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Using IT to succeed in wholesale and distribution

It’s no secret that COVID and Brexit brought huge disruptions to the wholesale and distribution sectors. But they only complicated a space that was already challenging.

Margins have long been tight, the range of services increasingly broad, with customers wanting ever-higher quality and specialist support across the entire supply chain. And yet they never seem to have the budgets to match!

To continue reading this CEOs briefing download it below.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth 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.

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.

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. 

 

How Systems & Digital Drive Business Value for Private Equity (PE)

Private Equity (PE) ownership of mid-market companies is increasing. Of course, PE houses are driven by valuations and these days IT/tech is at the heart of business value.

There are 4 areas where IT strategy and execution drive value in the PE space:

1. Building in scalability

PE houses building an integrated group of companies will often aim for one of the companies to be the “platform” onto which the other businesses can be added.

The platform company will have well-implemented processes, technology and organisation in order to run smoothly, provide good service at low cost, and to provide clear, flexible and timely management information. It will have the capability to grow and deliver high margins.

Most importantly the platform company may be valued at twice the multiple of the others due to its ability to assimilate and support acquisitions.

2. Due diligence

IT/tech due diligence in mid-market deals is often overlooked or a box-ticking exercise because traditional DD providers use lengthy old-fashioned checklists. These provide limited real value and lack commercial insight (and are often hugely over-priced!).

The basics need to be carefully checked: security, compliance, risks, contracts, people, suppliers and cost and legal exposures need to be assessed and itemised. But in the mid-market, DD expectations need to be realistic and, most importantly, value-focussed buyers need insight into future opportunities (rather than endless lists of risks).

3. Enabling marketing innovations

These days almost every marketing innovation has its roots in technology. Both businesses and consumers are increasingly finding, choosing and buying products and services online.

Brands that want to engage with consumers will tend to do so by establishing a 1-to-1 relationship with them and offering them immersive digital experiences that provide value to the consumer and insight and lock-in for themselves.

For B2B suppliers, the ability to integrate your systems with your clients can be critical, and areas like security and reliability can enable you to acquire and retain high-value corporate clients.

For marketing innovations to work successfully, marketing and tech execs need to work hand-in-glove.

4. Digital transformation

Even a smaller company can radically improve its internal operations and market proposition using digital technology. These days, a company’s size is no indication of its ability to transform the entire market.

We define 4 types of digital transformation depending on whether you are looking to transform your business or marketplace, your customers’ experiences, or your internal operations and risks. You can read more about it here. For PE-owned businesses, or businesses looking to maximise their value to PE houses, all 4 are important areas.

Our Principals work with companies on these issues every day. To discuss these or any other business IT strategic challenges just contact us. It all starts with a 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. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Get Real: How Does Tech Fuel Business Growth?

We recently launched Freeman Clarke in the US and hosted an event where 3 panellists discussed how technology fuels business growth. The 3 panellists; Matt Pritchard, Ramin Behesti and Jonathan Giaramita who all work within different industries, job roles and business sizes, came to conclusion that despite these variables the driver to successful growth through technology was down to people, process and organisational challenges.

We filmed a quick interview with each of the panellists before the event to get their opinion on the subject matter – and their take on how technology has affected their business.

Matt Pritchard, VP Digital and Innovation, Campbell’s Soup Company

Ramin Beheshti, Chief Product and Technology Officer, Dow Jones

Jonathan Giaramita, CFO, The BP Group

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? 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.

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.

Visit our Knowledge Centre which includes all 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.

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.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

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Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.