Paul Dehaen Distribution NV has been active as a distributor for almost twenty years. The company sells products to discount retailers across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The headquarters/distribution center in Ghislenghien (Hainaut) is the hub of these activities. In recent years, a series of own stores have been added at a rapid pace. Paul Dehaen already has eight points of sale in Belgium, NET stores, but plans to further expand its own retail activities in the coming years.
For IT infrastructure and support, the company has entered into a partnership with Direct, explains CEO Jean-Philippe Habran. “We are a growing company. We are expanding our activities, including the stores, and we already have more than 80 employees. But we remain an SME. We are not specialized in IT. Larger companies may be able to manage their IT themselves, for us having our own IT department would be an expensive choice with little added value for our own operations. Moreover, IT talent is hard to find today.”
“That’s why we decided to work with a professional partner like Direct. This gives us the tools and the time to fully focus on our core business. We don’t have to worry about IT ourselves, we can focus on our core activities.”
Proactive and reactive, tight planning and flexibility
To start with, Jean-Philippe is counting on Direct to keep operations running smoothly at Paul Dehaen Distibution. “The architecture has to be right, the speed of the systems has to be right, the backups have to be right. Those basic things seem logical, but in reality it requires a lot of effort behind the scenes. How many companies only discover they don’t have proper backups until it’s too late? We don’t want to risk that. Direct that our ERP systems run on their ensures infrastructure, and guarantees that our employees have all the tools to work (or collaborate) efficiently.”
“The stores were a new challenge. Just think of the cash register systems. When we open a store, everything has to be lightning fast: we do that in just two to three weeks. This ensures that many partners are working simultaneously on a limited surface. This requires the necessary preparation, with good planning and a smooth flow. But it also requires flexibility, because everyone knows that there is always an unexpected hitch somewhere during a renovation. We therefore demand both a proactive and a reactive approach from Direct. That collaboration works great. We have short, direct lines of communication and problems are dealt with decisively.”
Cyber security is challenge number one
Direct is a strategic partner for Paul Dehaen Distribution. “Our IT infrastructure needs to keep up with our growth, but we also expect our IT partner to anticipate future challenges. Today, when it comes to technological innovation, I mainly think of cybersecurity. I think that is the number one challenge for SMEs like ours. Recent cases prove that a cyber attack can have a huge impact on your finances and reputation.”
“We also regularly have to deal with attack attempts. Cybercrime evolves so quickly that we need a partner who is aware of the very latest technological developments. A partner who can avoid and stop attacks, and in a worst-case scenario can repair damage as quickly as possible. It is impossible for you to do that yourself as an SME today, I feel a lot more reassured in the knowledge that Direct is watching over that for us.”
“It’s not just about the technological aspect. A phishing email is opened quickly. Sometimes employees hire more from experts. If Direct explains how they can recognize phishing emails, this has an important sensitizing effect. It’s a wake up call. We want to collaborate even more closely in the future for that kind of advice or training.”
Smooth communication and trust
Three things are important to Paul Dehaen when choosing an external IT partner. “Obviously the price has to be right, every company wants value for money. We also look at references, recommendations from companies in similar sectors and domains are still the most reliable source of information. Finally, we have also chosen from the outset not to work with a company that is too large. IT is still about people, about communication. We want to build a relationship with our IT partner, mutual trust must be able to grow. We shouldn’t sit together every week or even every month. But it is important that we know who to turn to if we have a problem, or if we need a sounding board.”
Direct wants to further strengthen these personal relationships with the VCIOs, the Virtual Chief Information Officers. These can offer added value for companies such as Paul Dehaen, without their own IT department. They go beyond the operational part. They immerse themselves in the company to recognize and understand the business needs, and they think strategically about how IT can provide added value.
“An excellent initiative”, says Paul Dehaen. “IT is everywhere in an enterprise, it is crucial to support your growth. We are not specialists ourselves, our core business lies elsewhere. All ideas to have those core activities even better supported by our IT infrastructure are very welcome.”