standardised processes across all plants.
• Introduce a robust framework for business process automation
• Achieve consistent outcomes by eliminating inconsistencies and potential errors resulting from manual processes.
• Provided a user-friendly and adaptable solution that could be tailored to meet the specific needs of each plant.

Engagement Benefits

By collaborating with Bluestonex, Brakes has experienced a wide range of benefits. The initial investment has had a profound impact, particularly in the area of data administration. Through automation and the implementation of a user-friendly, tile-based UI, Brakes has successfully deskilled data administration roles. Now, employees no longer need to rely on SAP transaction codes, as all necessary tasks can be accomplished with just a few clicks. This not only streamlines processes but also provides valuable insights into process adherence and visibility across all outbound logistics locations.

One significant advantage of this transformation is the alleviation of staffing and recruitment concerns for Brakes. Training requirements have been simplified and accelerated, allowing the company to quickly onboard new staff members and reduce the burden on existing skilled workers. As a result, employees can enjoy a more satisfying and productive work environment, free from the tedious manual inputs that previously bogged them down.

The implementation of Maextro and SAP BTP means Brakes can confidently pursue their strategic growth goals, supported by accurate and reliable data analytics. This newfound analytical certainty empowers the company to make informed decisions and drive progress with confidence.

Chris Winfrey, Brakes UK's Project Director, personally finds the project immensely rewarding, as he witnesses the tangible impact on his colleagues' day-to-day work lives. He acknowledges the remarkable difference that Maextro and SAP BTP, have made in reducing pain points for Brakes employees. Chris attributes his enjoyment of the project to the collaborative efforts of Bluestonex. In a podcast with SAP, he specifically mentions how Brakes has achieved the following benefits:

- Successfully deskilled data admin roles.
- Reduced the manual input of data and eliminated the need to remember various SAP transaction codes and variants used on different days.
- Deployed the transformation at their own pace, utilizing accelerators for each site, enabling smooth implementation.
- Simplified existing and new business processes with just a few clicks, enhancing efficiency and productivity.
- Minimized training time required for new data onboarding, especially for administrative staff, reducing the duration from weeks to hours.
- Eliminated the risk of erroneous transactions, ensuring data integrity and operational accuracy.
- Sent a positive message to colleagues, indicating their investment in new technology and dedication to delivering delightful user experiences.
- Achieved comprehensive visibility across the entire supply chain from a single dashboard, enabling better monitoring and control.

Why Bluestonex was right for the job

• Demonstrated previous successful collaboration with our team.
• Known for being approachable and cooperative, making the working relationship effortless.
• Displayed agility in adapting to changing requirements and circumstances.
• Implemented a streamlined and efficient process that encompassed the entire project timeline.
• Our products not only met but exceeded expectations, acting as catalysts to help clients achieve their goals.
• Went above and beyond by incorporating additional features such as dashboards and error reporting, which were not initially part of the project scope but were essential for a comprehensive solution.
• Fostered a sense of partnership rather than a traditional customer-provider dynamic throughout the program.
• Effectively addressed challenges and obstacles through collaborative efforts, working together as one cohesive team.

Find out more about the project, in the UK Project manager's own words when he featured in an OpenSAP's Packaged podcast. Listen below: