Digital transformation for business

At FutureLab we’re still busy during the lockdown. The reason for that is because there is no better time to prepare your business for digital world than right now. I saw this great image shared on social media today and it sums up the current situation.

Sadly, for many businesses, it might be slightly late. A lot of businesses, like ours, are busy right now and the fight for survival has already started. But let me explain, why is it so important at the moment, why you cannot wait anymore and why it will be so important in the future.

What is digital transformation

Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to transform your business to meet changing business and market requirements. Sounds really geeky, doesn’t it? Let me put it this way. Digital transformation for me is a way of growing your business with more automated work and less manual work.

A lot of us think that digital transformation starts with a website. And it’s true but only in a small part. Digital solutions are online and the front of a lot of those solutions are websites. These might not be the standard websites that you imagine but more about it later.

When to start digital transformation

Sadly, in March 2020 it’s relatively late, but not too late. If your business hasn’t started yet chances are that you’re suffering major disruption at the moment during New Zealand COVID-19 full lockdown. If you’re a small store in a mall and don’t have an eCommerce website your customers cannot buy from you. If you’re in any other business and you don’t have business processes, culture, customer experience, education materials (etc) in digital version, chances are that most of your employees currently sit at home and do nothing.

Solving problems with digital solutions helps businesses in times like these where pandemic affects everyone. However, it is also the future and you need to start right now. With less time, traffic congestion everywhere and ease of access to the internet – most of your customers/users/employees are online already.

I am speaking with a business for the last 6 months and back then they were considering moving to an online ordering system. They are a wholesale company and they are so busy that they don’t have time to go digital with their ordering system. They know they have to do it but they wanted to plan it for the next six to twelve months.  A week before lockdown they called me to kick off the project as soon as possible. On a day of lockdown, they called me again to put the project on hold until the situation gets better.

There are a few problems with pushing away digital solutions. Firstly – an obvious one: some businesses without a digital presence just don’t exist during the pandemic. Secondly, postponing building a solution causes more problems because now the competition is pushing it hard too. Everyone is trying to survive. Lastly, that business is postponing customers’ adaptation. It’s important to remember that digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and customers or users have to adapt too. And if there are no options for your users or customers when they need it, they will find another place to do their business.

How to start digital transformation

Quickly. Yes, if you haven’t started yet, you need to start right now. The beginning is easy. When I consult businesses about moving digital, whether they’re doctors, construction companies or farmers, I always ask the same question.

When you come to work, what is the most manual work that you do?

In most cases, everyone can name that one thing, timesheet, accounts, customer email orders, moving the data between systems, there are thousands of possibilities. But pick one, you must get used to it too. You don’t need me or anyone else to start.

Here are a few examples. Let’s say that you are a small company and you do timesheets on the paper. Create a Google Sheets document and share it with your team. Ask them to help you create a good format that you can repeat weekly/monthly and start filling out timesheets online. This way you can search through documents, you can total numbers easily and most importantly – you can’t lose them! And it will be so much easier to move to any timesheet app once you’re already used to using computers.

Another example, say that you are a small shop in New Plymouth selling gifts to tourists. Pretty bad time for you right now right? But today you can roll out very simple Shopify website yourself, for a few dollars a month you can be visible. It might be not the most beautiful website in the country but at least you have something out there. You can create a Facebook page if you don’t have it yet and put your products on the Facebook store. From being nowhere within days you can be somewhere.

If you’re a much bigger organisation, start yourself too. Let me give you a great example – a big farm management company has to store a lot of food safety data and individual farm data. It took us weeks to collect the information about what goes where. Put it this way – we, IT people are very good at solving problems. But we’re really bad at farming (at least most of us, myself included). So you can explain the details of Spray Dairy to us for the next 2-3 hours or you can just spend some time to describe it yourself. Surely there will be follow up questions and some extra time needed but no matter how complex digital solution you’re looking for – a good scope changes your project from “nothing” to “something”.

Examples of digital transformation

If it’s still hard to imagine what a digital transformation might look like, here are a few examples of projects we’ve worked on in the past to improve companies’ performance:

  1. Online reception
    A good example in pandemic times. Many essential services need to put their staff in front of the building to control who’s coming in and what is their purpose of the visit. A simple web app or mobile app with big buttons and simple decision making tree deciding for a visitor what to do saves human contact and in the long term saves you money.
  2. Automated admin system
    Whether you’re a farmer, construction worker or a pilot, there are manual tasks that you need to do every day and there are ways to automate them. It can be as simple as turning your paper reports into digital reports or as complex as a full company management system. As a business turning digital you want to do as little manual work as possible.
  3. Chatbots/AI
    Many businesses are scared of AI and Chatbots saying that they take human interaction from their business and create the risk of losing a customer. However, there are thousands of chatbots around us already. I’m talking about Amazon Alexa for example. This simple device can be programmed for business needs and answer simple tasks for your customers, create voice orders and much more. And your customers might be using Alexa every day already.

These are just very few of simple digital transformation examples. You don’t have to see it as a complicated task. The goal here is to make it easier for you to run your business. Anything that digital solution can help you with long term will bring you money. Whether it’s a simple eCommerce website selling your products or a complex farm management system digital transformation will change your business and ensure your business continuity in harsh times. There is no better time to start than right now. So what are you waiting for?

FutureLab 2020 Summary and Christmas Opening Hours

The year 2020 has been a very interesting year for everyone and FutureLab was no exception. We had our ups and downs, we saw many changes in our own processes and in the way our customer’s do their business. It was definitely “a year of digital” and the global pandemic has sped up many businesses’ transformation. In this blog post, we’d like to summarise our year and share our vision for the future.

The year of digital transformation

In March 2020 all New Zealanders went into lockdown and a majority of businesses stopped operating. There was a rush to introduce remote work in many organisations and despite that remote work was no stranger to FutureLab, we too had to change a lot of processes. With VPN, IP phones and cloud storage it was easier, but without seeing each other on daily basis, the work certainly wasn’t easy. We introduced many team changes including daily Zoom meetings and regular check-ins. The changeover went so smooth and everyone loved working from home so much that we’ve never come back. Yes, that’s right. Since March 2020 the entire FutureLab team is remote and despite the fact that our office still exist, we’re looking at downsizing it in 2021 since… it’s empty most of the time. We will be notifying our customers about any changes if we decide to change our Penrose office location.

Year of help in statistics in Covid times

This year was very busy for us in terms of ongoing and casual support. Here’s our year in stats support stats:

We’ve helped 29 new businesses to solve issues with their website on a casual basis. We’ve also introduced smaller ongoing support plans due to Covid (starting from 2h a month), temporarily discounted many of our customer’s hosting or support plans and introduced no-interest instalments for our services. We understand that this year has been a very strange year when many businesses require urgent digital transformation, yet they can’t afford it because of economic changes. That’s why we’re upfront with our final quotes and no hidden charges and we help as much as we can with delays in payment and breaking the payments in long term payments. Finally we’ve separated our hosting from our support and development services and introduced FutureHost in order to support customer’s needs better.

Social enterprise

At FutureLab we strongly believe in working towards a better change. Whatever we do, we want to make an impact. That is why this year we donated to 7 charities with a minimum amount of $500 including planting 50 trees. We focus on sustainability and children as they are our future. Our goal is to plant a tree for every project we do and one tree for every website we host a year starting from 2021. We donate money every single month so if you’re passionate about any particular charity, please let us know, we’ll include them in our list.

Steps to become greener

In addition to working from home and reducing pollution from our employees’ travel, we decided to transform our FutureLab’s vehicles to ecological versions. From 2021 our vehicles will be only petrol hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) which means that on most of the days we won’t be using petrol at all. We considered purchasing fully electric vehicles, however, with customers all over New Zealand and Australia the technology is too young to provide us with reliable transport e.g. between Auckland and Tauranga. By saying that, we strongly believe that our next change of vehicles will be to fully electric.

What’s in the future

2021 is just around the corner and we believe it will be an even busier year for any digital company. In the last few months, we’ve been focusing more on developing digital solutions than simple websites. We create web apps automating businesses’ processes and business phone apps. We believe this will continue to grow in 2021. We are also going to continue optimising remote work and learn from global leaders in remote work like Human Made or Automattic. Finally, we would like to achieve close to 2% of our revenue in donations (that’s right revenue, not income!). We would like to focus on changing the world through digital transformation and we hope our growing customer’s list will help us do that.

Opening Hours

Finally, we would like to wish Merry Christmas to everyone out there and happy New Year. As we say in Polish “Let 2021 be better than 2020 but worse than 2022!”.

Our last day for work would be on the 23rd of December 2020 and we will be only supporting our supported customers. We’re back on board on the 11th of January.