As the sixth-largest trade union in the UK, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has circa 200,000 members working within government agencies and the civil service. They represent their members on a number of issues within these industries, such as fair pay, workplace equality, safe and reasonable working conditions, and healthy pensions.

PCS also works closely with other unions and campaign groups to engage with employers, promote equality and make positive changes within the sectors. Member benefits include legal assistance, access to a health cash plan, and helplines for issues in both personal and professional lives.


The challenge


As part of their campaigning and marketing function, PCS has an in-house printing facility which is also available as a service to both union members and non-members. As enquiries were increasing, it became clear that the existing solution was no longer fit for purpose and was becoming a laborious process for the two employees who managed the entire job ticketing lifecycle.

A Microsoft Access database had been developed in-house for this purpose, and the process from receiving a job to completion included multiple paper-based steps, with 4 different job request forms and a limitation of only 4 items per form that could be requested. There was no way of amending the details for these jobs – such as overriding pricing if costs had fluctuated or if they wanted to apply a discount to the job – and the lack of flexibility was causing frustration. Additionally, each line item had to be submitted individually – with no ability to group multiple jobs into a single quote – with the raw job data then having to be manually input into the Access Database.

Finally, the team members had to communicate with each other for every piece of information at every stage; from inputting the raw job data, to issuing the quotes, to marking jobs as “in progress” or “completed”, to raising an invoice. This was taking up a lot of valuable time, and PCS wanted a solution that would automate this.


The solution


Transparity recommended the replacement of PCS’ manual, convoluted processes with automated Microsoft PowerApps solution. The first was to amalgamate the 4 different print request forms into one digital solution to simplify the quote and print process, as well as giving the flexibility to add in more options in the future. For standard solutions, once a request is received a quote is generated using Power Automate, reducing the process to seconds compared to the previous laborious method of quoting. Pricing for materials is held in SharePoint, which can be changed where necessary and pulled through to the PowerApp immediately.

The print team are then alerted to the new quote, where they can give it a final check on the app and make any adjustments needed. While the majority of quotations will be ready to go over to the client, the team are given the power to utilise their many years of print experience and override the quotation if necessary; for instance, if they know of a way to reduce costs for the customer by changing the paper size the job will be printed on. This gives the team the flexibility they were previously lacking.

If the print team is happy with the quotation the job will be sent to print at the tap of button. The app tracks the progress of the job and sends an automated email to the customer when it is ready to be shipped or collected by them. Additionally, once the job is completed a spreadsheet is automatically populated with all the information and sent to finance, who can then send out for invoicing. The app can also generate financial reports, giving the business “at-a-glance” visibility into their income and expenditure.

Secondly, Transparity created a job tracking dashboard for PCS’ Print Centre Manager, complete with a number of enterprise-grade features designed to give better visibility across live jobs. Using the dashboard, the manager can see how all live jobs are progressing, as well as more granular information such as who added the job, when it was received, and how long it’s been at a particular stage of the process. It also gives special privileges to the manager alone, allowing them to override requotes and change statuses.

The final app built for PCS was to enable them to offer printing services to third parties who aren’t in their member database. It works in the same way as the first app, allowing staff to quote in the same way with a familiar app.


The outcome


PCS now have a solution for managing their print jobs that is more flexible and much easier for the team to use. The use of automation streamlines processes from end-to-end, from the moment the request is received to the stage where the invoice is sent. This saves the organisation a lot of time, both in terms of generating the quotes and getting the items printed, and also negating the need for team members to have to email each other about every item. The Print Manager also has better control and visibility over jobs, and the entire team now has flexibility to adjust parameters where needed. This allows them to better support their customers’ needs more quickly.

PCS are also able to dispose of their legacy Microsoft Access database, as all data is now held in SharePoint and pulled through to the PowerApp in a few clicks. This not only eliminates the need to “double type” everything but is much more secure and eliminates user error. Best of all, the solution the underlying technology is included within PCS’s Microsoft licensing, making it extremely cost effective.


“PCS required a bespoke solution utilising PowerApps. From the point of engagement and throughout the project Transparity took time to understand our requirements, build and develop these requests and produce an excellent solution for us. We are very impressed with the final product and how it was delivered.”
Andrew Simpson, Head of IT at PCS

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