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New Client Innovations

I recently held a (virtual) discussion with some of our Principals to discuss how clients are innovating for the post-Covid world.

Many of our clients are preparing for new opportunities as they expect a rapid recovery. Many also expect their competitors to suffer cash shortages, supply-chain disruption, and operational issues that will offer opportunities to seize market share.

To be frank, customers facing long waits or poor support will vote with their feet, and our clients are rightly looking to take advantage.

Let’s discuss what specific steps our clients our taking, and what our Principals had to say, and see if there are ideas for your own company.

How They’re Getting Ready

There are two specific areas in which Principals are helping clients:

  1. Creating new online routes to market
  2. Preparing internal operations for expansion.

These changes are challenging. Reorganization and new projects are difficult during the best of times; the current background of uncertainty is a further complication. Many clients aim to complete these changes while downsizing.

According to Freeman Clarke Principal Pete Taylor, “Three clients are preparing for growth by investing heavily in automation and integration, while making significant headcount reductions at the same time.”

Look Before You Leap

For many clients who were previously wholesalers, moving to online B2C raises critical challenges. They have to understand a new range of marketing, technical, and fulfilment issues; in addition, most companies now have to make delicate judgements about market positioning and how this would affect existing retail relationships.

Thus shifting to B2C isn’t always the smart move. One client working in household accessories modelled the impact of creating a direct-to-consumer online channel. The model helped them conclude two things: first that they would be cannibalizing existing business; and second that the small shipment sizes and customer service overheads would slash their margins. They scrapped the B2C idea.

“After a lot of discussion and analysis, we decided to focus on improving the B2B channel rather than taking a serious risk with the B2C channel,” explained Freeman Clarke Principal Phil Tottie.

But If It Looks Good, Leap Away

For other wholesalers, shifting to B2C made business sense, and they launched new brands to take their products directly to consumers who now prefer to shop from home. Such businesses basically need to become online retailers, and we adapted their front end accordingly.

For example, one client used to provide health monitoring equipment to medical professionals. Covid-19, however, brought about a strong consumer desire for self-monitoring. Our client re-engineered the product and service to supply directly to the public.

“The new approach is cheaper and better for all concerned,” said Freeman Clarke Principal Alex Hudson. “It was always possible in theory, but we’ve taken the opportunity to make it happen.”

For clients in B2B supply chains, we saw a further opportunity to create online offerings for their existing business clients who ordered by email or phone. In many cases the websites were previously simply online brochures; it was time to create an actual portal for online ordering.

Of course all such changes create new challenges. But they offer the huge benefits of reduced processing costs, fewer errors, and tighter integration of delivery tracking and payment processing. They free up staff to focus on developing accounts rather than just taking phone orders.

Internal Operations: Reporting Is Key

When our clients prepare for a significant increase in business, the first and most pressing concern is availability of up-to-date, accurate information for management.

“The leaders simply need to know what’s going on so they can react quickly,” says Pete Taylor, Principal, Freeman Clarke.

In these cases, the immediate focus is on streamlining data flows and automating reports. Of course this means looking upstream: we first have to ensure clear processes and accurate data management. But it’s necessary work that leads to better management.

Internal Operations: Using the Time Wisely

In many sectors, our clients have seen a slowdown, but they expect business to bounce back. So there has been a real drive to complete back-office projects, which, at normal times, would take a back seat.

It’s clear that some companies will struggle operationally or will suffer cash shortages. In such cases, we help our clients invest in new tech and enact process improvements to ensure their service remains outstanding—and that they will be ready for new opportunities when they emerge.

As ever, these improvements projects are difficult. But they are absolutely achievable when we have a clear vision of the business objectives:

“Central to a particular project was to look again at the structure of the product list and bills of materials,” Principal Dave Martin said. “By driving to the heart of the matter we were able to reduce the complexity by orders of magnitude.”

Important Work at an Important Time

In some markets—for example, medical research and health equipment—there has been huge growth, and our clients have pivoted to engage with these opportunities. But the pressures on staff have sometimes been very great.

“It’s been critical to keep facilities running smoothly in order that the drug research and development efforts can continue uninterrupted. It’s important commercially for the client, and these efforts are genuinely important to us all,” said Dave Martin.

Clear Winners and Losers

In so many areas of the mid-market, we are seeing very clear winners and losers emerge. Of course, sectors like travel are suffering due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But most consumer and business demand is ready to resume as soon as restrictions allow.

Resumption of demand, however, doesn’t mean “business as usual.” All the Principals in our discussion expressed a similar idea: Whether it’s B2B or B2C, consumers are very willing to switch to new buying channels, to new suppliers and to new products.

Thus ambitious companies looking to seize these opportunities must have a flexible, dependable infrastructure in place—and to know when an opportunity may not be best for your company.

 

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

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Center which includes all content related to this topic. You may also want to look at our Digital Transformation Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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 Tech to Succeed in Wholesale and Distribution

It’s no secret that COVID 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 want to pay more for it!

To continue reading this CEOs briefing download it below.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth knowledge center, which have more useful content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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 Tech in Wholesale and Distribution

This is a time of extraordinary change for the market. Of course, the pandemic has brought about incredible shifts in how we do business. But tech advancements, customer expectations and regulatory requirements have been accelerating regardless.

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 information, timeliness, reliability and cost.

Service level agreements (SLA) also have rising 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 all of the above 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 ROI. They must select the best and most cost-effective suppliers, negotiate the best possible deals, and ensure that their investments deliver real financial benefits.

Start by Getting the Technology Basics Right

For ambitious mid-market companies, tech is central to success in this tough environment. So then how does a mid-market company on a limited budget use technology to drive growth and customer satisfaction?

The answer is straightforward: get the basics right. If the technology 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. Tech 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; don’t assume everything will be solved with off-the-shelf products. 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 trained in external systems and understands how to tackle problems. Third-party transport management or warehouse management systems can be effective, though the quality of support and customization 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 realized.

And at every step, you need a focused financial argument to ensure that every single project is cost-justified before it gets authorized.

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 just a matter of time.

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.

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

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients to use technology to beat their competition.

The 6 Ways Technology Is Crucial to Logistical Success

“Logistics” is a big word. It encompasses wholesaling, distribution, carriage, warehousing, transportation, 3PL, storage and more!

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

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

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

  1. Cost reduction. Technology is like any other part of a business in that all investments need a well-defined ROI. But in logistics, the narrow margins make tech costs even more of an issue. Thus you have to minimize tech costs while also using technology to save money, for example through process efficiency and 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 keep getting higher. But it’s definitely achievable with the right technology leadership.
  3. Streamlined processes. To keep costs down, it’s critical to have a seamless integration and standardization of internal and external processes. When it’s done right, it also minimizes errors and maximizes 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. And you must be equally efficient when taking down operations in order to maintain profitability, providing financial stability and confidence at every point of the business cycle.
  5. Disaster planning. Technology outages—whether due to cyberattacks, some natural event, 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 tech strategy to match. That means understanding:

Of course, this is a particularly difficult moment for businesses. But we believe that the current stresses are only accelerated existing problems. Less efficient businesses are struggling, while those with better technology 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 largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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 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 minimize rekeying and to provide accurate stock availability
    c. Create a roadmap for warehousing and delivery options as the online business grows
  4. Optimize 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 optimize 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 largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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 near. But we do see the possibility of disruption due to illness or quarantine. You may have employees looking after sick relatives, or school closings to limit infection risks.

(For up-to-date coronavirus information and guidelines, see this link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

The good news is that there is a relatively simple way to prepare your business for disruption – telecommuting (or 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, or public transport problems.

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 can 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 possibly a VPN (virtual private network).

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

Finally, all your people should be confident with using voice (or video) conferencing so they can organize 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 digitized! 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 PIN pads.

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 organize 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 center, which have more useful 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 largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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

Every CEO knows that customer information is a crucial asset. And how you manage customer relationships is vital. So of course you need to implement systems to help you standardize and manage Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Unfortunately, we’ve see countless CRM projects that fail, or CRM systems that are misused, underused, or never used at all.

So why is CRM a project that fails so often? This CEO’s Briefing explains the basics of CRM systems and why companies need them. It also presents the ten rules for avoiding a CRM project car crash.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations 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 Business?

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital-only currency, or “cryptocurrency,” created in 2009. It has many (or perhaps all) of the characteristics of any currency, except it’s 100% digital and that it isn’t controlled by any bank or government—Bitcoin exists without any institutional support and parties transact without requiring a trusted third party, such as a bank. This is because the mechanism for recording Bitcoin transactions, which is called Blockchain, is secure and reliable.

These fundamental differences haven’t stopped people from using it: the total value of Bitcoins in circulation is now over $190Bn!

To find out more about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and what they’ll mean to your business moving forward, read our CEO’s Briefing:

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

How to Make It Work When They Work from Home

Many of our clients want to explore opportunities for their employees to work from home. They have two main drivers:

  1. Reduce office costs by reducing space requirements and associated expenses
  2. Ease recruitment by (a) offering more attractive terms and (b) opening-up options to recruit outside their immediate locality

In addition, many knowledge workers are frustrated by their commute. As they increasingly see others working from home, they begin to expect this as an option from their own employers.

But there are so many questions that arise when companies allow their employees to work from home. Our CEO’s Guide, How to Make It Work When They Work from Home, will help answer many of these questions.

The guide covers the business and IT strategy aspects of working from home. It includes issues of cost reduction, recruitment, teamwork, cultural changes, and collaboration. Specifically, it describes team-working for home workers, technology and connectivity, and use of products such as Teams, Slack, SharePoint, Trello, Basecamp, Wrike or WhatsApp.

This guide covers how to enable business applications for those working from home (including virtual desktop technology, e.g. Citrix) as well as outlining issues of cybersecurity. In addition, it discusses how to change management style for remote workers, including defining jobs, monitoring performance, and encouraging collaboration.

Finally, the CEO’s guide talks about how home-working can improve disaster resilience, which is related to business continuity planning, (BCP), disaster recovery (DR), and risk management.

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

 

 

 

Get Real: How Does Tech Fuel Business Growth?

We recently launched Freeman Clarke in the US and hosted an event at the Norwood Club in Chelsea. We invited 3 panelists to discuss how technology fuels business growth. The 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 largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

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You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

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