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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.

Learning from Travelex

Due to a cyberattack, Travelex, the world’s largest foreign exchange bureau, has been at a standstill for more than a fortnight. The reputational and financial impact on the company and its senior leaders will be severe. New laws and regulations, like GDPR and NY Shield, mean that such breaches can no longer be swept under the carpet, and the commercial damage will be compounded by huge fines.

Travelex is a wake-up call to all businesses. In today’s cyber-risk environment, maintenance of your basic IT infrastructure and services is critical to remaining profitable and even staying alive. You may be concerned that if a giant like Travelex gets hacked, how can a mid-market company protect itself? It’s less complicated than you might think.

When we engage with clients, we talk about ‘getting the basics right’. A fundamental part of that is making sure the IT infrastructure and services are fit-for-purpose and up to date. If the basics aren’t right, then there’s no hope of looking at ways to use technology to grow the business and get ahead of the competition.

To provide you with a head-start, here are your first nine priorities:

  1. Prioritise systems maintenance. All systems and services, particularly those that are connected to the outside world, must be kept up to date with the latest software patches. The IT team or your Service Provider must review and update systems in a regular, controlled manner.
  2. Review your backups. Many malware infections encrypt your data and hold it to ransom. Frequent backups mitigate the chance of you losing everything. A regular complete backup of data stored somewhere with no connection to your systems – what’s called an air-gap – will greatly limit the damage of an attack.
  3. Get a penetration test. Get a reputable security company to undertake an external penetration test of your systems and services. Resolve all the concerns raised in the results. Find your vulnerabilities and patch them before hackers find them for you!
  4. Earn a certification. Spend some money, usually less than £10k on earning the Cyber Essentials Plus certification. The process involves making your technology secure, and we’ve seen clients win new business after being certified.
  5. Lock down your data. Each individual in your business should only have access to the data they need to do their job. This minimises the risk of data loss should they leave with it or accidentally click a malware link. Allowing employees wide-ranging access to data is asking for trouble.
  6. Invest in protection. Keep the bad guys out with well-configured firewalls, anti-spam email systems, malware detection software, and pro-active Day-0 protection systems.
  7. Get some insurance. Cyber insurance covers the losses resulting from a cyberattack. It can also aid with the management of the incident itself, particularly reputational damage and regulatory enforcement. Crime insurance covers the loss of money due to theft, fraud or dishonesty and includes theft of money by hackers. Add these two insurances to your portfolio as separate policies, not just add-ons to existing business insurance.
  8. Train your staff. Your employees are the most vulnerable security point in your business. The more they know what to look for and what to do, the better your chances of avoiding an attack. Training is essential for all new starters, and it needs regular refreshing for the whole business – including you!
  9. Plan for the worst. Even with all the above nailed down, you still need to be ready for the worst. Sit down with your top team and discuss potential disasters and plan your way out of them. Who would be in charge? Who is authorised to make major decisions on the spot?

Will Travelex survive this attack? Who knows – the reputational and commercial damage may be terminal. But by following these nine steps, you can avoid that fate for your own company.

For more information see our Knowledge Centre about Cybersecurity.

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 – 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. 

 

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.

A Concise Introduction to Integration Problems Part II: How to Solve Them

(This is the second of our two-part series on integration problems.
Click to read
Part I: How to Spot Them.)

So, you have identified that your company has integration problems. Morale is affected, reporting is overly complicated, you can’t plan for the future, and customer service is suffering. So, what can you do about it?

Look Before You Leap

When looking to fix integration problems, you have a spectrum of options: at one end is a long series of fixes to individual issues; at the other end is a major, transformational project.

Either way, strategise first! Before you do anything, your Board should consider these questions:

Be aware that this discussion can reveal personal tensions in your organisation. In most cases, when systems aren’t integrated, it means that departments aren’t communicating with each other — so this kind of discussion can be quite stormy, as departments may blame each other for your company’s struggles.

Avoid the blame-game. Aim for a dispassionate acceptance of the current realities and the need for change. Then figure out who will have ownership of the solution.

Putting Together Your Integration Dream Team

 You need focus to solve integration problems. So, start with a competent team that has resources and authority. Appoint a Director to be accountable and give them a twelve-week time frame within which solving integration problems is their priority.

Why twelve weeks? Because the time period needs to be long enough to actually make a difference, but short enough that business-as-usual issues can wait, so this project can genuinely be a priority.

The initial focus should be on creating a list of issues with (a) estimates of the three-year business impact of each, and (b) an assessment of how readily solvable the problem. From this list you can select, say, the top three or four problems with a commitment to solve or substantially reduce them in twelve weeks.

How to Take Small Steps Forward

Remember that integration solutions are on the spectrum between individual fixes and a big, transformational project. It may be tempting to think big — but it may not be necessary! For each issue, consider the following:

More Serious Redesign Projects

If it turns out that more serious redesigns are necessary, you’ll need an even more strategic approach. Go back to the beginning and consider how to reorganise your business to suit the needs of your customers. For example, automate manual activities wherever possible, unless it makes commercial sense or provides enhanced service that your customers value.

Then start thinking through the main processes, key performance indicators, and options for back-end systems. (Naturally, if you reduce the number of back-end systems, there will be fewer technical integrations, so there should be fewer sources of potential problems.)

A word of warning: some vendors market their solutions as a single brand, when, under the bonnet, they actually provide multiple products which are not fully integrated. So, one “product” may actually be composed of many partly integrated pieces of software.

The solution may then lie in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Basically, ERP takes all of the core processes you need to run your company — finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and others — and integrates them into a single system.

The goal is to provide all the separate aspects of your business with the same information in real-time. And the result can a huge springboard to scalability and growth.

You can read Part I: How to Spot Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Centre.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organisations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

Transform Your Business and Increase Revenue Using Custom Software

About a quarter of our clients are ambitious mid-market companies who want our help to manage and drive custom software development either for internal systems or for ecommerce and revenue-generating phone apps or web apps. Sometimes they are struggling to get started, sometimes they are well underway but having all kinds of problems. Technical, commercial, people problems that can be very time consuming and energy sapping.

Custom software done well can be worth a huge amount of money and can significantly transform the value of a business. If it were easy then everyone would do it. That’s the fact! But why is it hard and how do you get it right …?

This short video explains why businesses should look to implement custom software projects to increase revenue and competitive edge.

Over the coming weeks we are creating a series of content pieces about CTOs, their role, how to find and recruit  them and the invaluable benefits they provide to a business. All of which can be found on our CTO Knowledge Centre page 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.

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.

Software Robots, Revolutionary New Tech Automating Admin Tasks?

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. Whether this is product information, contracts, claims, pricing, or just tracking holidays, new employees… a modern office is full of this kind of activity.

Software Robots(RPA) is technology that can replace these systems-based tasks, so it promises to automate much of the ordinary work that many office workers do for a living. Forrester (a well-respected technology research company) estimate that, by 2021, there will be over 4,000,000 robots doing office and administrative and sales related tasks!

This CEO’s briefing explains:

What is RPA?

Is RPA really new?

Is RPA part of the AI revolution?

Where is RPA really working? What are the benefits?

How effective is RPA really?

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.

Using Software Robots to Eliminate Admin – Really?

The consultancy, McKinsey, claim that 60% of jobs could have 30% or more of their constituent activities automated. Forrester (a well-respected technology research company) estimate that, by 2021, there will be over 4,000,000 robots doing office and administrative and sales related tasks. That’s just 3 years away!

Tech companies are promising revolutionary reductions in administration costs using software robots built from products like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath.

It’s often called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Intelligent Automation (IA). The techies are going mad for this shiny new thing!

But what’s really going on? I interviewed one of our Regional Directors, Andrew Hart, to hear more about the reality and what we’re actually doing with mid-market businesses.

You can read a summary below or listen to the conversation here.

Graeme Freeman: What are software robots and what do they really do?

Andrew Hart: We’re doing a lot of work with our clients using software robots to take over repetitive system tasks previously done by admin staff.

It’s potentially a game-changer. The idea is to use tools to eliminate the kinds of jobs that people in offices do all the time…. pull data from documents, emails and systems; get things from the web; update other systems and documents; read and send emails. That kind of thing.

Graeme Freeman: This sounds very impressive. Is this all about cost-saving?

Andrew Hart: Well, actually, this normally starts with the idea of saving costs but generally the objectives change. Many of the people bogged down with repetitive tasks are experts in the business, systems and data – if they have more time available then they can make a real difference to enabling growth.

Graeme Freeman: So if it’s not really about cost-saving, what are the hard benefits?

Andrew Hart: Well, it is about cost-saving. But it’s not only about cost saving.

Fundamentally, using software robots allows clients to simplify and standardise their business and to free up their experts.

Lots of companies are really complicated, especially if they’ve grown through acquisition or if their customers or suppliers impose annoying processes and systems on them. Software robots can allow companies to automate a lot of this.

Also, for our clients who are in highly regulated sectors these tools are very useful from a compliance point of view – reduction in errors, imposing controls and processes.

And a company with more software robots is well placed for growth. Directors know they can scale up far more simply and easily.

Graeme Freeman: Well that sounds great. What are the pitfalls?

Andrew Hart: There are plenty of pitfalls! Most importantly, our experience is that these projects are complicated and difficult to plan. IT experts and business experts need to be heavily involved and committed (rather than fighting to protect their jobs). So the entire project needs to be well supported, well communicated and part of a strategy.

The project should be driven on an incremental 80/20 approach all the time. Some ideas will work well, some not so well. It’s a gradual process of improvement rather than a quick win.

And once you have a large number of tasks automated then there will be frequent issues and you need people on hand to address them at affordable cost.

Graeme Freeman: So this is sounding like a mixed picture? What’s our conclusion?

Andrew Hart: Yes, the picture is mixed and (of course) the upsides are not as simple and clear as product vendors would claim!

Software robots are a way to transform businesses, but that’s never going to be easy. We would advocate this kind of project in particular circumstances and not in others. It’s not suitable for everyone.

It is vital to have inhouse expertise in the tools or to have a good relationship with a provider who can help at a reasonable day-rate. So, yes, the mundane tasks can be shrunk, but they are replaced by a new technical maintenance task. This task is smaller, smarter and more value-adding – but, make no mistake, this is a complicated technology that needs maintaining (by well-paid humans!).

We also filmed a short video that talks about the types of roles that software robots are replacing. This then frees up people to execute other roles. To watch the video follow this link.

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.

Giving Back

Our Principals consistently tell us when they join that one reason they  got out of a corporate environment and have decided to make a career as a Portfolio IT Director is because they want to give back. We work mostly with fast growing companies usually with revenues in excess of £5M, but that doesn’t stop our Principals wanting to do more, particularly with charitable organisations that would benefit from our skills. We do donate to charities, both as a business and as individuals, but money can sometimes be limiting. Giving our time and effort will, we believe, provide a far more significant difference.

This was why we got very excited when we found out about CITA, the Charity IT Association, because it is exactly what we were looking for; an organisation set up to help other Charities find people in the IT profession who could help them with IT Strategy or sometimes specific IT issues within their particular charity. It couldn’t have been a better fit and after talking with Tracey Phillipson of CITA, I was struck by how much alignment there was between the two of organisations. CITA enables charities to register on their website and explain why they need help. Volunteers, like our Principals, sign up and can view those requests and, if they want, take them up on the requirement and get in touch. Most of them want some help with IT Strategy or similar which is why the fit is so good for us.

Until now, Tracey explained, CITA has mostly concentrated on London because that was were most of the volunteers came from, but with our national coverage through our Principals, the opportunity to grow throughout the UK is immediate. This can only be a good thing. Freeman Clarke’s aim is to make a long-term commitment to CITA and provide an opportunity for our Principals to give back and for the Charities associated with CITA to benefit from this relationship.

You can find out more about CITA here: https://charityithelp.org.uk/

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
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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.