• March 4, 2024
Old Line = Cutting Edge: The Automation Journey of a Business with a ‘Rich’ History

Despite a nearly 80-year history in a traditional industry, Rich Products (Rich’s) has shown a deep commitment to innovation. The global, family-owned food company was born from innovation in 1945 when its founder invented the world’s first non-dairy whipped topping. Over the next seven decades, the company has pioneered many of the food industry’s most game-changing food products. Today, Rich’s is pursuing a bold digital transformation that includes automating many of its manual business processes.

As a global organization with a long history, Rich’s has a set of tried-and-true business processes. Nathan Cote, Rich’s program manager for intelligent automation, came to the company from the consulting world as a senior SAP programmer and analyst. He said that even before Rich’s began explicitly implementing process automation software, it was looking for opportunities to automate those processes.

“A mentor of mine from the enterprise architecture team showed me how we were already pursuing automation throughout the company,” said Cote. “He gave an example of a three-way watch against a purchase order, an invoice and a goods receipt. I realized, like many organizations, we’ve been automating in many places without realizing it.”

That existing attitude dovetailed perfectly with implementing a formal automation program at Rich’s in 2017, where Cote and his team knew there was plenty of interest and opportunity. In fact, Cote credits Rich’s Finance and Accounts Payable team with the impetus to look at intelligent automation software in a more holistic way.

“They brought us a proof of concept, so we hosted a couple demos for them to show us what they built,” explained Cote. “They developed two bots that were very straightforward, easy to understand and effective. And in the IT department, we decided it was up to us to take it to the next level – to scale the proof of concept. We said let’s not just do this in Finance, let’s look at HR, backend IT operations, customer service and logistics, and teams that are sending that email every week to the same people.”

Rich's Headquarters in Buffalo New York


Choosing Providers and the Role of a Consultant

According to Cote, when the team got more deliberate about expanding the proof of concept past those first two bots, it relied on its own research, including publicly available evaluations like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. Additionally, the team carefully looked at multiple vendor providers, ultimately selecting UiPath.

“We could not have gotten off the ground without UiPath,” Cote said. “The functionality, automation hub, guidance as we groomed our backlog, and support to identify the biggest value drivers on a global scale were critical. The UiPath tools really helped us get the job done.”

Even though the team was pleased with the UiPath product and its results, Cote noted Rich’s partnership with Microsoft and therefore, began exploring the cost impact of migrating to Power Automate. As it turned out, Cote said the savings they would net from the switch, made it worth the short-term challenges. But surmounting those challenges would require help.

Rich’s engaged with a New York City-based services provider named BHFE Solutions. Cote noted that it would not have been able to navigate the migration without the company’s assistance. BHFE worked extensively with Microsoft implementations and its expertise was sorely needed by a team that had worked with a different provider for two years.

Cote cited “co-development sessions” as particularly important, in which the team partnered directly with BHFE developers to work through their backlog and capabilities as they built their automations. Cote also noted that they worked on the most complex migration tasks first, even though they required more time initially.

Cote emphasized the importance of an ongoing relationship.

“There is some informal co-development still happening,” said Cote. “BHFE continues to proactively bring us new features and capabilities that they think we’ll benefit from. It’s pretty cool to have a partner that goes beyond simply completing a statement of work.”  

As Rich Products and Cote continue their federated approach of automating regional processes and seeing where they can be implemented globally, he knows continuous improvement will only happen with strong relationships both within his large organization and externally.