In August last year IT for the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) was merged, and Gerry Pennell, who had been acting director of IS for the Co-operative Group as well as ICT director for CFS, became CIO of the single IT organisation. The Co-operative movement in the UK consists of 38 independent co-operative societies, the largest of which is the Co-operative Group. This group includes food retail, which operates 1,750 stores, Co-op pharmacy, which has 360 outlets, travelcare with 370 branches and Co-operative funeral care, which has more than 600 funeral homes. Co-Operative Financial Services (CFS) was formed in 2002 to bring together The Co-operative Bank, internet bank Smile and the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS).

“We had two completely separate IT teams, so we have spent the last 12 months uniting the team and its functions together,” says Pennell. “The focus has been on consolidating the systems infrastructure where we can, and looking for synergies across datacentres, desktops and similar areas.”

There is now an integrated IT management structure reporting to Pennell, looking at running the operations and then working with the businesses to form systems strategy at a group wide level. “The role is very interesting,” Pennell says. “There is a wider vision for the Co-operative organisation, which is very important going forward. This is for a membership proposition that goes across all our businesses and operates on a common structure. It will take lots of IT integration to keep to our membership agenda.”

The Co-operative Group wants to re-energise the membership ethos of the Co-op, and this needs a deeper relationship with and understanding of its customers. According to Pennell, this puts CRM firmly on the agenda for IT over the next couple of years.

"We have spent the last 12 months uniting the team and its functions"

Gerry Pennell, CIO, Co-operative Group

Pennell now has an IT team of 900, who as well as working on infrastructure consolidation, are continuing specific projects in the different business units. For example, in food retail they will be focusing on its warehouse management system, and in pharmacies the team will continue to concentrate on electronic transfer of prescriptions. In financial services Pennell’s team has been working on the faster transfer of funds initiatives and on new pension products.