The coronavirus crisis put an end to meeting well-dressed people in the office. For the shirt manufacturer Eton, who makes a living by dressing the Danish business community, this presented an immediate challenge. But demand did not stop.
On the contrary, consumers’ new habits opened up new business opportunities that Eton’s CFO, Henrik Henriksson, took advantage of.
By working with a strong managed services provider, Eton could go from reactive to proactive mode during the pandemic.
“Video meetings and working from home suddenly became commonplace in the Danish business community when the corona epidemic hit in the spring of 2020. This shut down large parts of our physical activities," says Henrik.
Henrik Henriksson, CFO at Eton
Rather than a drop in sales due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns, the shirt manufacturer saw and seized the chance to increase sales. This could have created a challenge - not all businesses are equipped to handle surges in sales.
But a few years ago, Eton had transformed its internal IT systems and suppliers. So, they were well-equipped to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. In fact, the company was prepared so well that, according to Henrik, they were able to overcome the crisis quickly.
“We've mastered being proactive instead of reactive in a situation where we're in the middle of an extremely difficult business environment.
"I don’t think we could have done that if our IT had been in-house,” Henrik adds.
The CFO estimates that the large and rapid changes in the market would have shut down most companies’ IT departments. This would also apply to Eton if they had not outsourced IT to external suppliers. The external suppliers were able to respond more quickly to the new demands created by the coronavirus crisis.
“The pandemic has increased the speed of the changes that are happening in the market. It requires increased flexibility to scale up and down and change the allocation of resources.
According to Henrik, outsourcing enabled Eton to deal with the sudden market fluctuations during a period when much commerce was shifting to digital platforms. This made it easier for the company to control its e-commerce and IT infrastructure.
A few years ago, what the CFO calls a heart transplant in the company was launched in Eton. The ERP system had to be replaced to increase security and leverage several new possibilities that naturally came with technological development.
Not an easy operation if you ask Henrik Henriksson.
“The ERP system is where all business functions are located. When you change your ERP system, it's like having a heart transplant," he says. "It's extremely complex. And you have to do business with the old set-up while the new system is being implemented.
"The ERP is the backbone of the company."
There were many requirements for a new ERP system because it binds the organisation together in functions such as logistics, sales, production, and finance. At the same time, the requirements for seamless data sharing between partners are increasing.
“Digital is becoming more complex and the infrastructure needs to be more synchronised and flexible than before. Besides, our customers’ expectations of us are increasing and this raises the requirements for the ERP system,” Henrik says.
The complexity of modern IT necessitated a high level of expertise to operate the systems. And Eton assessed that building this expertise in-house wasn't going to be easy.
Henrik Henriksson, CFO at Eton
Entering into a partnership with an external IT provider required trust and sincerity on both sides to realise the potential of modern IT. After a long process where Eton became clear on requirements and expectations for IT, the choice fell on a partner.
This partner would also gain full insight into the company’s IT infrastructure – and thus, direct access to see the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
Henrik says: “To have a really good partnership where both parties grow and reap benefits, you have to be transparent, both in the long and short term. That's why we're talking about the journey and the long-term goals to ensure that our expectations are consistent now and in the future.
"The daily operation has its own friction, but it's very much about being honest about the process and ensuring that both can win."
Henrik reveals that at times, developing that relationship with an external partner was challenging.
He explains: “It's hard, especially when entering a difficult time. It creates stress for everyone so it's important in these times to have excellent communication with each other.”
In the end, it was the good relationship between the parties that enabled Eton to take full advantage of the technology in a situation where the world was changing rapidly.
“Even if we had kept the IT solutions internally, I don't think we could have maximised our business in the same way. I doubt that we would have time to develop new solutions as quickly as we could with an external partner,” he says.