The SME boosting productivity through digital technology

The owners of a Lancashire firm have boosted their business productivity and effectiveness by better using digital technology thanks to a government-backed programme from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).

Bacup-based Heritage Kitchen is a small, family-run business founded by Judith Rice-Jones and her husband, Derek Jones. They produce a range of homemade chutneys, relishes and marmalades for retail and wholesale.

Judith and Derek have recently moved production from their home to a newly-fitted unit nearby. The brand-new commercial kitchen and increased storage space will allow chef Derek to triple their product output.  

Keen to ensure that back-office processes can keep pace with the increased kitchen capacity, Judith joined Evolve Digital, a fully-funded online programme from LUMS that supports SME family business owners to successfully adopt new technologies.

Evolve Digital, which is designed by leading LUMS academics, has enabled Judith to focus on automating some of their processes and slashing admin time and costs. Since taking part in the programme – which runs for 10 to 12 hours per month for three months - Judith has streamlined Heritage Kitchen’s labelling system, saving her more than seven hours per week on that task alone. 

Judith says: “We are proud that our products are handmade, so moving to a fully-automated production process isn’t right for us. But some of our administrative processes, which suited us when we were a smaller outfit, needed a rethink.

“We used to buy part-printed labels with our branding on and then overprint those with the details of each product. I’d then re-roll the labels and stick them to the jars. It was a laborious process.

“On the Evolve Digital programme, we were encouraged to take a step back from the way we have always done things and consider where digital could help us be more productive. Labelling was an obvious area for us.  Not only could I see that we needed to digitalise that process, but the course gave me the tools to break down the task into manageable phases, so that we’d actually make the change and not leave it as something we’d eventually get around to.

“I’ve now worked with an external supplier who will be printing ready-made labels for each of our products.  The time saved will allow me to make further efficiencies in the business.”

LUMS has been selected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK to deliver Evolve Digital, which is part of a national research study. The outcomes will inform UK government policy on the needs of small, family businesses.  

Judith found that, in addition to improving Heritage Kitchen’s use of digital, the programme offered additional benefits. She continues: “Rather than dive straight into choosing new technologies we first focused on our leadership styles and business strategies.

“Although the business is just Derek and I, working with your husband can have a particular dynamic, so it was useful to reflect on my own approach to handling issues and introducing change in a very particular family business scenario.”

The Evolve Digital programme is designed by LUMS professor of leadership, learning and development, Professor Steve Kempster. He said: “Evolve Digital is first about building leadership skills –courage, conviction and strength of character – in our participants.

“Technology is the enabler but the drive for successful change comes from strong and clear leadership.

“We then support business leaders to think strategically about their business objectives and develop a firm grasp of the organisation’s strategy, its capabilities and capacity.

“This grounding in knowing themselves and their business provides participants with a solid foundation for assessing new technologies – or indeed any future change – gaining buy-in and leading implementation.”

Evolve Digital is one of the most recent programmes in LUMS’ decades-long history of translating the latest academic research into tailored and practical support for SMEs across the UK.  

Places on the programme are available to eligible businesses in Cumbria and across the North West that employ between two and 50 people. Places are fully-funded by BEIS and Innovate UK.

The final Evolve Digital cohort starts on May 11 2021.  To find out more, and to register interest in taking part, go to lancaster.ac.uk/lums/evolve-digital.