A big part of the transition to a system of engagement has been the creation of Tarsus On Demand (TOD), Tarsus Technology Group’s hybrid cloud division that specialises in on-selling various locally-available cloud services, but primarily those offered by Microsoft. Azure, Office 365, Windows 10, Microsoft’s CSP programme, and BitTitan make up the company’s headline services, which offer customers everything from backup, to mail hosting, to virtual machines, disaster recovery, and more, all hosted in the cloud.
TOD is built on the ODIN platform, a billing and provisioning system of engagement that gives resellers access to all of TOD’s products, which they can incorporate into their own operations by customising a front-end that they can offer to their customers – the end users Tarsus is so keen to reach. ODIN offers everything the reseller needs: it handles the billing, the actual provisioning of the purchased products and services, and it’s fully automated – it talks to Microsoft’s servers to get the serial numbers for the requested products, and requires no human intervention at all.
The next phase for TOD is to create its own marketplace, and expose it to independent software vendors that can add their own value to the platform. TOD isn’t there yet, however, but it’s being moved in that direction.
The reason behind wanting to create a marketplace, says Herbst, is so TOD can create a user-friendly interface through which to present its products – thereby addressing the user experience concern – but also to ensure that resellers have access to a worldclass online portal that they can use to boost their own profiles, as well as improve their product selection for their customers.
Gary Pickford, Tarsus Distribution CEO, has also talked extensively about some of the ways in which Tarsus Distribution is enhancing its internal processes and some of its customer-facing ones, through the process of digitisation.
“Digital is also a massive opportunity to educate and communicate with the end customer about the products and solutions that are in our business, without dealing with them directly,” says Pickford. “That lead generation opportunity, which is created via digital means, means we need fewer sales people, but more digital marketers in our business.
“Sales people interact with customers on a face-to-face basis; the good old traditional “do the deal, close the sale” conversation is not really necessary in a large portion of the consumerised digital space we’re now playing in. The customer often knows more than the sales person does, as well – they’ve done their research and know exactly what product they require.
“We also know that the products we sell are low-margin. Therefore, we know that if a sales person spends ten minutes getting an order for a single piece of hardware, no matter what it is, everyone has lost money. Hardware needs to be purchased by the customer, and delivered by the supply chain, seamlessly and digitally so that the sales person can focus on what he is meant to focus on, which is finding tomorrow’s business: the pipeline, the next customer, the relationship.
“This digitisation can facilitate a beautiful, efficient supply chain that serves the customer, and ensures they remain loyal to our digital platform, and not the product that’s on the platform. Amazon is a fantastic example of this done properly – they are laser-focused on the customer experience; in fact, it’s their byline: to give their customers the most delightful customer experience. Inside Tarsus Distribution, that is what I am focusing on.
Focusing on the first and last mile
“We’ve got a supply chain in place, and we know it’s all about price, availability, credit, and service… but that’s vanilla – so has every other competitor of ours out there. The difference with our approach is that we’re focusing on the first and last mile of that supply chain, because that’s where the “3% enigma” occurs. 97% of any supply chain runs efficiently, and that’s where most businesses focus; in reality, what loses customers, breaks relationships, and disturbs the relationships that our partners have with their customers, is the last mile.
“We’re spending a huge amount of time looking at digital tools that sort out that last mile. So automated POD notifications, and sign on glass, are the type of solutions we’re looking at. We even offer an Uber-type experience called Tarsus Xpress, a delivery option that lets our customers order from Tarsus from their phones, without having to talk to anyone, and choose where to have it delivered. They can send it to their premises, or directly to their customers.
“The customer receives an automated four-digit OTP (one-time PIN) on their phone, to ensure that when the parcel arrives, it gets to the right person. This gives the reseller peace of mind that even if their customer is standing in the middle of OR Tambo Airport, to get on a plane, it’s possible to get that delivery to them.
“The next phase of the project is to use customers’ devices to geolocate them, but for now we’re using the four-digit OTP system. That OTP is punched into the phone of the delivery agent; the delivery agent then verifies that this person is the recipient of the parcel; a digital signing option “on glass” is presented to the customer.
“The second the signature is given, it goes onto a Tarsus invoice automatically, and is digitally delivered to the partner; the whole process is automated. This system is live right now.
128 minutes from order to final delivery
“The test that we ran completed the process of ordering, confirming, and delivering a package, in just 128 minutes from start to finish. The customer received their parcel, and the digital signature was delivered to the partner to allow them or raise the invoice on their customer.
“There will be tons of B2B platforms; that’s automation. But what will differentiate us is the digitising of that customer experience without anyone having to pick up the phone.
“And that’s what I mean by digitising. Digitising and automating a B2B platform, yes, that’s been done. Is that really digitising, though? No, it’s not, it’s automation. But, when you start adding those tools to that traditional B2B platform, that’s when you’re understanding the customer journey and the customer experience, and that’s what keeps the customer coming back to your platform, and not your competitor’s”, Pickford says.
“That experience will drive revenue, drive the customer experience, bring more loyalty and stickiness of the customer to our partners, and grow our partners’ businesses. And that’s what I mean about the digital evolution: digitising purely for cost-saving is not the point, and that is where I think a lot of supply chain companies go wrong. Digitising so you can grow your partners’ businesses, and do it cost-effectively at the same time, is where it’s at.
“The merging of the two – driving efficiencies into the Tarsus Distribution business to drive down costs and the cost to serve, while at the same time using digital tools to enhance the “last mile” experience, so that your customer stays loyal and wins business from his end user. That is the community potential of the digitisation we’ve done throughout our supply chain.
“We have now just launched a digital B2B platform that a reseller can personalise to make it look and feel like his own, so that he can actually have live access to our stock levels, and integrate it into the delivery platform I’ve just spoken about. So a small reseller now has access to hundreds of millions of rands of stock that he didn’t have to buy, a digital platform he didn’t have to pay for, and a world-class delivery system that cost him nothing.
“That entire supply chain is available to our partners. The difference is, that platform looks at the Tarsus Distribution stock profile, live, so the stock you see is the stock that’s confirmed to be in the warehouse. The ability to provide such accurate information in real time – including accurate ETAs – is what enhances the customer experience, reduces their frustration, and encourages return business.
Warehouse management via digital
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the new warehouse management system (WMS) we’ve implemented. Even a real-time ERP system can’t do this; we had to build this new intelligence into our WMS, which then talks to our ERP systems.
“Using this new 360-degree live overview of our supply chain, we’ve identified 14 crucial points during the ordering and delivery process that our partners and their customers would like to receive notifications of. We can tell our partners their order is being picked, packed, checked, at dispatch, on the vehicle, on its way, and delivered, and various stages in-between.
“We use the real-time data gathered by our systems to present those 14 points to our customers in a standard template, so even if his stock is still six weeks away, he’ll start getting notifications that keep him abreast of what’s going on.
“The efficiencies we are driving through the implementation of these new platforms is partly to make it easy for our customers to order, but also to free up the sales force to do what they’re meant to do, which is finding tomorrow’s business.
“And what’s the end result of all of this? Your operating costs as a percentage of revenue gets to survivable levels. That’s it. But that’s not the reason you do it. Because if it is the reason why you do it, then the platforms that you would be inventing would be all around efficiencies. And not around the customer. So if you focus on the customer, put the customer at the centre of everything you’re doing, you will be successful.
“Look at the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world. They’re successful, not because they sought to make taxi travel or accommodation cheaper, but because they focused on the digital experience of the customer.”
And once Uber reached scale, it began partnering with other services to enhance its customer experiences even further. For example, the company partnered with streaming service Spotify in 2014, allowing Spotify users to stream their playlists to the sound systems of their Uber rides via Bluetooth and the Uber app.
“When you’ve got the platforms, and you’ve disrupted, partners come to you,” Pickford continues. “And that’s exactly what we’re seeing. We’re having conversations with logistical partners now that offer delivery experiences showing the parcel coming toward you, offering end-users an Uber-like service. Should we develop that ourselves, or partner with someone who’s already doing it? “Now that we’re on this digital journey, we’re attracting like-minded partners that want to collaborate with us on these solutions, and it’s great,” Pickford says.
Not over yet
Tarsus Technology Group’s digital transformation journey isn’t over yet; not by a long shot. But the company is well on its way to building a business that’s sustainable into the future, agile enough to adapt to the ever-changing market conditions, and with a range of products and services that make sense in this increasingly-online world.
This is thanks in large part to leadership that’s actively looking at ways of leveraging all of the tools at the company’s disposal to keep the customer at the centre of everything it does, digitising where it can, and introducing efficiencies and new digital functionality where it makes sense to.