Digital solutions have helped many builders’ merchants future-proof their operations and open up new opportunities, including EH Smith. PBM spoke with the merchant’s Senior Business Analyst James Cave, who reflects on how Kerridge Commercial Systems’ (KCS) K8 software has become the core platform for its trading operations and supports its ambitions for further digital growth.
The need for builders’ merchants to adopt digital solutions has never been greater. Technology has not only proved integral to helping merchants tackle numerous challenges, including those posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to position them for future success.
EH Smith is one example of a merchant that is using digital solutions to become more agile and adaptable. The business installed its K8 business management software approximately two-and-a-half years ago, and now supports the entire operation from sales through to general management and finance.
A number of valuable lessons were learnt during the implementation phase, which James believes any builders’ merchant should consider when choosing a new ERP provider. He said: “Do not underestimate the complexity of your own processes and don’t assume that the consultants or stakeholders who are configuring the system understand the business in the same way that you do —you have to be really clear about walking through the processes.
“The day-to-day tasks aren’t going to be what catches you out but try to identify any exceptions before you go live on your new software — this way, you should only be left with the real outlying issues that nobody could ever have predicted.”
He also recommended getting “real life users” involved from the start, as they will help identify any areas of the software that need clarification, or processes that should be put in place before the system goes live.
EH Smith made the most of the support that was available from KCS post-go live by organising a number of consultancy days to address issues as they arose. This provided the business with access to an on-site consultant with an in-depth knowledge of the system, therefore adding an “extra layer of support” during the weeks following the implementation.
James acknowledged: “I’d say our implementation was 90% smooth sailing — you’ll never capture everything before go-live, as with all major changes there were teething issues. However, we had a dedicated project team which definitely helped.”
Facilitating a new normal
EH Smith has staff across 11 branches, so accessing the system remotely was important — something that became essential as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. James said: “Many of our back-office functions could be performed from home — we have a VPN that enables people to use the system from anywhere, and the KCS client had no problem handling these access requests.”
K8 has also enabled EH Smith to automate a large proportion of its purchase ledger processing which has reduced the need for staff to be on site, as James explains: “If all our purchase ledger invoices were still coming in via mail, email or post, and we had a team of people processing them manually on the system, then we would have struggled hugely during the lockdown period.
“Fortunately, since going live, we have been taking advantage of moving suppliers to EDI processing of purchase invoices, so this is one area K8 has really helped us with.”
A digital future
Digital transformation has clearly been expedited among many builders’ merchants over recent months, and EH Smith is already exploring other solutions that could benefit its operations in the future.
“There’s quite a digital roadmap ahead of us,” James confirmed. “We’re very interested in integrating K8 ePOD into our software whilst we have already implemented delivery management which replaces old paper-based processes that were time consuming and prone to error. The day’s delivery schedule for a branch is now managed on screen in a simple drag and drop user interface.
“K8 ePOD will give our drivers access to an app that enables them to capture signatures electronically and take photos of deliveries and site conditions, which are all automatically fed back into K8 and attached to the sales order — this feels like the next natural step in our delivery management journey.”
The merchant is also considering adopting K8 eReceipts, an app that will allow the business to book receipts from purchase orders immediately into stock and manage any issues as they arise, helping to streamline the booking in and goods in processes.
“I think its common knowledge that builders’ merchants have historically been slow to adopt new technologies,” concluded James. “However, we’re now starting to see in builders’ merchant forums that the uptake of these solutions is accelerating. The industry is waking up to a digital era — and it can only reap benefits.”
For more information on K8 or any of the other digital solutions available from Kerridge CS, go to www.kerridgecs.com