The Co-operative Group has graced the UK’s high streets since 1844 when it was founded in Lancashire. A desire to be different to regular retailers permeates the entire organisation from its ownership status, its attitude towards farmers and suppliers and even to its IT policy. There are two halves: the Trading Group and Co-operative Financial Services, Ian Dyson is director of IS for the Trading Group, which is the supermarkets as well as services including its pharmacy chain and funeral services, legal provision, travel and car sales divisions.
In recent years The Co-operative has been rejuvenated as a business in part through growth: it acquired supermarket rival Somerfield in 2008 and the Britannia Building Society merged into the financial services arm last year. A large-scale advertising campaign for its food retail and banking services has reminded customers of the non-shareholder ownership and ethical stance that this allows too. As a result, customer numbers have increased and the brand has become a bit of a darling of the nation even remains untarnished by the credit crisis.
A set of 16 values and ethics has set the organisation apart throughout its long history and of late has attracted a new more environmentally and socially aware consumer. The values include democracy and equality for its members who, as consumers and users, can also become owners of the organisation. The Co-operative Group is owned by over five million members from its customer base of 21 million. Its Food division has been ranked the most ethical supermarket in the UK because of its backing for Fairtrade and British farming.
By developing its own team of expertise rather than outsourcing, the Cooperative's IS team has not only managed to keep the systems running at cost to please the chief executive and business; as well as begin the process of creating a new IT environment for the new office; it has also developed an electronic point-of-sale (Epos) system that The Cooperative owns the IP for and now actively sells on the Epos market as a vendor.
"We have the biggest installation of Epos in the UK; we have 3000 food outlets, 800 pharmacies; that's 14,000 lanes of Epos tills," Dyson says.
The in-house developed InControl-Evolution went to market in May 2010 as an out-of-the-box software and licensing model that has already won business from the Day Lewis pharmacy chain.
The CIO 100 panel were impressed with the Cooperative Group values extending into some of the most pressing issues facing the UK IT sector.
“The still do apprenticeships and that is what we need in the industry,” says Mike Altendorf. “But most impressively is the Epos system. They took the source code of a poor product and have ended up with the most successful implementation of Epos in chemist outlets.
“Boots should have been way ahead on this. So Dyson gets a big tick for that. I normally get a bit nervous of IT trying to be a software vendors, but they have done well.”
Richard Sykes argued that considering the Epos development and the easy integration of the Somerfield acquisition that Dyson should have a stronger relationship with his board, he said in relationship to Cooperative hiring former Boots CIO Andy Haywood as a Group CIO.
Jerry Fishenden and Ade McCormack were impressed with the operational efficiency of the Cooperative Group and its IT.
Overall the panel felt that in the cooperative culture of the Cooperative Group where no individual becomes the “big I am” Dyson has shown entrepreneurship, business acumen and technology smarts.
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