The Digital Transformation Journey: A Manufacturer’s View

Regardless of where you’re up to with your digital transformation journey, you need to put your customers at the heart of it. For many manufacturers, the need to digitize processes has been twofold. Streamlining internal processes is clearly a priority, and it can also improve the customer experience you offer.

We recently ran a joint webinar with our partners at Swiftcloud to discuss the importance of digital transformation in manufacturing. At the Webinar, were joined by eCommerce professionals from J Rosenthal and Staedtler who spoke about their digital transformation journeys.

Meet the panel:

digital-transformation-panel

During the webinar, we asked attendees how far along they were in their digital transformation journeys. Here are the results:

digital-tranformation-poll-results.

This goes to show that driving digital transformation is front-of-mind in the manufacturing industry.

Some of the steps to take on the digital transformation journey

Starting the digital transformation doesn’t have to be daunting, and you don’t have to take everything on at once. If anything, the mantra “slow and steady wins the race” might be best applied.

Our panelists have first-hand experience in implementing digital transformation strategies in manufacturing. Here are some of the key pieces of advice they offered up:

Getting started

First off, you’ll need to identify the internal processes you want to improve. Anything manual that can be digitized should be the priority. Spending inordinate amounts of time dealing with lengthy manufacturing processes, or supply chain issues, means you won’t be offering the best possible customer experience.

Think really carefully about what you want to achieve and why. At the end of the day, you want to provide high-quality goods and services to your customers. This was a primary concern for Simon Fu, eCommerce Manager at J Rosenthal.

“Traditionally, we were using erroneous spreadsheets to manage our product data. We also had data stored in our ERP and individual user files. As a result, the time to market from design to our products being eCommerce ready was super long. This is when we knew we had to find an all-in-one solution that all departments could use to work more efficiently.”

Who to involve

It’s all well and good knowing what you want to improve. What’s equally as important is knowing who will be impacted by these improvements. Think of the team members who use the internal systems. Ultimately, they’re the ones who keep everything running.

Avoid unnecessary downtime and educate your team members on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Jim De Jong, Business Development Manager at Swiftcloud recommended having a “Digital Transformation Champion”

“You need someone who can gather information on your internal systems, how they work and why you have them. They can then draw all this information together from the different teams to create a clear understanding of how everything works. Start small and then move on to the next stage. If you’re a global business, you also need to think about how your strategy can be rolled out internationally.”

Natalie O’Rourke-Jones, Head of Category Management at Staedtler further reinforces the importance of a collaborative approach.

“We liaised closely with our development team to see what we could actually do. Depending on your timeframe, you also need to determine how long everything is going to take. Staedtler is a global business, so collaboration was key in guiding regional teams when rolling out new digital technologies.”

Think about your customers

Remember the days of trawling through product catalogs and bookmarking the products you wanted to order? For B2B buyers, this is often the reality of their day-to-day situations when dealing with manufacturers. The order is then emailed (in some cases faxed…) over and manually processed by a sales representative. For some manufacturers, it may even be the case that customers had to organize a visit from a sales representative to get their orders in.

These old-school business models aren’t synonymous with a slick and seamless customer experience. Both J Rosenthal and Staedtler were all too familiar with issues like this. This was a big deciding factor for them to start thinking about digital initiatives that would transform business processes.

“The way we were working previously meant customers could only place orders when sales representatives were going to see them. This meant there were limitations as to when the customers could get their orders in. Sales representatives would then manually enter the order into our systems, so there was a higher risk of human error. Customers preferred to place orders online, so this is where the idea of a B2B ordering platform came from.”

Natalie O’Rourke-Jones, Head of Category Management at Staedtler

“Orders came in either by fax or email, and it was a lengthy process to manage because we didn’t have a sales team. As a result, we were processing and shipping orders individually as and when they came in. We found a solution that would enable us to import all orders from CSV files and then the whole process would be taken care of. This massively improved our service levels.”

Simon Fu, eCommerce Manager at J Rosenthal

Implementing and promoting change

Progress is impossible without change. Adapting to any form of change can be a struggle, especially if that change is taking place across an entire business. One of the things both our panelists relied on was demonstrating the value of the changes they were implementing. This went all the way from C-suite to end-user.

If the changes you’re making will increase productivity, make life easier, and provide a better customer experience, inform your team. For Staedtler, it was a case of creating a constant flow of communication between departments. Natalie also ensures there are regular reports to show improved performance.

If you’re looking at a variety of different solutions, you need to make sure the functionalities will suit the end-user. You also need to get buy-in from the C-suite as you’ll likely be looking at a long-term investment. Simon of J Rosenthal always makes sure any new solutions are scalable and future-proof to get buy-in from the C-suite.

Advice and guidance

There are loads of different solutions out there that can help you on your way to digital business excellence. Providers are there to help, so don’t be afraid to ask how they can help you resolve the challenges you’re facing.

Putting your customers at the heart of your digital transformation strategy will go a long way in ensuring its success. Speak to your customers and speak to your team members who know and understand them.

Your digital transformation journey is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. It will continuously evolve with your business, and your business will consequently improve overall.

Working in a more joined-up, streamlined way results in improved efficiencies and increased sales. Give you and your team members more time to focus on what really matters – providing the best possible customer experience.

We select our partners based on synergies and common values. Swiftcloud is an innovative B2B Mobile App that makes ordering products from wholesalers, manufacturers, and distributors quick and easy. We both believe in streamlining processes, boosting efficiencies, and offering seamless integrations to boost results.  All of these things contribute towards creating a digital transformation strategy that will take your business operations to the next level. 

Check out the full recording for even more insights from our expert panel