Four idea generators win in-house digitalisation contest with proposals for AI-based forecasting and Automated Staff Rostering
The topic of Artificial Intelligence is on everyone’s lips these days. “Yet many businesses are still at the beginning and have uncovered only a fraction of the possibilities that this key technology has to offer. It is our goal to offer assistance on their path there”, says Kevin Ueckert, Head of Consulting at Westphalia DataLab GmbH (WDL). FIEGE formed the data mining company roughly four years ago together with Prof. Dr. Reiner Kurzhals.
WDL’s mission is to apply data science to solving social and economic issues. To this effect, the AI expert sees itself a service provider: “The customer has the data, and we bring the respective tools for their analysis”, is how Ueckert outlines the situation. The primary target group encompasses mid-sized enterprises operating in fields such as production, retail, and logistics, which more often than not lack the time or know-how themselves.
In October 2020, Westphalia DataLab was awarded the German AI Prize, and this year co-founder FIEGE and the Münster-based start-up conducted a Group-wide digitalisation challenge. (Foto: FIEGE)
First WDL Challenge at FIEGE
FIEGE has also prioritised digitalisation and innovation on its list of strategic corporate goals. It is the reason why the Greven-based logistics company decided to stage a Group-wide in-house challenge together with WDL. Dr. Stefan Thies, member of the Executive Board of the FIEGE Group and responsible for the WDL Challenge, explains further: “Many of our employees feel the need to advance our business flows as well as their working routine with creative ideas. Naturally, we wanted to open ourselves up towards this great initiative.”
Call for papers
FIEGE is divided into various Business Units which allows the organisation to provide sector-specific services to customers. “The individual process flows vary of course; however, many structures are the same or at least very similar”, says Dr. Thies. The project team therefore decided to establish the challenge as a multi-stage process at central level. The top three concepts were to receive a budget that allows them to implement their project together with WDL.
At the start of the year, all employees were called on to submit their papers. Ueckert reports: “At the end of January, we tabled the ideas during an online meeting with all participating contestants and poured them into a standardised template.” Afterwards, the analysis experts at WDL created an evaluation matrix. Criteria here included next to the degree of innovation also the monetary potential and scalability. “The decisive question was which ideas could be implemented the fastest and most effectively and be transferred to the overall organisation”, Ueckert explains.
Focus on staff roster
In total, 20 proposals were submitted. Four contestants from different business units ended up sharing the top spot. Each of them had devised a solution on how to automate staff rosters. One of them is Michael Jahn, Managing Director of FIEGE Austria. Together with Magnus Trippler, Head of Lean Management at Industry & Tires; Tim Henning, Manager Operations & Projects Omnichannel Retail; Jens Ritscher, Head of Project Management at the IDC Worms; and the colleagues at WDL, he set out to pilot a project at the Vienna location of FIEGE.
“Amongst others, we oversaw two key accounts there that do not provide us with forecasts and whose business models are highly campaign-driven. This makes outgoing goods difficult to forecast”, Jahn reports. For the personnel department, it proved to be a real challenge time and again. “We may have gained experience in the past, however, planning the personnel roster is done largely based on one’s gut feeling.”
Small location, big impact
This look into the crystal ball showed especially that the logistical handling consumed extreme personnel resources. “Very often there were redundancies which we – if at all – only managed to reallocate across multiple shifts”, Jahn adds. To solve this issue, he submitted his idea for the WDL Challenge: An AI-based forecasting tool which projects order volumes and establishes the required human resources.
The four colleagues were informed of their win in mid-February. “Our location was predestined for the first part of the project because of its size and the plethora of historic customer data it maintained”, the Managing Director confirms. Consequently, the Vienna branch recorded the fastest and biggest impact. “We therefore were awarded the lead in developing the forecasting tool”, Jahn tells us.
Creating a standardisable framework
Following a digital kick-off workshop where data were exchanged, logic was discussed, and goals were defined, WDL’s AI experts got to work. “We also contacted our customers, to include their marketing and campaign plans in the calculations”, Jahn says. The FIEGE Group’s system headquarters were also involved. “The long-term goal is to create a standardisable framework which allows the tool to be rolled out at other locations, too.”
As the project evolved, the entire team came together to discuss the latest progress in weekly sprint meetings. In the meantime, WDL has quantified and supplied the first volumes. “The precision rate was already far above 90 per cent which we aim to improve by reconciling data and with bug fixes”, Jahn explains. The forecasting tool is now about to go live.
Passing on the baton
For the second phase – the pilot for an intelligent tool for staff rostering – a second winner of the WDL Challenge will take over the project’s lead. Their main branch will also double as the location for the pilot where the complete Automated Staff Rostering process will be rolled out. “We are happy to be pursuing the project together”, Jahn comments.