When Richard Surman joined Crew Clothing as Head of IT in 2020, the business hadn’t invested in its tech stack for a number of years. The retailer also hadn’t had someone in place at that level to formulate a strategic IT roadmap of where it should be heading from a business perspective.
Having launched its first collection in 1993, the firm now has more than 100 stores across the UK, along with its e-commerce site. Crew Clothing has plans to scale both its online and brick-and-mortar locations, but the organisation was being hampered by a lack of connected systems and visibility across the finance function. Surman explains:
They had very old legacy systems that were starting to creak and fall over quite a lot.
One of the biggest issues with these old systems was that they weren’t connected together in a succinct format. One system would report a sales figure; the finance system would report a different one. Surman says:
It was a massive disconnect between what we were reporting as a business across the departments, and there was no single version of the truth.
That realization put the retailer on a journey of replacing its central ERP platform. Surman opted for more modular, best of breed solutions that would be better connected through middleware. He notes:
What we were trying to achieve from the project was a bit of cohesion between our existing systems all pulling back to one central location that says, yeah, this is our sales figure and this is what everybody is to be reporting on.
The final piece of project was a new finance system. Crew Clothing has been using Microsoft Dynamics 2012, which is on-premise and out of support with Microsoft. The firm wanted to replace this with a finance platform that was forward-thinking and would give the business the ability to adapt and change as it evolves and grows.
While it could have switched to the latest version of Microsoft Dynamics, Dynamics 365, having looked at the product, Crew Clothing didn't feel it was the right approach for their business. Surman explains:
It was quite a large platform that would leverage a lot of functionality and capability, but there is a lot of intense development required to make it meet our business needs. So we decided to look across all of the platforms on the market to see what would be more streamlined and effective to what we need to deliver from a business process perspective.
After going out to market, the retailer opted for Workday Financial Management.
One of the main elements of Surman’s IT strategy was to go fully software as a service, so the retailer wouldn’t have to worry about managing the infrastructure. That was one of the big decisions for selecting Workday. Better automation was also a key factor. Surman says:
Our finance team are constantly sat there hammering away, keying in invoices, purchase orders, matching all the data together, reconciling information. We felt a lot of that could be better utilized through a system that could automate linking things together, make it more succinct and give our staff more capability or more time to do the more interesting stuff they're here to do.
As well as Workday offering the SaaS and automation elements required by Crew Clothing, another aspect was the capability to have one system providing multiple functions. Surman says:
With other systems, you could buy the core function that could do general ledger, things like that. But when we looked at wanting to have additional things like scanning and uploading invoices or an expenses module, most of the other players in the market were saying, we can do that, but you need to buy this bolt-on. With Workday, it was all in one product and everything we needed was available. We just needed to ensure we had the module and switched it on.
The retailer is currently in the testing round for the new finance system, following a very intensive three months of scope, design, build. Once its partner Alight has done final bug fixes, there will be final end to end testing, and the plan is to hopefully be live in March.
Project progress so far has been pretty smooth. Surman says the biggest challenge and lesson learned is the speed at which other partners have been able to deliver their development to interconnect with the Workday system and feed in the data; that aspect should have been given a little bit more time. Crew Clothing’s bank, for example, needed a couple more weeks to develop on its side to load bank statements. But Workday and Alight were accommodating and shifted that along in the project plan.
One element Crew Clothing got right from scratch is involving the finance department in the project from the start. Surman says:
One of the things that we try to instill within the business when we're delivering any IT project is make sure that the departments are on the journey with us to deliver it. We formulate the business processes and make sure that the system meets those processes. Intrinsic in a successful delivery of a project, is making sure the team that operate it are involved from start to finish.
While Crew Clothing isn’t using the Workday technology yet, based on its initial testing and objectives, it expects the key business benefit to be getting one central version of truth across the business for sales, stock, and everything else. Plus, reporting will be a lot more accurate and real time. Surman notes that currently the firm tends to have to wait for certain systems to process every hour or every 15 minutes.
Autonomy will be another advantage. The retailer will be able to automatically match up purchase orders from manufacturers with goods received and invoices, and the finance team will only have to worry about discrepancies. Surman explains:
At the moment, somebody's manually doing that, which is quite a laborious task. Improving the processes within the business and making it targeted to stuff that we need to investigate rather than having to do the manual effort to get to that point is a big win for us.
Surman was keen to reiterate that this isn’t about reducing staff costs.
It's more of a giving staff time back to focus on what they should be focusing on in their day jobs.
He cited the two people who look after stock intake at Crew Clothing, matching purchase orders to invoices:
If we can automate all of that, that gives them a little bit more time back to start to look at the purchase orders, make sure the freight and duty costs are correct, start to work with our suppliers about the discrepancies for those invoices. At the moment, we've got a tendency to not have the time or scope to be able to do all of the due diligence around it. We just accept the discrepancy, work with the supplier to negotiate a little bit, and then just quickly sign it off and sort it out. There needs to be a lot more due diligence around those processes within the business.
The financial analytics offered in Workday Prism Analytics was also a key factor in Crew Clothing’s choice of tech. Prism gives the retailer the capability to pull lots of data in from various sources and reconcile it automatically rather than manually, offering a similar function to the purchase order-invoice matching, but from a sales reconciliation perspective.
Surman gives the example of different files coming in from multiple payment providers, like Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and American Express, and having to try and hook those up to match against sales coming from the Crew Clothing website or stores. He explains:
“t's a bit of a minefield to actually match it up. When there is a discrepancy, it’s quite a laborious task to pinpoint that discrepancy and understand where it is. The principle of the data warehouse is, we can pull it all in, match it all together, and then we just have to worry about the anomalies. It also gives us the capability to have more accurate data, be able to understand where our issues are and delve into them in a lot more fine detail.
While there are still a few months to go until the Workday tech is rolled out, the finance team can’t wait to switch over and start getting the benefits of the new system’s capabilities and speed of performance, according to Surman. The existing system is starting to cause quite a lot of problems and frustration from a day-to-day perspective; staff trying to do a trial balance can sit there for 20 minutes waiting for it to run. As Surman quips:
The current system they use is a bit on its last legs at the moment. It's [the new finance system] about a year too late, but we're nearly there.