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DIGITISATION OPENS DOOR

Author : Tim Fryer

27 January 2012

The Co-operative Group is building a 14 storey HQ in Manchester. Had it not been for its move to ‘less paper’ practices then a further two storeys would have had to be built to accommodate the paper generated by the organisation – an expensive filing cabinet! Tim Fryer went to see the project in action.

Indexing Team


THE NEW HEADQUARTERS IS DUE FOR COMPLETION in September 2012 and will house the majority of the Co-operative Group’s (The Co-operative) central operations. We occupy 1.1m sq ft of office space in Manchester city centre, of which about 650,000 sq ft has been identified as space currently occupied by colleagues from all of our family of businesses and which will be consolidated through various space efficiency initiatives into our 326,000 sq ft new head office. However, for all that the calculation on paper usage and storage makes for a compelling financial argument in terms of the size of the new building, this was not the original driver for the document lifecycle programme, nor the digital mailroom that I had come to see.

Kevin Foley, The Co-operative's Resource & Planning Manager, explained how the programme came about back in 2009. “It started through a print review which we were undertaking with a view to introducing multifunctional device technology as opposed to traditional printing. We soon recognised that a more strategic approach was required, incorporating all elements of how our organisation interacts with paper, from printing, to physical storage, inbound and outbound mail and ultimately, how we behave as a business when interacting with paper medium,” said Foley. “The digital mailroom forms a part of a much wider programme which we refer to as document lifecycle. The founding principle of document lifecycle is to reduce our organisation’s reliance on paper. So within the document lifecycle programme we have digital mailroom for inbound mail in addition to multi-functional devices and controlled physical document storage archives both onsite and off-site, which are all supported by associated policies and engagement mechanisms to drive and sustain behavioural change.”

The document lifecycle programme is therefore clearly more than just driven by finances, and is actually much broader - the inbound digital mail project is one of the enablers to achieving that strategy. In fact digitising documentation is in itself an enabler to fundamental changes in working practices, as Mark Palmer, Area Director of Swiss Post Solutions (SPS), explained: “There is the ongoing objective to allow for the change in working practices, to allow more flexible working. Therefore in addition to the focus on paper storage in the new building, it is also about where and how people work, whether they work from home, a store or from other offices, the driver is to allow them access to the information they need quickly, securely, and easily.”

SPS was the selected partner to implement the digital mailroom, partly at least because of the wider range of services that it offered with the opportunity to develop the solution further in the future. Foley said: “There is obviously a commercial element to this [awarding the contract] but ultimately the solution has got to be right for our organisation. The contract we have with Swiss Post is initially for five years and one thing that we were very keen to ensure we captured was the strategic nature of how the solution could be developed, because once we have the digital mailroom element that then opens the opportunities around process redesign and work flow which we may choose to look at in the future. Swiss Post were clear in terms of what they could do for us by allowing the solution to mature over time.”

SPS started at the beginning of 2011 and the option for digitising mail was realised within four months – part of a structured programme as Palmer describes: “We took the solution over ‘as is’, but in the contract we actually have a phased transformation plan. So it is not that we have just promised to deliver the end service, we actually say how we are going to do that and at what stages we are going to make every change - it is quite clear from day one.” Early stages included setting up and configuring the online systems and moving certain manual functions from The Co-operative in Manchester out to the SPS facility in Salford Quays.

Kate Morris is The Co-operative's Head of Facilities Management Shared Services and is responsible for both the move into the new head office building and acts as principle stakeholder of the document lifecycle programme. She commented: “All of the contracts that we procure, whether it is in this area or other FM areas, are always evaluated against a number of criteria. Obviously cost being one of them but also ability to meet requirements of the project and other relevant factors. In this case the main factor, in my mind, was certainly around innovation.

Being able to ‘be smarter’. I think it is fair to say that to deliver a digital mailroom is not that difficult, but the critical thing in terms of our programme is changing the way the business behaves. We are heavily reliant in the organisation on how individuals behave and, for example, not to print something that they don’t need to print.”

Morris added: “The other point is that the digital mailroom is an enabler to flexible working; by encouraging people to work from other locations for us or at home, regional office or elsewhere, we require less desks and people on site, but colleagues still need access to their documents. So we have space efficiencies to be made there as well. It is part of a very big picture. Our overall target is to have 80% desks to people - 1.2 people to 1 desk, but we are actually achieving through the flexible working pilots significantly more than that in some areas.

An investment of around £250,000 was needed by SPS at its Salford Quays facility to accommodate The Co-operative's work, which in mail alone is currently at around two million items a year. The investment was partly to adjust the facility to accommodate the additional Cooperative staff, but also to upgrade SPS’ IT infrastructure which included brand new Kofax 9 and VM servers and upgrades of all software to the latest releases.

At present all mail comes into the Manchester complex where the physical mailroom is still located. The mail is opened, sorted and then transferred over to Salford Quays where it is scanned. Then it is delivered back through electronic means, although it is not simply replicating an email system as this would only transfer storage problems from being paperbased (full up filing cabinets) to electronic (clogged up email servers).

The Co-operative staff now receive their mail using SPS' web-based Digital Mailroom solution which provides hosted access to images and data within a secure environment. This allows a user to view and action an image whilst also recording an auditable history of the actions they take. Palmer explains: “Each individual will have a secure log on to enable them to view delivery points within the system known as desks from where they can view and action mail.

The system provides them with a number of actions they can apply to an image, for example in the simplest terms it could be a piece of junk mail which they could choose to delete or a document that requires an action or to be shared with other Co-operative users or ultimately to be saved withintheir own document storage system, which from a compliance point of view is fantastic as it provides an historic record for each inbound piece of mail, telling The Cooperative who got it, if they read it, what they did with it, and ultimately where they stored the
image.”

There has been extensive consultation with all of the departments to see how each would like the mail service to work for them, in part at least to promote the possibilities of the document lifecycle programme. Each department may have different approaches to tackling administration duties regarding both physical and digitised mail, the latter still being rolled out to a number of departments.

Currently there is still more physical mail being delivered than is being scanned, but as departments are rolled out this will reach a tipping point for the incoming mail operation to move to Salford Quays, to speed that end of the operation. Already the SLA for physical mail delivery internally – after mail deliveries starting at 6.30am and subsequent sorting – is to start at 8.30am. This means that some people may get their mail within ten minutes or within an hour depending where they fit on the mail round. The SLA for scanned mail delivery is also 8.30am, but this only requires the click of a button and delivery is almost instantaneous – so adding the scanning processes is actually resulting in people receiving their mail earlier, and is usually available before they start work.

Morris’ Workplace Services team will be first to move into the new HQ in September to prepare the building for everyone else, with all other departments moving in a phased operation lasting three months. Moving into the new building has allowed Morris to take a look at the provision of other FM services. “It has thrown all of our services into the air for review as to how they are going to operate,” commented Morris. “Catering is a good one to talk about because we were actually discussing the kind of meal offer we are going to have in the new head office 12 months ago, because what we needed to do was create an environment in the kitchen and serving areas which met that offer. So we were very fortunate from the point of view of an FM function as we were right there at the design stage to create something that is workable. Most FM functions inherit buildings and then have to make it work, but we are not in that situation – we are designing the operation from scratch.”

Incumbent catering supplier Sodexo, who remain preferred supplier after a tender process, helped in the design of the new facilities. “Another example would be our cleaning contractor," Morris continued. “who has assisted us in determining the specification of finishes within the building to make sure they can actually be cleaned and maintained at an appropriate level of cost - because obviously there is a difference between what architects like and the practical operational management of it.”

However, even within the document lifecycle programme it could be that its objectives morph over the period of transition into the new facility. Foley said: “Further projects are currently underway to look at Invoice Processing solutions for the digitisation, extraction, validation and payment of invoices received by The Co-operative.

This is one example of a business process that can benefit enormously from digital enablement and other department specific workflows will be identified and explored in terms of additional efficiency and automation that can be made possible.”

Additionally SPS’ outbound solutions in the areas of document output, customer interaction and electronic delivery of information have many possibilities to further enhance how The Cooperative treat specific outbound streams such as communications with stores, customer loyalty programmes, account statementing, and so on.


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