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Digital transformation: Never a better time…

Sutton Tools has been working to digitally transform many aspects of our operations over recent years. Rob Sutton explains how the current crisis has forced us to fast track.

In recent weeks we’ve all seen memes and cartoons that demonstrate a widely held feeling: the Coronavirus crisis is forcing us to see digital transformation as an imperative to business survival during the current lockdown and in the months or even years of economic recovery ahead.

Successful organisations will be those that embrace the opportunity to justify and accelerate their way into the competitive digital environment we’ve been operating in for some time now.

Even prior to the lockdown, Sutton Tools was in the process of transitioning to enable our administration staff to work effectively and comfortably from home. Our customer service, accounts, marketing and leadership teams are all doing business and running meetings from home seamlessly using Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Salesforce, M3 cloud and our new Warehouse Management System (WMS).

Towards the Smart Factory

As a manufacturer, we’ve long embraced Industry 4.0. We’ve also seen the massive transformation it can make at some our large European industrial customers. For smaller businesses, Industry 4.0 and achieving a Smart Factory can appear daunting.

The first challenge is to pick a low-hanging fruit or two for digitisation projects. As Agile proponents say, “fail early and fail fast”. Then get over it, pick yourself up and forge on…

In order to get started along the journey, we developed the concept of the ‘Smart Enough’ Factory – as our Technology Manager Dr Steve Dowey explains in his article Digital strategies behind the ‘Smart Enough’ Factory and its follow-up,How the Smart Enough Factory helps you apply Industry 4.0 principles to improve productivity.

Making doing business easier for our customers

In addition to digitising our manufacturing operations, we’ve also been working on transforming the ways we interact digitally with all our different categories of customers. Last year, our Chief Supply & Distribution Executive, James Clark outlined digitally transformation initiatives we’ve introduced to boost productivity in incoming goods processes for our trade customers. These include increased transparency, multiple electronic ordering options, customised paperwork and digitally streamlining compliance requirements.

We’ve also recently integrated a new Warehouse Management System into our warehouses which boosts efficiency of processes such as receiving, putting away and automated stock replenishment. It gives us the ability to perform multiple order picking at once – all in a paperless environment while maintaining a high level of stock integrity. We’ve also updated our warehouse hardware technology, including RF scanners and mobile printers, to increase staff productivity.

The key objective of further automation of our warehousing operations was to improve customer service levels and minimise the time between receipt of an order and its despatch. Digital stock integrity is also critical to support our promise to maintain local availability across our 40,000-odd product lines, which our customers tell us is of significant value to them.

Escalating digital transformation

Last year we introduced mySutton for our B2B customers. An online portal, it gives 24/7 access to a business to the Sutton Tools catalogues and their pricing (including relevant discount structures for wholesalers and retailers), orders placed, invoicing, delivery information and a lot more.

The transformation of the way we do business is especially important for us, given we work across numerous regions and factories, and we quickly saw some great results. The success of the initial Australian portal led us to plan mySutton portals for Asia and New Zealand too – and we’re currently expediting their launch as a way of making business easier for our customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

In 2018 we acquired the iconic Australian brand Carbitool which supplies woodworking tools, amongst others, to factories, shopfitters, furniture designers, hobbyists and the retail trade. Like Sutton Tools, the operations of this long-established family business have been digitally transformed by the recent introduction of our eCommerce website which is available 24/7, giving customers the opportunity to shop during non-retail hours and from regional areas where stores are inaccessible. For our B2B customers, we launched myCarbitool – an online portal and catalogue which enables businesses to order and manage their accounts.

Necessity is the mother of invention

While living in a pandemic is no fun, it has given all of us a greater appreciation of the value of technology – in both our personal and professional lives. I believe that now is an opportunity for many to take their first or next steps towards digital transformation of their operations. That’s the way to be ready for the recovery when it eventually comes.

If you’d like to know more about any of our digital transformation initiatives and what they mean for your business, talk to your Sutton Tools Account Manager, or contact us.