Creating customs declarations that are right the first time requires many pieces of disparate data. The chance for error is high using manual processes to input the correct information in the correct box on the correct form. And there are many customs forms, depending on what’s being shipped, the destination, and whether it’s an import or an export.
Portmade NV specialises in customs and logistics throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux), helping companies import and export their products. In an attempt to become more efficient, Portmade uses logistics software for customs forms, but the software vendor couldn’t extract information from files that weren’t structured correctly, meaning that the majority of customs declarations information had to be input manually.
Since Portmade began working with Automate, an intelligent automation solution, the company captures, extracts, and inputs almost all data on customer forms, greatly reducing the amount of manual input and freeing employees from such manual tasks as sorting and printing forms, extracting relevant information, and scraping websites. What’s more, the company has fully embraced automation, with internal stakeholders requesting new processes rather than developers pushing out what they believe the company needs.
Peter Raeymaekers, Manager, Business Analytics & IT, estimates that Automate saves Portmade the time equivalent of over 3.5 fulltime employees. “Automate has proven to be a brilliant application for automating our processes. It has given us the required tools to act fast on customer requests,” says Raeymaekers.
Flexible and Cost-Effective Intelligent Automation
Portmade recognised that its system of importing data from customers was inefficient and resulted in manual processes that intelligent automation could alleviate. Raeymaekers estimates that 20% of its customers could supply most of the required structured data to create customs declarations digitally. The other 80% of clients provided unstructured data, mainly from PDFs. Company officials realised the need for software that could mimic human decision-making and read PDFs and emails, making sense of that data for their declarations without human intervention.
“We contacted some suppliers that were OCR-related and linked to artificial intelligence (AI), as any solution needed to be more smart/intelligent,” says Raeymaekers, referring to solutions that use optical character recognition. “The pricing that came up was very expensive.”
The company was familiar with Fortra because Portmade was using Automate Desktop , a robotic desktop automation solution for manual tasks like logging into websites, pulling data, transferring files, and more. Through Fortra, the company learned about Automate Intelligent Capture (AIC), an intelligent document processing solution that enhances the power of robotic process automation (RPA) with judgment and decision-making capabilities. AIC also includes optical character recognition (OCR) to read, extract, and convert images such as JPEG, PNG, PDF, bitmap, and TIFF files into text for electronic automation and importation. The solution supports 27 languages.
The team at Fortra showed how AIC can capture and extract data from PDFs, generate an XML file, which Automate convers into a readable format before sending the data to another application and updating the application with that information.
Following the demonstration, Portmade purchased AIC and upgraded to Automate Plus, Fortra’s enterprise robotic process automation solution. It allowed Portmade to centrally manage assets across a distributed network, everything from workflows and users to servers and agents.
“With our expanding automation across the enterprise and the addition of Intelligent Capture, Automate Plus became a logical upgrade for us,” Raeymaekers says. “It allowed more simultaneous users to build automation, and we also got more agents, agent failover, clustering, and workload balancing.”
The decision to purchase Automate Intelligent Capture was based on the flexibility of the solution and price compared with competing products. Portmade finds AIC easy to use and readily configurable using supplied templates and documentation. “If we need to change a configuration, it is very clear — without having to reach out to Support,” he notes.
Efficiency Gains Save 7,400 Yearly Labour Hours
Despite a significant increase in volume as a result of Brexit, Raeymaekers estimates the company saves 7,400 hours a year using the Automate solution, the time equivalent of more than 3.5 fulltime workers. By automating previously manual processes to complete customs declarations, the forms are also more accurate by leveraging existing customer data instead of manually inputting information. Establishing new electronic connections to customers is also quicker with Automate.
After purchasing AIC, Portmade engaged with Automate’s Professional Services, which helped users better understand the OCR functionality and how Automate can interact with other applications. “Tasks that we created in the beginning when we first started using the software compared to now after training are way more efficient,” Raeymaekers says.
Users better understand the modular nature of Automate, with the ability to create a process once, then reuse the process in other automations.
The success of Automate's intelligent automation solution has also brought a different mindset to automation across the company, including Operations, Finance, Compliance, and Management. “Internally, people always need to adapt to change, but at a certain point we came over the top of the hill and now we are rolling,” Raeymaekers says. “Employees from different departments are requesting changes/automation from us. The company culture has changed.”
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