Accelerating retail transformation by enhancing operations and empowering employees

SUPER SPAR Blackheath shop front

Johannesburg, South Africa – 6 March 2024: In today’s digital world, retailers are looking for more innovative ways of optimising operations, increasing employee efficiency, and enhancing customer experiences. The rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI) provides them with an invaluable tool to do so especially when it comes to data analysis to augment existing employee skills.

Retail modernisation by enhancing productivity in document management, meeting summarisations, security, and communications has become a business imperative for any retailer looking to succeed in challenging economic conditions.

SPAR, a giant retailer of convenience and food products in Africa and Europe, identified the opportunity to transform its back office environment to drive operational improvements.

“Given our high-pressure environment, we had to find an effective way of streamlining the workload of our project managers and executive assistants who are reliant on Microsoft 365 in their daily tasks,” says Greg Hay, Technology Manager at the SPAR Group.

Optimising productivity

SPAR became an early adopter of Microsoft 365 Copilot and integrated it into its existing Microsoft 365 ecosystem. The pilot project resulted in Copilot being extensively used in Word for document creation and summarisation, and in Teams for efficiently catching up on missed meetings and managing minutes.

SPAR also adopted Microsoft 365 Copilot to assist employees in creating initial PowerPoint presentations to provide a starting point for meeting preparations. In Teams Chat, SPAR explored Copilot’s potential where it has been used for indexing data and assisting with queries about internal applications and processes.

“Our approach to rolling out Microsoft 365 Copilot has been strategic, focusing on areas where the most significant impact can be made. Our current user base comprises 237 active users, reflecting a significant 67% usage rate. These employees are primarily located in our central office in South Africa, several provinces, and some users in Ireland and the United Kingdom,” says Hay.

The implementation has been diverse encompassing executive assistants, project managers, and general IT users who have all been using Microsoft 365 Copilot extensively in their daily tasks.

“A notable use case has been in email communication, where users have leveraged Copilot to improve the professionalism of their emails, positively impacting customer interactions,” adds Hay.

To prepare for the pilot project, SPAR’s training division received licenses in advance to build content. As a change management approach, employees used this content to familiarise themselves with Microsoft 365 Copilot. The focus is to provide employees with hands-on training sessions and to integrate Copilot into their daily tasks.

Quantifiable business returns

The impact of Microsoft 365 Copilot on SPAR’s operations has been significant.

“We have saved 715 hours due to efficiency gains. This translates to 89 workdays or the equivalent of four full-time employees. Furthermore, the 67% active user base of Copilot within SPAR could translate to having an additional 100 full-time staff members. Practically, 93% of our Copilot users say the technology makes them more productive and 88% agree it empowers them to complete tasks faster,” adds Hay.

He says that because SPAR already runs a lean operation, using Microsoft 365 Copilot enables employees to get through their workloads faster than was possible before. To this end, 75% of Copilot users at SPAR say that the technology helps improve the quality of their work and 85% say that it helps them spend less mental effort on mundane or repetitive tasks.

“A perfect example of these efficiency gains can be found in one of our executive PAs. She used to spend four days a week listening to meeting videos, doing minutes, and related work. With Microsoft 365 Copilot, this has been reduced to half an hour.”

An AI-driven roadmap

SPAR has been experimenting with AI in data visualisation and using technology like Copilot even more extensively in its Microsoft environment.

For instance, cameras can recognise objects and SPAR is testing this capability for audits and to visually identify whether certain things are in place, without the technology being intrusive. This would allow relevant managers to monitor assets remotely, whether there is a fire escape, correct signage, and availability of a fire extinguisher.

“Our journey with Microsoft 365 Copilot reflects SPAR’s commitment to embracing cutting-edge technologies to redefine retail operations. By harnessing the power of AI, we have not only been able to enhance our productivity but have also empowered our workforce to pave the way for a more efficient and technologically advanced retail environment,” concludes Hay.

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