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Diamond Logistics Client Story

Diamond Logistics is thriving. CEO Kate Lester speaks about her passion sharing her company’s success and how Freeman Clarke’s tech expertise has been instrumental for Diamond and its clients.

To find out more about how we could add value to your business, Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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.

Getting the basics right on using IT in wholesale and distribution

This is a time of extraordinary change for the British market. Between Brexit and the pandemic, we’ve seen incredible shifts in how we do business.

From what we’ve seen at Freeman Clarke, the changes have been particularly challenging in the wholesale and distribution sectors. There are just so many associated services as logistics, transport, storage and 3PL, each with its own complications and disruptions.

Margins remain tight. Yet the range of services you need to offer is increasingly broad: customers want ever-higher quality and seek specialist support across the entire supply chain.

It is possible to prosper. But only for the most competitive, well-run and efficient companies.

Growing expectations

Warehousing and distribution have always been hugely competitive, low-margin sectors. Now the rise of ecommerce has set new standards in B2C parcel delivery standards that we are seeing reflected across the entire market. There are ever-increasing demands in terms of timeliness, reliability, cost and availability of information.

Service level agreements (SLA) also have ever higher demands as B2C ecommerce has redefined market expectations. The challenge with SLAs is partly adherence and partly demonstrating adherence.

At the same time regulatory requirements have grown more complex:

For mid-market businesses, all of these expectations are not matched by generous budgets! New technology can solve the issues, but the investment costs can be high.

Mid-market wholesalers and distributors can absolutely meet or even exceed customer expectations and external requirements. They just have to be incredibly strategic about technology. They need systems that guarantee commercial payback. They must select the best and most cost-effective suppliers, negotiate the best possible deals and ensure their investments deliver real business benefits.

Start by getting the IT basics right

For ambitious mid-market companies, IT is central to surviving and thriving. So then how does a mid-market company on a limited budget use IT to drive growth and customer satisfaction?

The answer is fairly straightforward: get the basics sorted. If the IT agenda is submerged in day-to-day problems, there is little time to talk about vision!

What follows if a brief list of priorities:

  1. Ownership. IT needs a senior leader who can set strategy, be part of the business decision-making, and maintain a coherent vision for the future. Without clear ownership, expect problems.
  2. Infrastructure. Identify a sensible and appropriate configuration based on your business needs. Remember that infrastructure includes hardware desktop computers, mobile devices, factory-floor devices, etc. Modern infrastructure is cloud-based, so insist upon reliable connectivity and security.
  3. Security. Cyber security is a rising problem, and it won’t go away. Make sure that you have right security protocols in place and that your staff has been properly trained. Remember that good habits start at the top: is your CFO scribbling passwords on Post-Its?
  4. Disaster planning. Disaster recovery and business continuity plans must be rehearsed and ready to go at short notice. Make sure that everybody knows who is in charge of what!
  5. Reporting. Accurate, timely reporting must be available so that managers and executives can understand what’s going on what’s working and what’s not.
  6. Suppliers. Go through the entire list and ensure that you are getting the service you paid for and that the pricing still makes sense. Make sure that your staff is properly trained and understands how to tackle problems. Third-party transport management or warehouse management systems can be effective, though the quality of support and customisation varies between suppliers. Are they still worth your time and money?
  7. Integration. The wholesale and distribution sector typically have multiple internal and external systems. Are all your systems effectively integrated? Meaning, is there minimal manual effort? Is anybody rekeying? Is data available to dashboards so managers can run the business hour by hour?
  8. Negotiate. When dealing with external suppliers, make sure that at every point you have the right price and service level for your company.

Once again: cost-effectiveness and ownership

Yes, we said that already. But it bears repeating. If you want to use IT to succeed in your sector, you must identify who is responsible for each and every IT project. Be very clear about who is tracking its implementation and outcome so that the benefits are realised.

And at every step you need a focused commercial argument to ensure that every last project is cost-justified before it gets authorised.

The future is more tech

We don’t see warehousing and distribution as getting simpler, in fact, we’re seeing every indication it will become more sophisticated and demanding. We’ll see more AI for route-planning, more chatbots for customer services. Autonomous delivery is coming.

Some of these technologies will be costly, and mergers will likely put a further squeeze on mid-tier players. But the best companies will prosper. In our experience, the best the companies are the ones with their IT clearly wedded to business goals, the ones using IT to reduce costs, improve service and to focus (or create!) their own points-of-difference.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (or ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations, helping our clients use IT lower costs and beat the competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

The 6 keys to succeeding in logistics with IT

‘Logistics’ is a big word. It encompasses wholesaling, distribution, carriage, warehousing, transportation, storage and more!

More importantly, each aspect is part of an increasingly competitive market. So how do you capitalise on the opportunities?

For such a complicated sector, the answer is quite simple: Digital. Get your systems in order and you’ve greatly increased your competitiveness and profitability.

In our experience, there are six key areas in which IT is integral to logistical success:

  1. Cost reduction. IT is like any other part of a business in that all investments need a well-defined ROI with a director accountable for delivery. But in logistics, the narrow margins make IT costs even more of an issue. Thus you have to minimise IT costs themselves whilst also using IT to save money, for example through process efficiency or clarity of information.
  2. Automated tracking. The key to an efficient operation is real-time tracking. The tracking must be both internal and external to customers and suppliers. This can be complex, involving web portals and an array of mobile and handheld devices. Plus customer expectations are ever higher. But it’s absolutely achievable with the right IT leadership.
  3. Streamlined processes. To keep costs down, it’s critical to have a seamless integration and standardisation of internal and external processes. When it’s done right, it also minimises errors and maximises simplicity. The focus must be on scalability and achieving tight connections between customers and suppliers.
  4. Flexibility. With logistics, ‘flexibility’ means both expansion and contraction. You must be able to rapidly and efficiently take on new business or acquisitions, be equally efficient when taking down operations in order to maintain overall profitability. Flexibility provides financial stability and confidence at every point of the business cycle.
  5. Disaster planning. IT outages whether due to cyberattacks, some natural events, or a freak accident will happen if you don’t prepare for them. An outage can lead to major losses and lawsuits, as well as reputational damage. The necessary preparations need not be expensive or even that complicated (think: two factor authentication), but they do need to be properly configured and rolled out.
  6. Strategy. However clear your business strategy, you won’t get far unless you have a clear IT strategy to match. That means understanding:

Of course this is a particularly difficult moment for businesses. But we do believe that the current stresses have only accelerated existing problems. Less efficient businesses are struggling, whilst those with better IT leadership are scaling up. These six areas are the right place to start if you’re looking to see how you can do better.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (or ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations, helping our clients use IT lower costs and beat the competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

The 3 key ways to transform your business with technology

The lockdown created an urgent need for many businesses to switch to home offices. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable: getting people connected and working from home didn’t hurt so much.

But for many mid-market business leaders, the dash to homeworking exposed troubling strategic challenges:

For nearly every mid-market business, security issues became even more acute. The lockdown quite quickly exposed weak and out-dated security and authorisation processes. The result? Companies are falling prey to cyberattacks. Or when the next audit comes round, they will struggle to demonstrate regulatory compliance.

These issues call for transformational changes. And although they won’t be easy, they’re not as hard as you might think.

Transformation 1: Using IT infrastructure to add value

Companies need to ensure that their IT infrastructure matches their business strategy.

For example, we often recommend outsourcing basic IT support of cloud services. This frees up in-house people to focus on value-adding activities. Depending on your own company strategy, it may be better to in-source strategic software development, business process improvement, back-office systems configuration or data analysis.

Transformation 2: Integrated systems, processes and controls

It can feel daunting to move away from legacy ways of working. But simple, well-structured processes and systems cost less, improve customer service, and allow for compliance and business continuity planning.

If your systems and data are rationalised, you can integrate with external services, so as we mentioned above, outsourcing can become part of your strategy.

And, for many business service providers, your ability to integrate with your clients’ systems provides a point of difference and creates a barrier to exit.

Finally, this transformation creates a platform for adoption of AI/ML and for creating new online channels.

Transformation 3: Innovation and digital initiatives

Both consumers and business clients expect almost all products and services to be online. Most innovations now have digital at their heart, and digital experiences are now practically inseparable from your customers’ experience of your brand.

This tech is much more than a necessary evil. To create a high-value and agile business, CEOs must embrace tech as part of their strategy.

These are uncertain times. But many CEOs see opportunities to restructure their business, to enter new markets, and to scale up. The above three transformations offer an approach to plan for your own breakthrough.

Need help? Many CEOs engage Freeman Clarke because we take on uncomfortable changes and challenges with reassurance and guidance. Transformational change requires experienced and expert IT leadership.

We are the largest and most experienced team of IT leaders. If you want to know more about how we can help, then get in touch.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth 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.

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.

3 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.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.