Bringing innovative value propositions to the market benefits our customers and helps us grow our business. In 2020 we worked on accelerating the time to market of our innovative solutions, and continued to develop solutions directly with customers.
We use around 250,000 roll containers to move mail and parcels efficiently across our networks. In 2020 we introduced a programme to help us better understand the flow of these containers across our networks, using wireless trackers. Each roll container is equipped with a tracker that sends out a signal that is picked up at different points through the delivery chain, such as at our sorting centres or on board our trucks. This enables us to follow the entire roll container fleet in real-time through our networks.
Focusing on digitising the customer journey in the first mile will lead to a number of benefits for customers and PostNL. It'll help us prevent containers from going missing and realise savings in collection, inter-transport and packaging journeys. It will also provide more detailed data into collection volumes, and where and when we collect mail and parcels. This will enable us to more accurately forecast and plan, and produce more precise pricing models, which will help us offer customers an improved service. We will also be able to better respond to customers' delivery needs, by providing them with more information on return flows.
We received 50,000 trackers in 2020, and have another 200,000 on order. Once fully operational, we expect the programme to deliver savings and reduce our capex on new containers .
Robust and future-proof IT systems are vital to help improve and digitise the customer journey while keeping pace with e-commerce growth. In 2020 we replaced and upgraded one of the most important IT systems within Parcels, expanding our data-processing capacity significantly.
Called Atlas IT, the new platform improves data quality, reliability and the speed at which information is processed and delivered. It is more scalable than the system it replaces, with the capacity to process over a billion parcels per year, and is responsive, enabling operational changes to be implemented within hours rather than the days or weeks it took under the system it replaces.
The new software system has also been introduced on the handheld devices used by parcel deliverers, which means we can now launch new convenience propositions for customers. For example, in the first quarter of 2021 we are introducing new delivery preferences for consumers, giving them greater control over the receipt of their parcels. Consumers will be able to tell us where they want their parcel delivered to, such as their home, a PostNL point or a parcel safe. They will also be able to select what happens with the parcel when they are not at home, such as being delivered to a neighbour, dropped at a PostNL point or left at another location.
In 2020 we began working with a number of partners to develop a medical drone service. The drone has a special compartment for transporting medical goods, which keeps them stable throughout the journey. In the future, we envisage it transporting blood and tissue samples, medication, blood bags, or even an automated external defibrillator (AED). We initially received a permit to test the drone between Meppel and Zwolle, and will carry out more test flights and strengthen collaboration with healthcare parties in 2021.
As a market leader in the delivery of medicines to hospitals, we are looking at ways to use smart logistical solutions to organise healthcare differently, keeping it accessible and available across the Netherlands, while providing solutions during crises such as Covid-19. Our ambition is to help operate a safe daily drone service within three years for the Dutch healthcare sector, and the first step is working with our partners to gain experience flying drones over longer distances.
In 2020 we optimised and increased the output capacity at our Houten fulfilment centre by more than 20% on the back of increased customer demand during the pandemic. Looking ahead, we will see an increase in robotised operations at our small parcel sorting centre (SPSC), which will open in 2021 and at our mail sorting centres. The SPSC will help us sort the growing volumes of small parcels more efficiently than our current sorting centres.
We aim to double our robotised fulfilment capacity in 2021, and will introduce a team that specialises on process mechanisation and growth acceleration. And at our parcel sorting and distribution centre at Wommelgem in Belgium, we introduced a pilot using robot sorters. We will analyse the outcome of this pilot in 2021.
At fulfilment, we aim to more than double our robot and fulfilment capacity in 2021. A new expert team will focus on process mechanisation and growth acceleration. We will also implement AI and algorithms to automatise our process planning.
While our shift towards digitalisation increases competitiveness and boosts customer satisfaction, it also leads to an array of other benefits. It helps us improve quality and efficiency across the company, and can lead to greater employee satisfaction.
Throughout 2020 we delivered many cards across the country, including to homes for the elderly such as the one Henriette Roland Holsthuis lives at in Amsterdam. The home’s front-desk clerk Ria and her colleagues are very happy with their mail deliverer. “The moment the mail is delivered is always a nice moment for the elderly, especially during the pandemic. We see that our residents receive more cards now than before. They get them from their relatives, as well as from students from schools in the neighbourhood. Our mail deliverer Marjolein is really great. We are very happy with her. When we received flowers because, as healthcare workers, we are an essential profession, we also gave a bunch to Marjolein. She is fantastic, and she has kept working right through the pandemic.”
One example is the roll out of robotic process automation (RPA) for administrative tasks, which we have been using in our Finance and HR Shared Service organisations since 2018.
In 2020 we used RPAs to process the equivalent of 2,000 man-hours per month across a variety of administrative tasks, such as supplier invoice processing, payment allocation, and even contract renewal processes. RPAs lead to greater productivity and quality, as well as being fast and cost efficient. They also help improve employee satisfaction, as they take over many of the most repetitive tasks. Going forward, our aim is to combine RPA solutions with machine learning, algorithms and voice solutions to help develop more intelligent automation.