Digital Transformation: The secret behind one Norfolk manufacturer’s remarkable revival

Posted on 20 Mar 2019 by Jonny Williamson

The recession of 2008 left the Norwich engineering and manufacturing company Lintott in dire straits, heading down a one-way street to oblivion. A new management team took the company over in 2012 and decided on a strategy that had data and digitalisation at its core. The transformation has been nothing short of remarkable.

Lintott’s core business is making wastewater treatment systems, and that is what CEO David Owen and COO Jamie Thums set out to revive.

It is important to note that they didn’t apply a digital solution to the existing failing structure. They designed an entirely new structure that would serve them and their customers best, and then applied the digital tools they needed to make it happen.

“I guess it all started with the fact that we recognised that it just took far too long to design our products,” Jamie says. “We were hampered by conventional ICT systems and practices, which were sluggish and discrete. We took a hard look at the entire design process, mapped out a new one and then we determined where we could automate it.”

Lintott’s core business is making wastewater treatment systems, and that is what CEO David Owen and COO Jamie Thums set out to revive.

It was that process that opened their eyes to a whole series of possibilities they hadn’t even considered. “We could have used proprietary systems to achieve this,” Jamie adds, “but we also had the knowledge and skills to develop tools of our own, and that enabled us to do the job so much better.

“That journey started in 2015. Now, in 2019, we’ve got a full-blown digital ecosystem, which has a strong design element. This today enables us to work seamlessly with clients and the supply chain in delivering projects with dramatically reduced lead-times and out-turns.”

The jump to systems seller

It was only a short step from there to realise they could sell these new digital tools and systems they had developed to other companies and turn themselves into an engineering and digital technology company.

It has been a three-year turnaround with profound future implications for a company that today turns over £12m and has more than 100 staff.

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“To be honest, we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve got a long, long way to go, because we’ve got so many opportunities available to us now. We are going to take stock over the next six months, to work out exactly what we want to be.

“Because what the digital revolution has enabled us to do is to reinvent. We’re now on the cusp of another reinvention cycle – but if you were to ask me where it takes us, I’d have to say I don’t know. That’s the exciting bit.

“We have our manufacturing heritage, and obviously we want to carry on producing the first-class products that we do, but it’s more than that now. Digitalisation will enable us to pursue many other opportunities.”

Jamie Thums is keen to point out that transformation like this begins with an attitude. “We’ve always been open minded, and one element to our strategy right from the outset was to be a challenger organisation, to challenge ourselves, but more importantly, we wanted our colleagues to challenge each other, and obviously, for them to challenge us.

“It’s worked, because it gets the best out of the workforce. This is about giving people real-time information, it’s about automating some of their transactional processes, and as a result of that, employee satisfaction can grow.”

This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here