Technology – is it an opportunity or an inhibitor? Mike McGee says you need to think carefully before you splash out.

Sci-fi author Douglas Adams once quipped: “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”

At this year’s Better Wholesaling Summit, there was a thought-provoking session on technology. The main driver for this was that there is a lot of technology out there and wholesalers should be getting on board. In particular, the panel Q&A concentrated on the things that might be deterring operators from investing more extensively in technology.

Rather unfashionably, my suggestion was that wholesalers should actually invest less until they get the boring old basics in a straight line – and know what they are investing in, too. Sadly, I have seen rather too many cases of wholesale managers being enthused by a piece of clever technology that captures their imagination, and which is then implemented with little concern for operational considerations and/or its usefulness to customers.

There is a natural temptation to get on the technology bandwagon just because you think you should. The fact of the matter is that if your business is not ready for the changes that result, it could actually set you back rather than miraculously transform your business. For instance, a wholesaler that is poor at customer service could make things worse by introducing a solution that makes them even more faceless to the retailer or caterer. Vital resources could be diverted into launching the package, compounding the issue still further.

Many wholesalers still don’t have an effective e-commerce site, and while all the talk is now of apps, neither of these technologies will operate properly unless product and customer data is consistent and fully cleansed. Different spellings of a brand, discontinued lines still on the system and incorrect product categorisation will produce customer dissatisfaction, which could lead to lost business and reduced profit.

In fact, it was interesting that two wholesalers came up to me directly after the panel session at #BWSummit17 and ruefully agreed that they had launched their e-services before getting their product and customer data consistent and fully cleansed. They deeply regretted their mistake.

It is all too easy to forget that technology is there to help you run a more efficient, better business and that it should have no existence other than this. Just because there is something out there that captures your imagination, such as drones delivering leaflets, doesn’t mean that you should do it.

Process, process, process

As with many things, the devil’s in the detail, and by putting the hard yards in at the beginning, there is a higher chance of success. Although there is an old saying that most IT projects take twice as long as forecast to deliver and cost at least double the budget, you can minimise the risk of this happening by asking yourself the following questions:

Internally

• What are the key pinch points in your business?
• Where is there opportunity that you have not realised?
• Where are the major costs?
• Are you sure your existing technology can’t address these problems?
• Map all of the above out in a process that quantifies cost, workflow and benefit.
• And, crucially, determine what is the impact on customers and is it beneficial?

Externally

• What technologies would customers like to see you using that would help them do business with you?
• What are the implications? What is the process to make this effective and deliver against their needs?
• Are these customers shopping at multiple wholesalers? This will influence what they expect and can practically use.
• Be sure to ignore your personal preferences and interest in a particular solution.

So, the message is: keep it simple and straightforward, and deliver against customer needs in the fullest sense. A front-end without effective data is no use to anyone, just as a solution that nobody uses is a waste of resources.

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