Central England Co-op uses automation to improve shared services work

The society says Robotic Process Automation will improve efficiency, safeguard data and ensure regulatory compliance

Central England Co-op has introduced Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology to makes its shared services operation more sustainable.

The society has spent three years introducing RPA to its shared services – the back office functions shared by different parts of the business. It says it has also created “a centre of excellence to support its implementation and the ongoing maintenance of automation projects”.

It hopes the tech will “help future-proof its business and support its aims to be more sustainable environmentally, financially and humanly”.

Performance and productivity improvement manager Scott Worth, who heads up the centre of excellence, 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.”

He said the new tech would improve processes and automate some of the more “dull, mundane but still very important” tasks. “That brings 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.”

Colleagues will be freed up to perform other duties, he added, and there are also improvements to data integrity and risk protection. “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.”

He added: “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.

“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.”

Diane Wright, a member of the first team to be involved with RPA, 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.”

Her colleague Debbie Ellis added: “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.”

The RPA centre of excellence covers three core areas – continuous improvement capability, designing processes specifically with automation in mind and the building of the robotic processes itself.

Mr Worth added: “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, said: “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.”