Podcast: “So far RPA is what we think about”
In this week’s podcast interview, Jorgen Lislerud the managing director of the Circle K business centre in Latvia discusses using robotic process automation (RPA) as a tool to achieve improved customer experience. He explains that artificial intelligence (AI) will be a part Circle K's future in someway.
Recorded at the Nordic RPA and AI Summit in Stockholm, Jorgen Lislerud joins us and takes us through the Circle K rebrand.
Jorgen runs shared service for Circle K out of Riga, Latvia and Warsaw, Poland. Infrastructure development and the IT service desk are run out of Warsaw. The office in Riga runs financial services, accounting, HR, fuel distribution, planning and customer service.
He is working on RPA and has a program up and running in customer service, finance, fuel and HR operations. The program began under the radar but after experiencing key wins the program has rolled out in multiple functions.
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(The following is an automated and unedited transcript. Please be aware that errors may be present.)
Interviewer: Seth Adler
Guest: Jorgen Lislerud
Seth Adler: From Circle K, Jorgen Lislerud. First some supporters to thank and thank you for listening.
This episode is supported by the Process Excellence Network. PEX Network is a global community for process professionals, business leaders and executives who want to improve their businesses through process and operational excellence. With a global membership of 130,000 plus and a burgeoning global [00:00:30] portfolio of live events, webinars and networking opportunities, PEX Network provides access to experienced process professionals and industry insider insight. Go to PEXNetwork.com to find out more.
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Recorded at the Nordic RPA and AI Summit in Stockholm, Jorgen Lislerud joins us and takes us through the Circle K rebrand, making them a global organization representing convenience and delivering great customer experience. Jorgen runs shared service for Circle K out of Riga, Latvia and Warsaw, Poland. Infrastructure [00:01:30] development, and the IT service desk is out of Warsaw. Riga as financial services, accounting, HR, fuel distribution, planning and customer service. Jorgen is working on RPA with a program up and running in customer service, finance, fuel and HR operations. The program began under the radar but after experiencing key wins the program has rolled out in multiple functions.
Welcome to the PEX Network on B2BiQ. I'm your host Seth Adler. Download episodes on www.pexnetwork.com or through our app in iTunes within the iTunes [00:02:00] podcast app, in Google Play, or wherever you currently get your podcasts. Jorgen Lislerud.
Jorgen Lislerud: In Riga, in Latvia.
Seth Adler: In Latvia.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: Where are you from?
Jorgen Lislerud: From Norway.
Seth Adler: Okay. Which begs the question, you just explained this rebrand to me so that I understood it and you and I both realized why I understand what Circle K is being from North America better than folks here do. One more time for folks [00:02:30] listening, take us through this rebrand because this is a sizable organization.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah, it is a sizable organization. It's a global organization. Circle K has stores across the world. Close to 15,000 of them. 3,000 stores are here in Europe, formerly we were known as Statoil Fuel and Retail but due to the ownership from Couche-Tard in Canada, [00:03:00] operating the Circle K brand, we had decided to brand all the stores in the company into this fantastic new brand Circle K. New for Europe. We just finalized rebranding all the stores in Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. We just started with central eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Poland, Russia, we will spend the next year rebranding all the stores there. In year we will have 3,000 [00:03:30] Circle K branded stores. Fantastic, great locations here in Europe.
Seth Adler: As far as the branding, I said I've been spending time on trains and in taxis and on foot and seeing Circle Ks. It is memorable, the branding, yet it seems updated which is perfect for someone like me, right? That's what you're going for.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah, that's what we're going for. We want to represent convenience. [00:04:00] We will deliver great customer visits in all those stores. We want people to look at the Circle K logo and think great people, great products, great fuel and fantastic coffee.
Seth Adler:Coffee, we're going for coffee.
Jorgen Lislerud: Coffee's great. We sell a lot of coffee. Globally we have far more than six million customers absolutely every day. [00:04:30] A lot of those customers come to buy their delicious cup of coffee.
Seth Adler:There we go.
Jorgen Lislerud: Coffee's important. Not only is it good but it's important.
Seth Adler:Absolutely it's important. I would love to break down then Latvia and Warsaw. The two different locations and what you're doing in each. As far as Latvia's concerned, that's where you're based, right?
Jorgen Lislerud: That's correct.
Seth Adler:First off, why do we have two?
Jorgen Lislerud: We have two locations for one simple reason. Our IT [00:05:00] department is quite big. We work from infrastructure to development to IT service desk and those skills, capabilities, resources we need, there are more of them basically in Warsaw than in Riga. That's why.
Seth Adler:I got you. Okay. Then in Riga, what are we doing?
Jorgen Lislerud: In Riga we're doing financial services, full accounting, HR operations, fuel distribution [00:05:30] planning. If you see a tank truck in Ireland or in Poland, it's actually planned from the office in Riga. We do customer service.
Seth Adler:Okay. You squarely said, "We're the back end." But now you just said customer service. This bleeds us to the front end, right?
Jorgen Lislerud: That's correct. We are on the fine line there. Because they actually talk directly to end customers.
Seth Adler:[00:06:00] As far as the information that you use, the data that you use and the process that you use, how do you make that front end, where you do, hey here we are, the customer, here we are facing the customer, how do you ensure process excellence there? And then we'll work our way backwards.
Jorgen Lislerud: What typically happens is that if you look at it from a customer service perspective, [00:06:30] we have a customer with a question or a problem or request. It might be that I lost my card. Or I don't remember my code, I need a new card. That could be a question. It could also be, hey, I heard about this campaign, how can I get it?
Seth Adler:I want 20% off whatever.
Jorgen Lislerud: It varies from heaven [00:07:00] to the ocean in terms of the range of questions.
Seth Adler:Of course.
Jorgen Lislerud: But for the relevant cases, the most frequently asked questions we have, do you have procedures? We have agent who knows how to deal with it.
Seth Adler:We're at the Nordic RPA and AI Summit and I wonder where you are thinking about implementing [00:07:30] or thinking about at least improving process in this area? Obviously that's a very human skillset. Where does RPA, AI come into your thinking as far as shared services concern?
Jorgen Lislerud: So far RPA is what we think about. AI is there, it will be there. We have data. We have a lot of data. We have a lot of transactions. AI will for sure be a part of our future somehow. Today we work [00:08:00] with RPA and we do have a program up and running and we do work with processes within customer service, finance, fuel and also within HR operations.
Seth Adler:Various different aspects. Let's go back to the beginning of when you thought to yourself, okay, there's this thing called RPA, let me go ahead and find out about it and then finding [00:08:30] out about it and realizing where it could be applied.
Jorgen Lislerud: A few very clever heads back in 2015, September I believe.
Seth Adler:Way back.
Jorgen Lislerud: Way back. Not my head actually. Other heads, they heard about RPA and thought about you know what? Let's just under the radar try to set something up here to see if it works. They did, took a risk. They jumped and they did a proof [00:09:00] of concept basically.
Seth Adler:Okay, all right. What was that?
Jorgen Lislerud: It was within the customer service.
Seth Adler:Okay. Is there anything that you can tell us as far as that proof of concept? What came back that said, okay, we've got something here?
Jorgen Lislerud: I would say that we understood that this RPA software was actually able to load onto systems to pick up data, to change that data into something useful for us [00:09:30] or for the end customer and to work with a process end to end. We saw that it's possible and that was basically what we needed to know.
Seth Adler:Here's the proof of concept, who calls Jorgen and when? And what do they say?
Jorgen Lislerud: At that time basically it was after the proof of concept, [00:10:00] we started to discuss where can we, how can we scale this up? How can we identify other processes? Where do we have processes that would fit into the RPA software?
Seth Adler:Which is the precise type of thinking that you have to have when implementing RPA.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah. But to be honest, in the beginning, it was more like okay, what can we put into this software?
Seth Adler:Right. The wrong way.
Jorgen Lislerud: Rather than, [00:10:30] what do we really want to achieve at the higher level to put a solid strategy into place and so on. In the beginning it was like cool, we can log onto this one as well so let's do it. A lot of learning by doing in the beginning. Over time we did put governance model in place making sure that different functions, IT was involved in a proper way. Basically [00:11:00] today we are still rather small. We have three robots up and running.
Seth Adler:Which is more than most, by the way.
Jorgen Lislerud: They are working on 60 different processes which means that these three robots working 24/7 are almost exploding. We are now at the point where we need to make some decisions, which is one of the reasons for attending conferences like this one, to meet others in the same situation to meet best practice, to see [00:11:30] best practice, to basically understand how we can make the best possible decisions going forward.
Seth Adler:60 different processes, let's make sure that we not understand every single one of those but give us an example of what maybe one or two of those processes. What RPA is doing and the value that it's adding.
Jorgen Lislerud: One example from customer service, [00:12:00] customer needs to block his or her card. Earlier the only option was to call us, now they can log onto the web, they will find a form, they can fill out the form, the robot will pick it up, go into one system, block the card, go into another system, order a new one and then send an email to customer saying, "Thank you for [00:12:30] contacting us, your new card is on its way. It will arrive on this expected date."
Seth Adler: You're making me want the coffee right now for every time I lose a card and have to wait online for 20 minutes. How long did that take? Because that is complex. You're involving a number of different parts of the organization and the bot's doing a number of different things. How long did that take to provide [00:13:00] the bot with the right data so that he or she could do it?
Jorgen Lislerud: For that particular process I'm not able to give an exact answer.
Jorgen Lislerud: However, three to six weeks, depending, totally depending of the complexity and how many different people and systems which is involved. Some process are quite time consuming. What we have also seen is that we need to maintain [00:13:30] all the processes we actually put into the robots. We need to maintain them.
Seth Adler: How so?
Jorgen Lislerud: Because the systems we log onto, they change. Your office package once in a while it changes. We need to make sure that robots are able to cope with that.
Seth Adler: That's why you say you tied in IT to make sure that they are obviously a big part of this but that gets to that thinking. Give us [00:14:00] a couple of more example because that's a perfect one which is, is not direct. That is a little bit more complex and I'm sure folks listening are going to be happy to hear you say six weeks is the longest. You said three to six weeks so even if I tack on another two weeks, two months, that's not bad.
Jorgen Lislerud: And we probably have some examples of that as well.
Seth Adler: Right. Give us a couple of other examples of things that are working, processes that are working, of the 60, [00:14:30] other good examples.
Jorgen Lislerud: We have a lot of customers using credit cards. Our own fuel cards and we also have customers that we invoice B to B customers. They pay these invoices and sometimes, let's put these two invoice together and just skip the ID number or [00:15:00] they pay the correct number or amount but they forget to add the kid number or whatnot.
Seth Adler: They humanize the invoice process.
Jorgen Lislerud: Correct. That's when we have a process executed by the robot trying to match these manual payments.
Seth Adler: Excellent.
Jorgen Lislerud: To identify if it can find the correct amount, it will check the name. If we have a match [00:15:30] then we have a match. If not, then we need to send it to someone who can actually dig into it, a person. That's another example to actually identify human mistakes done by customers when paying invoices.
Seth Adler: You mentioned HR, I wonder if you could give us an example there?
Jorgen Lislerud: What I can tell you is that I believe that there is big potential in HR [00:16:00] operational tasks. We work with payroll and we work with HR administration. Meaning from we hire a person, throughout all changes, trial and expense. There's an ocean there of data moving in different systems so it's something for robotics. We do not have [00:16:30] a big thing going there yet but it's on the list of great opportunities. We are working on it.
Seth Adler: For folks that have implemented to not extreme success or to folks obviously listening and thinking, I need to be doing this, what questions do you ask yourself before you dive in? Or as you're diving in, what's the checklist of things that are needed and appropriate?
Jorgen Lislerud: [00:17:00] This is something that we have learned as we moved along and I'm sure we will learn even more going forward. First of all, it's really important to understand that RPA does not solve everything. When you have a problem or you have a big manual process you need to look into all the different alternatives you have. Should we do a proper solid lean process here? [00:17:30] Is it about integration between different systems? Or, is it actually something for RPA? There are many different alternatives which is again, so important to have these meetings, workshops, discussions with IT to understand their plans. That's a major item on the checklist.
Seth Adler: Meaning, let's make sure not to be excited by the bright shiny object in the room.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: [00:18:00] Right?
Jorgen Lislerud: Correct. Then we also have, you need to took at the input. We work with different business units so if a process should be is applicable for RPA then the input it must be standardized or else we will have to make several processes and just add complexity. If you really don't make sure, if you do not make sure that you have this best possible input, [00:18:30] you will end up maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. And that's all you do.
Seth Adler: Clean data going in, the input is the whole thing because dirty in, dirty out. How are you ensuring that clean input? How are you ensuring that clean data on the way in?
Jorgen Lislerud: First of all, it's important to have SMEs, subject [00:19:00] matter experts, in working with the process. Understanding what it's all about. We need someone also to challenge the SMEs in order to make sure that when we put into the robot, it's done in the best possible way.
Seth Adler: This is a subject matter expert not an RPA expert.
Jorgen Lislerud: To make sure that we not only have the best possible input but also that [00:19:30] we optimize the process when we put it into the robots.
Seth Adler: How do you get to do this? Where are you from? Originally, personally.
Jorgen Lislerud: From Norway.
Seth Adler: You're from Norway.
Jorgen Lislerud: I'm from Norway.
Seth Adler: All right. And you're based in Latvia now, right? Where'd you go to school? University.
Jorgen Lislerud: In Norway.
Seth Adler: In Norway.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: All right.
Jorgen Lislerud: I can tell you why did I end up doing this. I'm a retailer and I'm heading up the shared service center. [00:20:00] This is Circle K is a company and we are retailers. It's a global company. We work in so many different areas, across functions, across borders and business units. I started as a store manager.
Seth Adler: Really?
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah. In 1996 to be exact.
Seth Adler: Look at you.
Jorgen Lislerud: I started as a store manager. I've been working my way through retail sales and operations. My goal in life is to be [00:20:30] the best possible retailer I can get. And then I was given this opportunity to work with the shared service center in Circle K Europe. And you know what? We are in a position where we really can have an impact on how we operate our business. Because we can make things complex and difficult and time consuming for those operating the stores, serving the customers or we can do the opposite.
Seth Adler: There you go.
Jorgen Lislerud: That's [00:21:00] what I really would like to participate in doing.
Seth Adler: You very proudly and with your eyes, said to me how important your work was on simply the back end and doing just that. That's the beginning. You just referenced it again. Through telling us that you used to manage a store, it seems like you still are managing the store in your mind. How is managing the shared services operation for Europe the same as managing [00:21:30] that store so many years ago?
Jorgen Lislerud: Whoa, that's a difficult question.
Seth Adler: Sure it is.
Jorgen Lislerud: It's about people. It's about understanding the business. If you operate a store, you need to understand that everything you do ends up with facing the customer, delivering a smile and whatever the customer would like to get. That's, we can actually apply the same thinking from the shared [00:22:00] service center as well. As a shared service center we would not exist without the stores. The stores would exist anyway.
Seth Adler: Yeah, sure.
Jorgen Lislerud: We need to understand our role. Are we less important? No, because we can really make an impact so we are extremely important. All the people working in the shared service center. However, we need to understand that we, our only purpose is to serve those stores. The ultimate goal is to take RPA, speaking of RPA, the [00:22:30] ultimate goal is to get all the way out to the stores. Eventually how can we use automation, RPA, AI to close the office in the stores so that people can be on the floor doing what we should, facing customers.
Seth Adler: So you can go back to managing a store, right?
Jorgen Lislerud: Yes.
Seth Adler: Happily it sounds like.
Jorgen Lislerud: I'll look forward to that.
Seth Adler: Exactly. Do you urge your team, by the way, to get out to the store level and see what's happening out there?
Jorgen Lislerud: To some extent yes and [00:23:00] we will go out there more and more.
Seth Adler: Right, excellent. I could keep talking to you but I can't because we got the next thing. I have three final questions for you, I'll tell you what they are and then I'll ask you them in order. What has most surprised you at work? And then this is going back to when you were managing the store, all the way through, what has most surprised you at life? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song, that's got to be on there. First things first though.
Jorgen Lislerud: I'm Norwegian. [00:23:30] I have to think it through.
Seth Adler: Go a ahead. You just said I'm Norwegian, I have to think it through.
Jorgen Lislerud: I'm Norwegian, I have to think it through.
Seth Adler: Let's think together. Along the way, what has most surprised you at work?
Jorgen Lislerud: That sometimes everyone is not as excited as myself doing what I do.
Seth Adler: Right.
Jorgen Lislerud: Let's say operating a store. You have coworkers [00:24:00] not as excited about their work as I was. That was a surprise.
Seth Adler: I have the same affliction. That I'm very excited about whatever I'm doing because I just like doing stuff. To realize that I was the one with the problem, kind of thing. Do you know what I'm saying?
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: And then I have to work backwards to where they are.
Jorgen Lislerud: You have to adapt and then sell your story.
Seth Adler: That's it.
Jorgen Lislerud: And onboard people to that story.
Seth Adler: That's it.
Jorgen Lislerud: If possible.
Seth Adler: Otherwise [00:24:30] you're out on the island, no one knows what you're talking about, right?
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: What's most surprised you in life?
Jorgen Lislerud: That's the greatest question. I would have to think a couple more seconds on that one.
Seth Adler: That's fine.
Jorgen Lislerud: In my professional life, if you really set a goal, when I understood that hey, almost everything is possible.
Seth Adler: I got you.
Jorgen Lislerud: [00:25:00] That was, not necessarily a surprise, at least a really positive surprise.
Seth Adler: Absolutely.
Jorgen Lislerud: That make sure you do the right thing, you will be recognized and you will be given opportunities.
Seth Adler: And set the right goal for yourself is part of that.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: If you set a goal that makes no sense, it's not what we're talking about. When you set the right goals you can actually achieve those.
Jorgen Lislerud: That the personal professional surprise. And then understanding the importance of [00:25:30] people in a big organization. To have been a part of this transformation from what I would call the old Statoil Fuel operator to Circle K retailer, that has been a magnificent journey. A lot of people, a lot of great people and we have moved not necessarily mountains but pretty close.
Seth Adler: You [00:26:00] are doing things that other people aren't doing. This is a fact. Now just quickly, you mentioned twice that you're Norwegian and you use that as an explanation for your behavior in your thinking, and so as a New Yorker, I don't know many Norwegians. Can you explain what you mean? What is this to be Norwegian? What do you mean?
Jorgen Lislerud: I don't know. To be completely honest, and I have been so far in this interview, [00:26:30] when I say I'm Norwegian, I like to think through stuff so when you just throw this, what as I see as a personal question, I have to wait.
Seth Adler: Hold on one second.
Jorgen Lislerud: Think about it.
Seth Adler: The separation of the work life and the home life, you do separate it. You do keep them separate. This weave is new, [00:27:00] is what we're saying, right?
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah. Correct.
Seth Adler: Okay, fair enough. Now but for me though, 'cause it sounds like we approach work the same way, I have always, very much personalized my work for myself. I've not separated it. When I was explaining earlier, I'm just out here doing work, come on everybody, let's go. That was the weave of personal and professional. For you though, dissimilar?
Jorgen Lislerud: [00:27:30] No, you know, I basically believe that we are all the same individual regardless of work or at home.
Seth Adler: That's right.
Jorgen Lislerud: However, you adjust somehow based on the situation you are in.
Seth Adler: Fair enough.
Jorgen Lislerud: I would still say that I'm Jorgen in the office and back home with my family.
Seth Adler: Got it.
Jorgen Lislerud: But in the interview situation I just felt that I had [00:28:00] to think about that question.
Seth Adler: Okay, fair enough, I appreciate that. maybe you're the only guy that's thinking about the answers. I'm used to guys in gals just you know, whatever, you know. I appreciate you thinking about the answers you're giving.
Jorgen Lislerud: Good to hear.
Seth Adler: Yeah, exactly. On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be on there. This is a favorite song. It doesn't have to be your favorite song, it doesn't have to be the most appropriate song, but [00:28:30] on the soundtrack of your life, this is one of the songs that's definitely on there.
Jorgen Lislerud: You might like or not, this one. It was probably written pretty close to where you grew up.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Jorgen Lislerud: It's a song by Bon Jovi.
Seth Adler: Yeah, sure.
Jorgen Lislerud: It's Wanted Dead or Alive because I'm saying that because it's a song I've been listening to, I believe, most times.
Seth Adler: Yeah, sure.
Jorgen Lislerud: From when I was 14 to 17.
Seth Adler: Yes.
Jorgen Lislerud: That's the answer.
Seth Adler: On a steel horse [00:29:00] you ride.
Jorgen Lislerud: Yeah.
Seth Adler: Jorgen, this has been a pleasure. We will see you down the line.
Jorgen Lislerud: Thanks, good talking to you.
Seth Adler: And there you have Jorgen Lislerud. Sometimes everyone's not as excited about what we're doing as I am. You have to adapt, sell your story and onboard as possible. True of any continuous improvement. Very much appreciate Jorgen and his time. Very much appreciate you and yours, stay tuned.