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Craftmanship in the 21st century: why centuries-old industries are turning to technology

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, artisan craftsmanship has honed products we still know and love today. From weaving and sewing the textiles we wear and decorate our homes with, to the art and science of wine and cheese-making, every generation has built on the previous one’s skills and knowledge, while also adapting to meet changing consumer needs and embracing new technologies.

This ability to adapt is what has enabled such artisans to survive and thrive throughout periods of upheaval – most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. Spain and Italy were two countries particularly hard-hit when the pandemic started to spread, but they have also been sources of great artisan innovation during this period, as necessity once more proved itself the mother of invention.

In Salamanca, Spain, one textiles company completely shifted their focus from making pillowcases to much-needed high filtration, AITEX certified, surgical masks. The change even led to the company, Fibras Textil Sánchez, which has been active for over 25 years, changing their name to Mascarillas Beja to reflect their new priority.

Making the masks was one challenge. But getting them where they needed was another entirely. Faced with a backlog of orders and customers eager to get their masks as soon as possible, Mascarillas Béjar adopted Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service, a single cloud solution for its entire business, including managing and improving customer interactions. With the support of Microsoft partner Data Recover and IT solutions business Esprinet, the business was able to modernize its supply chain and improve the customer experience, offering a simple, secure way to buy and sell its masks through its e-commerce platform.

In addition to ensuring that local communities and citizens were provided with much-needed masks, the company was also able to keep their workers employed at a time of economic hardship for so many.

The success of this sudden transformation has encouraged Mascarillas Bejar to begin exploring new business opportunities and appropriate technologies to enhance their product offering.

“Thanks to the solutions adopted we have managed to give a boost to our family business and maintain all the local staff. The challenge has become an opportunity, and we are very proud of it.” Alberto Sanchez, Mascarillas Bejar

While Mascarillas Bejar reimagined their product offering, across the Mediterranean Sea, two Italian businesses have adapted to the pandemic by changing how they interact with customers – and technology has played a helping hand in their transition as well.

Latteria San Pietro in Lombardy produces some 67,000 wheels of Grana Padano PDO cheese each year. The pandemic created an opportunity to reimagine the customer experience through virtual tastings.

For Latteria San Pietro in Lombardy, which produces some 67,000 wheels of Grana Padano PDO cheese each year, the pandemic also created an opportunity to reimagine how they serve customers, by launching an unprecedented virtual tasting experience in a time when physical tastings and dairy tours were impossible.

The experience focused on bringing the tastes and scents of Italian Grana Padano directly into people’s homes. Participants are sent a combination of different products – Grana Padano PDO cheese as well as wine – accompanied by other sensory stimuli, such as local hay and aromas typical of the area. They are then remotely guided through group tastings in Microsoft Teams. Here they are able to follow the various stages of production, both through the stories of the speakers and through cameras installed in the stables and in the new dairy.

“The virtual tasting idea was born from the desire to integrate the communicative power of digital with the intensity of the sensory experience.” Stefano Pezzini, President, Latteria San Pietro

The next steps for San Pietro will be to leverage Teams to create live events dedicated to both B2B and B2C customers, that will connect Lombardy to the world and showcase the region’s agricultural excellence.

Nothing complements cheese quite like wine. In Tuscany, the Bianchini family have been cultivating wine on their idyllic 17th century estate, Ciacci Piccolomini D’Aragona, for generations. Prior to the pandemic, this small family-run wine producer would welcome guests from around the world to a bustling vineyard, as they prepared for the release of its new vintage.

Such a milestone would usually be marked by international trips, tradeshows and cellar tours of the estate. But none of this was possible in 2020. Suddenly, Ciacci faced the daunting task of continuing to serve its customers and promoting its new vintage while the gates to the vineyard were closed.

Rather than admit defeat, the team fused tradition with technology. Using Microsoft Teams, the winery launched virtual wine tastings, enabling end-customers to enjoy the taste of Ciacci’s wines shipped to the comfort of their kitchen tables, while benefitting from expert explanations shared via video call. This also proved a vital business strategy for connecting with suppliers, distributors, journalists and the press during lockdown.

While the vineyard has now reopened to visitors, the lessons of the crisis have shown Ciacci how they can connect virtually with wine lovers across the globe, and open up a wealth of new opportunities to expand its customer base. Ciacci is already thinking about using virtual tours in the future to invite fans into the rarified realm of the traditional Italian wine cellar.

“The world will not be the same after the pandemic. It doesn’t make any sense to work the way we used to. Wineries will have to concentrate on using digital tools like Teams to build a bigger market.” Alex Bianchini, Head of Production, Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona

While this period has challenged consumer-facing retailers across the world to adapt, in the Mediterranean it has inspired true innovation, transforming the way traditional industries approach business and evolving craftsmanship for the future, whatever challenges lie around the corner.