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Digital Transformation; Does size matter?

Business journalist Morag Cuddeford-Jones recently spoke with three differing companies to see what the digitalisation process looked like for them. Cuddeford-Jones spoke with a start-up, a SMB and a large company.

Digital Transformation; Does size matter?

The journalist engaged with a start-up called ‘The Cheeky Panda’; a 6 year old sustainable bamboo products company ran by couple Chris Forbes and Julie Chen. Though not so much a ‘transformation’, the company had started out from the outset as ‘digital’ by adopting an off the shelf SAS product to run the back office, which owner Forbes felt then allowed them to scale efficiently.

He further added an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system relatively early in the company life cycle, which all the other future systems would then ‘hang off’. This allowed Cheeky Panda to run a quite complex order/fulfilment process with one simple click of a button.

This ‘plug and play’ - adding and taking away components to their tech stack as required- allows for future-proofing without having to transform the entire stack. Chris Forbes explained to Morag that he felt it was overall vision, and not technology, that determined what was considered a ‘successful’ transformation.

“Technology might be cool but what is it going to deliver for your business? He maintained a long as you understand the fundamentals of the technology in use and what the end goal of the business is, this should provide a mid to long-term view.

As an example of how a mid-sized business ‘processed’ their digitalisation, Cuddeford-Jones spoke with breast cancer marathon charity ‘Walk the Walk Worldwide’. The charity have raised over £100m with over 1 million participants facilitated by a sophisticated website that also supports their email marketing, event registration, fundraising and social media activity.

The charity’s Director of Operations, Guy Aubertin, explained to Morag how their particular process had evolved from requiring a host of seasonal contractor’s data inputting paper forms to that requiring far less people and working remotely. Their digital transformation had developed to become more time efficient and flexible, whilst Aubertin acknowledged the concern that constant digital reinvention can be difficult and expensive.

At this business the speed of their digital transformation was greatly influenced and reflected by wider user habits. They reacted, for example, to a suddenly more hybrid world by offering both a virtual as well as a physical event and with e mail providing more than mere business tool and furthered and supported by social media.

The example of digital transformation and how it looked for a large business, journalist Cuddeford-Jones looked to Boots UK and spoke with their Director of e commerce, Paula Bobbett.

Considered by many to be the ‘forth emergency service’ as one of the few retailers allowed to remain open throughout lockdown, Bobbett explained how the pandemic had necessitated a huge acceleration in terms of their digital requirements, which she acknowledged had been under-looked and under-invested in prior.

The pandemic also necessitated a rethink as to the management of their digital and physical estate. The sheer size of Boots UK meant that individual stores became almost ‘micro- fulfilment centres and hybrid stores’ thus redetermining the role of individual stores.

The unprecedented situation also revealed new approaches to not just online commerce but omnichannel, for example facilitating click and collect services; a life-line for many throughout the pandemic, with the technology allowing to ‘flex up capacity’ at a time when much needed.

Interestingly, the difference noted by Boots UK between physical and online merchandising was timelines; with physical stores running eight-week promotions which simply did not work in the instant real-time digital world which required more ‘FOMO’ flash offers driving more ‘call to action’ sales. In addition, a delivery trial partnership with Deliveroo allowed their online presence to mirror physical retail convenience for drug delivery within 20 minutes. “That proved really powerful because suddenly we’re more convenient than some of our digital competition. We couldn’t do that without the strength of our stores”, expressed Bobbett.

Further, the eCommerce Director feels that size matters however she considers big business transformation harder, especially when working with lots of dated legacy tech and adapting those rather than buying from scratch off shelf, but once this baseline is correct, it allows for agile acceleration.

Irrespective of size, Morag Cuddeford-Jones says there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for digital transformation.

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