What are the business benefits of digital technology?

What are the business benefits of digital technology?

  08 Nov 2018

Hazel Davis asks three enterprising owners how digitisation has boosted their business

It may not be easy seeing how data and carwashing go hand in hand, but in the case of Motorclean it’s a crucial part of the firm’s operations.

The company, whose 2,500 staff valet around three million cars each year by hand, recently introduced a number of key innovations. None of them, however, are in the cleaning process itself. “Cleaning by hand is the only way to do it properly inside and out,” says David Warren, managing director. “However, digital technology has been applied to the boring but necessary challenge of almost of our other processes.”

The Motorclean Management System (MMS) digitises the time-consuming and sometimes error-prone manual work of logging and tracking jobs. Since 2015, managers have also been able to use the company’s in-house developed app, iOrganise, to show customers performance ratings on the service, which is primarily used for those about to list vehicles for sale.

While app development may seem a little out of the ordinary for the business, “there was nothing available off the shelf, so we hired a developer to develop the software ourselves,” explains Mr Warren. He says that by keeping a close eye on proceedings the business has been able to develop a digital tool that they couldn’t have got elsewhere, with an intuitive interface that shows the status and history of any vehicle on the premises and an accessible system for dealership staff to enter jobs and view cost breakdowns.

The software also means that valeters are not left hanging around for what turns out to be non-existent jobs or having to resolve issues. Plus, points out Mr Warren, “our back-office staff spend far less time entering data or chasing invoices”.

Goodbye to the analogue age

The key challenge for the team in charge of the company’s software is to keep it current in the face of technological change and customer needs. “We change it regularly,” says Mr Warren, “and as a result it’s more versatile now than it was a decade ago.”

While the company has spent significantly on the app and the MMS, which is available free to customers, “it’s been crucial to differentiate us and for that reason has more than paid back the investment,” says Mr Warren, adding that the management team at Motorclean are all firm believers in “taking a good look at your business and evaluating where digital technology can add value before committing”.

His advice is to monitor closely what customers are doing with digital technology. “Make sure that your business’s offer is compatible or can improve their experiences,” he says. “There is a good chance every business will find benefits somewhere. But that takes a corresponding understanding of what technology can do in the first place.”

A different kind of data farmer

Hampshire-based sheep farmer and livestock manager Gordon Wyeth describes himself as a former technophobe, but admits that digitising elements of his work has saved him both time and money. He used to take his lambs by lorry to the nearest auction mart and his ewes to bidders at the market the next day, but now that his local marts have closed he has to travel around 100 miles to the nearest one.

“It takes a large portion of time out of my day and incurs extra costs,” says Mr Wyeth. “Once there, I would usually be faced with a small number of potential buyers, who might not give me the price I want, and this potentially results in a wasted journey.”

To overcome this hurdle, he took the decision to switch to online marketplace SellMyLivestock in order to list and sell his ewes online. Potential buyers put forward their best bid and Mr Wyeth can decide whether to accept or not. He believes that it’s not only livestock but farming in general that is moving rapidly towards a digital future. “By trading online, farmers can take back control of our own time and money, making us price-makers not price-takers and I can’t think of any farmer who wouldn’t want that,” he says.

Nick Hunter-Ford set up online butcher Heartier in 2014 in frustration at the quality of fresh supermarket meat available and the demise of independent high-street shops. “Initially, it was to understand whether there was demand to buy meat online, so we launched a really basic online butcher selling just eight products, from sausages to steaks,” he says. “We would get orders in overnight and then head to Smithfield market in London first thing to buy what we needed before butchering everything ourselves and sending it off to our customers.”

Fresh food business: Nick Hunter-Ford set up online butcher Heartier in 2014

By taking on the role of the butcher, Heartier became the ultimate end-user for the tech it had created. That meant Mr Hunter-Ford and his colleagues had an understanding of how butchers operated, along with an awareness of “what the pain points were”.

Once the business had honed the processes and proved that a market existed, Heartier stopped being the butcher. “Instead,” according to Mr Hunter-Ford, “we took the tech that we had created to existing brick-and-mortar butchers and flipped the model on its head. We didn’t want to be the butcher or compete with them, instead we wanted use our tech platform to help them reach beyond their high streets and flourish.”

In part, Heartier was able to build its tech with the help of angel networks, such as Nexus Investments, which provide a level of advisory as well as industry links. However, says Mr Hunter-Ford, “investing in tech for tech’s sake is a mistake. Every bit of tech that we have built, we have built to solve a real-world problem. Anything is achievable with tech, but unless you’ve worked out a good process first, you will waste a lot of energy building things that you have to change later.”

Heartier now uses tech to enable nationwide next-day delivery from local butchers straight to customers’ doors. The result, says Mr Hunter-Ford, “is a fresh food business with zero food waste and write-off. This would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.”

He says it’s increasingly difficult to think of many companies that are truly non-digital today. “Even market traders tend to take payments using a card reader connected to a smartphone,” he notes. “Tech is a transformative force and it’s great that it’s being embraced. The scale of what you can achieve is only limited by your imagination and that’s an exciting world to live in.”

Smarter, more efficient business

Digital innovation continues to change every business. Understanding the threats and the opportunities is essential to stay ahead of your market.

To find out more about how you can use technology to drive efficiency and security, visit brother.co.uk/business-solutions

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