The corona crisis has put an end to meeting well-dressed people in the office – immediately a significant challenge for the shirt manufacturer Eton, who makes a living by dressing the Danish business community. 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. Working with a strong IT provider, Eton was able to go from reactive to proactive mode during the corona pandemic.
“Video meetings and work from home suddenly became commonplace in the Danish business community when the corona epidemic hit in the spring of 2020 and shut down large parts of our physical activities. But the need to be well-dressed did not disappear – our sales simply shifted from physical stores to digital platforms,” says Henrik.
It became a challenge for the shirt manufacturer Eton – but because Eton a few years ago had taken a stand against its’ internal IT systems and suppliers, they were well-equipped to cope with the corona crisis. In fact, the company was prepared so well that, according to Henrik, they were able to overcome the crisis quickly.
“We have mastered being proactive instead of reactive in a situation where we are 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,” he 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 corona pandemic.
“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. We would not have been able to keep up with that development at the pace if we had to handle it in an internal IT department,” he says.
According to Henrik, outsourcing it enabled Eton to deal with the sudden market fluctuations during a period when much commerce was shifting to digital platforms, making it easier for the company to control its e-commerce and IT infrastructure.
Like a heart transplant
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: “It is painful to change an ERP system,” he says.
“The ERP system is where all business functions are located. When you change your ERP system, it is like having a heart transplant. It is 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,” he adds.
The requirements for a new ERP system were many because it binds the organization 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 synchronized and flexible than before. Besides, our customers’ expectations of us are increasing, and this raises the requirements for the ERP system,” he 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 was not easy.
“We came to the conclusion that internally we are not – and will not be – world-class when it comes to IT. We make world-class shirts, which is why we chose Columbus to be in charge of IT,” he adds.
Self-insight before trust exercise
Entering into a partnership with an external IT provider required trust. And sincerity on both sides to realize the potential of modern IT. After a long, sometimes almost painful, process, where Eton became clear on requirements and expectations for IT, the choice fell on a partner, who also gained full insight into the company’s IT infrastructure – and thus, direct access to see the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
“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 is why we are 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 is very much about being honest about the process and ensuring that both can win,” he adds.
Henrik reveals that at times it has been uphill to create that relationship with an external partner.
“It is hard. Especially when entering a difficult time, as during the corona crisis. It creates stress for everyone, and it is especially important in these times to have excellent communication with each other.”
Partner provides the solution for “how”
In the end, however, it was the good relationship between the parties that, according to Henrik Henriksson, 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 do not think we could have had maximized 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 and continues,
“If we found out we would get more out of an internal IT department, we would do it. But we believe that an external partner makes us faster, more agile, and enables us to focus on the things that are important to our customers. We want to be the best in the world to answer our what and why, but the answer to how is something we leave to our partner,” Henrik concludes.