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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.

How Tech can help your Food & Beverage business grow

The Food & Beverage sector is experiencing a major surge. The best performers are seeing strong demand and solid cash flows – and a real opportunity to scale up significantly in the coming months.

This can be a permanent change. If they do it right, Food & Beverage companies will see a consistent increase in market profile, profits, and company value.

But it won’t stick unless they get their IT right. If your Food & Beverage company is to grow and thrive, you need to improve IT, systems and digital strategies.

In our experience, there are 5 areas to focus on:

  1. Streamline processes.
    Often this means simply ensuring that existing ERP systems are fully exploited:
    a. Reduce time wasted on manual processes like rekeying and tinkering in Excel
    b. Rollout unused or underused features (you may already have paid for!)
    c. Retrain staff to ensure tech is properly used and processes followed
  2. Reduce product wastage – especially for perishables.
    But maintain quality and quick response to retail demand by:
    a. Improving demand forecasting and business intelligence
    b. Enabling intelligent trend analysis
    c. Efficiently controlling inventory, production, and warehousing processes
    d. Utilising AI and machine-learning where practical
  3. Take an agile approach to online direct-to-customer sales.
    Focus on flexibility and foresight:
    a. Look for simple, low-cost entry points, perhaps based on Amazon as well as your own website, with minimal capital outlay
    b. When cost-effective, integrate to ERP system to minimise rekeying and to provide accurate stock availability
    c. Create a roadmap for warehousing and delivery options as the online business grows
  4. Optimise promotions and ramp up marketing.
    Improve promotion ROI and establish brand with:
    a. Wider use of marketing tools like social media and an email database
    b. Better analysis tools to optimise planning, execution and analysis of promotions (investments in retail price reductions)
    c. Improved integration and sharing between tech and marketing
    d. Well-implemented CRM and data-driven marketing systems
  5. Seize new opportunities.
    Keep testing new products and new markets!
    a. Combine new and existing data to identify capacity and market demands
    b. Combine costs and sales forecasts to model ROI

Our Principals are often asked to help scale up companies in the food and beverage sector, they’ve got the commercial and tech experience to help your company grow. If you’d like to know more about what we do, or even if you just have questions about Food & Beverage and IT, get in touch!

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 do I prepare my business for the coronavirus?

As the CEO of a growing business, you likely spend most of your time thinking about your products, customers, and staff, as well as how to keep growth on track.

But soon enough, you may have a new priority –  how to keep your business running when threatened by coronavirus.

We certainly don’t believe that the end of the world is nigh. But we do see a real possibility of disruption due to illness or quarantine. You may have employees looking after sick relatives, or their children’s schools closed to reduce the risk of infection.

(For up-to-date coronavirus information and guidelines, see this link from the Department of Health.)

The good news is that there is a relatively simple way to prepare your business for disruption – home-working, meaning providing your employees with the flexibility and equipment they need to work remotely. Preparing your business and staff for remote work provides a robust means to handle health scares, as well as most other disaster scenarios like power failures, bad weather, strikes, or transport disruptions.

As an example, a long-standing Freeman Clarke client provides a 24/7 business-critical service. They can’t afford an outage, so they have spent a lot of time and money preparing for emergencies, including ensuring they could continue to deliver their service uninterrupted with everyone working from home. They’ve tested it and it works.

Emergencies aside, enabling your staff to work remotely is a great way to attract and retain the best talent. Many businesses employ ‘knowledge workers’ who can function effectively from home or the coffee shop with management, processes, and facilities set up accordingly.

Planning for remote work in the event of coronavirus goes beyond prudence. It’s a step in the right direction for your business.

How to get started

The good news is that even if you’re considering this scenario for the first time, it’s not too late. Our advice is to gather the senior management team and ask two questions:

  1. Which members of your team are critical to the ongoing survival of the business? Also: who can cover a colleague’s job in case they’re not available?
  2. What processes are absolutely critical to running the business? These processes might include taking payments, getting product to your customers, answering customer calls, and so on.

You can then plan out how these critical people and processes could continue to work remotely.
The first focus should be on the people. Ensure all critical team members are properly equipped to work from anywhere. That mean at the very least a mobile phone, a laptop, and probably a VPN (virtual private network).

Then sort out the simple details, like ensuring that everyone has their colleagues’ mobile numbers.

Finally, all your people should be confident with using voice (or video) conferencing so they can organise themselves without needing to be in the same place.

The next task is to review the highlighted critical processes and discuss whether they would work if you and your team were out of the office.

Don’t assume that everything has been digitised! Ask your critical staff to look over what’s currently only in paper files, notebooks, or Post-it notes. All this must be available to them online. Fortunately, these days the tech is inexpensive or even free, products like Trello, Teams, and even Whatsapp can be effective ways to support remote work, including exchanging documents.

Don’t forget documentation such as customer contact details need storing somewhere accessible, as do the tools people use, such as bank number pads for accessing bank accounts.

Cloud-based services excel in these circumstances because all you need is an internet connection. System such as Office365 and online accounting systems such as Xero make planning for a disaster far easier. If your business has a lot of its processes based on servers in the office, this is a great opportunity to kick off a project to migrate to the cloud. Aside from protecting you from emergencies, it will ultimately be cheaper, more secure, and more flexible.

Don’t wait for disaster

You’ll need to invest time and money to make all this happen. Consider it insurance against disaster and an opportunity to make your business better.

We recommend that you immediately organise a senior management team to focus on the questions above. Don’t leave the room until you’ve agreed on the necessary actions, the owners and timescales for completion, and the follow-up. Consider having this meeting by video to get the ball rolling!

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

Freeman Clarke regularly helps businesses plan for emergency and growth. If you’d like to talk to us about how to make your technology more robust, feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for a chat.

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

How to Avoid a CRM Car Crash

Any CEO knows that customer information is a very valuable asset. And how you manage customer relationships is vital. So of course you need to implement systems to help you standardise and manage this… But we see countless CRM projects that fail, systems that are mis-used, under-used, or never used at all.

So why is this the project that fails most often? Why do we meet so many CEOs who despair at their company’s attempts to make this work?

Why is this project the one most likely to end up as a car crash?

This CEO’s briefing explains what a CRM system is, why companies use them and presents 10 golden rules in avoiding a CRM project car crash!

If you find this CEO’s briefing relevant, you might also find another recent article from one of our sister businesses of interest. The Marketing Director’s view on CRMs written by The Marketing 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 – What is It and What Does It Mean to Businesses?

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a “crypto currency” that was created in 2009. It has many (or perhaps all) of the characteristics of a currency. The total value of Bitcoins in circulation is now over $190Bn, and it is widely used as a currency around the world, every day!

Specifically Bitcoin is based on sophisticated maths which limits the number of Bitcoins that can ever be produced. And the mechanism for recording Bitcoins transactions, which is called Blockchain, is secure and reliable.

These things make Bitcoin very much like an ordinary currency, but Bitcoin is unusual as conventional currencies are controlled by banks and governments. Bitcoin exists without any sponsorship like this and parties transact without requiring a trusted third party (such as a bank) at all….

Read the full CEO’s Briefing on Bitcoin 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.

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.

Board Action Plan: IT Roadmap for Growth

To download, save or print this CEO’s Action Plan, click here

Companies planning growth need to have a plan for how their IT can support and drive this growth. An IT Roadmap allows them to scale-up confidently, whilst maintaining or improving their margins and customer service. Whether you’re identifying problems such as poor reporting; inefficient processes; lack of standardisation or fragmented data to name a few, there are ways to address these and get back on a positive path.

Our CEO’s action plan aims to provide a stepped approach that starts with the business objectives; identifies the programme of work and ensures you include everything such as processes and the technology you use. The plan encourages you to identify and remove the operational pains that are having large impacts. An IT roadmap may also encompass ideas around bespoke software, big data and even Artificial Intelligence, all of which can make a real difference. Staying flexible and ensuring you are always delivering on the IT objectives is critical as well as making sure you are clear on who owns the IT roadmap as it’s their role to make sure it stays alive and is constantly under review to optimise its success.

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 Directors, CIOs and CTOs. 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 Does a Fractional CTO Really Do for a Mid-Market Business? 5 Tips to Make It Work.

The use of fractional Board-execs in mid-market businesses is growing. More companies see and hear stories of successful engagements, more talented execs looking for a change start to think of the fractional model as normal… this creates a virtuous circle.

There have been fractional execs for decades, typically Finance Directors, and this way of working has gradually spread across the disciplines: marketing, HR, legal and finally IT.

Freeman Clarke are the largest team of fractional CIOs, CTOs and IT Directors – this is our business.

What’s the difference between Fractional and Interim

Interims typically work full-time for a client for a limited period on a specific project. They are retained to deliver a technical result, they are “hired guns” who inevitably remain outsiders.

Fractional Board-level execs really engage and connect with the company and the team. They are there to deliver a business outcome, they will put in the effort necessary to do this, and they are committed to the long-term success of the business.

5 Tips for a successful fractional CTO engagement

  1. Check your fractional CTO has real Board-level experience, first class business skills and deep technical expertise.
  2. Choose a fractional leader who fits with you and your Board; they need to feel relevant and “get it” immediately.
  3. Treat your fractional CTO as part of the leadership team. Open up, include them in difficult and confidential discussions. A fractional leader can’t be relevant if you don’t give them the permission and knowledge.
  4. Demand short-term wins but keep a laser-focus on the long-term business objectives. Insist on a clear strategy, as well as real, visible progress every month.
  5. Take the opportunity… a fractional CTO can create new starting points, offer new visions, save money, and potentially transform your business. Of course you want today’s problems fixed, but keep an open mind to the bigger picture as well.

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.

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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.