Success in a digital age means building a solid IT infrastructure that supports the core business needs of your company.
When ethical grocer Farmdrop first launched in 2012, founder Ben Pugh wanted to create an online farmers’ market connecting customers with producers selling local, seasonal food. In terms of technology, it wasn’t terribly sophisticated – customers would log on, place an order and pick it up at an allotted time each week at a nominated “drop” spot, often a local pub, town hall, school or cafe.
It was an interesting concept, but one that was slow to take off. “We just weren’t growing at the rate we wanted to, to become sustainable as a business,” marketing manager Damian Hind says. “It was when we decided to move to home delivery that the service became all the more compelling and customers were much more interested.”
Central to that pivot and the subsequent success of the business, which recently raised £10m from investors including the founder of Skype, has been Farmdrop’s evolving IT infrastructure. There are four platforms that control the supply chain: one used by the producers and farmers, who can see orders in real time and decide when to harvest and where they need to redistribute stock; one for customers to place and track orders; another for the distribution hub that will repackage produce arriving each day into individual orders; and an app that generates the quickest route for drivers and stores information about each drop-off (such as if a customer has a dog, for example).
The UK’s technology sector has attracted record levels of investment in recent years – in 2017, the £3bn secured in venture capital funding was almost double the previous year’s total, with giants such as Deliveroo, TransferWise and Monzo all closing significant rounds. But research from online payment software provider Stripe has found that seven out of 10 UK developers say that outdated technology systems are holding their businesses back.
Globally, technological capability plays an increasingly important role in a business’s ability to grow and innovate. According to research conducted by Stripe, almost two-thirds (61%) of the business leaders they surveyed (who span six different countries), rank access to developer talent as more important for success than access to capital (56%). Almost half (44%) of the developers surveyed believe the companies they work for are too slow to react to technology trends.
Margo Leach (AXELOS chief product officer) said: “Our research shows that more than 80% of traditional enterprises are in the midst of a transformation or starting a transformation programme,” says Leach. “Digital disruption is a constant state, and so is change. To create a business that can survive and thrive, you’ve got to have your fundamentals down. Successful transformations are built on solid foundations of good business practices, excellent customer service, and a culture that is prepared for and embracing of change. These solid foundations allow organisations to pivot and adapt when needed. Guidance, such as ITIL, provides a framework to help organisations operate effectively, and continue to deliver value to their customers, even through times of significant disruption. It also provides guidance to help organisations to maximise the opportunities new technologies and ways or working bring.”
At TransferWise, its 30 product teams are each focused on a problem the company is trying to solve and each is multi-disciplinary – there are developers, business development managers, designers and product managers all working together. The firm’s head of business, Stuart Gregory, says this approach, coupled with a significant amount of investment in technology infrastructure, has accelerated the firm’s growth. Since its launch in 2011, TransferWise now has 1,200 employees, spread across offices in nine countries, and four million customers that send £3bn in international payments each month.
Mrs.Gregory said: “You need to find that one thing that you can do better with technology – a big enough problem that enough people struggle with, that you can meaningfully solve in a way that’s 10 times better than the incumbent solutions. The big benefit of doing that is, if you’re able to really disrupt that space, and use technology to completely transform the experience, then people will talk about it. TransferWise’s growth is based on our customers recommending it to friends and family. That means it’s scaled and it keeps on scaling.”
Leach agrees, but warns that while the opportunities provided by new technologies are incredibly important, they won’t guarantee success if you don’t have your basics in order.
“The biggest mistake businesses make is thinking technology is the solution itself,” she says. “It’s exciting to talk about tech, but you cannot forget your basics. Who is your customer? What value do you bring to them, and how do you deliver it? Are they finding it difficult, or even painful, to do business with you?
“If you’ve got these fundamentals down, you can leverage technology to enhance your business – to work faster and delight your customer – but you can’t do that without those fundamentals in place.”