‘Your customer is comparing you to Amazon’: How are UK firms managing technology transformation?

Businesses up and down the UK are going through a period of technology transformation that is changing the way they interact with their employees and their customers. Business Leader met with leaders from different sectors to find out how their relationship with technology is changing – and what impact the pandemic has had – and see how it is enabling them to meet the rising expectations of their staff and customers.

Jim Shaw is the Founder and CEO of Shaw & Co, a firm that advises businesses on mergers and acquisitions. He says that technology has been transformative for his business and that attitudes are changing in his sector, due to the proliferation and adoption of new technology.

He says: “Like many businesses, we’ve seen lots of communication shifting over to video conferencing and that has had benefits, such as expanding our geography and the ability to get more done quicker. On a recent deal we closed, the client was in Manchester, and I didn’t meet him until two weeks before it was closed. This was a sizeable deal and pre-pandemic; many people would have said you can’t exchange on a contract this big without knowing the person and sitting face-to-face with them.

“This new approach is also allowing us to expand internationally and focus on more global mergers and acquisition deals too. The world has been opened by leveraging technology. I think what we’ve seen is probably an acceleration of the adoption of technology of five or six years, in the space of a few months and it is removing barriers and changing business models.”

Preparing for the next generation

Matt Edwards is the Managing Director of Candid, a business that advises insurance companies. He says that being mobile-first in his sector and embracing technology around this, is one of the key trends he is seeing.

He explains: “We need to provide a solution that resonates with the younger generation, because they are searching for products and services on their phones first; and they are finding these products and services via an ever-growing number of platforms. This means we are looking for ways to provide advisory services via digital paths that they can identify with.

These new approaches hopefully mean we can move back towards a world where it’s not about buying the cheapest insurance product but about buying the insurance product that’s most applicable and providing advice to the client.

Technology actually forced the commoditisation of the insurance market, which I think personally is a bad thing; but conversely I think technology will also be the driver to change this too, as the pendulum swings back the other way and a more digital savvy generation scrutinise the purchases they make and are more discerning about the brands they engage with.”

Together with using technology to connect with the next generation, there is no doubt that the pandemic has played a huge part in changing how businesses interact with their customers right now too.

Take sport as another example – Lisa Knights is the Marketing Director at Bristol Sport, and the events of the last two years have accelerated change at the organisation.

She says: “The last couple of years have brought about unprecedented change. We have five sports teams and during the pandemic, our live stream platforms and digital options became the most popular topic of conversation. We launched three live streaming platforms for three of our clubs, and it has made us really look at how out customers consume our content and what we do.”

David Hill, Marketing Director at eCommerce fulfilment business Huboo, agrees that the pandemic has had a transformative impact on the sector they operate in and how they invest in technology in the here and now.

He says: “It’s clear to see that retail is changing and the pandemic has only accelerated this change. The traditional high street isn’t being replaced by online and technology driven solutions, but it is changing rapidly.

“In our business we have something called hub iOS, which is our own enhanced operating system. This does everything from integrating with online marketplaces and online stores, to also connecting with a global network of couriers, and that’s all done with one easy to use dashboard. What we’re finding with eCommerce sellers is that they’re looking at multi-channel solutions; and they are not only selling on eBay or Amazon.

How we can integrate faster with all of these platforms and embrace technology is going to be central to how we succeed
in the future.”

Move to the cloud

Mark Cullen, who is CEO of Xledger UK, says that it is now much less common for finance and business leaders to think that it is scary to have their finance systems in the cloud and digital transformation is happening at a fast rate.

Mark elaborates: “20 years ago our founders had the vision to put finance in the cloud, way before it was popular, and we saw adoption from smaller businesses initially, but we offer a solution to the mid-market and there was more reticence amongst businesses in this space.

“Many people genuinely thought of putting their finance system in the cloud as quite a scary prospect but even prior to Covid-19 we saw this starting to change, as many businesses embraced digital transformation.

“The pandemic then accelerated this further, and some companies were finding that they couldn’t access their finance systems effectively because they were on a server in an office.

“This has seen huge change and a more technology focused approach to payroll and accounting. What has also changed is that many leaders are now looking for expertise in each area of their business. For example, instead of having a finance system that has a CRM and HR platform, people are looking for more tailored expertise in each area and this is creating huge opportunity and change in the market.”

With so much new technology and platforms becoming available, how can business leaders best track performance?

Mark says this is something leaders need to invest just as much time and resource into, as they do in the technology itself: “It is one thing spending money on new technology platforms, but it is equally important to invest in measuring its impact too. We have put systems and processes in place that give us feedback and information that we can access at the touch of a button. Technology will only fuel growth in your business if you have this level of scrutiny and I stay very close to the metrics and that often means some Sunday reading.”

Internal and external tech solutions

When measuring the technology businesses are implementing, Jim Shaw says it’s also important to analyse your tech stack from both an internal and external position. A company needs to know how the technology is helping to deliver a better experience for both employees and customers.

He explains: “Much of the debate around digital transformation has rightly been around employee experience but as service providers or consulting businesses, we’re no longer being compared to other businesses like us by our customers, your customer is comparing you to Amazon and the digital experience they receive from them. The expectation of customers has accelerated during the pandemic and if we don’t keep up with that and how our customer expectations are changing, we’re going to fall rapidly behind. My view is as businesses we’re dealing with the internal tech transformation better than the external challenge at the moment, but they need to have parity.

“You can start to see clients getting frustrated that there’s a document that they don’t quite know where it is or they have been sent a document, rather than a link. Not every business or every part of a business can be automated but the challenge is making every touch point and experience feel seamless.”

Stephen Mayers, who is Head of ScaleUp at SETsquared, agrees that these internal and external challenges will be critical to a business’ ability to compete, and says that when it comes creating the next generation of technology and implementing it effectively, the relationship between business and education needs to be better fostered.

He comments: “The role universities have to play in helping UK businesses really embrace technology and developing innovation is vital, but we only invest around 2% of GDP in research and development and that is really not good enough compared to our peers in Europe, Asia and around the globe. If we want to really tackle this internal and external technology offering and ensure our companies offer an Amazon-level service, we need to ensure our ecosystem is the best it can be.

“I think that ensuring the different disciplines work together to tackle not just the technology challenges but some of the big global challenges we face will make a big difference; and we’ll also need to make sure we’re utilising the diversity of talent and intellect that is available.”

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