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What really is Digital Transformation?

Many mid-sized businesses simply see IT as a problem to be overcome or a beast that has to be fed. The Board meeting IT slot is often dominated by discussions about anti-virus software, operating system upgrades, contract negotiations and laptop replacement costs. The Board’s time, money and emotional energy are all used up just dealing with these operational details.

But IT genuinely has the ability to transform a business. There are radical and new ways to grow the business, to serve customers better, and to make more profit. Businesses that can connect with these benefits are, understandably, valued far higher than their low-tech competitors.

These opportunities should be the focus of the Board discussions about IT.

So what exactly is Digital Transformation?

For our clients, digital transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to a simple upgrade, or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.

That may just mean simple IT done well. That’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.

4 Kinds of Transformation 

We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:

  1. Market break-through. For example, some of our clients have used their expertise to create software that offers new kinds of specialist services. Some manufacturers or wholesalers have become retailers. Some have cut through supply chains, or they have positioned themselves as new kinds of intermediary, repackaging or combining products and services from other companies.
  2. Wow customers. Providing new ways of offering your products to new audiences, more specifically targeted or positioned. It often means allowing your customers to get the experience they want, how and when they want it, rather than imposing processes on them that happen to suit you. And potentially it gives you new ways to de-commoditise your offering by focussing on service rather than price.
  3. Internal redesign. Most companies’ internal business processes have evolved over years and have their roots in ancient history. New tech allows this to be completely rethought, and designed from scratch to suit your customers, your team and your profit objectives. AI or software robots allow you to do away with manual tasks and reduce errors.
  4. Tame the risks. Traditional ways of working often have inherent levels of risk which affects pricing and competitiveness or create ever-present worries which consume your energy and attention. New tech can give you better customer insight or profiles, allow better targeting, real-time risk assessment and automation of controls, or might allow you to offer higher guarantees to demanding (but high value!) clients.

In some cases transformations cross boundaries, for example radical improvements to internal fulfilment can enable significant improvement in customer service as well. And better internal processes can reduce risk as well as improve margins.

So there is considerable overlap between these 4 types of transformation, but the headings do help think about what Digital Transformation can mean.

Starting this journey is often the most difficult step. The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop…

  1.  What is it your market really needs? What do customers really care about and value?
  2.  If you started with a blank sheet of paper, how would you do things differently?
  3.  How can you remove the barriers to enable you to lead this transformation?

Imagine that, tomorrow morning, you read in your tradepress that one of your competitors has made a radical change that leaves you behind.

Be the one who does this first!

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.

What is Digital Transformation and where do you start?

Everyone is talking about Digital Transformation…what does it mean?

If you’re interested in learning how Digital Transformation can transform your business have a listen to this short video by Graeme Freeman (Co-Founder and Directer at Freeman Clarke). He talks about 4 types of Digital Transformation and 3 good places to start.

We have written a lot of content about this subject and further detail about these 4 types of transformation. If you’d like to read more then we have created a dedicated page which you will find informative/helpful.

Click here to view our Digital Transformation Toolkit page.

Digital Transformation is just one of the ways businesses are striving to get ahead of their competition. Our CEOs briefing on IT Roadmap for growth provides further insight into ways businesses can plan and make sure their IT strategy matches that of their business strategy.

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.

Bitcoin, Blockchain – the next big thing?

Blockchain is yet another new tech that promises to change the business world and, not surprisingly, it’s easy to be cynical about this. But we have to admit that the business world has, many times, been changed by new tech that was initially dismissed by cynics!

So what is Bitcoin? What is Blockchain and why is it important to business? Watch our short video to understand the reality, the potential and the barriers.

Or read this briefing to see how you can position your business to take advantage?

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 technology to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation. 

Bitcoin? Blockchain? I’m already lost!

When the last page is written on the bizarre Bitcoin story, many people believe the conclusion will be that the world was changed… but changed by the Blockchain, not by Bitcoin!

Blockchain promises a way for people to record transactions, for example, currency, information, deals or anything else that can be digital, using a ledger that doesn’t need to have a trusted central body to oversee it.

That could enable significant changes to the way that information and business happens and, more broadly, to the way that information and identity are managed.

What are you talking about? Bitcoin? Blockchain? I’m already lost.

OK, let’s rewind to the beginning…

Bitcoin was invented in 2009 in a mysterious story that geeks love. It’s probably best understood as a currency, though some sticklers would call it an asset instead.

In many ways there’s nothing new about digital currencies like this – think Tesco points or Air Miles. We’re all very used to vouchers that are like currencies but don’t have the Queens head on them.

But Bitcoin is different because a key part of the scheme is a clever ledger, called the Blockchain.

The Blockchain has special rules and maths embedded in it to allow all the users to track the deals without relying on a central authority.

That’s right… no one is in charge!

Obviously, if you want to know how many Air Miles you’ve got, you phone the Avios helpline or check your app; or if something goes wrong you call their complaints department. They are the central authority who oversee the system and ensure it’s working smoothly.

With Bitcoin transactions (or anything else based on Blockchain) every user has access to a perfect version of the ledger so you don’t need to rely on a central body at all. The ledger is secure and reliable.

Now of course nothing is perfect, perhaps there are flaws in Blockchain that have not yet been discovered, or new kinds of maths or computers will make it hackable. You could distort the system by taking control of huge numbers of computers but it just isn’t practical. To all intents and purposes, the Blockchain is secure and reliable – in 10 years of Bitcoin there have been no interruptions, corruptions or errors.

And now there are a slew of other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Arguably some of them are technically superior to Bitcoin but none of them yet has the foothold that Bitcoin does. Only time will tell which will prove to have long-term value as a currency (or asset, if you prefer!).

However, all of these cryptocurrencies run on the same kind of rails – Blockchain! Blockchains are the ledgers for all of them. 

Blockchained to the rhythm

Very simply, the Blockchain is a set of rules and codes to enable a database or ledger to be securely copied and synchronised on millions of computers all over the world.

If you want to record something in the Blockchain database then you change one copy and this change gets replicated in all the copies. There are extremely clever rules that govern this process to make sure that only valid changes get accepted onto the Blockchain and replicated.

And once a change has become fact in the database then it’s impossible to undo it. If you want to check the data then you can do it on any of the copies, and if there were any doubts about one copy then it’s easy to see if it matches the others.

It doesn’t matter if any of the computers has a problem because there are so many others still running the system keeps going. It’s effectively impossible to tamper with the database because you would have to simultaneously tamper with millions of copies.

Critically, none of these databases is the master copy. They are all synchronized copies of the whole database.

Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a Blockchain ledger which ensures that there is an unequivocal record of buys and sells. There is no central bank, organisation, or government overseeing the system.

Now nothing is entirely secure, but there is no practical means to hack the Blockchain, so for the purposes of this Briefing we’ll assume it’s secure and un-hackable – because it probably is.

So why does Blockchain matter to business?

Well Blockchain could matter to business because it could allow disparate companies and people to work together even if they don’t know each other, or even trust each other. And it could allow this without the need for a central body to oversee the initiative.

And this is just the start, because Blockchains can go further and can store agreements in the form of Smart Contracts which could allow automation of lots of transactions that are currently manual and slow.

To read more about practical examples of Blockchains, Smart Contracts, and how this will create new opportunities for ambitious mid-market business, read our next briefing.

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 to office automation using Software Robots

Look around an office and you will see plenty of people whose main work is dealing with systems and information. Data, requests and instructions comes in from emails and other sources, and go out similar ways. People handle information, organise it, fix it, share it, and ensure that different systems are up to date so that the right things happen.

In this short video we discuss how this data handling can be replaced by office automation using software robots. A number of our clients are using this technology – and although there can be challenges the benefits and efficiencies far outweigh these.

This is a hot topic right now so you might find the following interview (and audio) worth a read/listen too.

Over the coming weeks we are creating a series of content pieces about RPA’s. All of which can be found on our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) 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.

Board action plan: 10 steps to Digital Transformation

Ambitious business owners will always look for ways to improve the way their organisation functions. Digital transformation is just one way. It enables a business to function more efficiently and in the long term with greater cost savings. But to see any of these transformations occur there is a requirement for a solid IT strategy that fits in with the overall business strategy and an experienced technical leader to help you get there.

This is our final piece in the DT series and is the Board action plan that will help you get started on your own journey. It covers ideas around automation and artificial intelligence, risk analysis, data visualisation and much more which are all achievable if you’ve got a vision and the right people to get you there.

So what exactly is Digital Transformation?

For our clients, Digital Transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to just an upgrade or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.

That may just mean simple IT done well – that’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.

We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:

1. Market break-through
2. Wow customers
3. Internal redesign
4. Tame the risks

For an explanation about the 4 types, read our original post.

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.

Digital Transformations – Efficiency, effectiveness & risk management

For many companies, the technology strategy begins and ends with technical details in which the Board have little interest. The absence of a digital vision and any experienced IT leaders means that the IT slot on the Board agenda is a discussion of details, issues and gripes. The Board may simply see IT as a problem to be overcome or a beast that has to be fed.

But IT genuinely has the ability to transform a business. There are radical new ways to grow the business, to serve customers better, and to make more profit.
Businesses that can connect with these benefits are, understandably, valued far higher than their low-tech competitors.

So what exactly is Digital Transformation?

For our clients, Digital Transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to just an upgrade or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.

That may just mean simple IT done well – that’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.

We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:

1. Market break-through
2. Wow customers
3. Internal redesign
4. Tame the risks

For an explanation about the 4 types, read our post.

This document is a briefing on internal redesigns and risk management.

For one of our clients, detailed later, this meant not only radically improving how the business worked, but reducing IT spend by 75%! For other clients this meant halving delivery times, or massively improving competitiveness by calculating risk accurately and pricing products correctly for the customer.

Successful Businesses Focus Outwards

Directors of growing mid-market businesses tend to be focussed outwards – for example, they are often defined by an obsessive attention to the needs of the market, their customers’ perceptions and building revenue. Sometimes this includes supplier and partner relationships as well – securing excellent relationships, pricing and terms with suppliers can be of strategic importance.

Perhaps entrepreneurs are defined by their focus on seizing opportunities rather than worrying too much about details of how the deal will be fulfilled.

So as company revenue turns from millions to tens of millions, process, organisational and behavioural issues build up. Typically, people’s jobs become progressively less productive, there is increasing reliance on individuals, and often there is more argument and friction between people.

Many CEOs of growing businesses become exasperated as they feel that they are employing ever more staff who seem to spend their time making work for each other!

But, at every stage, the Board take the view:

  1. the issues are manageable
  2. the business is profitable
  3. securing growth is more important – in other words securing growth is more exciting!

And this can result in a mid-market business becoming progressively complicated and management “papering over the cracks” using old-fashioned ERP systems and point-solutions.

Most importantly, many staff begin to see these issues as normal and they see handling and wrangling these problems as the purpose of their job.

People stop complaining about how much time they spend in Excel processing an order, instead they ask for more Excel training. They begin to look forward to being promoted to Senior Order Administrator. Everyone has forgotten that order administration should be entirely automated.

Three Main Opportunities

A useful way to navigate Digital Transformation is to consider 3 specific opportunities:

Customer Integration is Changing

Integrating with customers allows you to provide higher levels of service and lock-in, but customer service is not what it used to be!

Increasingly customers of all sorts want to interact using mobile apps rather than call centres. Many people, especially younger people, expect a chat interface even in a B2B environment and many companies are using bots and language recognition to fully or partially automate their handling of incoming requests or queries. Bots can support call centre agents and increase their throughput and responsiveness or automate parts of their roles.

And modern back-office systems allow integration far more easily than they did in the past using APIs. So your prospects may well make their buying decisions based on how easy it is for their systems to integrate with yours and if you can offer faster, simpler, more reliable and secure integration than your competition then that can be a powerful USP.

Internal Redesign

In some cases it’s possible to bring about genuine transformation simply through a successful, well-engineered top-to-bottom system replacement programme.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) are the go-to trade association for all UK retailers. Their membership encompasses over 70% of the UK retail industry (by turnover) and they have 25 years of history. Over the last 2 years they have been through a complete systems transformation project with impressive results.

BRC’s CEO, Helen Dickinson OBE, summarised their objectives:

“We had systems and ways of working that were deeply embedded but not always very efficient. Several areas of our business were caught up in this problem and it impacted people’s attitude to their work as well.
Many aspects of our business are about publishing and our website was completely out of date. Not only did it fail to project our brand but publishing content was difficult and time consuming.

 

And our working practices were looking old fashioned – lots of expensive office space and everyone chained to their desks. It was time for a major overhaul.”

David Webb from Freeman Clark became BRC’s CIO and over a 24 months period he shaped, planned and delivered a programme of changes. David explained:

“Real change is about systems and how people work, so a large part of this project was ensuring that communication was effective and people were lined up.

For example, once we had created a rapid and effective website and publishing system, we had to work out how to take BRC’s brilliant content and turn it into things people want to read, watch or listen to. This meant new ways of working as well as new roles and new attitudes.

We replaced every system in the business and we also moved to modern offices and implemented flexible working and hot desking to reduce space by 30%. This was a worry for staff and we spent a lot of time in workshops and discussions. We had to create policies and rules but also give managers strategies and simple ways to make these changes work.

But the end results speak for themselves. The old systems were not fit for purpose and overall IT costs were 10% of revenue. This has now reduced to 2.5% of revenue!”

Chillisauce are an example of both removing swivel chair problems and improving integration with suppliers. And, no surprise, this has also enabled them to radically improve their customer experience as well.

Chillisauce is an events agency, specialising in stag and hen parties. They offer a choice from over 5,000 different activities in 70 cities worldwide. Customers use their website to select all the components of their own bespoke event including activities, locations, hotels and transport.

James Baddiley, CEO of Chillisauce explained the challenge:

“Our website was previously just a brochure which customers could browse on line but if they wanted to actually book anything they had to call us. We would craft the event with them over the phone and we would liaise with the suppliers manually to pull it all together. We’d communicate with the customer through emails throughout this process and at the end, hopefully they would book! Of course some customers still want to talk to one of our experts and it can be good to provide some personal service. But much of the process can be automated.

 

Our website was very inflexible. If we wanted to add a new product then this was a very major undertaking, so it was a drag on our ability to really expand and develop our business. Choosing and buying a stag or hen do is a major decision for people, we want to make it fun and offer the best experience and the best options on the market.”

One of our Principals, Tony Tinnirello advised Chillisauce on a programme of work to transform the entire fulfilment activity. Tony explained:

“We implemented a suite of new systems, all based in the cloud, and we used some sophisticated technology to link them all together. It’s all largely automated. So the entire process is far less manual, far faster and less error-prone. Critically we generate prices dynamically so customers can see the price right in front of them – that’s very rare in our market!

Communication with suppliers is challenging as they range from airlines who have sophisticated systems, to a farmer offering Zorb Football in a field! For the airline we integrate with their system in real-time, for the farmer we create automated emails and he can login to our portal to confirm he has taken the booking.

The result is that customers can create their event online, book and then check the status of each element taking shape.

From our internal point of view the new systems also now provide a wealth of data. We can check revenue and margins on every product, check we’re meeting service targets and rapidly deal with any issues. In particular this has been a huge time saver for the accounts department.”

Availability of Information Can Transform Growth Prospects

The growth of many mid-market businesses is limited by the lack of availability of their Board to pursue major changes and expansion. And the fundamental reason is that the Board are too busy managing the business and this takes most of their time and energy.

As the business expands, it would make sense to build a layer of senior managers under the Board but the barrier is a lack of hard information which should be the basis for delegating meaningful decision-making authority and accountability.

When information is not available the business operation continues to revolve around the knowledge, experience and “gut feel” of the Board members and this becomes a serious choke on expansion.

Real-time and accurate data can be the basis for:

  1. informed, objective decision-making by middle and senior managers according to rules, guidelines and set targets
  2. introduction of machine learning tools and Artificial Intelligence to reduce effort, improve speed, reliability and accuracy
  3. visual analytics technologies can allow people to better understand complex data, to get insights and new ideas.

Because data can allow the expansion of senior management to free up the Board, availability of information is more than just a detail, it can have a truly transformational effect.

Tame the Risks

Finally, digital transformation can be focussed on improving a business by addressing risk management. By understanding risk in specific contracts, products or customers, you can price more accurately and competitively. Provision for risk can be applied more specifically, perhaps by more sophisticated analysis of a company’s own existing data or by combining data from multiple systems, and potentially 3rd party data as well.

In some cases the transformation might be achieved by more timely application of existing risk processes. For example, real-time calculation might allow more accurate pricing for sales people on the phone, or can allow real-time calculation of prices whilst customers are going through a purchasing process online.

Integrating systems can ensure that credit risk information is applied during the sales process as prices or processes can be adjusted dynamically in line with customer credit risk at an individual, group or aggregate level. Or, very simply, customers should be put on hold in real-time if credit limits are breached – many companies have had the experience of putting a customer on stop just a few days too late!

Having accurate risk reporting can also significantly reduce time wasted by Directors worrying about this issue. If simple risk data is available in real-time then the Board can understand the level of risk and take measures to adjust it as a routine activity. Automated rules engines or AI can pick out patterns or raise alerts when thresholds are near or are breached.

Simply having hard facts available all the time can reduce the level of anxiety and wasted energy!

For companies heavily reliant on IT, well-structured systems can reduce their existential risk by ensuring that they are more resilient in the event of a disaster.

In the past the British Retail Consortium (BRC) experienced a fire in their office and were locked out for 3 weeks. Their CEO, Helen Dickinson OBE, explained,

“We basically had to shut down for 3 weeks because we were locked out of the office due to smoke damage and our systems were unavailable.

 

One of the benefits from our transformation project was that we were able to start again with our business continuity plans. And the tragic London Bridge terror attack in June 2017 put this to the test as our office was again unavailable for several days. But this time we were pretty much unaffected and were able to continue our business without interruption.”

For businesses providing critical or 24/7 services, a Digital Transformation might be justified simply in terms of providing a proper robust platform for continued operation in the unlikely event that the office or parts of it are unavailable.

Where to Begin

The opportunity for ambitious mid-market businesses is to start with a blank sheet of paper and design the internal framework you really want.

In our experience mid-sized businesses often have a huge advantage over their larger competitors in this kind of transformation because larger companies are mired in details and variations. The 80/20 calculation for a larger business is far more difficult because the absolute value of the 20% is much greater. In addition, larger businesses have layers of managers who are deeply entrenched in existing ways of working and the effort to change behaviours will be a huge task.

For ambitious mid-market businesses, the Board can get close enough to the coal-face to personally see and hear what is happening, and the company is small enough to make rapid decisions and to make changes more quickly. Of course a major change is never simple, but the scale of effort increases greatly for larger companies.

Starting the journey towards a Digital Transformation is perhaps the most difficult step. The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop…

  1. How much of your cost is not directly related to winning customers and fulfilling their needs?
  2. How many experts do you have locked into “swivel chair” roles where they simply manage systems and data, and help other people around the business to do the same?
  3. How could you really integrate with your customers activities?
  4. How could you remove waste from your business by integrating with your suppliers or partners?
  5. How much is it worth to you to correctly quantify risk at a supplier, customer or product level?
  6. How much would it be worth if you were able to reduce the risk of a major outage affecting your business?
  7. How can you remove the barriers to enable you to lead this transformation?

Imagine that, tomorrow morning, you read in your trade press that one of your competitors has made a radical change that leaves you behind.

Be the one who does this first!

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.

Digital Transformations – Wow your customers!

All too often, IT is seen as an inward-looking function. The Board are exhausted and tired by issues and problems that the aim has simply been to provide basic services at the minimum cost. It’s a race to the bottom.

But a good IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy. And that means IT should be tightly bound in with marketing, sales and service. When this is executed well, IT genuinely has the ability to transform a business.

Businesses that can connect with this are, understandably, valued far higher than their low-tech competitors. These opportunities should be the focus of the Board’s discussions about IT.

So what exactly is Digital Transformation?

For our clients, Digital Transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to just an upgrade or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.

That may just mean simple IT done well – that’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.

We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:

1. Market break-through
2. Wow customers
3. Internal redesign
4. Tame the risks

For an explanation about the 4 types, read our post.

This briefing is more information about the second kind, that we call: “Wow customers”.

But we’ve always done it this way

All too often we engage with customers in a certain way because this is the way we’ve always done it. Or because this is the way everyone does it.

And that may mean we put our clients through a series of steps that suit us, but may not suit them. And as a business grows and becomes more complicated it can become more difficult to see this for what it is.

Have you ever tried opening a new bank account? Don’t bother – it’s too hard!

Want to get your car serviced? Spend 10 minutes waiting on the phone, wait 2 weeks for a slot, then spend half an hour each way driving to the garage.

Buy a product online? You’ll be plagued by ads for the same product, but you don’t need to buy it again!

When done properly, digital technology can offer you ways to find and engage with customers in more personal and relevant ways; to offer them genuine value-adds; or to allow them to interact with you in the way they want to.

Avoid Competing on Price

These can be small improvements, but they can allow you to stand out from the crowd. And this can present a critical business advantage because it allows you to “de-commoditise” your products or services and to avoid competing purely on price.

Many customers are short of time and frustrated by inflexible suppliers. Quality and convenience can matter more than price. Many people want to really connect with brands they enjoy. Simple ongoing support mechanisms, reliable delivery and streamlined follow-on services can be more important than simply buying cheaply.

Many people don’t get around to making purchases or switching suppliers because they are simply not approached in the right way, at the right time with the right product.

Wow Customers

This kind of Digital Transformation is all about:

Without changing the underlying business model or products or services, new technology now provides ways to transform how you engage with your customers and how they experience your brand.

This area of technology often feels like it has become an “arms race” with companies offering ever-more and customers wanting ever more. For example,

People’s expectations have been reset as a result of their domestic experiences of ecommerce and the web and their expectations of B2B has been raised by their experience of B2C.

In this context, one of our clients, Sleeperz, a lifestyle budget hotel group wants to raise the bar for its customer experience.

Sleeperz is a company that believes in friendly service, stylish design, great value and a comfortable night’s sleep.

Their CEO, David Myers explained that:

“The hospitality sector is highly competitive and fairly low-tech, but we want to provide a best-in-class service for our customers. For example, the check-in and check-out processes can start to look quite antiquated – queue up, fill in forms, get a key or print your receipt.

We want to provide a more modern experience, to match or exceed the best in the business.”

Our Principal, John Cawrey, is Sleeperz’s IT Director and he explained about this ongoing project:

“We are researching solutions to allow guests to self-check-in and check-out using a tablet embedded in a pedestal kiosk or even allowing guests to check-in before they arrive using their own mobile phone or tablet. If their phone is NFC enabled then they could use that as their key, so effectively they can arrive and walk straight through reception to their room if they want. It’s how many airlines work now, where you print your own boarding cards or have the boarding card on your phone.“

David Myers added:

“This allows us to focus customer service where it matters. So we can still have staff on the desk but they can help guests who want to deal with a person or who have a problem. Or they can make you a coffee whilst you self-check-in at the kiosk”

Another client, ComXo, provide outsourced switchboard services to large professional services firms and IT is paramount to delivering the exceptional client experience that ComXo is known for.

Andrew Try, MD of ComXo explains:

“Providing outsourced switchboard to large corporates is very complex and requires a multitude of sophisticated technologies. The goal is to achieve an integration that delivers a seamless service to the companies’ employees and clients alike.

Our technologies enable us to deliver a highly personalised service, even to the largest businesses with over 30,000 staff, at a global level. Our skilled operators are able use these tools to identify callers and handle any enquiries appropriately and efficiently at any time.“

As ComXo’s CTO, Steve Clarke has created a strategy and overseen the delivery of technology for several years. Steve says:

“ComXo deliver a bespoke service for each of their clients. Off-the-shelf software is therefore not the right solution. We seek to find solutions that enable ComXo’s team of Virtual Personal Assistants to be experts on each of their customers. The systems need to be intuitive, user friendly and reliable.

We have developed technologies that enable ComXo staff to work remotely; whether in their offices, at their clients’ offices or at their home. This helps to manage costs and of course provides a great work/life balance to employees.

We have also created a simplified and automated billing platform that not only reduces costs but also provides a better service for clients. For instance, when clients use ComXo’s Muiltivoice conference system, calls are tagged with a cost code which appears on the client’s bill. That enables professional services firms to track their costs against cases and bill accordingly – particularly beneficial to Law firms who form a large part of the client base.”

Steve added:

“ComXo are able to stand out from the competition and punch above their weight, working for large firms and major corporates, because they understand the market and move quickly. They stay focussed on transformation projects that make a major difference to their clients and don’t get bogged down in details.”

Where to Begin

The opportunity for ambitious mid-market businesses is to think about your real customers’ needs and to work backwards from there. Start with a blank sheet of paper and work out what your customers really value (which might not be the same as what you currently give them!).

In our experience mid-sized businesses often have a huge advantage over their larger competitors in this kind of transformation because directors are close enough to the coal-face to personally see and hear what customers are saying, and the company is small enough to make rapid decisions and to make changes quickly.

Starting the journey towards a Digital Transformation is perhaps the most difficult step. The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop…

1. What is it your market really needs? What do customers really care about and value?
2. If you started with a blank sheet of paper, how would you do things differently?
3. How can you remove the barriers to enable you to lead this transformation?

Imagine that, tomorrow morning, you read in your trade press that one of your competitors has made a radical change that leaves you behind.

Be the one who does this first!

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.

Digital Transformations – Real world examples of market breakthrough!

Many mid-sized businesses simply see IT as a problem to be overcome or a beast that has to be fed. The Board meeting IT slot is often dominated by discussions about anti-virus software, operating system upgrades, contract negotiations and laptop replacement costs. The Board’s time, money and emotional energy are all used up just dealing with these operational details.

But IT genuinely has the ability to transform a business. There are radical and new ways to grow the business, to serve customers better and to make more profit. Businesses that can connect with these benefits are, understandably, valued far higher than their low-tech competitors.

These opportunities should be the focus of the Board’s discussions about IT.

So what exactly is Digital Transformation?

For our clients, Digital Transformation simply means using IT to deliver dramatic improvement. That’s different to just an upgrade or fixing some niggling problems. It means: using IT to make a significant change for the better.

That may just mean simple IT done well – that’s surprisingly rare! Or it may mean genuine technology innovation, something that is breaking new (or new’ish) ground.

We simplify this issue by defining 4 different kinds of transformation:

1. Market break-through
2. Wow customers
3. Internal redesign
4. Tame the risks

For an explanation about the 4 types, read our post.

This briefing is more information about the first kind, that we call: “Market break-through”. In our analysis, this is really about using your expertise to create entirely new offers. For example, some of our clients have used their expertise to create software that provides new kinds of specialist services; some manufacturers or wholesalers have become retailers; some have cut through supply chains, or they have positioned themselves as new kinds of intermediary, repackaging or combining products and services from other companies.

Market Break-through

In our experience mid-sized businesses often have a huge advantage over their larger competitors in this kind of transformation because:

• they have in-depth expertise in their markets and a detailed understanding of their clients’ business needs
• they are small enough to make rapid decisions and to make changes quickly
• they are not slaves to short-term reporting, and they don’t have a raft of middle-managers focussed on preserving their careers and exploiting their existing incentive arrangements!

The opportunity for ambitious mid-market businesses is to think about your real customers’ needs and to work backwards from there. Start with a blank sheet of paper and work out what your customers really value (which might not be the same as what you currently give them!).

For one of our clients, Amberjack, this means creating new software to provide innovative solutions for their clients. Amberjack is a global expert in future talent and intake based volume outsourcing and work with high profile global businesses who operate in competitive international markets.

As Cynthia Bostock, CEO explained:

“Historically, Amberjack won business based on our highly specialist teams and great levels of service. That’s still true today, but the market moves on. Our clients are companies like Unilever, international brands in ‘The Big 4’, Mars and GSK who rightly expect more, and we can give them more.

The advent of automation and digital assessment, combined with the increasing influence the modern consumer experience has on candidate experience expectations means that strategies that worked in the past to attract and select the very best talent, are no longer effective or competitive.”

“Many of our clients recruit large numbers of graduates and apprentices annually, and expect a slick digital recruitment process to secure the best talent. For outstanding candidates it’s always a buyer’s market and we need to help our clients to stand out from the crowd and attract the very best.”

“We offer real strategic advantage to our clients rather than just cost-saving. For example, offering to help a Big 4 consultancy recruit graduates more efficiently and effectively is interesting, but giving them a way to recruit the very best candidates in an exciting and immersive way offers them long-term strategic advantage. And that is a fundamentally higher-value proposition.

Amberjack created a vision for an end-to-end digital experience for candidates and advanced tools that manage the entire recruitment process online. In the past, high-volume recruitment processes would be something of a paper-factory, which is expensive and (inevitably) error-prone, not to mention time consuming.”

“Amberjack’s clients now have a much slicker process but also have far greater control because recruitment is underpinned by data insight. They can easily review compliance information and ensure they are implementing their diversity agenda or check things like gender balance and even measure the experience candidates receive. These are reasons why international advisory firm Bersin by Deloitte recently named Amberjack as a global HR disruptor for 2018.”

Freeman Clark provided one of our Principals, Kev Cooper, as Amberjack’s IT Director. Kev described the challenge and the opportunity:

“Candidates expect to be able to take part in the process anytime, anywhere – on their smartphone, laptop or tablet. And clients expect flexibility – we need to be able to integrate with their systems to provide a seamless end-to-end process and to meet their exacting standards.

And we’ve only just started, there is so much further we can go. Technology continues to evolve at an ever-increasing pace. This industry will continue to be revolutionised by new value-add technologies and Amberjack will be at the forefront, evaluating emerging technologies to ensure we can continue to bring increased value to our clients, the likes of Artificial Intelligence and automation will further deliver innovation to the market.”

Amberjack was nominated for 7 different awards in the 2018 National Recruiter awards and won 4 including Supplier of the Year! For more information about Amberjack, please visit their website https://www.weareamberjack.com

For, CoachHire.com, the opportunity has been to create a platform for connecting buyers and sellers. Across the tech industry, new platforms always attract attention but there are plenty of markets where specialist expertise and relationships are key and established players are far better placed to spot and exploit these opportunities than a tech startup in Silicon valley!

The coach hire industry is typically very fragmented and local and it’s not renowned for technology innovation.

CoachHire.com’s CEO saw an opportunity to help customers find coaches and specific services they need and to bring efficiencies to the coach operators. Mathew Hassell, CEO told us:

“Most coach operators are very small companies with very limited internal systems – often just paper, spreadsheets and whiteboards. On the other side of the equation, people who want to order a shuttlebus or coach may have an urgent need and don’t know where to start.

Our platform gives customers a simple and slick purchasing experience but at the same time, we give the operators technology to help them manage their bookings and allow them to move into the 21st century as well!”

One of the biggest markets for coaches is schools and here CoachHire.com use technology to improve safeguarding and to give parents more peace of mind.

Our Principal Mat Diss is CoachHire.com’s CTO and he explained:

“We can use technology to ensure the operator, schools and parents know where the bus is so parents don’t waste time waiting for a bus that’s delayed and to ensure no-one worries unnecessarily. And we can confirm children getting on and getting off the bus to enhance safeguarding as well.

This is a high profile area and we all remember the story last year of a 4 year old boy left in a coach which returned to the depot, and we aim to address this kind of concern.

But with anything revolutionary you run into new questions and issues – for example, we don’t want drivers distracted by technology. And what if a child stays late for a club or is off school because they’re ill… we don’t want parents to get a message that their child has missed the bus.”

Both CoachHire.com and Amberjack are using their knowledge of their market and their clients’ needs to lead change and to grow whilst offering their customers something significantly better than was previously available.

This may be through a series of improvements, for development of new products or services that progressively become more bold and transformational. Or a single “step-change” … from the old world to the new!

Where to Begin

Starting the journey towards a Digital Transformation is perhaps the most difficult step. The following questions can be a useful kickstart for a Board workshop…

1. What is it your market really needs? What do customers really care about and value?
2. If you started with a blank sheet of paper, how would you do things differently?
3. How can you remove the barriers to enable you to lead this transformation?

Imagine that, tomorrow morning, you read in your trade press that one of your competitors has made a radical change that leaves you behind.

Be the one who does this first!

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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Subscribe to our fortnightly Business Insights

Plain English, board-level briefings focused on IT strategy to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

Business insight - Exit intent

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.