When Posti, the leading postal and logistics service company in Finland, decided to step up its AI game, it teamed up with Aalto EE to introduce its personnel to the benefits and possibilities of data, digital tools, and artificial intelligence.
The driving force behind Posti’s AI efforts is, of course, digitalization, which has disrupted the postal sector. Utilizing data and intelligent technology to develop innovative customer-oriented services is part of Posti’s strategy for 2020–2022.
“We see that using digital tools and data will bring us multiple benefits in the future. To do that, we need capable people who understand the possibilities and who are able to transform data into knowledge and link it to our business processes so that we can work more effectively,” says Riku Tapper, Posti Group’s Head of AI and Mobility.
We need capable people who understand the possibilities and are able to transform data into knowledge."
To boost the company’s AI expertise, Posti has created a step-by-step learning path combining technology and business. Aalto EE’s AI for Business program was the first step on that path. It started with an online AI course offered for all Posti’s 22,000 employees, tailored to provide initial ideas for development projects to be carried out by Posti’s new AI Center of Excellence, established in 2019.
“We wanted to make sure that our new recruits have a full backlog. Harvesting ideas is an important part of our work,” Tapper says. “However, it wasn’t just about chasing euros and profits. Mastering digital tools is an important skill in the job market, and we wanted to make sure our employees are equipped for the future, wherever they eventually end up working.”
Focus on Business Issues
The online course turned out to be a great success, resulting in over 200 process improvement and business development ideas. The thirty-some participants to the actual program were picked from those who had submitted the most promising ideas for utilizing AI in Posti’s operations. They included people from all levels of the organization, from postal deliverers to senior management.
“We’ve always known that we have skilled people working in production, but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. It was a joy to give them the limelight,” Tapper says.
We’ve always known that we have skilled people working in production, but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve."
The participants were divided into six groups, each of which started working on one hand-picked idea. Every group had access to a technical support person from Tapper’s team and a management representative as a sponsor. The groups looked at the ideas from different angles and tried to figure out whether the challenge behind the idea was real and worth solving. For this, they got input from their sponsor. The ideas were also tested with Posti’s customers at an early stage of the process to make sure that they were relevant from their perspective, too.
One of the program’s sponsors was Arttu Hollmérus, Vice President, Large Domestic Customers, Parcel & eCom, who brought a healthy dose of business perspective to the table.
“My task was to highlight the sorts of problems we want to fix and make sure that the focus wasn’t just on technology but instead on issues that have a genuine impact on business,” Hollmérus says.
Solutions to Daily Challenges
The initial ideas harvested during the online course reflected the challenges the Posti employees face in their daily work. Many were related to invoicing and client reporting where errors in data can cause big challenges.
Another cluster of ideas was linked to the interface between postal delivery and reception. The participants came up with a variety of ways to utilize digital tools to create new services for mail recipients. One example was a smart mailbox that notifies the recipient when new mail has arrived.
The third group of ideas was centered around shift planning, that is, how to best allocate shifts to postal deliverers so that the process is as smooth and effortless as possible. The winning idea came from the frontline.
“The postal deliverer behind the idea had calculated the time managers spend trying to fill all shifts. His idea was a data-driven, easy-to-use digital platform designed to let employees pick their shifts independently, allowing managers to spend their time on tasks that bring more value to the business,” says Hollmérus.
The Work Goes On
Some of the ideas the groups worked on during the program are already in development at Posti’s AI Center of Excellence and roadmapped to be taken to production during the spring. For Tapper, the program’s most valuable result, though, was equipping thirty-some people around the organization with new skills.
“These people now understand the range of things you can do with AI and digital tools and will hopefully serve as data evangelists in their own divisions, constantly looking for new ways to create value for the business,” Tapper says.
AI does not have any intrinsic value in itself, you must understand the context to see what benefits AI bring to the business”
Hollmérus, too, sees this as the program’s key takeaway.
“It’s important to learn to think differently, open your eyes to the benefits of emerging technologies, and understand how you can utilize advanced data analytics and machine learning in service and process development. AI does not have any intrinsic value in itself, you must understand the context to see what benefits AI bring to the business,” says Hollmérus.
Posti has already taken the next step along its AI learning path. This spring, it launched an intensive, hands-on program centering around smart automation and robotic process automation.
“We’re also planning a new data science program for people who already work with analytics and want to delve deeper into data science tools. Also in the pipeline is a data analytics 101 type of a course for those with no experience of the topic whatsoever,” Tapper says.
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