Levi’s has scaled its automation program, allocating 25,000 hours of work to a team of in-house robots over the past year.
The company announced plans to reassign a number of “tedious” tasks—from data entry to data validation—to non-human helpers in late 2021 through a division called the Levi Strauss & Co. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Center of Excellence (COE). On Thursday, the division said it had surpassed its 20,000-hour goal. Using 45 bots, the RPA COE team freed employees from performing a number of tasks, allowing them to turn their focus to more strategic, analytical work in IT, merchandising, distribution and logistics.
Stacie Clarkson, senior director of Process Transformation and Global Business Services Governance, and lead of the RPA COE, said the results have “proven the benefit” of investing in technological advancement. “Now it is a question of how far we can go,” she added.
The RPA COE team has created automation ambassadors across the Levi’s business, working with these stakeholders to develop automated processes that help balance workloads and improve efficiency and accuracy, Clarkson said. “We have even more work underway and plan to automate at least 45,000 hours of work by the end of 2023,” she added. “It’s been a busy yet very rewarding year.”
The senior director pointed to Levi’s product development function as an example of the program’s successful application. Among a multitude of lifestyle products, the team creates graphic tees each season. They usually pore over thousands of product codes and cross-reference them using a digital asset management tool to ensure accurate visuals and data. After an exhaustive process, that information is then sent to manufacturing partners. The RPA COE team partnered with product development to create a bot that vets and validates thousands of product briefs, catching mistakes like inaccurate file types or missing visual links. The automated tool flags those issues, allowing product developers to reconcile them efficiently.
“With the bot developed by our RPA team, our team is saving nearly 450 hours a year, and we’re able to be much more efficient and effective in our validation process,” Jonathan Hsieh, manager of product development, said. “While I’m somewhat tech savvy, I never thought I’d be working on an automation project like this. It’s already sparked so many other ideas and has me wondering what other projects could benefit from a bot.”
Levi’s plans to find more applications for such tools this yeae, noting in its blog that digital transformation is a key area for strategic growth. Chief financial officer Harmit Singh called the past year’s progress “remarkable,” noting that the work of the past 12 months is already having “a significant impact on the organization.”
“This year, the company turns 170 years old, and it’s investments like RPA that will drive us forward for another 170 years,” he added.
The Levi’s team officially launched its first RPA initiative in 2017, but began its first bot trials in early 2021 across functions like wholesale invoicing in New Zealand and Australia and merchandise data entry for stores across the U.S. and Canada. The success of those pilots led the group to deepen its engagement with global employees, fielding ideas about how automation could be used to streamline other tasks and processes. “There’s been a noticeable shift in engagement this past year as employees see the value of RPA,” Clarkson said at the time. “It’s exciting to see that culture of innovation take hold.”