Robert Bostock, Principal, Investcorp UK
Robert Bostock joined Investcorp in 2017 from Space NK, where he held the position of Director of Technology with responsibility for eCommerce, Customer Relationship Management and IT. Prior to that, Robert spent 2 years at The Dune Group, a privately owned UK Footwear Brand as Group Head of eCommerce. Previous roles include Head of eCommerce at White Stuff and Thomas Pink (LVMH). Robert holds a BA (hons) in Economics from De Montfort University, England.
Digital disruption and the 4th industrial revolution – what do you see as the key opportunities and challenges for companies?
Digitisation will mean different things for different companies. There is certainly no ‘cookie-cutter’ model, given the pace of technological development and the myriad of applications available. Digital disruption provides a business the opportunity to review where value is created within the company, and select the technologies and processes that offer the greatest rewards. Digital commerce (ecommerce and omni-channel), AI and Robotics will continue to bring value to businesses as they mature not only in terms of speed, accuracy, cost of development and delivery, but also in terms of application and focus for key value drivers. That said, digitisation covers such a broad range that virtually all the main themes, including; ecommerce, omni-channel, CRM, big data, IoT, AI, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, cyber security and more can all offer game-changing opportunities if they are harnessed correctly and applied to the key value-drivers of the firm.
Companies in the MENA region have a unique opportunity to learn from the best practice and technological developments that US and European businesses are taking on board. MENA businesses that choose to embrace these developments, along with a spirit of innovation, will be able to cut operational costs and establish themselves as market leaders and changers. A prime example of a US /EU business that has done this is Grocery, which is currently undergoing a digital step-change with the proliferation of new models and technologies in the retail grocery sector. I expect to see fundamental shifts in this industry over the next few years.
However, for some companies, the most difficult challenge is not technological; rather, it is cultural. To truly embrace a digital vision for the future, an enormous cultural change is required from within, from board down to individual operator. This is the area that often generates the greatest internal conflict and angst. When combined with the talent and investment required to execute a digital vision, implementing change can feel almost paralysing. Therefore, many successful projects adopt a pragmatic view combined with agile methodology to incrementally deliver the digital vision.
Distraction is also a problem. With so many new technological solutions floating in the market, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. On Monday ecommerce is vital, on Tuesday we must develop AI, Wednesday see’s blockchain as the next big thing, and so on. Businesses should keep current with the pace of development in the technology sector while making judgements on how relevant (and applicable) new solutions are to the company.
How are companies you deal with moving in to this area?
We have developed a strong digital framework that is unique to each company. Our framework blends fundamental value-drivers with historical developments, infrastructure and operational readiness to create a digital vision for that business’s future. We regularly review both the vision and progress externally and within the company, to ensure we are continually improving and accommodating changes and shifting priorities. In such a fast-changing environment, the need for pragmatic and flexible planning is vital to ensuring we can capitalise on opportunities as they arise. The digital agenda is included in every board meeting in order to review, discuss and plan future developments.
Technology, infrastructure, project reviews and talent development are the main areas that we focus on with management teams. We frequently conduct workshops and collaborate with other Investcorp portfolio companies to incrementally move closer to realising a digital vision. The establishment of KPIs has been a crucial milestone for many initiatives, as it allows un-biased reporting of success or failure and gauges the pace of change.
Taking Dainese as an example, this company has developed a clear definition of their Omni-channel vision. Through the establishment of an Omni-channel steering committee (sponsored by CEO and staffed by COO/Retail/Wholesale/Ecommerce/Investcorp) – Dainese is quickly moving towards the demonstration and execution of its Omni-channel story which can be summarised as:
- A base of healthy, growing ecommerce (developing the direct to consumer story)
- Cooperation and collaboration between channels – example: promotional calendar across retail, wholesale and ecommerce
- Singularity of customer experience – example: Click and Collect, omni-channel gift card etc
- Synergies and optimisation intra-channels – example: Endless Aisles, harmonisation of KPIs
What role will corporate governance play as the world embraces a future rocked by big data, IoT and an ever-more technology-based society?
The role of governance will become ever more critical to success. It is all too easy for management to be seduced by the ’emperors new clothes’ of the latest trend or theme that becomes a buzz-word in the industry. The board and its directors should be continually mindful of the value drivers of their business and analyse how technological developments contribute to achieving that vision. Good governance is vital to reaping the benefits of digitalisation and the directors have an essential role to play within this. While directors need not be functional experts in the elements of digitisation, they should be asking questions and probing to ensure the impact of that technology is thought-through, beneficial and has the quality required.
Additionally, governance is likely to become ever more important in terms of investment sizing. Directors who objectively balance the cost vs benefit of a proposed investment, and frame that within the overall direction of the company, will be able to offer increased value in terms of corporate governance.
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