The Challenge

With 470 million mobile customers and 14 million broadband customers, mobile operations in 26 countries and fixed broadband operations in 17 countries, Vodafone is one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, providing a range of voice, messaging, data and fixed communications. Operating in the market for over 30 years, Vodafone understands that its customers need a communications partner with solutions that scale and adapt as their businesses change – beyond standard telephone operations.

Israel Exposito-Peraza points out that to support the ever-changing needs of customers, Vodafone needed to transform its massive purchasing operations and adapt back-end processes, such as Purchase-to-Pay, to match changing business demands. Vodafone wanted to leverage the opportunities presented by the digital age, such as process automation and big data analytics, to get its operations to the next level. The gap between performance losses and determining the appropriate course of action to improve the situation was too wide to ensure the efficient operations desired.

However, driving this transformation is very challenging, with hundreds of thousands of transactions, which accumulate an enormous amount of data. Vodafone annually manages more than 800,000 purchase orders, 5 million invoices and 40 million assets, as Exposito-Peraza highlights. The company lacked the necessary insights into how processes were executed and performing, especially compared to the desired “to-be” state.

Vodafone couldn’t afford to waste any more time, as the company knew it needed to find a solution to not only bring transparency across operations, but provide actionable insights to help address the root causes of its process inefficiencies.

Que Process Mining

With the goal of creating the “perfect purchase order” and achieving business excellence, Vodafone selected Celonis for its revolutionary big data analytics technology: Celonis Process Mining. Process mining is an innovative technology that mines massive amounts of data to reconstruct what actually happens in companies’ business processes, spots the inefficiencies and suggests improvements automatically.

Process mining has been gaining a lot of traction in data science and artificial intelligence research, especially in the recent years. Partnering up with Celonis, Vodafone is at the forefront of adopting this exciting innovation, bringing this new concept to life at a true enterprise scale.

The idea behind process mining is simple: How can we use the tremendous amount of data accumulated in a large organization to understand human behavior, automatically reconstruct the way the organization works and find ways to improve? Process mining achieves this by automatically reengineering a model for the organization out of the data. In Vodafone’s case, it leverages the key systems used for supply chain execution such as SAP ERP, Ariba and SAP SRM. The reengineered model then shows which cases are handled efficiently, and where the organization needs to improve. Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, the system can recommend improvement measures, which basically creates an X-ray and advisory machine for the day-to-day business.

This business X-ray and advisory machine allowed Vodafone to easily build a bridge across the information gap between performance losses and determining the appropriate course of action, as the technology automatically learned how Vodafone’s processes worked and was able to detect hidden vulnerabilities. Altogether, this helped Vodafone’s big data analytics team to transform the entire organization and create the “perfect purchase order process”.

The “perfect purchase order” aimed to improve the procurement process and reduce the numbers of errors in the ordering process, to ensure “right-first-time ordering” for all customers. This can be challenging, given the size of the operation, variety of different suppliers and quickly changing business needs in the adapting telecommunications market. Vodafone used Celonis Process Mining to “shine the light” and determine where inefficiencies and deviations were driving up costs or increasing delivery times – impossible without automation, given the company has more than 10 terabytes of data housed in various storage systems and applications, and also has data on SAP’s HANA relational database management system.

The findings were impactful

Celonis Process Mining discovered multiple variations and inefficiencies in the organization. For example, many of the orders with the longest throughput times were showing multiple deviations from the standard process, before the purchase order was even released to the supplier. Vodafone was able to see the deviations could be attributed to three main causes:

  1. Deviations due to low automation levels, when users need to manually insert values which could be automatically filled by the system if it had a solid set of rules on the backend
  2. Deviations due to incorrect data at the source (i.e. tax codes and payment terms)
  3. Deviations which could be corrected by enhancing best practices within the buyers’ community (i.e. streamlining material categories, bundling demand with desired suppliers, etc.).

When Celonis alerted Vodafone to low automated transactions, the technology highlighted where the company could improve by using robotic process automation. Since a high level of human interaction was still needed in these transactions, Celonis Process Mining was able to determine how robotic process automation could easily and automatically replicate the humans’ role without error and at a faster speed, saving the company valuable time and money.

The Results

The initiative headed by Israel Exposito-Peraza proved to be highly impactful to Vodafone’s purchasing operation. Specifically, Vodafone was able to create 100% transparency, achieve a significant cost reduction and improve time to market, helping Vodafone maintain its global-leader status in the highly competitive telecommunications market.

Full process transparency within seconds

Prior to Celonis, running a root cause analysis every time something went wrong took around two days for each occasion to complete. With Celonis Process Mining root cause analysis can easily be achieved in a matter of seconds, saving 48 hours per issue. That saves over a week’s worth of valuable time employees were spending trying to figure out the problem with every four issues discovered. This helped Vodafone eliminate errors in procurement, as the company could see deviations from the standard process and intervene. Further, Vodafone was able to maximize catalogue buying and speed up the release of a purchase order to a supplier.  With achieving 100% transparency into their operations, Vodafone is now able to make all business decisions based on facts rather than assumptions.

Becoming world-class by reducing operational purchasing costs by 11%

Through the “perfect purchase order initiative,” 85% of purchase orders are now completed correctly the first-time around without any mistakes, surpassing the organization’s 80% goal in less than six months. With 85% of purchase orders completed correctly the first time around, Vodafone reduced the cost of each process order from $3.22 /PO to $2.85 per PO, surpassing the Hackett Group’s world-class standard. This provided Vodafone with an 11% cost-savings improvement.

Reduced time to market by 20%

In a dynamic and competitive environment, time to market is critical in order to stay ahead of the competition. Through debottlenecking the purchasing operation, Vodafone was able to improve time to market by 20%, or two full weeks.

With the help of Celonis Process Mining, Vodafone created a world-class purchasing operation, improving customer satisfaction and saving the global leader valuable time and money.

Posted by Janine Kanters

Janine is Director Marketing Europe at Celonis. Before entering the world of B2B Marketing and becoming an enthusiastic Celonaut she was Head of Marketing for Ringier's Emerging Markets Division and lead an international team based in Germany and Kenya.

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