Cineplex drives digital transformation with Power Automate (RPA) led by citizen developers

Photo of a Cineplex cinema. Cineplex has over 13000 employees and is a Canadian entertainment company“This is a great opportunity for us to achieve significant results through cost savings and transforming people’s jobs – eliminating repetitive tasks, focusing more on value added activities, and improving employee engagement.”
– Bo Wang, Vice President of Taxation & Treasury, Cineplex
Cineplex Inc. (TSX:CGX) is a leading media and entertainment company that welcomes millions of guests through its 170+ cinemas and entertainment venues. Cineplex operates in three main sectors: Film Entertainment and Content, Amusement and Leisure, and Media. In this story, you’ll learn how Cineplex has begun to digitally transform their business using Power Automate, beginning from one department to becoming an enterprise-wide initiative, achieving:

  • Actuals savings of over 2,600 hours of manual work from 7 automations in production over a 4-month period (over 8,000 hours of annualized savings)
  • 40+ automation opportunities identified and under development with an additional 7,000 hours of potential time savings
  • Increased process efficiency by 92%

 

Meet the Cineplex team

Bo Wang is the Vice President of Tax & Treasury in the Treasury department at Cineplex. As a CPA and CFA, he has worked in finance related roles throughout his career but has always leveraged technology to be more effective. As an early adopter of Power Automate RPA, he self-taught himself the tool and was able to quickly build flows that achieved time savings for his team, epitomizing the power and ease of use that Power Automate RPA provides. Since then, Bo has led the push for widespread adoption of Power Automate across the entire organization through the creation of the Automation Center of Excellence while transforming the Treasury department to meet the needs of tomorrow through automating processes, embracing new technology, and upskilling their team members.

Karwan Abdulkhalegh is a Treasury Manager at Cineplex. He has held several Treasury positions at the company over the course of 6 years. As a CPA his experience and educational background has always been focused on Accounting & Finance up until he was introduced to a virtual beginner coding course about 2 years ago. This was the first real exposure he had to IT. He was then introduced to Power Automate for desktop. This was the first time he had any interaction with an RPA platform, and building off of the exposure from the beginner coding course he was able to quickly start using the available features to automate repetitive and mundane tasks. The more success he had automating different processes, the more he was interested in learning additional skills, utilizing any resource he could to automate more difficult processes.

 

Cineplex’s journey adopting Power Automate

Like many other businesses, Cineplex was significantly impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing widespread government mandated closures over the course of two years. That said, the company used that time as also an opportunity to find ways to simplify processes and look for ways to become more efficient for when it reopened. It was during this time that Bo discovered Microsoft’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) via Power Automate desktop flows and began to explore its capabilities. He started with basic flows that grabbed information from a website and copied it into Excel, but with each use case, he quickly realized the potential value and looked at introducing it to his team.

He paired up team members and had each pair pick an actual manual process in their role to automate. Weekly cadences were then set up to work with each pair to provide guidance on how to use Power Automate Desktop to replace manual steps and assist with any blockers and issues. With each passing week as they started seeing the automation steps they built running without errors and making tangible progress, the enthusiasm and engagement picked up dramatically as the team could see the value and how it could be applied to other processes. They found that people who were more advanced users of Excel took only 2-3 weeks to ramp up and build their own automations, and even with those who did not have any coding exposure could still pick up and build automations within 1-2 months with the appropriate training.

Having seen the benefits associated with incorporating Power Automate and RPA for his own team, Bo wanted to leverage this on a larger scale, so he reached out to Nasir Khan and his team from the Digital & Technology (D&T) department to collaborate and bring the tool to the broader organization.

“We started exploring Power Automate for desktop in the early stages when it was first released and as our team started to use it more, we immediately saw the value as we could rapidly build, test and deploy flows. The key that isn’t talked about enough is the ease at which people can pick up and start building automations with its visual UI experience, while still being powerful enough to handle complex use cases as our users became more experienced.”

– Bo Wang, Vice President of Taxation & Treasury, Cineplex

After the Treasury team engaged with the D&T team, Cineplex started exploring the various RPA vendors by going through a proof of concept (POC) and undertaking the software selection process. After seeing the alternatives in the market, and a thorough procurement evaluation, they decided to go forward with Power Automate. The reason beyond the fact that Cineplex was already using another feature of Power Automate—cloud flows—and Power Automate being the most cost-effective, was how easy it was for non-IT professionals like the finance team to just pick up and start automating while still delivering robust functionality using advanced features such as unattended bots.

“Honestly, my team was biased towards other RPA vendors that had already been on the market, as they had done a lot of work in previous experiences with them. However, we were surprised at where Microsoft fit into the equation. We did not realize how mature that RPA solution was already – especially around unattended RPA bots. It was even better than the other solutions. It was surprising how Power Automate could stack up against two main competitors defined by Gartner.”

– Nasir Khan, Vice President, Enterprise Technology, Cineplex

Cineplex has a philosophy of “The Guest is Why” which guides their actions and decisions to ensure that the guest experience is at the forefront of their decisions and actions. With the digital transformation that is taking place through automation, the entire organization, including the Treasury and Finance functions could now improve and enhance the guest experience by automating manual processes like the ones discussed below.

Let’s take a deeper look at how Cineplex addressed some of their business challenges using Power Automate RPA.

 

Business scenario and challenge – gift card activation

One of the first business processes that Cineplex attempted as part of their POC was automating the activation of physical gift card orders purchased online. Cineplex sells physical gift cards through their online store that people can use at Cineplex locations across the country.

Behind the scenes, gift card activations were a manual process. Gift card orders are managed through the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, but loading and activating the gift card was a separate system. Because of this missing integration, each morning the fulfilment team would go into the CRM system to compile the list of gift card orders that were ready to be shipped and activated. Then they would log in to another 3rd-party system to manually enter the serial number and the amount to activate on the gift card before shipment.

Cineplex gift card

Diagram of the overall automation process

During high-peak seasons such as the Christmas holidays, or whenever there was a new promotion, the fulfilment team could have over 700 orders each day to activate. Before automation, Cineplex would hire part-time workers to assist with processing all these gift card orders; and in some cases, people had to work over the weekends as well. The process was extremely time-consuming and prone to human input errors, especially for part-time workers, which required additional manual reviews by another team member to go through each order to verify the accuracy and completeness.

 

Power Automate solution – gift card activation

When Bo first heard of the gift card activation process, he thought it was a perfect chance to demonstrate the capabilities of Power Automate RPA and provide a clear example of the value and benefits that automation could bring to departments outside of Treasury.

He worked with the fulfilment team to understand the process, looked for ways that went beyond simply replicating manual steps and looked at simplifying steps to make the whole process more efficient. After only 2 weeks working on the flow during his off-time, Bo was able to develop a solution that met the needs of the team. The solution built with Power Automate provided end-to-end automation of the gift card activation process and became a major success for Cineplex’s automation team. Now, every day a Power Automate cloud flow is scheduled to run twice a day that triggers a desktop flow as diagrammed below:

  1. The bot checks for any gift cards that have not been activated.
  2. Then the bot logs into the system to activate those serial numbers.
  3. Once all gift cards have been processed, the bot sends a summary email and logs of all the orders that were activated.
  4. Power Automate also checks for any errors that occur, so that the fulfilment team can focus on just those orders.

Gift card activation flow

 

Business scenario and challenge – manual ticket refund & seat adjustment

Cineplex had an internal web app that handled most guest refund requests, but a portion of the refund requests involved certain conditions such as partial ticket refunds that required manual processing due to system limitations in their legacy applications.

The manual process was as follows:

  1. Guest service agent would log the relevant information about the refund such as the booking ID, theatre, film, showtime, tickets to refund, the amount, and payment method, and then submit an email to the Treasury team for processing.
  2. Each email is logged into an Excel spreadsheet and all data is validated against information from an internal web app.
  3. The log is used to process the refund on a 3rd party web page.
  4. The log is used to adjust the seat count in a legacy internal application per ticket type in the transaction.
  5. Journal entry is made to reflect the adjustment in the seat count.

The total processing time from when the email is received by the Treasury team to the completion of the journal entry could take up to 8 minutes on average per refund depending on the number of ticket types.  The issues that made this process particularly challenging and time consuming included the following:

  • High potential for human errors when initially entering the refund details into the email form, resulting in time consuming back and forth emails to validate and fix.
  • Refund requests are received every day including weekends with significant peaks during summer blockbuster movies and during holidays, resulting in staff having to work over weekends and holidays to catch up.
  • Legacy application UI was outdated and unintuitive. For example, theatre names are represented by a number so to navigate to a specific theatre requires you to cross reference to a list to find the number.
  • Complex set of rules to correctly record the journal entry due to differences in tickets and payment methods (3D ticket vs non-3D, use of loyalty points, gift cards, discounted tickets, premium formats with different price points, etc.).

This process required almost every member of the Treasury team to assist at various times, with certain staff spending upwards of 80-90% of their time keeping up with volumes during peak periods instead of working on their main job responsibilities.

 

Power Automate solution – manual ticket refund & seat adjustment

Power Automate RPA made it possible for Bo and Karwan to fully automate these processes.  They enlisted the help of the entire Treasury team and worked together on tackling this multi-layered process by breaking it up into separate flows. One flow focused on capturing, validating the information from the email and processing the refund, and another flow handled the seat count adjustment and journal entry in the in-house legacy application.

 

Desktop Flow #1 – Email Validation / Refund Processing

  1. The cloud flow is scheduled to run daily and retrieves the email requests from guest services and triggers a desktop flow.
  2. Desktop flow validates all the information in the email by checking it against the internal web app and if errors are detected, they are corrected automatically or sent back to the guest service team for review. Advanced error handling was built to find the right combination of tickets to match the refund amount even if that information was missing from the email.  After all necessary information is validated, the refund is logged into an Excel table.
  3. Desktop flow logs into 3rd party web page and processes the refund back onto the payment method used and logs the refund portion as completed.

 

Desktop Flow #2 – Seat Count Adjust / Journal Entry

  1. Desktop flow reads the data from the Excel table and signs into the in-house legacy application, navigates through multiple screens to find the ticket type for the specific auditorium, movie, show date, and theatre of the refund request before making the necessary seat adjustment utilizing UI automation and optical image recognition (OCR).
  2. Desktop flow incorporates complex business logic for every ticket type to utilize the correct general ledgers account numbers and make the required calculations to record the correct amounts.
  3. All the seat adjustments and journal entries are then logged for audit and documentation purposes.

This process was deployed on an unattended bot and scheduled to run daily. With this transformation, the manual refund process was completely automated requiring no manual intervention from the Treasury team.     Prior to the automation, the Treasury team estimated that they spent more than 5,000 hours annually on the manual refund process and with this time being freed up, the team could now focus on more value-added activities such as automating other processes through Power Automate.

“We had the equivalent of almost 4 full time employee hours being spent on these manual refunds and we would still struggle to keep up during busy periods. By automating this repetitive, time-consuming process with Power Automate, it has fundamentally changed our department for the better by allowing us to focus on more value-added tasks, while also improving the guest experience through more timely refunds.”

– Bo Wang, Vice President of Taxation & Treasury, Cineplex

 

Business scenario and challenge – ticket refunding

In December 2021, one of the most popular, highest-grossing movies of the year opened for advanced ticketing. Guests rushed to purchase those tickets 2-3 weeks in advance, with heightened anticipation to see the movie. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government ordered a lockdown, and Cineplex was forced to shut down their theaters. Their guest services team were left with over 8,000 sold tickets to process for refunds. To ensure that guests received their refunds in a timely manner, Cineplex anticipated that temporary staff would be required to process the refunds for a few weeks to clear the backlog.

 

Power Automate solution – ticket refunding

Instead of manually processing the ticket refunds for the cancelled showings, the Digital & Technology team was able to develop a proof of concept within days using Power Automate and build, test and deploy a production ready solution in less than 2 weeks to reduce the need for additional staff while producing a better result for their guests. The automation completes the following process:

  1. Retrieves the list of all tickets requiring refunds from an Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Retrieves data such as booking IDs and email addresses used to buy the tickets.
  3. Logs in to an internal web app to register and process the necessary refunds.
  4. Logs success / failure of refund
  5. Sends an email to the customer to notify that the refund was successful.
  6. Sends the guest service agents the list of all the successful refunds.

This was the first time Cineplex could scale up the automation by running 4-5 unattended bots in parallel to speed up the process. For Cineplex, this showcased how it could scale up and down the unattended architecture based on demand.  In addition, it proved the power and value that Power Automate had even for IT teams in being able to produce working solutions quickly and efficiently.

Ticket refund process flowchart

“Through automation, we are able to transform the way the guest services organizations are going to work from now on and digitally transform other parts of the organization through RPA.”

– Nasir Khan, Vice President, Enterprise Technology, Cineplex

 

Establishing a Center of Excellence (“CoE”) with Automation Kit

Automation was already in the business mainstream and Cineplex’s leadership team had heard of the benefits it promised. But it was seeing the value they were realizing from practical use cases developed by Bo and his team that made it clear that the organization was ready to embrace automation as part of their strategy going forward.

With automation becoming a broader and core digital transformation tool at Cineplex, they decided it was time to establish an Automation COE. To accelerate this, Bo and Nasir’s teams implemented the Automation Kit for Power Platform so that the use of Power Automate could be scaled across the entire organization.

“Automation Kit played a BIG role in speeding up the development of Cineplex’s Automation Center of Excellence, providing Cineplex a single view across their company’s automation portfolio and showcasing the savings achieved at an organizational level.”

– Bo Wang, Vice President of Taxation & Treasury, Cineplex

With the Automation Kit in place, Cineplex has each of their automations linked to an objective to ensure its purpose is met. The Power BI dashboard that is included with the kit provides Cineplex with a holistic view across their company’s automations, helping Cineplex identify high-value automation opportunities and capture the savings from active automations.

From the time Bo started using Power Automate for desktop back in September 2020 to the initial installation of the Automation Kit, his team of citizen developers had 7 bots in production with 11 automation projects accumulating estimated annual savings of 8,000 hours.

In the short 4 months following the installation and deployment of the Automation Kit, the estimated time savings for automation opportunities had increased by almost 7,000 hours with more than 40 new automation projects that are currently being worked on by citizen developers, demonstrating the success in expanding the usage across the company.

A big reason for the accelerated adoption was that, with the support of Microsoft, Bo and Karwan designed and hosted their own RPA Workshop in August 2022 at the new Microsoft office in Toronto. Karwan took 40 citizen developers through a step-by-step session in Power Automate on how to build a flow that automates a journal entry, which was one of the key use cases for the finance team.  To make the session more practical and relevant, the workshop incorporated the use of Cineplex-specific applications so the learnings from the workshop could seamlessly carry into real-world use cases.  The workshop was designed to develop their first batch of local RPA champions at Cineplex, who then helped drive adoption in their respective teams.

Alongside the RPA Workshop, the Cineplex COE also launched their Process Automation SharePoint site and Teams channels to formally introduce Power Automate to everyone and create a citizen developer community.

Automation Kit screenshots for Cineplex automation projects

You can find out more about Automation Kit in this announcement:  Introduction to Automation Kit

 

Summary of benefits

Automation has allowed the Cineplex team to continue innovating their operations by making jobs more efficient and reducing time spent on repetitive, mundane tasks so people can be more productive.  Beyond just saving time, giving employees an opportunity to grow, share their achievements, and upskill their technical ability through automation is going to help keep employees engaged and motivated.

This combination of leveraging talent and automation has allowed Cineplex to deliver tangible results through more effective processes, drive the mindset of continuous improvement, and shift manual efforts to higher-value more real-time insights and analysis.

 

Overall

  • Actuals savings of over 2,600 hours of manual work from 7 automations in production over a 4-month period (over 8,000 hours of annualized savings)
  • 40+ automation opportunities identified and under development with an additional 7,000 hours of potential time savings
  • Increased process efficiency by 92%

 

Refund process

  • Savings of 5,000+ hours annually while eliminating human errors and providing enhanced data validation
  • Significantly improved effectivess of the Treasury department by shifting the time savings into building more automations and contributing to the Automation COE
  • Automation could be scaled up and down dynamically based on demand of the process

 

Gift card processing

  • Savings of 2,500+ hours annually while eliminating human errors and providing enhanced data validation
  • Removed the need to hire temporary workers for peak seasons and extended overtime during weekends and holidays
  • Improved the customer experience by providing same day activation of gift cards to speed up processing and shipping of orders

 

Summary of benefits for Cineplex from automation projects

 

Looking ahead

Since the launch of the Process Automation Community and the RPA Workshop, Bo and Nasir’s teams have seen a real sense of optimism and excitement around the use of Power Automate and the benefits it can bring.  With the support of Cineplex’s leadership team, the Automation COE are continuing to leverage the Automation Kit to make Power Automate a citizen-led RPA initiative by enabling business process owners to automate their own processes.

Beyond this, Bo’s team recognizes that to fully leverage the power of automation, it also requires the right talent.  That is why they have updated their team’s hiring process to incorporate the evaluation of ability and willingness to learn the use of Power Automate to identify talent that will embrace automation with the same enthusiasm as the rest of their team.

As Cineplex continues its automation maturity, they are focusing on the following items:

  1. To improve its Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) on Power Automate ensuring smooth migrations between environments, monitoring, and reporting on flow exceptions and ensuring continuity of ownership of citizen developed automations through improved governance.
  2. As Cineplex’s citizen developers become more experienced and their use cases increase in complexity, they are looking to dive deeper into other features of the Power Automate platform such as Process Advisor to gain insights into existing processes and discover ways to optimize them, and AI Builder to predict future outcomes from historical data.
  3. To support their developing community, their Automation COE have plans for recurring office hours where citizen developers can jump on and get help with their issues or ask questions, sessions to cover advanced topics and highlight new features of Power Automate, and eventually automation hackathons.

By continuing to build engagement and adoption of Power Automate and harnessing the untapped potential of the citizen developer community, Cineplex is not only making its teams more effective but is accelerating its digital transformation journey as well.

“Automation is one of our key initiatives as it positively impacts the guest experience and the employee experience and drives cost savings. Creating our Automation Centre of Excellence has accelerated our adoption of automation and by empowering the citizen development community, we will ensure that we focus and prioritize the appropriate use cases as we systematically move forward freeing up that critical resource – time. This will then allow the team to focus on more value-added activities.”

– Gord Nelson – CFO, Cineplex

 

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