Central England Co-op makes move into Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bringing significant benefits
Posted by james brindle | Published: 15/10/2021
Retailer Central England Co-op is reaping the benefits of introducing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology into its day-to-day work helping it to build for a more sustainable future.
The project to introduce RPA into the Society’s Shared Services function has been three years in the making and has not only involved the introduction of RPA but also the creation of a centre of excellence to support its implementation and the ongoing maintenance of automation projects.
It has been introduced as the Society continues to look to technology to help future-proof its business and support its aims to be more sustainable environmentally, financially and humanly.
Scott Worth, Performance and Productivity Improvement Manager at Central England Co-op, who heads up the centre of excellence, explained how the Society is making use of RPA and the benefits it is bringing so far.
He said: “RPA is technology that enables us to introduce digital working methods to operate 24/7, 365 days a year and complete everyday data entry and processing steps. This enables significant efficiencies, particularly for tasks which follow a rigid decision tree and are high-volume, labour-intensive data entry tasks.
“It is being adopted by businesses across different sectors and becoming increasingly common in Shared Services functions. We have some big plans and exciting opportunities for how we use this technology.
“There are a number of benefits of bringing it into the organisation as well as helping to improve processes and automate some of the more dull, mundane (but still very important!) tasks which we currently have to do.
“That brings about benefits in terms of colleague engagement and morale, allowing colleagues to really focus on things that add real value to the Society, our members and customers.
“RPA gives hours back to the business that would ordinarily be taken up by a colleague completing a task and we can recognise these benefits in a number of ways.
“It also increases our layers of data integrity and our layers of risk protection so where we have a legislative process that needs to be completely accurate and uniform, by building a process automation we can be certain we are compliant, and regulatory compliance rules are followed to a tee with an audit trail history.
“It can provide an opportunity to deliver projects at a relatively low cost, and support ongoing processes in a cost neutral way, as well as benefits in terms of productivity and reliability as RPA can work 24/7 without interruption.
“It supports our financial stability as it gives us greater opportunities to offer our services to other organisations, grow Shared Services as zero cost and means less risk of fines due to ensuing accuracy when dealing with legislative procedures.
“We can also be more efficient by reducing labour costs if we take on future projects and it gives more opportunities in terms of talent development for our colleagues. It really does have a vast array of benefits though for us a business.”
Two of the colleagues at Central England Co-op who have been part of the initial team to work with RPA, Diane Wright and Debbie Ellis, spoke about how they have found the process and what benefits it has brought to their work.
Diane said: “The robotics process was interesting to be involved in and I was very pleased to be part of the team responsible for getting the first one in action for the business. RPA has taken a time consuming, repetitive process in hand and saved our team a considerable amount of time in completing a necessary but no value adding task.”
Debbie said: “My RPA involvement has been a great experience to date, it’s so exciting to see the whole process come to life. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to the ways that we work and give us time back to focus on value added task and I’m making a big wish list of further processes that could be automated.”
As well as bringing RPA into the business Central England Co-op is also now set up as a centre of excellence for RPA covering three core areas of continuous improvement capability, designing processes specifically with automation in mind and the building of the robotic processes itself.
Scott added: “Those three areas are what makes the centre of excellence, and we want to continue to grow it from here with new roles and opportunities.
“We are working with a company called Blue Prism, one of the global leading software providers of automation technology, and we partnered with them based on the cloud-based platform solutions that they provide for us.
“We’ve had some great feedback from them on the speed we have managed to setup our operating model, recruit roles and create a centre of excellence and deliver process automations in such a short space of time comparatively. It is great for us to hear that, but it is really the three years of work before this that has helped us to get into this space.”
Robin Parker, Client Success Manager at Blue Prism, praised the team at Central England Co-op for how quickly and successfully they’ve deployed RPA into the business.
He said: “I have the pleasure of working with many companies as they build the capability to deploy Robotics Process Automation into their business. The speed and efficiency with which Central England Co-operative have, from a standing start, established their in-house team has been second to none.
“To move from project approval, recruitment, onboarding, training, establish the IT infrastructure and then to be delivering business benefit from their first in-house build process automations in five months is a fantastic achievement. And with a strong pipeline of further opportunities the team are fantastically placed for further future success.”
Notes to editors
About Central England Co-operative
Central England Co-operative is one of the largest independent retail co-operative societies in the UK with interests in food, funeral, floral and property investment.
Owned by hundreds of thousands of members, its over 7,800 colleagues serve customers across 400 plus trading sites in 16 counties in the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
Its purpose is to inspire communities to create a sustainable Society for all.
It actively campaigns for the Government to increase sentencing for violent attacks on retail workers and works with FareShare Midlands and hundreds of food banks, generating enough food donations to create over 2.1 million meals for people in need.
The Society embraces inclusivity and equality and is a signed-up member to the Business in the Community (BITC) Race at Work Charter, while it is also fully committed to addressing the impact of climate change and is on track to be Carbon Neutral by 2030.
It invests a percentage of its trading profit into local communities through its Community Dividend Fund scheme which has seen over £175,000 shared out between 116 good causes over the past 12 months.
Central England Co-op was named Leading Co-op of the Year by Co-operatives UK in 2021.
Press office contacts: Rob Smyth and James Brindle
Phone - 01543 421390