Investing in digitalisation for happier customers and employees

By Bojana Vlajcic

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Buildings and homes are the largest energy consumers in Serbia but, at the same time, this also means that they have the highest energy-saving potential.

Sunce Marinković, which specialises in producing and installing energy-efficient windows and doors, recognised this potential a long time ago. The company started as a small family locksmith workshop, founded in 1929 by Aleksandar Marinković, and is now run successfully by his grandson Vladimir.

What were the company’s biggest challenges?

“Nowadays, more workers from Serbia leave the country to work abroad, which has contributed to an increase in labour costs here. This made us realise that we need to work on our competitiveness and productivity,” explains Vladimir.

“We invested in new equipment, which allows us to produce faster and with greater capacity, and we digitalised our workflow to improve planning, communication and control. The overall aim was to shorten the production cycle and delivery deadlines.”

The company purchased two machines with a loan from Banca Intesa and received a grant worth €43,000, funded by the European Union (EU). The loan and grant were secured through a programme supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU, which provides financing to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Serbia to help them become more competitive and reach EU standards.

Digitalising internal work processes was part of another project supported by the EBRD and EU - Advice for Small Businesses - through which Sunce Marinković engaged a consultant who worked with them for 18 months.

How did the investment in digitalisation help you to improve your productivity?

“We have on-site production workers, as well as field workers who are in charge of distributing products and installing them at the clients’ sites. To ensure maximum productivity, it is essential to establish effective work processes and communication between these two teams,” says Vladimir.

He adds that this is especially important in case there is a problem in the field. Any deviation from the plan leads to a blockage of all subsequent activities, which could cause massive disruptions of the work processes.

“The new system will allow us to receive real-time feedback from the field, track products and delivery, set up personal reminders for workers, and so on. With a full overview of the initial plan and the actual situation, a project manager will be able to react promptly and prevent chaos in the supply chain,” explains Vladimir.

Expected benefits of such a system are shorter delivery times and more satisfied clients but also a higher level of employee satisfaction, because the system will eliminate repetition of tasks due to inefficient communication.

What are the gains of investing in digitalisation?

“Customer expectations in terms of delivery time and quality of service are constantly growing, while the highly competitive environment pushes companies to lower their sales prices. The only way to survive in this environment is to enhance operations and lower internal costs. In order to make this possible, companies must transform and currently, ‘digital transformation’ promises the best results,” explains Janko Pavlović, the consultant who develops innovative software solutions and who worked with Sunce Marinković. 

EBRD and EU support

Improving access to finance and helping SMEs become more competitive is key to economic growth, especially in Serbia where SMEs employ the biggest share of the country’s workforce.

In this regard, the EBRD provides specialised credit lines for SMEs through a network of local partner banks, while the EU has secured incentive grants worth up to 15 per cent of the loan amount. So far, more than €70 million has been allocated to these credit lines.

In addition to finance, the EBRD provides business advice and “know-how” to help SMEs improve their performance and growth. The programme draws on the know-how of a network of international advisers and local consultants to help transform a wide range of businesses, looking at areas including strategy, marketing, operations, quality management, energy efficiency, financial management. The programme typically covers 50-75 per cent of the net project costs for SMEs, thanks to EU funding support.

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