How Azure Developers Helped the Co-op Leverage the Power of Data

The Co-op, a British consumer cooperative with retail businesses in several sectors, has always aimed to help communities thrive. It does this by providing food, insurance, e-pharmacy services and more across the United Kingdom. However, as the company grew, its siloed, on-premises data solution began struggling to meet its needs. The company needed a cloud solution and turned to Microsoft Azure for the solution. Not only have they gained efficiencies, they’ve unlocked insights and have become even more able to empower communities to thrive. 

What Challenges was the Co-op Facing?

The concept of the cooperative was created in 1844. The revolutionary idea was that businesses would be owned by their members and work towards a common goal. Ultimately, the aim was that principles should be more important than profits. Today, the Co-op has over 60,000 employees across five major business groups: food, insurance, legal, health and funeral care and over four million members worldwide. In fact, the multifaceted organisation is one of the largest cooperatives in the world, which means it collects and reports massive amounts of data. As a cooperative, measuring member engagement and participation is vital to driving business. 

With all these business groups, the Co-op’s on-premises data solution was built piecemeal over many years, resulting in data becoming siloed. These silos made it hard to gain actionable insights and the group had to rely on guesswork or third-party studies rather than its own data. The setup was becoming increasingly inefficient and costly and, therefore, not serving the community as per their ethos. There was just so much data across different systems and a number of different reporting tools being used. Users were often relying on manipulating data in Microsoft Excel to try to create some kind of coherent picture; up-to-date reports were never immediately accessible, reporting knowledge wasn’t shareable and gaining access to the right data was a constant challenge. 

With no real-time analysis, the volume of data and constraints of on-premises technology was quite simply holding the group back. It quickly became apparent that the Co-op needed a cloud solution to be able to scale, drive analytics and make crucial data-driven decisions. Moreover, they needed a long-term reporting tool that would allow users to access data and report all in the same place. 

Why Did the Co-op Choose Azure as Its Cloud Provider?

While the Co-op knew that a cloud solution was what it needed, it didn’t make any decisions overnight. In fact, the company spent six months evaluating the process, collecting proposals, analysing case studies and reviewing products. After deliberating, the Co-op chose Microsoft due the speed and scale of Azure’s data warehousing solution. They also liked the flexibility and proactiveness of Microsoft; they were there to help and support them in building a solution that would meet their requirements. With a proof of concept in hand, they were confident that Azure would deliver the solution they needed; it was reliable, proven and end-to-end. 

The Co-op had a unique migration challenge to overcome as many of its internal clients used legacy solutions built on old data warehouses. Moreover, they couldn’t afford any change in service while data was migrated between old and new systems. Microsoft pointed the Co-op in the direction of a Microsoft Partner Network member who was able to build a solution into the architecture that could migrate on-premises retail data to Azure while keeping existing scripts unchanged. That meant that legacy users could gain speed and scale without an interruption in services. 

The Co-ops New Solution

By turning to Microsoft Azure developers, the Co-op was able to build advanced analytics solutions in a modern data warehouse. The Co-op took advantage of several key Azure services:

  • Azure Data Factory – Azure’s solution for converting structured and unstructured data from across the organisation, managing data orchestration and using it to drive business decisions. 
  • Azure Data Lake Storage – a single storage platform for integrating large volumes of organisational data, achieving high-performance analytics workloads and storing the data in an easy-to-manipulate format.
  • Azure Synapse Analytics – a limitless analytics service that combines data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data analytics and delivers enriched data to data scientists along with familiar end-user reports.
  • Microsoft Power BI – a valuable reporting tool that combines a collection of software services, apps and connectors to turn unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive and interactive insights. 
  • Azure Purview – a unified data governance solution that helps manage data services across on-premises and cloud architectures.

By leveraging these core services, the Co-op’s new solution is helping them to gain deeper insights and highlight new use cases. What’s more, they’re achieving lower costs, better performance and faster time-to-insight, running queries against data in a matter of seconds. There is also better collaboration across the business as they’ve managed to break down the silos that they were previously governed by; the insurance team have access to retail data and is able to experiment and develop new use cases, from eliminating food waste to optimising funeral services. The solution is making a real difference to the lives of its members and customers. 

The next step is to continue moving their on-premises data to the cloud but to also focus on reporting capabilities and building major company-wide reports that will drastically help decision-making. As a starting point, they have created the OurServie Queues Insight report that captures data from self-checkout kiosks and helps make recommendations on customer queue times. They’ve also created the Co-op Scorecard, senior management uses the dashboard to track performance and inform business strategies and key measures.

What Can You Achieve with Azure? 
The Co-op is helping communities thrive with Microsoft Azure by its side. By turning to the cloud computing platform, the company has gained the ability to be more agile, move rapidly and pivot when needed. If your business needs to remove silos, align strategy and make data-led business decisions, Azure can help you to do that. With increased efficiency, stability and scalability, your business has the power to thrive.

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