inside
The employee magazine
of the Volkswagen brand

Innovation

More time for
demanding tasks

Robotic technology could perform simple office tasks.

Successful with the pilot project (from left to right): Michael Bäurich, Anna-Katharina Lehrach and Markus Ehle.

Every four weeks, employees who share a particular responsibility at 15 locations find a polite e-mail waiting in their in-boxes: “Dear Sir or Madam, As part of the end-of-the-month closing, I kindly ask you to send me the factory logistics costs for your location by the 11th working day.” What’s so special about this particular e-mail? The friendly request is no longer being sent by a living and breathing colleague, but rather a computer program known as a robot. The pilot project was designed to demonstrate how the increasing use of robotics technology could take a number of routine jobs off employees’ hands and facilitate digitalization within the company.

The employee, who was responsible for writing the cordial e-mails thus far, is called Anna-Katharina Lehrach and works at Controlling Vehicle Construction for the Volkswagen brand. This is how she describes her previous tasks: “Every month, I wrote the colleagues at various sites to request their data. I sent out a reminder if necessary and then checked whether all the fields of our query table had been filled out with plausible information. Then all the data had to be combined into one report and sent off. Everything had to be finished within a two-day period.”

Anna-Katharina Lehrach is now being assisted by a virtual colleague that reduces the number of monotonous routine activities she has to perform.

Many of these routine tasks have now been taken over by her new virtual colleague: He sends the query, reminds belated locations and reconciles the data, for example, with submitted information from the previous month to identify any obvious mistakes. Robots can do such tasks much faster than humans. Anna-Katharina Lehrach still attends to the challenging part of work that requires human thought: “Let’s say that a location considerably deviates from its cost objectives. I will then delve deeper into this matter and look for the reasons together with colleagues.”

That is precisely the point of this project: Relieving people of routine activities and giving them more time to do challenging tasks. Michael Bäurich, Anna-Katharina Lehrach’s supervisor, also emphasizes this aspect. He explains: “In the future, we want to increasingly focus on analyzing data and deriving optimization approaches. The machine can also identify blank boxes – we don’t have to use highly qualified colleagues for this.

The pilot project was initiated by the Digital Finance department along with Volkswagen Consulting, which is represented by Markus Ehle. “The automation of basic office work through the use of robotics technology is an important trend in many companies,” he reports. “The great advantage is that computer programs are able to conduct monotonous activities five to five-hundred times faster than a human being. Employee motivation and fun have noticeably increased.” Routine applications include processing invoices, maintaining master data and preparing standard reports – work that is currently being done at Controlling Vehicle Construction.

Programmers at Group IT Services India trained the robots for the pilot project at Volkswagen. They were assisted by Group IT in Wolfsburg and Anna-Katharina Lehrach who explained her responsibilities to her Indian colleagues. It took just six weeks to finish the computer program. “Especially the speedy implementation in two to seven weeks is a special feature of robotics solutions,” Ehle says. The difference to the other projects: The actual process is not optimized for robotics or the program is not adapted – rather, the virtual employee learns to perform the steps its human colleague once did. Just at a much faster speed.

Bots or robots

are computer programs that copy the interactions of a human user. They are developed together with users and “live” on a (virtual) machine in the data center. Robots perform their work via familiar user interfaces in virtually all standard programs like Outlook, SAP and Excel. They are able to reliably take care of tasks five to five-hundred times faster than humans.