Case study Planet Mark
Challenging automation assumptions
reports for automation
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Project in brief
Sustainability certification programme Planet Mark has gone through a period of rapid growth and wanted to find an efficient approach to support its employees through the process of scaling. The company decided to automate key processes but found that many of the options available on the market were not fit for purpose. That was until it partnered with Digital Workforce. Collectively, both companies embarked on a discovery phase which identified key areas of focus for consideration, uncovering opportunities worth around £100,000 to the business and resetting Planet Mark’s strategic agenda.
Founded by Steve Malkin with support from Eden Project co-founder, Sir Tim Smit KBE in 2013, Planet Mark is a sustainability certification programme that helps businesses with their sustainability goals to create meaningful change, certify their achievements and reach net zero. Its aim is to make Planet Mark the most recognisable sign of progress in sustainability, globally uniting talent, technology and nature, transforming communities and halting the climate crisis.
Since launching it has certified more than 800 organisations across sectors including fashion, manufacturing, professional and business services, real estate, finance, hospitality, retail and engineering. It currently employs 70 staff, including 20 analysts.
Challenge – Needing a way to scale efficiently
With more and more businesses committing to improving their environmental impact, the need for accurate ways of measuring and reporting has grown exponentially. For Planet Mark, that has meant a period of sustained expansion.
While this has demonstrated that the company’s approach is the right one, it has put a strain on existing resources, and highlighted the need to find a way to scale efficiently that allowed Planet Mark to continue to deliver high levels of service to an expanding member base while managing resources.
“It became quite apparent that, if we were to meet the needs of our members, we would have to undergo a significant digital transformation, ”
Head of digital, Planet Mark
“Our stock in trade is carbon measurement, which can be quite complex. To scale it with human analysts simply wasn’t feasible from a cost perspective.
What the company needed was a way to take out as much of the manual work as possible, so that the analysts could focus on the more complicated tasks. At the time, much of the work Planet Mark’s team carried out was to crunch data, provided by its members, using what Saldanha described as “rudimentary tools, such as Excel.”
It became apparent that there were two key parts to the project – building a new database and analytical reporting, and then improving the speed through which data is collected from the analysts and uploaded to the database.
“The database and reporting were relatively straightforward,” said Saldanha. “The number crunching, less so. But that still left a chunk in the middle which needed to be tackled. This left a gap, and it became apparent that automation could help significantly.”
Solution – Finding a partner in the sweet spot
At first glance, this would have appeared straightforward, with several carbon measurement tools available in the market. As Saldanha discovered, however, none suited Planet Mark’s needs.
“When you’re digitalising processes that are unique to your own organisation, they never truly connect with an off-the-shelf interface, so it quickly became clear we were going to need to build something.”
Head of digital, Planet Mark
To help, Saldanha and the team started looking at robotic process automation to support the analyst team and free them up to focus on more value-added tasks. Initial research served only to confirm their perceptions of RPA: that implementation demanded significant upfront investment, and it was dominated by the ‘Big Four’ professional service firms and a handful of major IT consultancies, all of which had a chequered history. The only alternative seemed to be start-ups with little or no proof of having carried out implementations themselves.
Saldanha said “I was prepared to have my assumptions challenged, and I was aware that RPA has been around for a while, the technology itself is more stable, and there’s a greater awareness of what it can and can’t do. The problem was finding a partner that matched our needs.”
Then he found Digital Workforce. “Digital Workforce hit the sweet spot of our demands,” Saldanha said. “The company wasn’t too large, nor too small, with clear evidence that it had completed implementations similar to ours.”
This early impression was sealed when Saldanha spoke with Leon Stafford, Digital Workforce’s UK country manager. “Quite often, you get a junior or less experienced sales executive, who really only knows how to push the product. One thing that stood out when speaking to Leon and the team was that they were only interested in working out what was best for us, not their bonuses.”
The other thing that won Saldanha over was Digital Workforce’s platform agnostic approach. “There are always multiple opinions about software. I’ve got to be able to sell a solution internally, and that can mean challenging preconceived notions of the right sort of technology.
“When choosing an automation partner, we didn’t want to get pushed into one particular type of tool but be able to choose exactly what worked for us.”
Head of digital, Planet Mark
These types of conversations extended throughout the initial engagement, which took the form of a discovery exercise.
“We needed to act quickly, but we also needed to make sure we knew what was possible, and what would work. The Digital Workforce team were focused on helping us find the right way for us, and in conducting that discovery process, we’re now in a better position to identify what we need to do.”
The discovery phase itself, or initial assessment project, started with an initial walk-through of the Planet Mark Business Certification Process. This revealed several areas which could potentially benefit from automation.
- Detecting data discrepancies, for instance exceptional year-on-year increases/decreases
- Highlighting common and recurring mistakes, such as incorrect data formats
- Applying specific rules/transformations to help accelerate processes and/or make them more reliable
- Automating copy-pasting of data
- Extracting relevant data from evidence (such as invoices) submitted by customers as part of the certification processes
These opportunities were then investigated in more detail, with a full review of the end-to-end processes and a business case analysis to determine how feasible and, most importantly, how valuable automating the areas would be. From here, a roadmap was developed which gave guidance on how to automate the various sub-topics that made up the opportunities.
Upon completion of the assessment project, Planet Mark estimated that it could automate in the region of 1000 reports, with a business value of around £100,000.
Results and the future – Laying the groundwork for implementation success
The discovery phase was so successful, it actually delayed the implementation of automation in the business. “It might seem a bit odd, but the discovery phase was so thorough, it prompted us to not only consider the technology we needed, but actually to look at our strategy and how automation can help us achieve our goals.”
Those questions even cover Planet Mark’s core offering, how it measures. “We’re in the process of realigning ourselves to support our members tackle net zero,” Saldanha explained. “It’s a bit of a shift for us, which means looking at the problem of how we scale more efficiently in a new light.”
When the implementation does take place, Planet Mark will be confident in the foundations it has built, thanks to its partnership with Digital Workforce. “Leon and the team have given us sound advice, guiding us in what not to do as much as what to do. What’s more, they’re quite happy to wait before heading towards deployment. There has been none of the heavy pushing into decision-making you can get from some suppliers, which has been a strong positive element throughout our relationship. It’s rare to find companies that take that mature attitude, so when you do, you want to keep working with them.”