Along with words such as “unprecedented”, “ lockdown” and “social distancing”, “the new norm” is a phrase that should be confined to history; however there’s no denying that “the new norm” is applicable to both our personal and professional lives.
As an installer and supporter of business systems for small and medium sized businesses we are adapting quite readily to the changes presented by social distancing. More impressive, however, is the speed at which our customers have flexed their IT or asked for our help in enhancing solutions.
For our part, we continue to support and install systems remotely with limited on-site work where necessary. During this period, we have had system go lives and started projects for clients currently using 2nd generation legacy business systems. Our sales team did miss the face to face contact with clients at first, but ironically probably “see” more of their clients via Teams and Zoom than ever before. Web demonstrations are fast becoming a “new norm” and have proven to be very efficient for both the client and us.
Our customers, however, have faced a myriad of challenges to trade. Like us they needed to work from home and hold their management meetings using video conference, but as distributors and merchants there is no ability to virtually handle stock or remotely deliver goods. Something must be handled; stock has to be received, put away, trade served, and goods delivered (with many working with reduced staffing levels).
The growth of solutions for remote order entry (e-commerce) and mobile solutions has been exponential over the last few months. The solutions in high demand are simple to maintain, easy to budget for and (most importantly) seamlessly integrated to ensure that rekeying data was kept to an absolute minimum. Customer special prices, stock availability, credit limits and historic sales are live and drawn real-time from the back-office system, removing any reliance on paper.
Several customers opted for third-party best of breed e-commerce solutions which leveraged our world-class connectivity to achieve integration whilst others opted for the Blue Rock E-Commerce system and kept the back-office system and the web front end all under the same roof.
Receiving and picking goods became the second challenge. Whilst we couldn’t resolve the physical handling of the item, we could remove the paper trail; which would normally be passed from person to person during the process. Warehouse mobility is readily available with our solutions which provide real time facilities to check stock in, check stock out, confirm pick and pack and the stock count. A by-product of carrying these functions out safely was the complete removal of another operator having to update the system; a practical issue if the picking note is at the company site whilst the administrator is working from home. This is a great example of safety and efficiency working hand in hand.
This concept could then be extended to deliveries; most importantly, goods being delivered by your staff. The traditional approach would be to deliver using paperwork, something that could have been handled several times and relies on an operator to update the system with. We remove that by equipping the driver with a mobile phone app. Once installed this can take a picture of the delivery, record the geo location and time (to the second) where the picture was taken. The Proof of Delivery Image and data is automatically sent back to the office and the delivery is marked ready for invoicing; no paper, no delays in invoicing and a safer driver.
With yard space being severely limited by social distancing our customers need to be able to easily control customer collections. Its fairly easy for anyone to create an online calendar for booked collections, but this creates additional administration for operators to book the collection and update the diary when it is complete. In addition, they would be continually referring back and forth between the back-office system and the diary with details about the collection (who is it for, what are they collecting, payment confirmation, etc).
The answer was to enable our business systems to maintain their own in-built collection calendar. This ties the collection up seamlessly with the order and the payment and provides all users of the back-office system with a single version of the truth. Once again, the mobile phone app can record the collection on the van (perhaps with the registration plate) which avoids close contact with customers and the passing of paper.
So, what to the future? If we return to a safer world, one without social distancing measures, then the innovators as described above will have slicker, more efficient operations; as well as being fully prepared should there be any reoccurrence. However, if today has become the “new norm” then we fully expect our customers to drive further innovation within our business; enabling us all to trade profitably in a world where we stay 2 metres apart.