Steel & Tube had to move fast to fully implement a new e-commerce platform when its 25 retail outlets temporarily shut during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The company was already on a digital transformation journey, having hired Mike Hendry, a digital change expert from Auckland Airport, in May 2019.
It had already become clear last year that to meet intense competition, respond to volatile prices, increase sales, and reduce cost, digital technologies had to be front-and-centre in its strategy.
Digital opened opportunities for both clients and employees, with new, convenient and efficient ways of doing things made available through using the cloud, chatbots, web stores and electronic transacting.
The first level four lockdown vastly accelerated the process and also brought forward a restructuring and cost cutting drive, including redundancies, in anticipation of a downturn.
As well as having to enable 800 employees to work remotely, Hendry and his team had to rapidly ensure Steel & Tube products were available for purchase.
The team made 13,000 products available during the first lockdown and the time the second lockdown arrived, 47,000 were offered.
“What we did as a team, and continue to do, in very compressed timeframes is to use the right technologies to enable the transformation of a traditional distribution business into a customer-led, solutions-focused partner company to our customers across New Zealand,” says Hendry.
“Employees have really supported the strategy and rallied around the specific digital initiatives because we all realised we had a window of opportunity to really lift our competitive game.”
But every journey has its first steps, and in the case of Steel & Tube that required a digital "health check".
“With the high levels of change in our industry - acquisitions, restructures, market pressures and so on - we needed to focus on our agility and the performance of our platforms,” Hendry said.
“I needed help understanding how the Steel & Tube environment performed, so we could engineer a more contemporary architecture."
That was when he tapped Qual IT to tell the truth about the current state.
“Pe-Covid, Mike was talking about a pretty significant digital change at Steel & Tube, which would put huge demands on the existing systems," said Reg Prasad, general manager, advisory and northern business at Qual IT,
“We had to make sure the systems were up to it,"
After that it was about ensuring the right IT investments were made and the right processes and governance adopted to enable the strategy.
According to the company's 2020 report that resulted in aspects of the company's existing Microsoft Dynamics AX platform being superseded. The company booked $9 million of software impairments for the year.
"We have written down the book value of some assets, including right-of-use lease assets and property, plant and equipment on sites the business has chosen to consolidate or exit, and the investment in the AX enterprise software platform," the report said.
"Whilst the AX platform remains a core business tool that underpins our digital strategies, as the business has accelerated investment in new digital initiatives and technologies, this is making some of the AX functionality obsolete."
The launch of Steel & Tube’s webshops and e-commerce platform followed the earlier launches of Stanley the Chatbot, which allowed customers to query and receive answers about orders and shipments, and "BIM-spec", an online portal providing technical information on Steel & Tube’s products.
“Moving from onboarding almost 50,000 products, ensuring a great customer experience, simple transacting, and delivery through the supply chain during lockdowns was a massive task," Prasad said.