Viewing archives for Business Growth

Cyber Security is a leadership challenge

These days nearly half of all firms face some kind of Cyber Security attack. The usual response is to insist that it’s the IT team’s problem. In our experience, however, it’s the Board’s responsibility. This short video explains how you can quickly educate yourself about Cyber Security and how Freeman Clarke can help.

Visit our Cyber Security  knowledge centre which includes more content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How to get Cyber Security on the Board agenda

Cybercrime is a clear and present danger to mid-market companies. Here’s how to get your executive team to make it a priority

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Three steps to online B2C: How to create a new channel

High street retail will recover, but spend may never quite return to previous levels. Restaurants and hotels will re-open, but it may be years before business is fully restored.

In the meantime, consumers are buying online like never before, online purchasing has increased by some 50% to 75%. Many consumers have adopted online for the first time, and, of course, many will retain this new habit forever. The SARS outbreak of 2003 changed consumer behaviours in Asia permanently; Covid-19 will do the same throughout the world.

So all consumer products businesses must ask themselves the question: how do I create and grow a B2C online channel?

Consider the experience of two different F&B wholesalers the coronavirus took from thriving concerns to the very edge of survival. Pivoting to direct-to-consumer sales seemed their best shot at staying alive.

The first company is a mid-sized restaurant supply firm. When all the restaurants closed, the company had to find a way to keep selling their stock, much of which was perishable. They hit on the brilliant idea of selling directly to consumers after all. The established grocery delivery services were already overbooked, people were afraid of supermarkets, and many shelves were empty anyway.

At first it went well. They were successful with high-profile guerilla marketing, and, while they were used to selling in bulk, it wasn’t difficult to repurpose areas of their warehouse to process individual orders for certain products. They put in place new delivery arrangements and temporary customer service and returns handling.

But within a fortnight they became a victim of their own success – overwhelmed by orders, the website crashed. And in the rush to serve their new customers nobody stopped to figure out if they were even making a profit. Now they’re burning through cash, deliveries are late, and they’re losing the goodwill of their customers. Their brand and the reputation of the management has been genuinely damaged, and their next step is uncertain.

The second company is a well-established meat supplier for high-end restaurants. They too nearly panicked when their customers closed their doors. But instead of rushing headlong into a new market, they carefully (but quickly!) considered which products would be more appealing to consumers and how best to fulfil orders. These guys have seized market share and created a new platform for growth.

These stories are being repeated quite literally all over the world. Some companies have pivoted nimbly and look well-placed to survive and thrive in the direct-to-consumer market. Too many others won’t last through the summer.

The ultimate question is, How to pivot? We’re not talking about stopping the bleeding but creating another long-term channel of substance. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy. But this is a whole new opportunity for the long-term; here’s how to get it right from the start.

Step 1: Understand what to sell and what’s not worth the bother

Many wholesalers and bricks-and-mortar retail stores are creating a new online, direct-to-consumer channel.  Here are just a few of the sectors in which we’ve seen mid-market businesses pivoting in the past few weeks:

The first step for any business is to take an honest look at your products and consumers. Successful wholesalers understand the sophisticated business demands of retailers, and successful high-street retailers understand shopper behaviours. But the online buying journey and rationale is different.

What’s selling right now and why? Where are you making money now, and where would you make money online? And who are your customers, what do they buy and why? Don’t make any assumptions; let the data lead you to the answers. These will be the products and people to focus on. (If you’re having issues with reporting, we can help.)

Look for opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. The idea is not to squeeze every penny you can out of your customer, but to serve them better. If they’re buying a cleaning spray, do they need kitchen roll? If they’re buying pet food, do they need grooming products? Such tactics may seem obvious; after all, we see them whenever we use Netflix or Amazon. Still, companies pivoting quickly to direct-to-consumer sales may miss the obvious opportunities!

This is also a good time to ask yourself what you can get rid of. It’s time to jettison products that aren’t moving, especially if they’re perishables.

With every product you sell, the questions should be quite simple: am I actually making money with it, and is it sustainable?

These are challenging marketing questions, and your own team may have the skills and knowledge. Or you make need external help. Be honest with yourself about the capabilities and limits of your team.

Step 2: Understand how to sell it

Marketing, technical and operational skills need to blend to create an attractive, convenient and reliable engine for bringing people to your products, helping them to buy, delivering, and handling service issues. Establish clear ownership for each function and establish who is accountable for joining all these up.

With direct-to-consumer, every aspect of this journey is critical in how consumers make judgments about your brand. Online DTC marketing skills like SEO, paid search, newsletters, and social are different from B2B wholesale and high-street marketing. Your marketing team may be able to adapt, but they will also need new tools and data to support this transition. Effective integration with price comparison and aggregator systems often makes the difference between success and failure.

While a utilitarian website may have been fine for, say, the above restaurant wholesaler, they will not retain their new customers without an attractive and easy-to-use front end. On the back end, companies like Amazon have inflated customer expectations and simple things like poor packaging, picking errors, unreasonable shipping costs or stock outages can have a very negative effect on your brand.

We can’t stress this enough: streamlined operations are vital to saving time and money and keeping errors to an absolute minimum. Delivery, packing, returns, and customer service are all critical in direct-to-consumer. Each step can make the difference between success and failure. The cost of one wrong delivery, with the subsequent customer service calls, return and resend can wipe out the profit on twenty correct orders.

Front-end to back-end systems may initially be joined by manual efforts when volumes are small. But as the business grows, you must have a plan for systems integration and automation. Customers need accurate product, stock and pricing information; back-end systems must be able to rapidly process new stock; dynamic and intelligent pricing must be automated.

To get live quickly may require much of this to be outsourced, at least at first. Either way, you must always own your brand and set the standards for the customer experience.

So set a realistic plan divided into a series of simple and agile sprints. Ensure clear roles, good communication, and a commitment to jointly overcoming problems. In our experience, success is built on collaboration, fact-based decision-making, and a can-do attitude.

Step 3: Evolve and build 

Creating a start-up within an established business creates new challenges. You’ve got to be smart, and you’ve got to rapidly evolve and grow.

What worked on Day 1 may not be right after a month, and probably won’t be right after a year. Decisions about insourcing and outsourcing will need to be revised to start building margin and to create a sustainable core of skills internally. Third party logistics (3PL) and fulfilment strategies mitigate short-term capital barriers and accelerate speed to market but slick systems integration and automation are the real key to scalability.

Reputation management will become increasingly important. Minimising issues and errors not only maximises profits and cash but it also retains your brand promise. Review and rating tools and aggregation engines can become an important part of your marketing strategy.

But these are mid- to longer-term questions that you can tackle after you’re smoothly taking orders and your customers are happy.

Just remember that short-term solutions have a tendency of becoming permanent, and it may be necessary to confront dependencies on other organisations that can end up being serious risks. For example, Amazon is a convenient answer, but they can be very particular; you may or may not want your brand associated with them, and one change to their algorithm may put your business in jeopardy.

We do know for sure is that online is the key to survival. No ambitious business can ignore the consumer revolution that has been accelerated by Covid-19, and the need to embrace multiple routes to market to minimize your risks and maximise your opportunities.

If you have questions or concerns about your own transition to B2C, then please get in touch. We’re helping our clients navigate these issues right now, and we’re always up for a low-pressure chat.

Visit our Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic. You may also want to look at our Digital Transformation Knowledge Centre.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Business after COVID-19: What will be the new normal?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a historic world event. It is already causing widespread societal and economic change.

Even if lockdowns are relaxed over the coming weeks, we will have to face COVID-19 for many more months.  And new ways to live and work will have become entirely normalised by the time this pandemic is history.

It’s reasonable to ask ourselves what these changes may be and what they will mean to our businesses.

Visit our COVID-19 knowledge centre, which include more content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How AEC Can Succeed with Digital: Infographic

To download, save or print this Infographic, click here

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part V: IT leadership

Part V: IT leadership

This is the final instalment in our series on how midmarket AEC firms can succeed with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Don’t miss the first four posts: Streamline systems to cut costs, Getting onsite IT right, Building Information Modelling (BIM), and Next gen AEC technology.

With this series, we hope to provide solid advice on how mid-market CEOs in the AEC sector can grow their companies with technology. But we’ve yet haven’t touched on one crucial aspect: leadership.

Historically, the AEC sector has not offered careers for senior IT leaders. Instead many companies, especially in the mid-market, have an ‘operational’ approach to IT, seeing it simply as a line item, rather than a source of growth and value.

Often these IT managers are overworked and lack the time to really own innovation. Perhaps they have grown up with the business, and while they’re extremely reliable and competent, they lack the strategic thinking necessary to drive transformation. Or, since they report to the COO or CFO, they don’t have the authority to implement it.

We understand the need in the AEC sector to keep overheads lean. There will be capital for investment in IT for a project, but too often IT staff costs are slashed, resulting in an inadequate digital infrastructure and systems not fit-for-purpose.

We wouldn’t suggest that there is some fundamental problem in the AEC sector. We mean to stress the difference between operational competence and strategic vision. According to what we’ve seen, the AEC firms that really want to grow must have an IT leader who can develop and implement a digital strategy that matches their company’s overall vision.

Freeman Clarke specialise in IT leaders that take ownership of innovation for your company—our CIOs and CTOs combine real-world business experience with technological know-how. And since we work on a fractional model, it’s affordable. In fact, the fractional model has worked quite well in the mid-market AEC sector, with its intense deadlines and varied demands.

If you have questions about how Freeman Clarke can help your AEC company grow—or any other questions about this series—feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for an informal chat.

In the meantime, how a look around our Knowledge Centre: Technology roadmap for growth.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part IV: Next-gen tech

Part IV: Next-gen tech

Here’s the next instalment in our series on how midmarket AEC firms can succeed with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Don’t miss the first three posts, on streamlining systems to cut costs, getting onsite IT right, and Building Information Modelling (BIM).

All our advice about tech and the AEC sector boils down to three points:

  1. Have a roadmap.
    This means understanding where you are now in terms of IT, and where you want to get to. (See our free CEO’s Briefing on creating a tech roadmap for growth.)
  2. Recruit people who want to use to tech to grow.
    More on that in our next post.
  3. Stop thinking about cost and start thinking about opportunities.
    We understand that margins are tight. Still, remember IT is an investment—a way to get ahead of the competition and improve your bottom line.

Let’s look at that third point and consider more specifically what’s coming. Many aspects of AEC tend to change incrementally or slowly, if at all. But a number of major changes enabled by tech are emerging which will radically change the industry.

The Internet of Things. As you know, this is a buzzword to describe a variety of networked, tracked or ‘smart’ devices. It promises endless potential to track efficiency and usage, to reduce theft and waste, and to improve health and safety. Just a few examples of how it may work:

In terms of buzzwords, ‘the Internet of things’ is getting on a bit. Nevertheless, the tech is already showing up in the AEC sector, with a lot more to come.

Drones. Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) are already in use for promotional footage and the like. But surveying is where you’re going to see the biggest savings in spending and time. Drones can collect extremely accurate data—and they’re especially useful for assessing hard-to-reach or potentially dangerous job sites. 

One of our clients is already integrating drones with maps for an archaeological risk assessment. In this way, they’re reducing the risk of uncovering artifacts that might create costly delays or damage something of historical significance.

Bear in mind that drone surveyance will generate huge amounts of data that will need to be processed and shared with the relevant professionals and site managers. So you’ll need the IT systems to match.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). New visualization technologies are becoming particularly useful to architects and surveyors. Clients will increasingly expect to ‘experience’ proposed designs using immersive technologies rather than simply look at a printed plan. And 3D surveying tools will create data that is hugely valuable but difficult to understand without 3D goggles.

This tech is in use for training right now. For example, you no longer have to take a cherry picker off a job to train someone; VR allows for quite realistic training in the classroom—how much weight it can lift, how far it extends before it get top-heavy, how to get down if you’re stuck!

3D printing and fabrication. The fabrication of building materials is about to leap ahead as well. More large and finished assemblies will be fabricated off-site—if you’re building an office-block bathroom, for example, the basins will come pre-bolted to the same board; all you have to do is connect the plumbing. It will be the same with electrics. And more specific items will be fabricated on-site as needed—no more calling around at the last-minute because you’re out of cinderblocks.

These new techniques will drive BIM into the heart of the process and will change the mix of skills and trades onsite. Expect to see more just-in-time manufacturing, less constrained by the weather.

There is surely much more coming to AEC than the above examples. We don’t recommend that CEOs add to their own stress by trying to keep up with all of it. We do recommend asking yourself the larger questions:

Because as we keep saying, there are a few things that you can be absolutely sure of. First, that changes are coming. And second, that IT is central to navigating them. The AEC firms who get this right are seeing great opportunities. The rest will struggle to survive.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part III: Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Part III: Building Information Modelling (BIM)

In recent weeks, we’ve been posting about how midmarket AEC firms can recover and get ahead of the competition with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Have a look at the first post, on streamlining systems to cut costs. And the second, on getting onsite IT right.

Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) is a fascinating sector because it embraces such a broad range of skills and challenges. But in one way, AEC is like any other industry we work with: there’s always some new tech trend promising ‘transformation’ or ‘disruption’.

At Freeman Clarke, we feel that it’s all right to be a bit skeptical about trends. We’re always looking ahead, of course. It’s just that we don’t find it necessary to buy into every prediction. Self-driving cars may be on the way, but in the meantime, we’ll hang onto our driver’s license, thanks very much.

So you can believe us when we say that if you’re in the AEC sector, you absolutely need to be thinking about Building Information Modeling (BIM).

What is BIM?

As with other trends, the definition can of BIM can be vague depending on whom you’re talking to (especially if they’re in software sales!). The UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority has a definition:

BIM supports the digitisation of construction and uses information relating to the asset to build a three-dimensional model. BIM requires all project and asset information, documentation and data to be electronic, which supports efficient delivery at the design and construction phases of the project.

Think of BIM as a 5D computer model. CAD renderings, with length, width and height, are 3D. BIM adds the further dimensions of time and cost. What this means is that you have a model useful for both visualising a structure and understanding the lifespan and costs of its component parts.

With BIM models, architects, engineers, and contractors are planning the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a structure. They can even plan for its efficient demolition, should that be necessary.

Why should I care?

Because the potential advantages of BIM are massive:

At this stage, BIM simply requires the adoption of standard tools that can handle standard file formats. But it will get more complicated. Either way, as with any new technology, it will require an investment of time and money.

Still, CEOs of all AEC mid-market companies need to embrace this technology — and expect their Board to lead this change in the coming years — or they’re going to get left behind.

The UK government is already working on standards for BIM, which will presumably be applied to everything from foundations to the tiniest bolt. The companies connected to these standards will move ahead; those who don’t risk getting excluded from systems and suppliers or government contracts.

What’s my next step?

We believe that IT leadership is the key to adopting BIM — a Board-level CIO or CTO with experience in both business and technology. BIM will become a standard business practice before long, and it will be the key to any number of lucrative contracts. But with the right leadership, you can implement it in any that makes commercial sense for your company.

If you’d like to discuss how Freeman Clarke can help your midmarket AEC firm develop its BIM capabilities — or any other kind of technology — feel free to get in touch for an informal chat.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part II: Get onsite IT right

Part II: Get onsite IT right

In the coming days, we’ll be posting about how midmarket AEC firms can use digital to survive and succeed through 2020 and beyond. The first post, on streamlining systems to cut costs, is available here.

The AEC sector can be chaotic, with multiple projects in various stages from planning to completion. It gets even more complicated with all that goes on outside the main office.

In the past, we’ve seen AEC companies begin and end their jobsite plans with rugged devices. But the temporary office spaces typical to construction sites bring so many more challenges. The sites can be vulnerable from a security perspective, and (as we mentioned in a previous post) it’s critical to have H&S compliance. The networks themselves can be an issue, complicating communication between the central office, a home office, and the jobsite.

In terms of users, the temporary jobsite staff may not be as IT-savvy as permanent workers. A further complication is the sudden rise in staff who work from home, a trend we see continuing even after the pandemic passes.

Even when you get all of the above right, in AEC you learn to expect surprises: our clients frequently have to improvise on-site. One example that comes up a lot: when the site manager has to make a last-minute order to get materials to the jobsite. Often he’ll call a mate, somebody he’s known for decades. They make a verbal agreement, and the job keeps moving.

But then an invoice turns up in accounts payable that nobody recognizes, and now you’ve got people playing detective: who made the order? Who is the supplier? What were the terms? Whole days are lost trying to figure it out.

With better systems, site managers can easily initiate a P.O. from a smartphone. The details are available to everyone, so there are no surprises, and the transaction appears on the next report.

While every job (and every firm!) is different, overcoming these issues invariably requires flexibility, attention to detail, and a willingness to learn and improve from project to project. IT leaders need to strike a balance between data security, the immediacy of the information, the lack of bandwidth at construction sites, and huge files.

Despite all this complexity, sometimes the simplest preparations can make the difference at a jobsite:

Finally, we can’t overstate that IT leaders must get directly involved and take ownership for getting it right. Without a strong CIO or CTO, you’re guaranteed an inefficient jobsite.

If you have questions about onsite IT, or anything else involved with AEC, feel free to get in touch for an informal chat.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Introduction & Part I: Streamline systems to control costs

How AEC can succeed with digital: Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global business to a halt, and the architecture, engineering, and construction sector (AEC) is no exception.

Our AEC content is now live and is proving to be very popular. Topics include 5 key IT points for AEC CEOs, Get onsite IT right, Building Information Modelling (BIM), Next-gen tech, and IT leadership. If you would like to access the full series sign up here.

Our priorities, of course, should be to stay healthy and do everything we can to help our businesses weather the storm. But we also believe it’s healthy to look beyond the crisis.

Believe it or not, we’re optimistic. Despite all the uncertainty in 2019, mid-market AEC businesses enjoyed overall growth. And before the interruption of the pandemic, we saw strong indications that growth would have continued into 2020.

The worrisome trend in AEC was the intensifying pressures on the bottom line. A Deloitte report claimed that profitability would be threatened by intensifying competition, supply-chain constraints arising from tariffs, and talent shortages.

In other words, in recovering from the crisis, AEC will face the same pressures it always had, only more so.

There isn’t much any mid-market AEC company can do about all of these problems. But there is a straightforward way to make your business more competitive: streamlining your systems with a comprehensive digital roadmap.

Two things you can be sure of: first, that the recovery is going to be long and difficult; and second, that IT is central to navigating it. The companies who get IT right will see great opportunities. Those who hesitate are in danger of being left behind.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how AEC can use digital strategies to improve the bottom line. Please feel free to get in touch with questions and comments; we’re always up for a low-pressure chat. In the meantime, we hope you’re staying healthy and productive.

How AEC can succeed with digital

Part I: Streamline systems to control costs

First and foremost, mid-market AEC companies must streamline their systems to improve the bottom line. Here are three places to start.

Project management. It’s a no-brainer: project management is at the core of the AEC industry, and you reduce costs by getting better at planning, executing and managing. In our experience, this is often at heart a reporting issue, a company unable to plan and execute well because it lacks access to straightforward, timely information on scheduling or pricing.

Payment systems. In the AEC sector, we often see inefficiencies in payment systems that drive up cost. For example, a site manager under deadline pressure often deals directly with suppliers, securing a good deal and a quick turnaround. But then the delivery driver can’t find the site. Or the paperwork is inaccurate or lost. Or nobody is quite sure how the delivery fits in with the schedule. Everybody’s doing their best, but the lack of a simple, flexible system creates hidden admin costs, not to mention a lot of frustration all around.

Health and Safety. Many mid-market firms see H&S as a kind of necessary evil. But it’s an excellent idea to reconsider your H&S systems when looking to control costs. It’s critical to have clear, user-friendly processes, systems, and technology for a number of reasons:

In terms of specific software, much of the AEC industry runs on COINS, Netsuite and SAP. These may not be the best packages for a particular company. Or they’re not used well, so they don’t deliver the promised efficiencies. Either way, don’t assume you’ll have to start again from scratch. The idea is to take a careful look at your company and find the inefficiencies. Look for ways to tweak or repair before letting a salesperson talk you into scorched earth.

If you have questions about how to streamline your AEC company’s systems to control costs—or any questions at all about how mid-market AEC companies can get more competitive through their digital strategies—feel free to get in touch. You’re always welcome to contact us for an informal chat.

In the meantime, keep your eyes out for our next AEC post: Getting onsite IT right. If you would like to access the full series sign up here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

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