Online shopping giant Shop Direct has deployed software to automate business processes without eating into the IT department’s busy timetable.
The online retailer, which has over 10 million registered customers and sales worth £1.7bn last year, is automating as many back-office processes as possible.
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Shop Direct's IT department is working on transformational projects and the firm wanted the business operations to do much of the automation work themselves.
Shop Direct chose software and support from Blue Prism, which provides the non-IT staff in the business with a self-service facility through a desktop interface. The software replaces manual processes and was initially considered as an alternative to offshoring.
Shop Direct has a relationship with Blue Prism dating back a number of years through the suppliers' dealings with Littlewoods, which Shop Direct merged with.
The retailer uses Blue Prism to automate about 20 permanent back-office processes and up to 40 ad hoc. This is likely to increase over time.
Shop Direct can respond quickly to market changes through the software without having to recruit people in the back office to carry out new processes.
“We have an ongoing objective of automating processes wherever we can,” said Marie Marsden, head of credit and insurance operations at Shop Direct Group.
Carol Brown, head of insurance customer services at Shop Direct Group financial services, said the self-service capability is designed for business users rather than IT.
“Blue Prism has provided the technology and we have built our own in-house delivery capability to identify candidate processes and automate them, sometimes in a matter of days," said Brown.
"Blue Prism have also helped to train our in-house staff to be self-sufficient but they are always on hand should we need their support and guidance.”
The software has created an agile operation, reduced staffing costs in administering manual processes and allowed front-line staff to focus on activity that adds value to the business.
Blue Prism software has also been deployed by mobile operator O2 to automate business processes. This reduced the cost of back-office operations and cut its reliance on offshore recruitment to cope with spikes in workload.
O2 expects to save millions of pounds and get a return on investment in the first year, with year two and three delivering pure savings.
In a recent study, Forrester said enabling business functions to self-serve through the presentation layer provides the fastest and most secure means to quickly develop a new business capability.
“Within a governance structure set up by IT, this approach offers a new dimension to the way in which business functions and IT can work together with a clear means of supporting each other," said the Forrester report.
Forrester said there are many processes that can be automated but are being overlooked due to the tendency for businesses to look at bigger processes.
“Many organisations simply don’t know how much improvement opportunity they’re missing. Traditionally, firms have focused on the big rocks in the garden while ignoring all the weeds that choke growth,” said Forrester.
Blue Prism's customer list includes, O2, the Co-operative Banking Group, Shop Direct, RWE npower, Fidelity Investments, the NHS and Experian.