Digitization is what we’ve all been doing for years – sending emails instead of letters, PDFs instead of printed brochures, storing our customer data on a spreadsheet instead of a card index. Digitization is more than that. It uses digital technology to transform a business. It can be applied to production, marketing, sales and of course distribution; one of the most common forms is to move from bricks and mortar retail to e-commerce
There have been fundamental changes in the way people work in the last two years, and they are here to stay, according to Tommy Edlund, director of global sales at Konftel. Headquartered in Sweden, the company provides video conferencing facilities to businesses and therefore has a front row seat to see how changes in the industry unfold. “In many ways, 2021 has been a rollercoaster year, shaped by the pandemic and concerns about global warming,” he said. “Office workers around the world suddenly needed effective remote meeting solutions to keep performing.
“Since then, organizations around the world have successfully transitioned to more hybrid ways of working. A new phase is emerging based on a permanent mix of office and home work. We expect these trends to continue for the long term.”
The company launched a range of kits for in-room, desktop-based systems in July, recognizing that using Zoom and Teams from a desktop for meetings is now commonplace. Previously, Konftel focused on meeting platforms set up in a conference room, where the user connected their laptop to the existing audio and camera system. “The indoor sector is growing significantly, and we expect the two different scenarios to eventually level off at around 50/50,” explained Tommy. “We live in different times and a different world, especially around remote work. We will not go back to the way things were before.”
Such changes in working practices have a knock-on effect for everyone selling in offices that are now largely empty. Simon Drakeford, chief executive of the OE Group, and chairman of UK office products trade association BOSS, highlighted key product areas for the business supplies sector following the pandemic. Homework, which is an aspect of the digitization of the workplace, will mean that the demand for home furniture and home computers will continue to grow. “The mix shift from offline to online is seismic,” he said, “and packaging for e-commerce across the board will be very important.”
Richard Sinclair, Office Power CEO, saw the same shift. That’s why they have migrated their entire platform infrastructure to the cloud with Microsoft Azure. “We’ve seen online B2B purchases accelerate over the past two years. Traditional reseller and wholesale business models now require advanced B2B e-commerce technology, and multi-channel reach, to drive sales and operational efficiency.”
In a recent panel debate, several very experienced industry figures were asked how they see the future of the industry. Robert Baldrey of Aurelius (formerly CEO of EVO and Vasanta and CFO of Spicers) said: “The dynamic of the supply chain has changed… there are winners and losers and if you supply offices, as many of us do, there is a tendency that works against us. The impact digitization has had on traditional office products has been a massive, accelerating effect.”
According to Ian Haywood, managing director of UKOS, “the market in our sector has been running at 65% to 70% of what it was before COVID, and I don’t see it ever going back to 100%.” One answer to these challenges is of course to digitize yourself as a supplier; some of the areas where digitization can have a big impact are back-office systems, e-commerce presence and logistics management.
Digitization in action #1: Professional office supplies
Professional Office Supplies launched a new website in early 2022. A high percentage of their sales have always been in electronic data interface and so their e-commerce platform has been the interface between the company and their customers. “We adopted Evolution X (a B2B e-commerce platform from ES Tech Group) to provide a better online experience aesthetically. However, this appears to be just the beginning,” explained managing director Des McKeown. “Evolution X has given us given the tools to promote, cross-sell and better communicate with our customers without the usual visits from sales representatives We saw an uptick in sales among a certain type of customer and more inquiries about areas of our offer that customers were not aware of , in general.
“The office products industry has long been plagued with terrible data from wholesalers and suppliers, making e-commerce a very difficult thing to do well. Fusion Data (a content management, enrichment and syndication system for wholesalers and distributors) enables us to provide a much better shopping experience everywhere. The content is fantastic, and the ability to properly sort, search and filter – as simple as it sounds – makes a huge difference to the end user.
“The customer service team is very responsive and helpful. EvolutionX is a very robust and intuitive product; however, the few times I have had to call the customer service team, they have been extremely diligent and professional, always keeping me informed of any outstanding ticket as it is resolved, and always to my satisfaction.
Digitization in action #2: Southall Special School
Southall Special School, based in Telford, used digitization to solve a variety of problems they encountered in storing their school records. Pupils with special educational needs have long school records that must be stored safely and securely for 25 years. Converting the records into digital format using a scanner, such as the ScanSnap iX1600 from Fujitsu, was the first stage – but the Fujitsu professional services team at Filestar took it a step further by combining the scanner with cloud-based document management software.
Keeping these documents safe in the cloud offers many benefits. First, the school no longer needs to keep a paper copy, which saves filing space and eliminates the risk of damage or theft. Second, the documents can only be accessed by the correct personnel with the correct permissions; every time the documents are accessed, there is a complete, auditable trail of who read what, and what they did with the document. Documents can be quickly searched and retrieved using names, dates or keywords, saving time and administration resources. Digitizing their documentation system also made it easier to meet GDPR requirements.
The information requirements here will be similar in a clinic, GP surgery, accountancy practice and many other types of office – and the same benefits will apply to storing and sharing images, technical information and sales details for an online catalog or e-commerce website.
Don’t forget to follow us
like us on Facebook or connect with us on LinkedIn!