Blog | Feb 21, 2019

Blue Prism Cafe - The Humans Behind RPA: How Loblaw Builds, Trains and Upskills its Team


This week, I took part in the latest Blue Prism Cafe with thought leaders from Loblaw – Canada’s biggest retail group, and delivery partner Robiquity, to discuss best practices around utilizing the talent behind a successful RPA (Robotic Process Automation) implementation. Loblaw highlighted how they tackled the "human side" of the Digital Workforce, how building a sustainable, career training and up-skilling plan - was critical to their initial success and has prepared them for longer term scalability.

This blog will cover the key questions that many others will face when embarking on an RPA journey; such whether to train up internal staff, or go out to the market - where it could be hard to source the right people, and once they’re in place - how to sustain their motivation.

Moving forward with automation

Loblaw is a family business with 200,000 employees and $46.3 billion revenue. As an enterprise that operates in a challenging retail sector, automation is viewed as playing a role in keeping Loblaw relevant and competitive. The company is becoming an enthusiastic user of Blue Prism’s connected-RPA platform – with 26 Digital Workers (advanced software robots) already in production. These Digital Workers are currently automating processes across finance, supply chain HR, central operations and IT business functions – handling tasks that include; order management, reconciliation, email management and double key data entry. Their early success wouldn’t have been possible without having the right people and partners in place.

Finding the right people for an RPA program

For Loblaw, the people, talent and structure behind the Digital Workforce are as important as the technology itself, but when the company was looking for resource capacity to help scale up its RPA program – it proved challenging. The company initially identified the best in-house talent to work in their automation team. Talent retention was important to Loblaw, so they only considered staff with a minimum of 10 years internal experience – and those with demonstrable company commitment. Additional candidate qualities included being process minded and possessing in-store experience too.

However, Loblaw’s internal staff didn’t possess Blue Prism technical knowledge so engaged with certified Blue Prism delivery partner Robiquity to address this gap – where an external RPA team was built to augment existing staff.

Robiquity used its ScaleSafe model, which involves recruiting, training and developing a skilled RPA team that commits for two years, to create a nucleus of knowledge within the business. As well as protecting Loblaw from talent prematurely leaving, it’s designed to ensure a smooth transition of resources beyond the ScaleSafe program.

Much of Loblaw’s early success can be attributed to Robiquity for bringing in the right talent and there are 3 key learnt attributes that others should look for when selecting a good RPA team member.

  • Being technical, but not too technical
  • Possessing some business knowledge - for Loblaw it had to be retail specific
  • The ability to communicate well with both IT and business teams

Although no coding skills are required to pick up and build processes within Blue Prism, Loblaw also believe that good candidates can be sourced from the developer community – especially people with Java or .Net programming skills – as this helps them pick up RPA easier.

Building a long-term career and growth plan for talent

Loblaw’s automation team now has 14 external and 15 internal staff members – proving a sustainable skill base that can effectively scale and support its future progress. In fact, Loblaw believe that RPA plays a key role in retaining internal staff as it keeps them engaged - through a continuous improvement culture of processes refinement. Being a complex multi-divisional retailer also helps keep automation work challenging and interesting too. Team members use both creativity and IT skills in RPA – especially as it provides the platform for them to explore and create more intelligent automation offerings - using AI and other new, exciting technologies.

Loblaw’s automation team’s journey will continue to be exciting as they’ll soon be scaling up to enable 150 automations across the business. They’re also planning to apply OCR, machine learning and chatbots into more complex, multi-faceted, automation-driven solutions. The company is really pushing the boundaries of RPA too by examining how Digital Workers can start managing other Digital Workers. Maintaining RPA’s momentum is seen as key to sustaining its long term success. So Loblaw ensures that its team keep talking about automation across the business - to both maintain interest and get the corporate creative juices flowing to generate new use cases.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, Loblaw are experiencing real success with RPA - backed by a highly motivated, multi-skilled team. When asked about lessons learnt and what they wished they’d known, Loblaw cited three key actions that they believe will make an RPA journey easier for others:

  1. Better educate stakeholders across the business about RPA and ensure they understand what it actually is.
  2. Keep communicating across the business to manage automation anxiety.
  3. Demonstrate to both IT and security departments how and why RPA is safe.