Businesses have more opportunities than ever to use digital technology to re-imagine their operations: everything from the cloud to mobile apps, and even the likes of wearable devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), can drive productivity and efficiency improvements.
Companies of all sizes around the globe have exploited cloud storage, for example, easily boosting or reducing capacity as required.
This model has proved very successful for virtual items, but Lovespace, a UK firm that describes itself as "the UK's first storage-by-the-box company", offers customers the same model for physical items.
Founded in 2011, Lovespace allows customers to store individual items at a warehouse for as long as they wish, and then have them returned within a day of request.
"The idea is, if you think about how cloud storage has enabled the ability to store just a photo online a lot easier; we're doing the same thing with physical items. So rather than buying a whole unit and only using a fraction of it -- essentially paying for fresh air -- you just pay for the boxes you store," explains Dave Walker, CTO at Lovespace.
However, despite an operation designed to provide customers with cloud-like storage facilities for physical items, the company started life with surprisingly little in the means of digital technology infrastructure.
From spreadsheets to mobile apps
"The actual mechanics of delivering the service to the customer were very manually intensive," says Walker. "At the very beginning, the method of managing customers was Excel spreadsheets and Post-It notes on walls".
But as the company has grown, it has increasingly turned to technology in order to improve processes and ultimately customer service, much of which comes in the form of face-to-face interactions between delivery and collection drivers and customers.
One of the ways Lovespace has driven innovation through digital transformation is by taking advantage of the smartphone that every driver has in their pocket.
Previously, the operation revolved around Excel sheets for drivers and warehouse staff, with drivers entering the postcodes of delivery addresses into a sat-nav, before crossing the customer off the list following a successful visit. However, this created difficulties if a customer wasn't in or the visit couldn't be made.
"It was very, very manual. It worked, but there wasn't any real-time feedback, so it wasn't until they got back in the evenings that you'd know there was a change to anything," says Walker.
In order to improve efficiency, Lovespace developed a mobile application with accompanying scanning technology to streamline the entire operation.
"We went from a website with a poor mobile focus to a mobile app which allowed them to directly see what items they need to pick up and from where. From there, all they really need is a laser barcode scanner, so they scan the barcodes and get the customer to sign at the door," explains Walker.
The app also allows drivers to directly contact customers at the push of a button, should they need to in the event of someone not being in. The roll-out of the mobile app has ultimately helped Lovespace provide a better service.
"It's massively improved the customer service, because we can now say the driver is on drop number four of seven, you're the next job and we're 20 minutes away. We can give the customer more information and help improve the service," says Walker.
More data, more business intelligence
Deploying new technology on the front line has also led to a digital transformation behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to harnessing business intelligence.
"As we've moved to more digital mechanisms to work with, obviously we now have all of this data we can interrogate," Walker explains. "So we've been working hard on providing a new platform and we now have a much more accurate measurement."
"Now everyone understands if we change something, what it'll mean for the business. So it allows us to make much better business decisions at that level."
While Lovespace develops much of its customer-facing tools internally, cloud hosting provider Cogeco Peer 1 provides the firm with much of its server infrastructure, enabling it to meet higher demands for service during peak periods. Walker credits this outsourcing as something that enables Lovespace to focus on its core objectives.
"I'm a strong believer in a business focusing on its core competencies well; our core competencies aren't keeping servers running and having backups -- it's not where we can operate, and putting resources into that doesn't make sense at all," he says.
"It's much better to put resources that would have been those things into improving our own offerings".