Taking the lead in digital transformation

Anssi Käki, Vice President, Pulp Supply Chain and Tools & Processes, UPM

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UPM Pulp aims to be an industry forerunner in digital solutions. The new Pulp Connect customer portal is the first step in digitalising the customer journey.

Digitalisation is continuously creating opportunities for exploring new technologies, applications and tools for analytics, optimisation and forecasting. UPM’s goal as a company is to significantly accelerate and improve data-based decision-making, with development work in data utilisation focusing on high-quality, compliant, secure and modern common data platforms and services.

According to UPM’s Anssi KäkiVice President, Pulp Supply Chain and Tools & Processes, the pulp and paper industry – and heavy industry in general – has a long experience in using digital tools and data for optimising and monitoring processes at their own production facilities. However, the sector has been more conservative in utilising digitalisation in commercial and customer interactions.

“In recent years, we at UPM Pulp have focused on building the business IT infrastructure to enable growth – supporting our new pulp mill and supply chain operations in Uruguay – and making data available for more general business use, such as quality data. It’s clear that our internal systems need to work well so that they enable us to serve our customers better,” Käki says.

Enhancing operations with AI

Käki points out that due to the nature of the pulp industry – dealing with relatively stable, large material flows – it hasn’t been under much pressure to digitalise the customer interface in the way that consumer brands have been forced to do facing fierce competition in online shopping. However, UPM wants to be a forerunner and lead the industry in a digital transformation.

“Personally, I’m driven by the idea that sometimes new things must be introduced even if the need for them might not yet be commonly recognised. Adopting digital solutions is not only a question of efficiency and productivity but also being innovative. This is in line with our Fibres for the future approach, where we see pulp at the heart of a bioeconomy and the enabler of a more sustainable future,” Käki says.

Generative AI is certainly something he sees potentially affecting almost all aspects of the business – even though the business will continue to be based on physical raw materials and commodities. New channels for business transactions, wider data exchange and smart contracts, controlling the supply chain, and enhancing both forestry and pulp mill operations are examples of possible applications of AI.

Pulp Connect introduces new digital channel

With regards to digitalisation, UPM Pulp is now shifting its focus to cover the entire value chain, starting with customers. The new Pulp Connect customer portal is currently in the piloting phase, with a launch scheduled for this autumn. Käki considers the portal to be a starting point for a digital customer journey based on interactive communication.

“This is quite a traditional customer portal, gathering information – such as delivery documents and sustainability data – in one place, and providing another channel for being in contact with us alongside existing ones. It also enables us to deepen our relationships with customers and learn about their preferences as we develop our digital services further.”

He sees future possibilities, for example, in both parties actively sharing more precise information via the portal on future plans, which will, in turn, help to optimise deliveries and logistics.

“New digital channels can also make it easier to share up-to-date information between other operations and experts besides sales and purchasing, such as sustainability and R&D experts,” Käki adds.

Towards a new information supply chain model

Looking forward, Käki envisions various AI-based tools that will enhance the customer journey – such as an advanced chatbot that makes finding relevant information in the portal much easier.

“Other applications could be, for example, providing real-time product quality data directly to our customers’ production processes, so that they know the exact content of each individual bale of pulp. Or offering more detailed data on CO2 emissions throughout each step of the supply chain, helping customers to comply with increasing regulation.”

All in all, Käki says that generative AI will make it increasingly easier to create tailor-made solutions for different types of customers.

“I’d say that we’re on the verge of a revolutionary change towards an information supply chain model where customers have the power to decide how they want to utilise the data provided by suppliers. Pulp Connect is the first step in exchanging information digitally so that it benefits both parties optimally.”