The Cloud

Everyone these days is talking about the Cloud, but what actually is it?  This month I decided to take a look behind the image of fluffy white blobs in a bright blue sky that the word conjures up and explore Cloud Computing.

Burroughs B90 - www.roar-software.com
Burroughs B90

Computing has moved on so much – in my first job the hard drive for my desktop at the office was so big, it was my desk!

In my next job we had networked desktops – much more conventional (and cooler in more ways than one!). We each had our own chunky monitor and keyboard on a normal desk –

IBM mainframe - www.roar-software.com
IBM Mainframe

but only because something similar to this little beauty was hiding in a room of its own to power everything.

And I had to get in half an hour early to “boot it up” – otherwise we spent the time twiddling our thumbs unable to do anything.

 

These days I hook my laptop up to a couple of monitors and away I go.  No separate room for the mainframe and most laptops have more memory and processing capability than either of those 2 earlier computers could even dream of.  Now everyone is talking about migrating to the cloud and reducing our hardware requirements even more.  But the Cloud is about so much more than hardware!

 

What is the Cloud?

As a concept, the Cloud has been around since the late 1960’s. In a nutshell, the Cloud is a system of software and services, including data storage, that run on the internet instead of on your physical computer. Theoretically, you can access everything from any device with an internet connection.  The term ‘Cloud’ is a little misleading, conjuring images as it does that your data is somehow floating around in the sky.  In reality, of course, your data and software have a very physical home – you just might not be aware of its exact geographical location.

Many people are already utilising the Cloud in their personal lives for storage and back up of, for example, photos and you may not realise just how much use of the Cloud you are already making.   Research conducted in 2017 by the Cloud Industry Forum showed that, in business, the overall Cloud adoption rate had increased by 83% since 2010.  The majority of Cloud services were still for traditional web hosting but there had been growth in other areas too.

 

Why Should we use the Cloud?

The Cloud is a Key enabler of digital transformation and offers many advantages in terms of cost, flexibility and efficiency.   When considering scalability in a growing business, migrating to the Cloud also offers advantages.

While there is, of course, a cost implication to the actual migration to the Cloud, generally the Cloud can be cheaper to set up and it also takes up less physical space.  Storage on physical hardware is limited whereas it is easy to increase storage in the cloud when you need to making it more flexible.  It’s like renting space that is fluid – you can make it bigger, or smaller, when you need to.

Migrating to the Cloud doesn’t necessarily mean changing all your systems – your software will just sit on a different server that you can access remotely.  You may need a web portal developing to enable this.

Because you and your employees can access your Company’s data, software and systems from any location via a mobile device, the Cloud also makes it easier to work remotely.

Physical hardware ie servers and hard drives can become overloaded and fail.  This is also true of servers run by your Cloud provider.  The big difference is that they will be able to use economies of scale to provide robust contingency plans in the event of hardware failures. Most Cloud providers will have multiple backups of everything you store with them and will have the facility to move you to another server in the unlikely event that your specific one goes down.  I spoke to a Cloud provider recently who has back-up generators for the back-up generators in the event of a power failure at one of their data centres!

GDPR and the Facebook misuse of personal data has brought the question of security to the fore recently.  When we think about security and the Cloud, we are not just thinking about data misuse though.  We need to consider the security of personal data; company data; malware; bugs; viruses; hacking and so on.  The majority of Cloud hosting companies provide security levels that few businesses would be able to afford to implement themselves.

 

What are the Risks?

The risk of losing your connection to the internet and your Cloud services is ever decreasing with advances in routing technologies and network infrastructure.  However, it does still exist and is more problematic for some than others. The main trade off in moving to the Cloud then becomes accepting the risk of losing your internet connection.  This is where your digital resilience strategy comes into play.  If your connection to the internet goes down, how will you continue to function as a business?  There is a TV ad showing at the moment promising to deliver a 4G unlimited hub in the event of such a failure on its domestic provision but how long will that hub take to arrive?  For a business there is a cost v benefit risk analysis to be done in terms of perhaps having one already on standby – the main question being what value of business would you lose if your internet was down for an hour?

The other glaring risk is the flip side of one of the big advantages – the ability to log in from anywhere, using any mobile device.  Of course, adopting high levels of security and user authentication minimises the risk of unauthorised access to the system but you will no longer be able to prevent a disgruntled employee gaining access just by locking them out of the office.  At what point during a grievance or disciplinary do you consider denying an employee access to data?

 

What is involved in moving to the Cloud?

Cloud Computing - www.roar-software.comA migration to the Cloud needs to be planned in order to prevent minimal downtime and loss to the business.  It is important to identify which workflows you want to migrate to the Cloud and why.  Working backwards from the desired end result may lead to bigger changes than first envisioned but will undoubtedly provide the best outcome.  Asking a third party to assist in the process is possibly a wise move. Our own ideas can often blinkered us and holding on too tight to the “baby” that our business has become may prevent us from exploring fully every opportunity.  The most visionary of leaders surround themselves with teams that are willing to challenge them and support them in pushing the boundaries.

 

As technology advances and concerns about security and cost diminish, we may all soon have our heads in the Cloud rather than being fettered by our hardware.

 

If you are ready to migrate to the Cloud and don’t know where to start get in touch! Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future.


New Year, New Business?

With the beginning of a new year, people’s thoughts turn to resolutions and predictions.  And perhaps it’s a good time for Roar Software - Self-Innovationbusinesses to take a step back – review the old and decide on the new.  Self-Innovation. Innovation in this context isn’t about new products or services, it is about innovating the way you do business. Tom Goodwin in Digital Darwinism believes us to “live in a time of innovation as gesture”.  He describes most innovation as being “like installing new artwork or refurnishing the staff canteen when the building is about to fall.”

If he’s right, then it is no wonder so many old established businesses seem to be failing around us.  2018 saw the demise of Toys R Us and the almost-loss of House of Fraser. Maplins disappeared from our Hight Street too as they failed to self-innovate while seemingly being at the cutting edge of new technology.

The Challenge

The world we live and work in is changing rapidly and it can be a struggle to keep up.  But the pace of change is so fast that even keeping up isn’t enough anymore. For businesses to not just survive, but thrive, in the twenty first century, it would appear they need to be prepared to completely re-invent themselves.  This may mean high risk, high cost investment in more than a little digital disruption.

Goodwin suggests that only a brutal and honest re-evaluation of your company will do in these interesting times.  He asks “what your business would look like if it was started today”?  A difficult question to answer I think.  How many of us can disentangle ourselves sufficiently from the here and now to answer that question properly?  It can be very difficult to move your focus away from what you are actually doing to what you could be doing.  Break the pattern of your thinking.  This is where, sometimes, having a consultant come in who knows nothing about your business can be helpful.  Particularly when they also know what is possible in terms of disrupting business systems and workflows, and are able to challenge the status quo.

 

Self-Innovating

Where do you start when you are looking to self-innovate?  If you can, get right back to basics, pretend the business doesn’t exist and this is a new idea you have and you are looking for investment – you’re in the Dragon’s Den! First question – will it work? How?  Are you in the right location? How important is location? Scalability. If the business you started 10 years ago was successful then but if you came to market with the same idea now, it wouldn’t be, why not?  And what can you change about the idea to make it successful now?Roar Software - Self-Innovation

How can you Self-Innovate?

Perhaps we could use Uber as an example.  If you came to market now saying you wanted to start a taxi firm and needed a £150k investment to buy cars and radio equipment, rent an office etc, what do you think the result would be? Blockbuster was a huge part of many people’s lives in the 1990’s. When they started in the mid-1980’s it was on the back of new technology as video emerged.  By 2010 though, it was all but over as the company failed to keep up with the rapid pace of change and companies such as Netflix surged forward.

How could Maplins / Toys R Us have re-invented themselves?  What is it Sports Direct are planning to do to House of Fraser to turn them round (and do we think Debenhams and John Lewis are watching with close interest so they can follow suit and save themselves?).

As companies do seek to self-innovate, what will it mean for jobs? The World Economic Forum suggests that 133 million job roles could be created by the introduction of automation in business over the next 5 years, versus 75 million job roles that could be lost.  Imperative, then, that part of your strategy is to upskill and retrain your existing employees in order to retain them. 

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Before you get too carried away with all the new innovations and technologies out there, a word of caution.  Just because it’s available and you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Innovate for your business, not someone else’s.  Take, for example, Self-Checkouts.  Recent reports show the cost benefits to those stores that have introduced them to be marginal.  This is, in part, due to Increased theft and scams.

I still see queues at the supermarket checkouts. Personally, I like a bit of human interaction and nearly every time I’ve used a self-checkout, it has had an error (and it can’t cope with the alcohol in my basket either!).

While a recent study indicates that approximately half of the population likes self-checkouts and may actually prefer no Roar Software - Self-Innovationhuman interaction, it’s important to remember that still means nearly half the population prefer human interaction (and are they the half with the bigger disposable income?). Those figures change vastly depending on what is being purchased as well as the demographic group of the shopper. So, if your business sells small quantities of simple, small items to a younger demographic, the self-checkout may well be perfect.  But if you are selling to, ahem, a slightly older demographic, or your product needs an explanation, or some help picking and packing, then maybe self-checkout isn’t the best thing for your business?

Are you brave enough?

Stripping your business right back takes courage but it is exciting and can open up massive opportunities!  Thinking in terms of survival isn’t enough anymore and some short-term pain could result in a massive gain. So what are you waiting for? New Year, new broom as my Gran used to say.

 

If you are ready to self-innovate in your business and don’t know where to start get in touch! Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future.

Digital What?

Once again, workplace stress is in the headlines as the number of people suffering continues to grow. Last month, I Roar Software Digital Transformationblogged about how embracing new technologies in the workplace could provide a golden opportunity to improve workplace wellbeing.  I touched on Digital Disruption and Digital Transformation as I highlighted research that claims adopting AI in the workplace will give workers back two weeks a year.

The more reading I do, the more I am convinced this is the way forward for any business wanting to improve workplace wellbeing.  But as I read, it is clear there are a lot of terms being bandied around that could be confusing and get mixed around.  Zandra Moore, CEO of Panintelligence, talks about the use of “mind-boggling language which confuses people and is a barrier to working together” and I think her point is valid across all industry sectors.  So, in this blog, I am going to try to define some of the phrases and buzzwords you might come across.

 

Digital Disruption

On the face of it, using digital technologies to change the way you do business.  It also includes applying new business models and the aim is to affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.  Or, how can you do what you’re doing now in a different way that will make you more profitable. Digital Disruption can be applied to a single area of the business or the whole business – for example moving from ledger books or excel spreadsheets to cloud based software for your accounts is a digital disruption; as is the adoption of the Platform Economy (think Uber).

Digital Transformation

 Essentially, what happens to the business when a digital disruption takes place.  But it is so much more!  Digital transformation needs to be cultural for digital disruption to be truly effective.  It encompasses “organisational activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities” I think the most important part of digital transformation is the cultural aspect.  I am sure I am not the only person who has worked for a company where the CEO has decided to make a digital leap, believing it will benefit the company and employees, without ever really instigating the cultural shift that is needed to ensure successful adoption of the technology.

 

Digital Business Automation

This is part of the digital transformation.  It could be described as the automation of repetitive work, tasks, processes, workflows and even decisions.  Successful digital business automation requires the task, the workflow, whatever to be completely broken down and examined from end to end.  It’s really important to think about the impact of each automation on the rest of the process, workflow and business as a whole. As I said in Scalable Technology, there is no point in automating one part of your business if it means another part will not be able to cope with the increased productivity and you are not ready to address that at the same time.

 

Digital Resilience

So you’ve weathered a digital disruption and completed a digital transformation!  You’re good to go right?  But what about your digital resilience? This is about your reversionary modes of operation.  What happens if your tech goes down?  There have been a few incidences recently of the banks grinding to a halt (very frustrating) because their “computers are down”.  If that happened to you, would your business still be able to function? And if it couldn’t, what would the impact be on you, your customers and your employees?  It’s definitely worth considering a fall-back system if it is something you can arrange.  Depending on the size of your business, that might just be taking the information down with good old-fashioned paper and pen.  If your systems are all cloud based, it’s making sure wherever your servers are they have a system to cover them in the case of, for example, a power cut. But what happens if the power cut is in your office?  How much battery back-up time do you have for your electronic devices? How frequently do you back up your data?  Do your employees know how to complete a task manually if absolutely necessary?

Regardless of whether you are undertaking a digital transformation or not, these are all good questions to ask of any business and undertaking that risk management exercise is invaluable.

 

AI – Artificial Intelligence

Do you automatically think “robot” when you hear the term AI?  For a lot of people, “Cybernet” springs to mind.  But what does AI in the workplace mean?  And what does it mean for jobs?  The first thing to remind ourselves is that this is nothing new.  Did you know that the first prototype industrial robots were actually used as early as 1961?  I think there is a difference between a machine that has been programmed to do something (for example a robot that has been programmed to spot weld something to a car) and true artificial intelligence.  Computers capable of learning in order to better carry out the task they were initially programmed to do, could provide a huge benefit and time saving within the workplace.

We are already seeing the use of chatbots – and while they may have been stilted and struggled to understand everyday conversational terms in the past, things are changing. Robots are very successfully carrying out manual repetitive tasks in many environments – picking product off shelves, for example.  Robots that can learn – AI bots – provide a plethora of opportunity that we should embrace.

These AI systems will work alongside humans, not steal their jobs.  AI will potentially make your job easier, quicker and possibly different. It does not mean there will be no jobs – how long has voice recognition software been around?  Did it get rid of the secretary or PA? No – it made the job easier perhaps, but not redundant. The Davinci Robot has been around for a lot of years carrying out surgery with great precision but it will always need a guiding surgeon (due in part to the unique nature of every human body).

AI is only as good as the data it is provided with to learn from.  A great example of this and of how essential human sense checks are for any AI implementation is the Amazon AI recruiting tool that was eventually dropped when it proved to have a gender bias.

 

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR adds digital elements to a live view.  Simplistically, think about a furniture company allowing you to see how a sofa fits and looks in your living room; or being able to see what a new pair of glasses or hairstyle would look like on you.

 

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR, on the other hand, is an immersive experience.  Putting on that virtual reality headset really does block out the “real” world around you and take you to another place – or even dimension.  My first experience called to mind training in laparoscopic surgery – looking at a screen to see what I’m doing with my hands instead of staring down at my hands and what they were touching.  The training possibilities are endless.

 

These are just some of the terms that I am reading in the various articles that cross my desk each day.  I think some may be being used interchangeably (digital disruption and digital transformation for example) but the most important thing to focus on is the huge benefit any size business could realise from assessing the opportunities the digital world opens up for them.

 

Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review for anyone ready to explore how digital disruption can help their business to grow and improve workplace wellbeing.

Scalable Technology

I keep hearing people talk about scalable technology but what do they really mean and what impact could it have on your business?Implementing Scalable Technology - Roar Software

When we talk about scalable technology, we are really referring to the extent that a system, network, or process is capable of coping with increasing volumes of work – or whether it can be easily expanded to accommodate those increasing volumes.

In theory it should be simple.  But with so many technologies out there, all promising to deliver efficiency savings, or bring you up to date with the latest happenings and technological advances, it can actually be a lot more difficult than it might first appear.

 

How do you implement Scalable Technology?

There are many considerations when you are looking to implement new technology, whatever form that may take, and you are keen to ensure it is scalable.  Here are a few questions that might give you food for thought if you are about to disrupt your business.

 

  1. What is your overall aim?

Take a step back and revisit your original business and growth plan.  How does the technology you are considering implementing fit in with that? What do you hope to achieve?  It sounds obvious but there is no point in investing in, for example, a new all singing & dancing payroll and accounts system that is designed to cope with up to 10 employees if you are planning on having 20 within 2 years (even if you only have 2 now).

 

  1. How will any single change/upgrade affect people?

Before you implement any new technology, plan in your mind (or on a piece of paper) how it fits with all your existing processes and workflows, and the impact it will have on them. Consider the impact it may have on employees, users, customers.  Say, for example, you introduce an automated process that means Jane in production can produce twice as many Whizzbits in an hour than she used to – what does that mean for Jay in packing? And how will he feel if he can’t keep up?

Last time I looked, a company’s most valuable asset was still considered to be its employees. Introducing change is often a challenge and handled the right way is almost always a pleasure.  Just remember to answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) for each of your users.

 

  1. How will any single change/upgrade affect everything else?

Where new technology is introduced into a work flow, what will the impact be at either end?  Will your existing technology integrate with the new and what will that mean?  If your existing servers and networks don’t have the capacity to cope with the new technology, you may get frustrated as well as not being able to maximise the true benefit.

And It might be great to improve sales but not if your customer response times can’t keep up and you start to lose some of your reputation.

 

  1. Are you introducing technology for technology’s sake?

Have you been caught up in the latest fad? Everybody on the block is talking about some new gadget or way of doing things and maybe you’re starting to worry that you may be perceived as being ‘behind the times’.  Perhaps engage in a cost/benefit analysis to assess whether this will really benefit your business in the way youwant and need it to.  What might you lose if you go ahead?

 

  1. Do you already have the capability you need?

You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you already have scalable technology and that all you need is a little expertise to help unlock that existing capacity.  It may be that some of the processes you still handle manually can be automated with very little effort, freeing up people and capacity to handle new business without detracting from your existing customers and clients, for example.

 

 

As our businesses grow and the way we work changes, it is all too easy to get caught up in the feeling that we need to implement every technology possible.  I bet though, if you think back over your life you can remember at least one piece of technology that you bought into, used once or twice and is now sitting in a corner gathering dust.  Perhaps it didn’t quite do what you wanted or hoped it would do? Or perhaps it just didn’t make a big enough difference to your life to warrant the effort involved (I’m thinking the portable CD player that wouldn’t skip tracks if I took it out running with me… Or Vista! – need I say more?).

Having said that, selecting the right scalable technology will provide you with a benefit that will just keep giving, and working with the right provider, who cares about your business, not just their own, will pay dividends.

 

If you are interested in finding out more and exploring technology solutions that would work for your company, Roar Software offers a Free Systems Survey.  You will be provided with a report encompassing the capabilities of your existing technology and making recommendations that will benefit you now and in the future.


Women in Software

As we continue to expand, we are recruiting again at Roar Software.  Sifting through the applications it becomes glaringly obvious that we are lacking something – female candidates.  “Why are there no women?” I can be heard asking the room in general.  I am met with a puzzled silence. None of us is sure.

I’ll be honest, while I occasionally read about professional female software engineers, I have yet to meet any.  Having Isobel in the office in June for training/work experience was a breath of fresh air.  Isobel was obviously enthusiastic about pursuing coding as a career and displayed talent – she has an open invitation to come back to further develop her skills – but Isobel has not come to coding through the traditional route and, up to this point, is largely self-taught.  The whole situation has got me thinking about why there aren’t more women in the industry.

Nothing new

Women programmers are nothing new.  The recent film, Hidden Figures tells the story of women working at NASA, effectively as ‘human computers’.  The story is based on the lives of women such as Annie Easley.  Easley began working for NASA in 1955 and became a computer programmer when the ‘human’ computers were replaced by machines.  Given that was more than 60 years ago, it feels disappointing that I am still sat here lamenting the lack of female coders.

What about now?

Linkedin have done some statistical analysis showing that across all industries, females only represented 9-23% of the workforce with software engineering skills. This might not be the most scientific research and in light of other statistics, I think the figures may be a little skewed.  Only 8% of students studying A level Computer Science in 2017 were female (only 0.4% of females opted to study Computer Science in 2017 according to a report from the Department of Education looking at A-level and other 16-18 results in England).

The 2017 GitHub Open Source Survey found that out of approx. 3,800 respondents, 91% were male and only just over 3% were female.

What can we do?

The multi-million-dollar question!  And with no easy answer.  I read about lots of initiatives encouraging young women into STEM.  How young do we aim for? At what age do we start to foster interest in STEM subjects?  Those initiatives are definitely needed but there are women coming through now who have discovered coding as a career a bit later on (like Isobel) and we need to ensure that they make it in the industry and that they stay.  The number of females leaving mid-career is double that of men.

One thing that keeps coming up is the lack of female role models and mentors – who do our young female coders aspire to?  This is a bit of a vicious circle.  I watch the guys working in here, heads down, sometimes oblivious to the outside world and I wonder if female coders work in the same way?  Can we encourage them to lift their heads and get more involved in encouraging the next wave of female programmers?  There is talk of gender pay gaps, lack of advancement, stereotyping and, even worse, sexual harassment all contributing to an unwelcoming culture.  Reading that ‘language and/or content’ makes females feel unwelcome has encouraged me to revisit our recruitment to see what I might be able to change.

If we want to see more female software developers, everyone in the industry already needs to take a close look at what they are doing and how they might be able to do it differently to make women welcome.


Remote Integration

Well April and May have been busy months for Roar Software, not least because our illustrious leader, Paul, was away in Rwanda for almost 2 weeks working on a software development and integration project for a live event.  You can read more about that here.

Even though Paul was over 4,000 miles away, the time difference was only 1 hour and the only thing that inhibited communication was his broadband speed.  Having Paul working away from the office for that length of time raised the topic of, for want of a better word, ‘home’ working.  I say for want of a better word because that was the first thing that I stumbled over – ‘home’.  How many of us believe that ‘home working’ is just a euphemism for spending the day in your PJ’s answering the odd call?

For years, I worked as a field-based employee and the majority of my time was spent on the road, visiting clients at their own premises.  And there was still a stigma if I was going to be working from home to catch up on my paperwork, even though my ‘office’ was hundreds of miles away!

Home v Remote

There is plenty of research to show that home workers are often more productive than their office-based counterparts but many employers still seem to be reluctant to encourage home working and I believe that is, at least in part, due to that PJ image. Perhaps a change of language may help? In the US, the term often used is ‘remote’ workers.  Apart from increased productivity, having employee work remotely can offer many other advantages, for example, reduced overheads as less office space is required, a larger pool of people to select the workforce from as there are no geographical limitations (especially good if the work is highly skilled and there is a shortage of talent); a generally more relaxed workforce as they no longer have a stressful commute into the office.

Technology Support

In this day and age, is there really an excuse for not encouraging home/remote working and for not ensuring that it works for everyone?  As many companies are now looking to migrate their systems to the Cloud, there are even fewer reasons to insist that everyone is in the same working space all the time.  Anything can be accessed from anywhere and the technology to do so is just as accessible and affordable. With so many different communication methods open to us now, there is no excuse for remote workers not to join meetings

The Flipside?

Of course, there is a downside to having a remote workforce – the employees can feel, well, remote.  Consolidata experimented with complete remote working for 12 months and this was definitely one of the negatives they highlighted.  For most companies though, a central office is maintained that employees can visit and hot desk in.  In the same way that we integrate our systems and software to function more efficiently and work better together, we can use a variety of tools to ensure that even a remote workforce is integrated.  For example, having extra cameras and screens when people are joining remote meetings so that everyone can see each other and not just the presentation/chair.  Hubspot experimented with “remote week” and have some great suggestions for meetings.

The Future

Technological advancements coupled with an increased use of Cloud computing will, I believe, see an ever increasing number of companies move to employ remote workers.

Wasting time in traffic or remote working?

With all the rail disruption of the last few weeks and ever increasing traffic congestion on our roads, remote working is looking like an even more attractive option for everyone!  Gain an extra 2-4 hours a day by getting rid of that commute? Yes please!


Disrupting your Business to Stay Ahead of the Competition

It is a competitive market out there and to stay ahead of the game, many companies need to radically change the way they work and make better use of technology.  Digital transformation may seem like a huge undertaking but it doesn’t have to be.  Nor does it have to require a huge financial investment.  What it does take, is a bit of homework before you even start.

When you take the decision to disrupt your business in this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean ditching all of your existing tech and systems – it’s really about how you can get more out of what you already have.  One of the things you may look to do is outsource any software development involved and the developer you select will be able to provide you with invaluable guidance on leveraging your existing technology.  But that is only part of the overall project and in order to be successful, there are a few other things that need to be considered.

Employee Engagement

The first is your employees’ reaction to change.  If you can exploit the positive and manage the negative reactions you may experience when you first suggest a change in the way employees work, you will be half way to a successful implementation.  The key is to engage your employees from the outset.  You may have your own ideas but, you know what? Your employees may have some pretty amazing ideas too. After all, they are at the coalface, working with your technology and processes day in, day out.  Listen to them.  For smaller companies it is easy to sit down with all the staff, gather ideas and gage responses.  For bigger companies, selecting a representative working group (remembering to include the “difficult, opposed to change” employee too) might be the best way forward.  Make these initial meetings fun and open – no idea is too way out and people should feel free to express those ideas.  I always remember sitting in a “blue sky thinking” session. Of course, all the creative sales guys had gone blank and then our P.A. piped up “What about giving away a naked fireman calendar with every purchase?”.  I cannot tell you how inappropriate that suggestion was considering what we were selling – but I can tell you how appropriate that comment was for that moment in time.  The ice was broken, wacky ideas flowed which in turn prompted more realistic ideas and a plan evolved.

Formulate a Plan

And that plan is your next step.  At this stage, it is probably more a wish list of outcomes – what you would like to achieve rather than how you are going to achieve it.  Peter Drucker famously said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” so keep that in mind as you formulate your plan.  What does success look like for you?  And what does success look like for your employees and customers?  The answers might be different and if you can achieve both, you’re on a winner!  When you are looking at what you want to change, however radical, ask yourself what you will gain or improve by making that change. Try working backwards.  What do you want to gain or improve, what can you change to achieve it?

Select a Software Developer

Whoever you select as your software developer, see them as a partner.  Invite them to a working group meeting (maybe even before you have made your final provider selection) as their input may be invaluable in drafting your final spec.  Be open to any suggestions they may make and take seriously any challenges they highlight. Exploit the wealth of experience the best software developers have.

Consider the Delivery Impact

So now you know what you want to achieve and you have selected your software developer – what next? You have already engaged with your employees and management are on board.  Make sure you have given due consideration to the impact on company stakeholders involved in the delivery of the project.  How will it affect their existing workloads?  Employees will quickly disengage if they feel all that is in it for them is a mountain of extra work and their day to day tasks are falling behind.  What else will being part of the group mean? Do you have field-based staff who will be pulled in to the office more often, perhaps? Have targets and objectives been altered accordingly?

You, your software developers and your working group should all be clear on which features of the proposed software are most valuable to the end user.  What are your priorities?  It is also important to agree timelines, key milestones, contacts and contact methods.  Delivery of the project is a two-way process and it is important that you are responsive to your software developers’ requests for data and information.  Many software development companies take an Agile approach to software – releasing early and then continuing the development until the desired end point is reached.  This has many advantages as long as you have both been clear on what the minimum viable product is.  Software developed in stages can help resistant employees to adapt as they don’t have to cope with too many changes at once.  Bugs are spotted and fixed early (it is almost impossible to replicate every scenario for a piece of software in a test environment – users will always do the one thing you don’t expect them to!).

Extending the scope?

Don’t be surprised if new and different opportunities begin to open up as the software is implemented. Talk to your software developer about how these can be incorporated but be aware of going beyond the scope of the work originally quoted for.  Go back a couple of steps and ask yourself what benefit the new opportunity will provide and is it worth extending the scope of the project or making it part of a completely new project.

 

The whole process will prove exciting, challenging and rewarding and if you want to stay ahead of the competition, disrupting your business is the way forward.

 

Roar offer a free Systems Survey and the resulting report forms an excellent basis for those early working group meetings.  Phone Judy on 07472 972439 to book yours now and find out how else we can support you to achieve your own digital transformation.


Lunchtime Yoga anyone?

Can you leverage Tech and Software to Reduce Workplace Stress?

With stress and mental health issues accounting for a high proportion of absenteeism, many companies and HR departments are putting strategies in to place to support their employees in an effort to reduce workplace stress, and there seem to be a lot of in-house lunchtime yoga classes springing up.  Arecent survey by Perkbox found that 59% of 3,000 respondents felt stressed because of their work, with overwork being given as the biggest reason.  How will lunchtime yoga help with that?  Don’t get me wrong, I think lunchtime yoga is great and I think when it is part of a bigger initiative that also involves you reviewing your systems and processes to see how you can better manage workflows and workloads, it will be awesome.

There are several advantages to taking this approach to reducing workplace stress:  not only do you ensure a happier, healthier workforce but you also improve productivity and efficiency, potentially reducing costs in a variety of ways (not least via a reduction in absenteeism and an increase in staff retention).

So, let’s take a brief look at some workplace stress factors and possible tech solutions.

 

Office Environment

Hands up who still works in an open plan office?  Hands up who would rather not?  Thought so. From arguments over how hot/cold it should be to what music (if any) should be playing in the background, open plan offices can cause huge amounts of stress.  Even if the atmosphere is harmonious, the sound generated is usually quite harsh and it can be difficult to concentrate with all the distractions and interruptions.

So, what’s the solution? Ask your employees how they would prefer to work.  With all the different communication tools available to us now, is there really a need to have everyone working in one big, echoey room?  Moving to smaller work spaces with break out areas for when group working is beneficial, could make a massive difference. And if that really isn’t possible, what about utilising some of the new technologically advanced sound proofing boards that are available.  Strategically placed around the room, these boards will absorb harsh noise, making the open plan office a much nicer environment to work in.

 

Overwork

How many tasks do you still do manually that could be automated?  Overwork was highlighted as one of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace, so making processes more efficient could help massively.  There are so many factors here and while the time savings seem small when taken per action, they soon add up.  Take for example, the amount of time invested in dealing with an unpaid direct debit.  First, the non-payment needs to be picked up, then matched with the right customer, the customer record needs checking and updating – is this an expected cancellation or something else? Then a letter or email needs to be sent to request payment another way etc, etc.  Let’s be generous and say doing all of that manually will take 5 minutes – not long is it? The whole of that process (and more) could be integrated and automated meaning it would take seconds.  Is 5 minutes still not so long? And what about if someone is doing something similar 10 or 20 times a day?

There is another side to having multiple data entry points too: the risk of errors.  The more times data has to be entered manually, the higher the risk that a mistake may be made.  More stress.  There is the pressure to get it right in the first place and then there is the stress of dealing with the fall out if a mistake has been made.

The solution: integrate your systems and make use of push/pull notifications.  As workflows become more efficient, not only are you less likely to have overworked employees but those employees will have more time to work on new business instead of just managing existing business.

 

Inability to access information needed, when it is needed

There is nothing worse than needing some information and not being able to get your hands on it.  Perhaps it is held on a system that you don’t want everyone to have access to but isn’t able to support multiple permissions. Or the information is on the Sales CRM system that doesn’t link with accounts or vice versa.  Frustrating, annoying, time consuming – stress inducing.

Another benefit of integrating your systems is that you can reduce the occurrence of events like this. Introducing a new, or expanding your existing, CRM system will help to ensure that all your employees have all the data and information they need, when they need it.  Sensitive data will still be protected with multiple permissions ensuring that data can only be accessed and edited by authorised employees. Need to know if Mr Jones paid his bill before you ship his next order? There you go.

 

There are so many ways that savvy companies can utilise the technology at their fingertips to help reduce workload, reduce stress, improve efficiency.  While introducing lunchtime yoga is great, make it part of a bigger initiative that truly looks at your employees working day to see how you can improve it. It won’t just be your employees who benefit.

Roar are a small team of highly skilled software developers who can help you deploy your existing technology more efficiently.  Call us now to arrange a FREE, no obligation Systems Survey and find out how you could improve your employees work lives (and your Company’s efficiency).


As your SME begins to grow, you may find yourself spending too much time in the business and not enough time on the business.  So how can you change that?

The Situation

It is a familiar story.  Before you start up your company, you spend time planning and mapping out how you would like the business to progress, what systems you are going to put in place, how you will cope with increased orders.  As the business grows, you find yourself becoming increasingly busy and perhaps you employ a couple of people to help out.  Now you have a small team you think you will have more time to expand your business plan to suit your growing business… but the reality is often different as you get stuck in a cycle of completing tasks yourself rather than delegating, and there just being too much work for you and your team to manage without doing long hours.

And because you are so busy, you never get a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture.  You are immersed in your business instead of working on growing the business.

The Problem

This is the point where growth may stutter or even stop.  There just feels like there is so much work to be done and you don’t feel that you can stop doing any of it in case you lose the business that is coming in.  Perhaps the business is at that point where you feel you need more people but the turnover isn’t quite there for you to confidently employ another head.  The problem is that you are spending so much time working in the business that you feel you never get the chance to review properly where you are at and what can be done to sustain the growth you are experiencing.  Would another head solve the problem?  Or merely buy a little time until you find yourself in the same situation again? What happens if you take on more staff only to find the growth slows and you can longer pay the wages?  How many companies do you know of that have done that and gone under!

The Solution

Adopting tech in obvious and not so obvious areas, making small changes, can lead to big cost savings and massively improved efficiency.  The financial investment needed to make these changes need not be huge – in fact it may be zero – and nor does it need to be a recurring cost.

Let’s take the example of a company with a website that they have attached a shop to. A customer browsing the internet one evening places an order via the website.  Admin staff arrive at work the next day, see the order and then manually enter the details onto the internal system, making a call to the warehouse/production to check stock once they have inputted the order.  The order details are printed off and handed to accounts for them to ideal with and a copy is also given to dispatch so they can label up the parcel. But the warehouse then come back saying they haven’t got the item in stock.  Someone forgot to mark the sheet when they shipped the last one out the week before and replacements hadn’t been re-ordered or made.

It’s now lunchtime and the Admin dealing with the order has spent most of the morning trying to get this order (and several others) shipped.  Admin now has tocontact the customer to provide up dated shipping information or a refund.  They need to find the original order and contact details, type up an email…….  In the meantime, the other orders are piling up.

Imagine now that a small one-off investment has been made.  No need to buy new software or systems.  The website shop has been integrated with the internal CRM system, the accounts system and the warehouse stock system.  The same customer places their order and when Admin arrives the next morning, the warehouse is already picking the item, dispatch address and postage labels are already printed and waiting.  The accounts system has been updated without anyone touching a keyboard.  And the order can be filled because the stock control is automated – so the stock was re-ordered when it should have been.  And if there had been a flurry of purchases for that item and it was out of stock, the customer would have received an automated email with a revised delivery date.  And Admin hasn’t even taken their coat off yet.

How we can help

Are you getting the most out of your existing technology?  Do you know what your existing technology is capable of and what you can do to make it really work for you?  Roar IT Ltd are a professional team of software developers located in the heart of the North West and specialising in systems integration.  We can carry out a free systems survey for you, providing tips and advice on how you can get more out of your existing technology.  There’s no obligation – some of what we suggest may not even cost you a penny to implement – and the report we provide can be used to gain quotes from ourselves and other developers should you decide to take things further.  Phone Judy on 07472 972439 for more information or to book your visit now.


Software Developers and IR35

tax-consultant-1249530_1920IR35 – Off-payroll working through an intermediary

With January and the self-assessment tax deadline rapidly approaching, this seems a good time to look at the off-payroll working rules often known as IR35. There have been a lot of articles about IR35 recently and it’s impact on individual contractors, particularly within the public sector. This is not actually due to IR35 itself though – after all, the rules and guidance have actually been in place for several years – but rather due to reforms that came into effect in April 2017. The reforms are a response to widespread non-compliance with IR35 and it is likely that these reforms will be extended to include the private sector within the next 18 months.

What is IR35?

IR35 was introduced in an attempt to prevent the practice of “disguised employees” – that is organisations utilising the services of an individual under the guise of self-employment rather than employment. The individual would offer those services via, eg, their own limited company (known as a personal services company) or a limited liability partnership. There were benefits to both parties in doing this – the organisation didn’t have to pay Employer’s NI and the individual would pay less tax on their earnings by, for example, claiming expenses against tax that they would not have been entitled to as an employee. Win, win for everyone but the taxman.

The IR35 legislation came into force in April 2000 and sets out the off-payroll working rules. In deciding whether a contract falls within IR35, the employment status of the contractor needs to be assessed and there are a number of factors to be considered when doing this, not just the wording of the contract. For instance: how many clients the individual works for; who decides what work they do and when, where, or how they do it; whether they are responsible for fixing unsatisfactory work in their own time, etc.

If the contract falls within IR35, ie the individual would be an employee if the services weren’t being provided via an intermediary, then the organisation must deduct tax and national insurance contributions before paying the individual.

What has changed?

The reforms that came into force in April 2017 only affect the public sector and place the onus on the organisation paying the contractor to decide whether IR35 rules apply. This effectively means that the public sector must examine every contract for temporary work and make a decision as to the employment status of the individual involved before deciding whether the contract falls within IR35. It is generally thought that these reforms will be extended to include the private sector within 18 months and possibly as early as spring 2018.

What will this mean for individuals and organisations?

Apart from the extra administrative time involved for the organisations involved, there are potentially quite severe penalties if a wrong decision is made or HMRC believe an effort to avoid tax is still being made. HMRC offer a Check employment status for tax service

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-employment-status-for-tax

and will stand by the result if a subsequent employment status review is opened as long as accurate information has been provided.

For individuals, if the organisation makes the decision that your contract is caught by IR35 then you will see your take home pay drop as they deduct tax and NI before handing it over. And it should be noted that being deemed an employee for tax purposes does not automatically mean you are entitled to employee benefits such as sick pay and holiday pay.

As stated earlier, at the moment the reforms only apply to public sector contracts but it is only a matter of time before this is rolled out in the private sector. Private sector organisations can make use of the Check employment for tax service and also the Contract review service via the IR35 helpline if they are still unsure if the off-payroll working rules apply. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/ir35-enquiries

How does this affect Software Developers and those seeking their services?

IR35 has caused a grey area for individual contractors and those making use of their services since it came into force in 2000. Over the last few years there have been increasing numbers of employment status reviews by HMRC, many of which have resulted in both the organisation and the individual contractor being found liable for unpaid tax and national insurance.

Making use of a Limited company (or personal service company) where there is only one director who is also the sole employee of the company, does not afford protection from IR35 – in fact, it was exactly that kind of situation that caused IR35 to be introduced in the first place. Organisations may be wise to consider contracting with other service providers, truly outsourcing their software development projects to companies with a team of employed specialists rather than individuals.

 

Roar IT Ltd are not tax advisers or accountants. Individuals and companies should check with HMRC or take professional advice if they have any questions about IR35.