Posted by Ranga Bodla, Industry Marketing Lead, NetSuite
Staying ahead of the competition demands innovative thinking and speed in adopting new strategies and technologies. It often means being among the first to envision a new market, rethink a business model, or implement a strategic new technology. Successful companies welcome intelligent changes in their business. But it’s likely that few companies would embrace the range of technology changes quite as whole-heartedly as Maclaren, a British-based global manufacturer of baby strollers and accessories.
For the past eight years, Maclaren has reduced costs and improved productivity through the implementation of “disruptive” technologies – those that remake markets and shakeup the status quo. To Jim Ramsey, Maclaren’s global head of technology, the main motivation for this approach is simple: efficiency.
“The more digital you are, the more efficient you can be,” Ramsey explained to Dirk Beveridge of UnleashWD(opens in new tab). “We’ve become a very technology-oriented company. Everything we do is based on today’s technology. We’re a digital company, and that’s the way of our future.”
An example of how Maclaren leverages disruptive technology to be more efficient are its telephones. Like most corporations, Maclaren had a corporate land-line phone system. But that changed when one executive jokingly suggested Skype, and the others agreed. After an evaluation showed Skype could meet Maclaren’s needs, at nearly zero cost, the $100,000 phone system was out and free Skype applications were on everyone’s desktops. Today, only 15 percent of employees have a telephone on their desks. It’s a change that saves them $75,000 a year.
Maclaren has been a technology leader since its beginning 50 years ago, when its founder, a British air force pilot and aeronautics engineer, invented the first foldable umbrella stroller using aviation grade aluminum to make a strong but lightweight frame. Today, it fosters a corporate culture that embraces technology change as a crucial foundation for success.
“It’s constantly changing, trying to stay ahead of the curve, and we’re doing what we can digitally to enhance the business—whether that’s enhancing the customer experience, or improving the way staff work,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey credits the company with foreseeing the cloud computing trend early on, first using hosting providers, then moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) and, in 2014, migrating everything over to NetSuite’s cloud-based ERP and ecommerce platform.
Today, the company’s B2B and B2C ecommerce(opens in new tab), inventory management, order management(opens in new tab), marketing, warehouse management(opens in new tab), manufacturing, customer support, sales management and financials are in the cloud. With everything in one integrated system, employees can work anywhere in the world, on the same applications with the same version of data. No data to input or reports to reconcile —and no need to get to the office to access important projects or information.
Having a virtual, mobile desktop boosts productivity as well as customer service. For executives like Ramsey who manage global organizations and deal with multiple time zones, it’s become an essential capability.
“Whether I’m sitting here in California or in Hong Kong, or the U.K. or Moscow, I can get to work. Everything I want is at my fingertips,” said Ramsey, pointing to the nearly round-the-clock collaboration that can occur between Maclaren’s four product development teams, all located in different parts of the world: “They’re all in different time zones, so when they work on an engineering document, it’s saved to our system and any of them can get to it when they need it.”
Cloud computing(opens in new tab) also relieves Maclaren of the cost of maintenance.
“Everything we do is outsourced. Costs are a lot less, the maintenance is a lot easier, support is easier, because you’re not always customizing things,” he explained.
And contrary to how IT normally handles a new ERP implementation, Maclaren uses everything “out of the box” and discourages departments from requesting alterations. There’s no reason not to adjust your old processes to fit the new – possibly better – ones in the software, he believes. So only obvious or critical customizations are allowed.
It not only simplifies the monthly updates but makes training virtually cost-free. “You can point them to YouTube and say ‘Here’s your training’. I don’t need to pay for trainers to come in,” he explained.
The latest technology change is a new B2B ecommerce portal, which enables Maclaren’s partners to place orders and manage their accounts online. That has helped to free sales staff from having to input orders coming in over the phone, fax or email, which was the usual way that small and midsized customers—about 80 percent of all Maclaren’s partners—placed orders.
The new portal includes account management features ranging from account status, product tracking, real-time inventory information, product returns, and, for those that need live help, a click-to-chat feature. That frees up time spent answering simple questions and allows more time for cultivating new customers.
“For the most part, there’s really no need for [customers] to talk to somebody. We’re a digital world at this point,” he said.
All of these technology adoptions have made Maclaren more flexible and able to respond quicker to problems or market changes, and enabled leaner and more efficient operations... so much so that Maclaren’s employee headcount is only a third of what it was eight years ago.
“We’re doing things today with much less staff than what we were doing years ago, and the reason is, we took that chance on doing things digitally,” said Ramsey. “We produce more, we sell more, and we do more with fewer people because of the changes we’ve made.”