Australian independent grocer automates with RPA

Enables key staff to focus on growing the business as well as managing day-to-day finance operations.

Independent fresh food chain Harris Farm Markets has rolled out its first RPA (robotic process automation) projects in conjunction with Sherpa Works and UiPath.

With 26 stores already and 3000 staff across New South Wales and Queensland, the family-owned business is poised for major growth with four new locations opening in the next 12 months.

To enable key staff to focus on growing the business as well as managing day-to-day finance operations, the company’s CFO, James Williamson, brought in Sherpa Works to identify processes in the finance department that could be automated.

The broader objective was to prove the use case of RPA in the Finance department before championing the initiative across the rest of the business.

“The process began with a Discovery Report,” explained David Barlow, Co-founder of Sherpa Works. “Matt (Skinner, Co-founder & CTO) and I get the buy-in of the executive team and then spend time with the frontline staff to understand their processes. After “buddying up” with these Subject Matter Experts at Harris Farm Markets we identified over 20 processes fit for automation with Robotic Process Automation. The report also covered how best to structure the investment, the estimated pay-back period, and other meaningful business outcomes.”

Harris Farm Markets picked eight of these processes to automate initially, ranging from processing concession store charges and invoices, data refreshes, warehouse and price reporting, recharges, and the like.

Winnie Wen, senior accountant at Harris Farm said the impact the RPA project has had on her day.

“I used to spend my mornings doing invoices and stock journals, but now the bots do them. Instead of spending time producing the reports I can now spend that time analysing and digging into the data the bots give me,” she said. “This means I can add more insight for our teams, telling them which lines are most profitable for example. It not only saves time it also cuts down on errors as we’re not manually typing data into the system, so I certainly have more trust in our reports now.”

Harris Farm Markets not only sells its own produce, it also sub-leases areas of its stores to tenants, who sell their own produce. Sales going through the tills used to be put into Excel files.

Financial Controller, Josh Banks, said that the main benefits of the RPA project so far have been time saving and accuracy of information. “We’ve saved a lot of time, but this is just the beginning and we look forward to using RPA more in the future. We have plans for payroll, pay awards, more journal stuff, as well as accounts payable. The possibilities are endless.”

Another member of the accounts team compiles and sends out daily trading information to the leadership team and store management, including reports on the performance of seasonal product categories and promotional activities.

These reports, which are now produced entirely by bots, help foster competition between stores and drive sales. Having these processes automated enables the Finance team to provide more relevant information to the business much more quickly, and accurately. As they don’t have to collate the data by hand it also gives the team more time to analyse the information first and suggest areas for improvement.

The most recent project with Sherpa Works, and the first outside the Finance department, came about when the business switched to a new Human Resources Information System (HRIS).



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