How to digitally
Distributors can use readily
available resources and
expertise to ensure their
business viability and
competitive edge in well-
planned, strategic initiatives
in your distribution
Translate opportunities into results
Leaders in many distribution companies see
the promising opportunities of engaging with
attractive providers in the global supply chain,
digitizing processes and products, implementing
pro table multi-channel strategies, taking
advantage of the scalability and economy of
the cloud, and serving customers with a better
experience. They require a practical, sound
approach to translate these opportunities into
results. They also realize that the best of their
current practices may not help them outperform
the competition and address increasingly urgent
Globalization enables formidable, lower-priced
competitors to emerge from almost anywhere.
A tidal wave of mergers and acquisitions,
combined with modern e-commerce resources,
results in much larger, more powerful
competitors with vast resources.
Consumers are more informed and
in uential than ever, and they are learning how
to make themselves heard.
To remain competitive, distributors need to
introduce new products and services, but the
risks can be very high.
Meeting compliance, quality, and security
standards is becoming more complex and costly.
Time for digital transformation
The most forward-looking distributors embark
upon digital transformation initiatives instead
of relying on more conventional ways of
using technology and process optimization to
generate sustainable, long-term advantages.
Digital transformation does not simply mean
acquiring and deploying more and better
technology. In digital transformation
strategies, companies use computerized
technologies and digitally facilitated
processes to rebuild their operations and
gain the nimbleness to deliver valuable
innovation to their customers.
Recent technological advancements make
digital transformation realistic and a ordable for
many more distribution companies. At Columbus,
we have a track record of many years of helping
distributors succeed. We know how to design
and accelerate your digital transformation in a
low-risk, results-oriented manner.
Enabling technologies and resources
for business transformation
Many distributors already own essential building
blocks for digital transformation:
The ERP system is a digital, connected business
platform that links business groups, subsidiaries,
and the supply chain. For digital transformation it
is critical that your ERP system has the scalability
and exibility to support your growth and
Your business processes are a repository of
organizational knowledge, experience, and
best practices for enabling people, systems,
and infrastructures to be e ective. Digital
process modeling helps you identify and act on
opportunities for improvement.
If your company is similar to many, a wealth
of data assets regarding all aspects of the
business lives in a variety of systems and storage
mechanisms. To take advantage of your big data
as meaningful intelligence, you need to either
integrate those systems—which can be costly—
or bring the data together in a robust, scalable
environment, such as the cloud. Then you can
apply analytical tools to it and perform evidence-
based planning and decision-making.
Other, rapidly evolving technologies have
in recent years become more mature and
a ordable, and can powerfully support digital
transformation in your distribution business:
Within the internet of things (IoT), data
streams from connected sensors on almost
any durable product or equipment item let you
understand the items’ real-life utilization and
performance. Analyzing IoT data can help you
improve your products and nd better ways to
meet customer needs.
The cloud o ers the best opportunity to
implement your applications, data, and digital
processes in a highly scalable and exible
manner. Instead of acquiring more servers,
software, and networking equipment, you can
implement ERP and other applications securely
in the cloud, deploy cloud-based data storage
and analytics, and seamlessly bridge systems
and resources on-premise and in the cloud.
Two ubiquitous technologies are essential in
developing systems of engagement that can
serve consumer audiences:
Consumer sharing in social media can multiply
the impact of your spending and activities in
marketing and communications. Consumers
expect your company to have a social presence
that provides context, content, and community
to enhance their use of your products and
services. Social listening yields valuable data that
you can combine and analyze with your other
big data to design the best possible customer
experiences, products, and delivery systems.
Billions of people learn about companies and
brands, compare o erings, connect with their
peers, and consume content on their mobile
devices. Your customers want to manage
their daily lives in a seamless, digital, mobile
environment. That includes interactions,
purchases, and service engagements with
your company. Mobility can also help you
advance your digital transformation internally,
for instance, by bringing ERP and decision-
making capabilities to employees at any time, in
The most successful digital transformation
initiatives underway in distribution businesses
today typically combine the ERP foundation
with the other enabling technologies
mentioned. Columbus has helped a number of
distributors achieve noteworthy results in digital
Acting on new revenue and
Shortening innovation and go-to-market cycles
Reducing the risk and cost of introducing
Delivering pro table, immersive
Collaborating e ectively with customers
and resellers to create product and
Let’s take a look at a typical scenario based
on our distribution clients’ experiences with
Reliable, but uneven and aging out of the
A distributor of high end industrial electrical
components sells to clients through a variety
of channels—online, a catalog,and a call center,
and through eld sales reps. It also maintains a
service department. With increased competition
from lower-priced providers, the company
nds it increasingly di cult to meet sales and
Business leaders analyze data from the ERP,
sales, and logistics systems to get a better sense
of the company’s performance. The results are
mixed: On the plus side, customers appreciate
the reliability of the products. They like that
the company provides helpful content and user
Across sales channels, the brand experience is
uneven. Catalog sales handled by the call center
often fall short of the same level of engagement
that eld sales reps provide. Additionally, each
sales rep has a di erent approach and the
client’s experience depends on who’s on duty
and how well they are trained. Business leaders
analyze data ndings from the ERP, sales, and
logistics systems in combination with social
listening to get a better sense of the company’s
performance. The results are mixed:
in a distribution company
The company turns itself into a system
Traditionally, the company has distinguished
systems of record, such as ERP, WMS, and
systems of engagement, such as the website
Company leaders come to the conclusion that
this is an outmoded approach. For the company
to become more agile and competitive, all of
its processes and systems need to support an
excellent distribution experience.
The distributor’s new business plan focuses
on increasing revenue and market share
by providing a vastly improved customer
experience, with a special, targeted e ort
to gain more wallet share of their clients.
Complementary initiatives include:
A new sales training and incentive program for
employees in the call center.
A new portal where clients can view past orders,
generate return information and reorder
Addition of FAQ section and the website chat
functionality to enhance client experience and
provide a higher level of service.
Greater use of mobile ERP and the move of a
number of applications into the cloud, so eld
sales reps can, while in the eld, quickly recall
past orders, check inventory and place orders
more immediately and provide better service
and make intelligent recommendations on
additional or alternative products.
A subsequent review of business and brand
related data shows that revenue is increasing,
there is encouraging growth from customers
ordering from di erent product segments, and
the distributor’s brand equity has increased.
Soon, it also becomes visible that customer
erosion from lower-cost competitors has come
to a halt.
In surveys, between a quarter and a third
of business executives state that digital
transformation is a matter of survival for
their businesses. Many distributors will
embark on digital transformation initiatives,
sometimes without the right strategic planning
and commitment. If you want to maintain a
competitive, innovative edge, the time to
take advantage of digital transformation
opportunities is now, before a larger number of
your competitors adopts it.
Even before you begin detailed planning,
we recommend several basic steps in
designing digital transformation in your
Prepare a strategy:
Identify and prioritize areas of concern
where you already own the data and insight to
pursue measurable improvements. Bring digital
transformation rst to those sales channels
and segments of the business where desirable
results are most likely.
Think of digital transformation as a business
initiative, not as a project that should be
handled by the IT department.
Consider digital transformation a sustained
e ort. Your industry and market will continue to
present changes and challenges that business
transformation can help you address.
Optimize resources and technologies:
Your ERP system is the best foundation
for digital transformation. Review existing
systems to assess how well they can support a
digital transformation e ort.
Evaluate the economics and operational
advantages of cloud technology for your
business. Transfer workloads, data, and
applications whenever it makes sense.
Use your insight to build the right systems of
engagement where your customers, suppliers,
and employees will engage.
Ensure that business processes run as
e ciently and free from waste as they can, and
introduce any improvements that make sense.
Involve the right people:
Pay close attention to the voice of your
customers in social media and in every touch
point with your people, products, and services.
Develop a timely, proactive communications
strategy to support a digital transformation
initiative, involving all company employees and
key trading partners.
Strengthen the relationships with business
partners who share your long-term vision.
Your preferred trading partners should be the
ones who support your digital transformation,
because it can help them become more e ective,
Once digital transformation is underway,
evaluate what it requires in order to stay
relevant and e ective. As distribution
companies see results from their digital
transformation e orts, they often create new
executive roles, such as the chief innovation
o cer or the chief digital o cer. In some
organizations, digital transformation leads to
companion e orts to rebrand and reposition the
company based on its enhanced understanding
of consumers and opportunities.
Columbus o ers the expertise and resources to
help you plan digital transformation, put it into
practice, and achieve sustained results.
To learn more about how Columbus
can help you digitally transform
your business, contact your local
Columbus o ce.
At Columbus, we help our customers digitally transform their businesses
and improve the value realization of their business application investments.
We mitigate the inherent risks associated with implementing, upgrading
and replacing legacy ERP systems. We lead our customers with best-practice
consulting services we have re ned over thousands of engagements. We take
care of our customers and aspire to keep them for life.