Man and machine improve procurement process at Bekaert

Jan 21, 2019
  • IT
  • operations
  • discrete manufacturing

Every year, steel wire and coating technologies company Bekaert needs to renew about 3,500 contracts with suppliers across the globe. To successfully complete this arduous routine task, the procurement team gets help from digital workforces. The result? Better contract lifecycle management and sourcing, and a significant decline in disinterest and frustration on the work floor.

The origins of the project go back to delaware’s DEL20 innovation and co-creation event series, which triggered Bekaert to explore the possibilities of robotic process automation (RPA) for administration. After only six months of initiation and piloting, the rollout has been kicked off in China.

Time for value-added efforts

“Because we have so many suppliers around the world, our procurement team spends a lot of time on the administrative part of the contract life cycle management and tender process,” explains Robrecht Coucke, IT business partnership manager at Bekaert. “They need to capture and compare numerous details about the vendors and the contracts in SAP and the data warehouse. These routine jobs tend to lead to reduced focus and missed opportunities during negotiations. And as contract awards are delayed, the purchase order process becomes less efficient. Our aim with RPA is to reduce manual effort and free up time for value-added activities.”

Professionalize with RPA

Another problem is the way procurement and tenders differ around the globe. For a global player like Bekaert, this is a real challenge. RPA provides a solution: every month, the robot checks the contracts in SAP two months prior to the validity due date, or at a moment chosen by the purchaser. It then runs a set of reports that list vendor and contract details (e.g. material quantities, contract compliance, quality details, unplanned costs, delivery times, number of complaints, etc.) and compiles all that data into one predefined Excel spreadsheet. Once the bot is ready to upload the data into the e-sourcing solution, it informs the buyer.

Buyers can study the information, adapt it where needed and give approval to the robot to submit a tender. The robot will then launch a tender in the e-sourcing platform and set up the participating vendors as per the buyer’s instructions. The buyer then steps in to validate and select the internal stakeholders and sends an invite to all the participants.

Cost-saving, compliance and accuracy

“Automating these tasks helps the procurement team exercise a greater level of scrutiny over their operational contracts,” Robrecht adds. “This allows them to focus on outcomes and negotiations instead of preparation and administration. In this way, we’re saving money while boosting quality. In addition, RPA helps us ensure that all contract negotiations around the globe are compliant with internal processes.”

After a contract has been awarded to a vendor, RPA continues to add value by uploading all the information on the awarded bit into SAP. Robrecht continues: “Every detail about the contract – coordinates, prices and terms and conditions – will be accurate and up-to-date in our master data system, ensuring that POs and invoices are first-time right. Moreover, the accuracy of the master data helps us automate the PO and invoice creation processes, too.”

The cooperation between delaware and Bekaert is boosting the usage of robotics in our source-to-pay process. After only half a year's initiation and piloting within DEL20, the rollout over the regions of Bekaert is now scheduled and has been started in China.
Ton Geurts, Senior Vice President Supply Chain Excellence at Bekaert

Beyond purchasing

Since purchasing isn’t the only administrative process with repetitive and routine tasks, Robrecht sees a lot of potential in sales and finance as well. Robrecht adds: “The beauty of RPA is the ability to implement change gradually. It can be introduced to automate individual tasks and then build up as people become familiar with the process.”

Does that mean that people are being replaced by machines? “Absolutely not. Like I explained earlier, the procurement robot takes care of the preparation and administration, while the buyers can spend time on their sourcing and negotiation tasks. It’s simply ‘better together’ – in line with our baseline,” Robrecht concludes.

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