If you think about getting hold of customers or suppliers at the moment, it can be really difficult. On email, or through digital channels such as instant messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, it’s absolutely fine. But if you call a switchboard, there are very few businesses who have the ability to divert a large-scale switchboard and connect you straight to the right person. Or, when receiving payment from a customer, you might need to go into the office to collect the odd cheque. This is something I find amazing in this day and age - people still physically writing and signing cheques to make payments. These factors are all a part of digital transformation.
The reality is digital transformation takes a long time. For most, there is no quick ‘let's turn on that thing in a few weeks or a few days’ that will solve systematic challenges of either connecting with staff, customers, suppliers or whoever it may be at this stage. This highlights just how far there is to go for businesses to genuinely adopt a digital-first mindset. I’m hopeful this period will show just how important it is that businesses change and look to improve their digital presence.
B2B vs. B2C
On the whole, people are most aware of what’s happening in B2C environments; those are the headlines that get the most attention, but they are a very poor benchmark for B2B. With the odd exception, such as Primark, pretty much anyone with a high street presence has an online store these days, and as such, they may be doing fairly well.
B2B digital, however, is something quite different. There are, of course, B2B organisations who do eCommerce. Often that's as far as people's thoughts and assumptions go when it comes to digital transformation, immediately leaping to “can we sell online?”. For me, that’s not what digital transformation is about. In the same way that just building a new website also isn't digital transformation. They are certainly both aspects of it.
A lot of businesses have tried to react based on what they see in the B2C environment, and yet that may not even be appropriate for them. Very quickly they will find, if you want a full-scale trading platform for your suppliers that properly integrates with all your back-office systems, you are looking at an absolute bare minimum of a three-month project, probably closer to 12 months. For the vast majority in B2B, they're more likely to push pause on their digital transformation right now rather than push ahead, because of the uncertainty around them. Of course, the risk with this is that it can set themselves even further behind the curve in the long-run.
Tying it all together with digital transformation
Digital transformation is not a project you do. It’s a mindset and process that a business holds. Digital transformation doesn't sit with the marketing team or the IT team, it doesn't sit with customer service or purely with the Ops Director or COO. Companies need to see digital transformation as a wider business concern, rather than the responsibility of any single team in their organisation.
At NetConstruct, so very often, we are the final part that ties many disparate systems together. While we only deal with this outward-facing layer, we often touch upon the whole thing. More often than not, it is at this very endpoint that everything going on within a business comes together, forming the public-facing website.
In our experience, the web build projects that are most likely to succeed are for the businesses who have a very clear understanding of what their objectives are, what they want to achieve, and seek guidance on what the right approach or solution is for their business.
Considering the future
Questions raised about where your workforce and suppliers need to be located long-term is very interesting. Many traditional businesses still take some level of comfort in the fact that their suppliers are close by. But right now, it doesn't matter how physically close your suppliers are. This shift has severe consequences for everybody. Yet, for those countries and organisations that are more technologically advanced, it presents an opportunity.
There are going to be situations where businesses worldwide reach out to UK suppliers who have far more experience in digital transformation projects than our counterparts in other areas of the world, even if that means paying a premium. Suddenly a premium is absolutely worth it to have solid, dependable technology. Plus, we have no guarantees that governments around the world won’t tell us to stay at home again and not to venture outside to do anything other than the absolutely essential. There is no guarantee that this won't continue for years. If you’re unable to keep in touch with your customers, you're losing business. If you can't get in touch with your suppliers, you can't sell things. And there is no easy solution to that, it requires consistent and regular investment.
I feel this is something NetConstruct has been really well organised with. I was delighted at how quickly we were able to switch to homeworking which was never really part of how we operated previously as a business. We had every single member of our team working from home within one working day of the prime minister making the recommendation. A lot of this is due to our IT infrastructure, the investment in technology and equipment that we've made over time. Again, companies that haven't done this will likely be struggling more.
Let's deal with the crisis, but, if it lasts much longer than the months that we have currently been in lockdown, companies should take action. While interest rates are low, this may actually be the time to invest in something that could save the future of your business. For a lot of the organisations we deal with, what they need to invest in digital is only a tiny fraction of their turnover. And on that basis, could return significant dividends to business.
My hope is, that off the back of the current situation, many traditional companies will start to react. As a consequence, I suspect we will see people putting a lot less faith in bricks-and-mortar and a shift to create digital assets to solve challenges that were traditionally handled in a face-to-face world.
Digital transformation is a popular talking topic at NetConstruct. We’ve worked with many businesses, including Havwoods and London Chamber of Commerce, on their journey to ongoing digital transformation. If you want to find out more, contact us today.