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New research reveals North West businesses failing to use technology to prepare for Brexit

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The impact of Brexit is the key factor affecting company profitability, followed by inaccurate data and outdated technology, a new survey has found.

The findings were part of a report commissioned by OGL Computer, among managers of wholesale businesses in the thriving North West. OGL Computer is the technology partner to over 1,200 UK businesses and the author and developer of prof.ITplus, a fully integrated ERP solution for stockists, distributors and wholesalers.

The survey revealed that 53% of respondents saw the impact of Brexit as the main element affecting company profitability, ahead of inaccurate data and outdated technology, at 47% and 37% respectively.

With the fate of Brexit still to be decided, a danger for businesses in the North West lies around stockpiling products and parts that are currently freely available from Europe. Inaccurate data and outdated technology are the major concerns that can, however, be influenced by wholesale businesses. Inaccurate data can lead to potential loss of revenue and inability to correctly assess performance and sales.

One North West respondent cited major factors damaging profitability as: “Sloppy work from our sales team where they follow an old price rather than checking up-to-date prices with suppliers, and price increases from suppliers which are difficult to pass on to customers in the current climate.”

Entering a potentially uncertain economic period, North West businesses efforts to increase profitability are critical. Technology is at the heart of this. 87% of respondents agreed that technology is vital to the efficient running of their business.

Alarmingly, all respondents still use some form of manual data processing, despite 80% of North West businesses surveyed agreeing that manual processes slowed down their business efficiency.

A key finding was the wide spread of technologies used and the disparate nature of systems that are not necessarily “talking to each other” to provide a full view of operations. 70% of respondents agreed that automating business processes helps their companies stay competitive, but businesses across the North West still use a range of software systems to function.

80% of respondents use one or more systems to run their business, from accounting software and CRM (customer relationship management) to ERP (enterprise resource planning).

Despite 90% agreeing that ERP systems give greater visibility and control of stock, 50% of respondents thought that ERP systems are only for larger businesses. 57% of respondents saw benefits from integrating disparate systems, with the main benefits of using a single, central ERP system cited as a reduction in admin time (80%), followed by improved accuracy of information, and improved efficiencies and reduced duplication of work across different departments, both 40%.

Cost (47%), fear of change (40%), and time taken for migration and data security (both 33%) were the main barriers for integrating disparate systems into a single central ERP system. Cost is associated with the lack of information about affordable subscription-based models.

Critically though, ERP systems are a key technology with North West businesses. Alex Blakeley, Financial Director at Frank Blakeley, commented on the Lancashire-based tools and fixings wholesaler implementing a single ERP system: “This has given us a full visual on all activities within our business and allows everything to be transparent. So, anyone can look on the system at a product and know the who, what and when of a transaction.”

Single systems are beneficial, for example, with online stores, where stock checks and reporting ensure that customers have a good understanding of delivery timescales and product availability. Indeed, North West survey respondents confirmed that e-commerce is growing in significance, with 83% stating that being able to sell products online easily is important to them.

Nick Davies, Head of Software Development at OGL Computer, commented: “The survey findings correlate with much of what we are hearing from our clients. The uncertainty of Brexit and impact of wage increases is leading companies across the UK, not just in the North West, to focus on increasing profitability, with technology playing a huge role in business success.

“Many smaller businesses just don’t have the time or money to prepare for Brexit and are waiting for a new decision date, and whatever the outcome they are hoping that EU and British governments take a pragmatic approach to enable continued business with EU suppliers and customers.

“It’s great to see businesses adopting more technology instead of inefficient manual processes, but disparate systems are not always leading to efficiency. A single view of a business, with the same information available to multiple users, will lead to better profitability, increased productivity and accurate data for planning purposes. It also enables wholesalers to extract data much more easily, and analyse and manipulate the data to assist with reporting.

“At OGL Computer, we take our clients through a comprehensive process to ensure we fully understand their business and the way they operate, and then map their processes into our software. We also plan the migration process from data transfer to go live in detail to minimise business disruption.”