Real business story

Do your research before investing in new tech

Adopting technology can drive productivity, improve customer service and increase profitability. Before investing, however, business leaders should do careful research.

Company directors Tom Mathew (left) and Hannah Barlow (second right) spent 12 months looking for a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system

Ahead of any expensive and long-term investment, it’s vital for business leaders to research potential products and suppliers. Investing in new technology is no exception.

Get it right and the benefits can be huge. The wrong choice, however, can waste money and hinder growth.

Ask lots of questions

Dunsters Farm already had an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system in place when brother and sister Tom Mathew and Hannah Barlow became company directors, taking over from their parents However, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t fit for purpose.

Tom and Hannah wanted better performance data to help them run the family business, which launched in 1963. They also wanted to increase efficiency and deliver better customer service. Updating the old ERP was problematic and typically required clunky bolt-ons.

The process of finding a new ERP took 12 months and began with lots of online research. Tom and Hannah didn't fully understand what an ERP was and weren't sure what they needed. However, they knew they needed to get it right the first time.

After narrowing it down to five or six potential suppliers by asking lots of questions, the pair realised they would have to choose between two different types of supplier. They could go with a household name product, which would need to be customised to fit their business, or they could go with a smaller provider, which had a specific solution for their industry.

“Our old system was supplied by a big household name through a third-party provider. Every time we had a problem, they didn’t really know our business that well and would make a bolt-on. It all becomes a little bit cumbersome,” Tom explained.

Once they had gotten down to the last two potential suppliers, the pair went all around the country looking at the systems in action. Crucially, they needed to see how it would perform in businesses like theirs which specifically dealt with food and issues like weighted products, refrigeration and temperature control.

“We’d class ourselves as advocates for implementing tech, but we’re very strict on what we’ll implement. People see it as the answer to all their prayers but it’s not necessarily, unless it works for your business,” Hannah said.

“We’d class ourselves as advocates for implementing tech, but we’re very strict on what we’ll implement. People see it as the answer to all their prayers but it’s not necessarily, unless it works for your business.”

Hannah Barlow, managing director, Dunsters Farm

Get the right cultural fit

Dunsters Farm opted for a smaller player as it meant the business had direct contact with the people designing the software. Tom and Hannah were very careful to ensure that the provider was stable and well equipped to be a long-term partner.

“The cultural fit with the supplier was a big part of the decision. The ERP is often described as the heart and lungs of your business and you need to get on with the suppliers. You might have the system for 10-20 years, so it’s a big investment and the partner needs to be right. You also need to be sure there’s stability within the supplier and that they’re going to be around for the foreseeable future,” Tom said.

Dunsters went with the partner it felt it could work with the best. As the business doesn't have an in-house IT team, it needed a supplier that could work with the business closely to implement the solution and wouldn't charge for every minute of what was likely to be a challenging implementation process.

“The key thing was the team at the provider that we went with. They said they’d give us as much support as we needed and it wouldn’t be chargeable by the hour,” Tom said.

Reap the benefits

While there were teething problems, the system resulted in huge benefits. In its first year, the ERP system has helped the business double its profitability.

The system helps to ensure orders are right the first time, resulting in better customer service and large cost savings from spending less time resolving issues. Picking speeds in the warehouse have doubled.

However, it was a big change for the workforce and they had to make it overnight. There were issues on day one, for example, when the signal for the voice picking system failed and the warehouse team was unable to work until it was fixed. This put a lot of pressure on Tom and Hannah as new leaders in the business who had led this change.

After successfully implementing the ERP, Dunsters is now looking for opportunities to extract further benefits from it. They have now integrated it with a new customer relationship management (CRM) system, allowing for further improvements in data and efficiency and also opening up new sales opportunities.

Make a decision about which technology is right for your business

Use this action plan to guide your next steps

Top takeaways

Be clear what you want technology to achieve. Will it improve the customer experience? Will it drive efficiency and improve productivity?

Dedicate time to researching what systems and suppliers are available. Once you have narrowed it down, insist on seeing the technology working in similar businesses.

For longer-term technology investments, you need to ensure you can work well with the supplier.