Champions Round Table
Technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. It is an enabler for business, allowing it to explore new markets as well as decrease operational costs. Thanks to technology, the business world has revolutionised almost beyond recognition in the past few decades.
Last year the Chancellor Philip Hammond promised £1.14bn in his Autumn Statement to improve fibre broadband and the 5G mobile network. However, this is considered minimal where infrastructure spending is concerned.
Technology, specifically advances in communication and information technology – has changed the face and the pace of business, but is this the case for North East Derbyshire’s businesses add are we keeping pace with developments?
This month the round table, which was hosted by Addooco IT and organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, brought together Champions from across the business spectrum, to learn how technology is influencing their organisation and whether, going forward the town and the UK has the infrastructure to meet business needs.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield. The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
Sitting on the panel this month were:
AB: Ashley Booker – Head of Content at Derbyshire Times
AM: Andrew McDaid – Partner at Mitchells Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
TL: Tracey Limb – UK Marketing Manager at Bilstein Group
AH: Andy Hibberd – Media and Communications Manager at East Midlands Chamber
MC: Matt Corbishley – HR Director at Ashgate Hospicecare
RW: Richard Walters – Managing Director of Addooco IT
1) How is technology being used locally to improve business and increase productivity? Is it making a discernible difference?
AM: Our adoption of technology is now making money for us. CloudMitchells is generating income which is something we never envisaged when we began the journey. We have gone from having quite poor IT to award winning systems which have improved business performance.
AH: Technology is something that we all use now in some way or another whether we like it or not. It doesn’t matter what the business is, you have to adopt it. However, you need to adopt the right technology for what you are going to do. You need to identify the right package and, once you’ve identified it, get it for the right price.
AM: Some of our clients have one office with one person but they set up geographical phone numbers to make them look like they have many sites across the country. Things like that can actually make a very real difference and enable a company to grow faster than they would do without using technology.
RW: Many clients give us briefs for where the business is right now. However, where technology is concerned you need to look at future needs. Once you start adopting technology in your business, it enables business growth at a much faster rate. You need to ensure the technology is scalable or you could make an investment in one piece of technology that very rapidly becomes not the right product.
AM: As a firm of accountants, we used to look at IT as a cost. However, we have changed our entire mindset and now view it as an investment. In our own business we adopted telephone systems and IT software. This has transformed many of our procedures. Once you have the infrastructure in place, it’s easy to add the extra bells and whistles as and when you need them.
MC: The culture, the mind-set and the education of the workforce is so important, that there has to be trust and confidence before you start to streamline processes using technology. If you’re staff aren’t familiar with technology and not happy to adopt it, then it’s like hitting an iceberg.
RW: Half of the battle where technology is concerned is getting your staff to have confidence in the solutions that have been implemented. If technology is implemented well and it’s reliable, the adoption will come.
MC: For me, one of the key objectives of technology is worker enablement. We all should be able to work from any platform or bit of hardware and access everything seamlessly.
AH: When you are looking at new technology and what is available, you need to look at your needs and consider the time frame. You can then start looking at the technology that you can put in place.
MC: It is hard because it’s impossible to keep up with the speed that technology develops. By the time you’ve implemented the technology and everyone is familiar with it, it’s going to be old.
AH: Those that adopted to technology three or four years ago, all got mainframes in their offices. However, now, its moved to cloud.
MC: One of the challenges for us in Derbyshire is our geography. It’s a big county with lots of remote, rural areas, so for people like our community nursing teams who rely on 3G and 4G signals, it’s non-existent in a lot of areas. I’m interested in trying to push the connectivity agenda in our area.
AM: That makes a big difference. I know younger people who won’t consider relocating to Derbyshire because of the lack of high-speed broadband.
TL: We currently have two sites in the UK and are just building a new site on Junction 29a at Markham Vale where we are introducing a semi-automated warehousing system that will transform our business in the UK it is able to ‘talk’ to other technology we have in the business.
MC: There is a need for systems that can talk to each other and exchange real time data.
2) Is cybercrime and issue for Derbyshire ‘s businesses and is it impacting on business security?
RW: Cybercrime is a potential issue for every business that has an online presence or is using cloud-based technology. Having the technology to protect your business and educating your staff in knowing what to be looking out for are key to addressing the issue.
AM: A key part is being aware of what’s happening and that it could happen to your business. Companies should take the time to check their systems and protect them properly.
RW: I think that it is quite easy for IT people to blame the users when the worst happens, but if you invest in the right pieces of tech then a lot cybercrime becomes preventable.
AH: There are two issues when it comes down to cybercrime. One is awareness at user level. People should not carry laptops around with passwords saved into programmes. The other issue is awareness of how easy and prevalent cybercrime is.
RW: Technology should be better for security and passwords.
TL: I was taught to create around five to 10 different passwords.
AH: I was trying to input my password yesterday and it took me seven times to actually figure out the right password. Some systems kick you out after three attempts. It’s actually relatively easy for hackers to get your passwords. They can send emails that contain coding which monitor your computer and your keystrokes and can tell them what sites you’re using and what your passwords are.
RW: The concept of identity providers, an online service or website that authenticates users on the Internet by passwords and other platforms the user’s access, has been around for a long time. For instance, there are some websites that ask you to sign up with your Facebook log in.
MC: How long does it takes to detect something once you’ve been infected or hacked?
AH: It can be anywhere from instant to months. If it’s months, then the hacker has deliberately done it discretely because they want to harvest as much data as possible.
RW: There isn’t a recognition yet of how industrialised cyber crime has become. It’s the digital equivalent of stealing your wallet in a crowd. Hackers are actually available for hire.
AH: Anytime you are using anything that is technology-driven you are leaving a trail, and every time you leave a trail, you can be found.
RW: People take free use of social media platforms for granted. There’s billions of pounds worth of infrastructure sitting behind these companies that is paid for by them selling and using users’ data. When you’re using these platforms you are agreeing to them using your data.
AH: To put it into a simple analogy, if you don’t want to use banking services, don’t have a bank account. If you use banking services, you know that the bank is going to hold data on you and they are going to share that data with other banks in its own chain, with other branches and with other places.
RW: The vast majority of us are lazy. TalkTalk got hacked and their user base grew. It was too much hassle for people to change their broadband provider. If there’s no financial repercussion for a business, then what incentive is there for the business to secure themselves?
MC: Is the risk of cybercrime increased when people bring their own IT devices into the workplace? I want to create an empowered, enabled workforce that can work whenever they want from wherever on any different device.
RW: Cybercrime is not so much as issue as long as you have a robust gateway to your company’s information. However, when something goes wrong with one of the devices it can be problematic. If it’s their own personal device, the chances are that many members of the family may be using it. What happen if it gets a virus? Who is responsible for fixing it?
AH: There has to be a back-up system in place so that when people do have problems with their device, they have laptops to use at work with everything backed up onto it allowing them to work with everything that they need.
RW: The solution is to have good remote-access strategies so that you can provide your staff with a device that is meant to be their primary point of access, but enable them to have remote-access capabilities from different devices at home.
3) What does the move from traditional IT solutions to cloud computing mean for businesses?
AM: One of the big benefits of Cloud computing is that there is no initial set up cost. It is scalable and you get new updates straight away. The benefits that aren’t so obvious, but are transformational particularly for small business, is the ability to view, share and update data simultaneously. Having this kind of technology can make a business look bigger than it is which is a real enabler to help them compete with bigger competitors.
AH: Cloud computing is enabling many businesses to implement remote-working, allowing staff to log in with any device to do what they need to do from anywhere in the world.
AM: That aspect has been hugely beneficial to Mitchells. The ability to work remotely is viewed very positively and enabling us to recruit good candidates from further afield. Remote working enables our staff to have a work/life balance.
AH: From a business point of view, if you can go out of the office and continue to deliver the same service to your clients from home, that’s a plus.
RW: When looking at cloud and cloud-based services, one of the important things for a business to be consider who you are actually buying them from. A lot of companies are taking services, putting their badge on it and pretending it’s theirs. So, when you raise a problem with your supplier, they have to go to another two suppliers to get to the bottom of it. If you buy direct from the service providers, then the time to resolve problems become much shorter.
AH: The same applies for internet providers as well. You might go to PlusNet, TalkTalk or Sky but you’re actually using BT. So why not just go straight to BT?
RW: I think it’s important to make the distinction between BT and Openreach. Pretty much everybody in the country is using Openreach. There is a debate at the minute as to whether Openreach should completely split away from BT. Virgin is in favour of it remaining part of BT. For all the negatives about Open reach, if you compare the UK’s connectivity with other parts of Europe and the rest of the world, we really don’t have it that bad.
RW: There’s the assumption that technology progression happens in every other country in the same linear way that it’s happened here. In some respects, other countries have the big advantage of learning from our mistakes so can do it more cost effectively. In terms of market penetration for the e-commerce providers, outside the USA, the UK is the next biggest market.
AM: We were initially worried that or adoption of technology would take away that personal touch with our clients. It hasn’t. In fact, clients are happier with their service because our staff and information about their accounts are more available. We can give clients real-time access to their financial accounts through CloudMitchells. Feedback across the board has been brilliant.