Monday, 18 July 2016

How to access the benefits of digital transformation in the tech savvy age

The age of tech savvy customers is upon us. Look around you wherever you are, and you’ll see people of all ages participating in the digital transformation of their lives. Children on iPads, millennials on iPhones, and fitness bugs with health monitoring watches beeping instructions. Here in the UK, digital tech companies have been growing at a rate a third faster than the general economy. If you think you can ignore digital transformation in your business, think again.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

How SMEs benefit from outsourcing HR and Payroll

Having now had time to fully digest the 2016 budget, many SMEs may be revising the euphoria they displayed in their initial response to George Osbourne’s announcement of a reduction in corporation tax rates. While a reduction in the headline rate to 17% by 2020 is to be welcomed, the way in which losses are treated will mean that British businesses are likely to pay £7 billion more in corporation tax in the next five years.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

How to Avoid the 5 Common Mistakes that Companies Make when Outsourcing

As global connectivity takes economies to different levels, flatter and more collaborative workplaces are gaining the competitive edge. The traditional way of working is also changing. The gig economy, rapidly evolving technology, and millennials’ desire for a freer and more eclectic lifestyle is producing opportunities for individuals and organisations. In order to remain competitive, increasing numbers of organisations are changing how the resource their businesses.

An outsourcing arrangement should provide a whole host of benefits, including:

  • Expertise and experience that is unavailable to many companies without large dedicated departments
  • Access to state-of-the art technology and big data research
  • Maintenance of compliance to rule and regulation changes, and
  • A reduction in fixed and variable costs

If your company is considering accessing these and other outsourcing benefits, then our advice is to make sure that you and your employees are prepared for a new way of working and ready to make the most of the new opportunities. We meet with many businesses that are under-prepared, or come to us having had a bad experience elsewhere and have identified the following five mistakes made as the most common. By eliminating these at the outset, you’ll see the productivity and profit gains flowing through much earlier in the relationship.

1. Companies outsource without understanding the scope of work being outsourced
You may think that you’ve conveyed your requirements to the service provider (or, for that matter the individual contractor) but often there is a big difference in perceptions of the scope of work to be done. Suddenly you find yourself in a position where your expectations aren’t being met, and yet the outsource company is performing work that is beyond the scope of the project.

Get over this problem by making certain that your needs are clearly defined, and laid out in writing. This includes everything you expect to achieve and the schedules of work to be completed. Be specific about your requirements and ensure that you and the service provider are on the same page. A big tip here is that if no questions are asked, the service provider probably doesn’t fully understand what you need to be done.

2. Companies that select solely on price usually find that they miss out on value
Companies rarely get value for money when they select with price as their sole criterion. Remember that the objective of outsourcing is, at an absolute minimum, to achieve the same quality and quantity of work that is being completed in-house more cost effectively. As the old saying goes, “if you pay peanuts, then expect your work to be done by monkeys!”

Look carefully at the offering and expectations on both sides, and take the time to check references of the resource provider – if they are any good, their existing companies will be happy to tell you about it!

3. First time outsourcers starting too big
First time outsourcers, or those using a new resource provider for the first time, will often sign an agreement on a large scale project. This doesn’t allow for any bedding-in of the relationship or testing of capacity and competence.

Always begin with a small project, and the simpler the better. You’ll get to build the relationship, and judge the capabilities of your selected provider before embarking on a project that has a critical impact on your business.

4. Forgetting who is responsible
Companies that outsource often blur the lines of responsibility and control. This then creates a situation where the service provider is hampered in completion of the job in hand. Remember that your business remains in control of the work produced, even when the responsibility for its completion is handed to the service provider.

This, again, comes down to scope and relationship. Make sure you explain how the work is going to be used, and by whom. This will give the service provider a better understanding of requirements. Then allow the service provider to get on with their part of the deal, and rest assured that a good service provider will ask questions if there is any uncertainty along the way.

5. Hiring an resourcing provider without regard to aftercare
It’s our experience that a project is never complete until sometime after delivery. This is especially true of mission critical IT projects, for example.

Build into your agreement a period of support after the project deliverables have been achieved. You may want to review the project outcomes with your service provider: without an aftercare clause in the contract, not only will the current project contain more risk and potential expense, but your future projects may not benefit as much from your experiences.

6. Get the most from outsourcing
Creating a strong resourcing contract with longevity and one that delivers (or over-delivers) on every project depends very much on how you come out of the blocks.  Here at Briars, we work with clients to ensure that projects are properly scoped out. You can expect plenty of questions as we work together to create a written agreement. That’s not because we don’t understand the industry you work in, or the work that needs to be done. It’s because we understand that your needs are unique.

Working with an resource service provider isn’t a sprint. It’s a three-legged marathon, where we collaborate with you to produce the outcomes that will propel your organisation to the next level and beyond. Contact Briars Group now, and discover how a collaborative partnership will help your business transform and grow.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

5 Strategies to Grow Your Online Business like John Lewis

At the beginning of January, John Lewis announced some sparkling sales numbers. While its in-store revenue had declined, its eCommerce sales had grown by 21% in the six weeks to January 2nd 2016. This turnout prompted the group to maintain its forecast for full-year profits. And that’s no mean feat in a retail sector that is being bashed on all sides. Today’s cost conscious consumers have deep pockets and short arms, while price cutting competitors are going for market share at all costs.

Online sales is the key to John Lewis’s success
Over the last three years, John Lewis has grown its online business from 25% of total sales during the crucial Christmas holiday period to 40%. That has helped its revenue number grow to £951 million in the 2015/2016 Christmas and New Year period – up by 7% from a year ago, despite those flagging in-store sales.

Compare this performance to, say, that of Marks and Spencer and you begin to see how good the John Lewis strategy really is. At the blue chip retailer, underlying sales slumped by 5.8% in the last quarter of 2015. Clothing, homewares, and food sales all disappointed. Contrary to the John Lewis story, though, Marks and Spencer’s online sales really suffered, falling by 6%. It hadn’t ramped up its distribution capacity, and had to delay deliveries around Christmas: lots of unhappy customers.

Of course, the Marks and Spencer Group has been beset by problems for several years. It has seen its margins slashed and profits reduced since the ill-fated bid by Sir Philip Green in 2004. Back then the company made £740 million profit on £8.3 billion sales. In the year to March 2015, its profit was £600 million on £10.3 billion sales. No wonder its share price today is virtually unchanged from the £4 bid price of 12 years ago.

So what is it that John Lewis is doing right and Marks and Spencer has been doing so wrong? Here are five eCommerce strategies that will help you grow your online business like John Lewis:

1) Be serious about your online business
First off, you’ve got to treat your online business seriously. Even if it’s not earning now, if you put the time, effort, expertise, and investment into it then you’ll see its sales grow in the future. It’s a real business, not a hobby. When strategising for business growth, think about what you would do if your eCommerce business was already big.

2) Employ the best software
You wouldn’t use a few trestle tables to display your stock in your bricks-and-mortar stores, would you? So why would you use anything less than the best software when selling online? The software you employ should allow you to address all your concerns and needs today and in the future – this includes data, security, marketing, and the selling process.

3) Know your customer
If you know your customers and where to find them, then you’ll be able to plan your marketing properly. What is your product, who does it appeal to, and where will you find your target customers? Will buyers be receptive to a social media strategy, or will they be more likely to be hunting on deal sites? The answers to questions like these will help you design a winning online marketing strategy.

4)Make it easy for customers to recommend you
Social media and online testimonials are the new word-of-mouth, and we all know that word-of-mouth is the best marketing you can get. Make it easy for your satisfied customers to share just how good your products, services, and website are. After all, your customers are your biggest assets.

5)Make it easy for customers to buy online
There’s nothing more frustrating than adding a product to an online shopping cart and then finding you have to jump through hoops to complete the purchase. In fact, the checkout is where most abandonment of online purchases takes place. Keep purchase steps to a minimum, and remove the need to create an account. Use auto-fill forms, and save shipping information whenever possible. Finally, make sure you can accept payment in several ways (e.g. debit card, credit card, PayPal, etc.).

The world’s business is increasingly being conducted online. Make sure that your company’s website and eCommerce functionality are up to the challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow. Contact Briars Group now, and one of our experts will be happy to discuss how we can help you ensure cost effective resource allocation to grow your online business.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Nine Ways to Protect Your Most Valuable Business Asset Today

The term ‘cybercrime’ might sound like something from a Star Wars scene shot many light years from here, but it is a very real threat to all modern businesses. Almost a quarter of all UK retail transactions now take place online – that’s more than any other country – and it’s a number that is growing every day. The UK’s online economy is the biggest in the world (when measured as a percentage of its total economy), and online sales are growing at around 12% per year.

Every organisation uses email and mobile technology, and the majority have a website to attract new business. Increasing numbers of businesses rely on WiFi connection and data storage ‘in the cloud’.
The opportunity for a business to be hacked and have its data stolen has never been greater.

The value of data

The most valuable part of your business is probably the data it holds, and even the smallest of businesses holds huge amounts of it.

Your business will hold information about suppliers, customers, employees, business relationships, bank accounts, business strategy… the list is endless. All this data is effectively held in little black boxes that could potentially be accessed by a thief sitting thousands of miles away.

If any of this data falls into the wrong hands, your business could be destroyed:
  • You could have traffic from your website redirected by hackers, or have traffic to your site stopped before it even gets there
  • A backdoor could be installed so a cyber thief can access your company’s data at any time
  • Perhaps worst of all, cyber criminals target your customer data and raid bank accounts, set up false payments, redirect direct debits, and so on

Become a victim of cybercrime, and your standing in the market place, your reputation among customers, which may have taken years to build, could be destroyed in a heartbeat.

The list of companies that have been attacked and had data stolen this year alone runs into thousands, and includes some of the world’s largest. Companies like Sony, Staples, JP Morgan Chase, and Home Depot in the United States. Here in the UK, recent examples include Morrison’s, Mumsnet, Moonpig, and TalkTalk. Across just this handful of examples, tens of millions of customer accounts have been breached.

Unsurprisingly, penalties imposed for poor online security are getting heavier. During 2013 and 2014, research by IT Governance found more than £2.1 million in fines had been imposed on UK companies that hadn’t taken effective measures to protect data held against cyber-attack.
The new EU General Data Protection Regulations increase these fines. Companies that don’t comply with current and future regulations could be fined up to 5% of their global turnover.

What can you do today?

Just like everyday crime, the majority of cybercrime events can be traced back to simple mistakes. If you leave your front door open when you go out to dinner, you might expect your home to be ransacked by the time you return. In the same way, if you leave your laptop logged-in when you leave the office at night, don’t be surprised to find that you’ve had your most sensitive files copied and published on the internet.

Here are nine simple things that you and your people can do today to help protect your sensitive and valuable information from cyber theft and your business from other forms of cybercrime:

      1. Make it impossible for employees to download data and take it home
Protection, like charity, begins at home. Disable the USB ports on all your company’s computers, and take measures to stop employees taking data on CDs and USBs home with them. A recent study found that 100% of people who found a CD with “payroll” written on it would put that CD into their own computer and open up the data.

      2. Put in place the right protection firewalls
Make it impossible for employees to download potentially malicious viruses and malware by constantly updating your firewall and antivirus software. Ensure that every terminal in your company is protected in real time.

      3. Build robust policies and conduct regular cybercrime training
Ensure that you have a comprehensive, written policy detailing how to prevent cybercrime. Again, this will need constant updating to ensure compliance with current rules and regulations. Put in place a regular training regime that reinforces best practice. Coach employees never to share any information online or elsewhere.

      4. Be wary of social media
Social media is an easy way for cyber criminals to steal identities for fraudulent use. Never post personal details, and always take steps to protect your social media accounts from being accessed by people you don’t know. (On a side issue, why would anyone let the world know that he or she will be on holiday for two weeks and has left an empty house behind?)

      5. Passwords, passwords, passwords
It goes without saying that you should never write your password down and never pass it on to anyone else. So why even say this? Because people still fail to protect their own password integrity, and even use the same password for every application they access.

      6. Encrypt your data
If you are sending any information online, then it should be sent encrypted. Encrypt your databases, too. Encryption is like putting everything into a secret code. This creates a problem for some companies, because data needs to be encrypted, unencrypted, and then encrypted again. Because of this, API is the buzzword: receipt-scanning software connects via an API, as does sending software. These APIs could be the next area of vulnerability to cyber-attack.

      7. Measure your risk regularly
Undertake regular risk assessments, especially checking that employees are doing the basics right: changing passwords regularly, logging out properly, and not downloading things they shouldn’t. Use the results of these risk assessments to evolve your policies, practices, and training procedures.

      8. Use an external consultant
People on the outside looking in always see things differently. An external consultant will have abilities and experience that are absent in 99% of companies. That’s especially true in the IT environment. An external consultant will deeply test your systems for penetrability in a way that your internal team can’t. (Look up ‘pen testing’ online!)

      9. Get onside with the Cyber Essentials Scheme
It constantly surprises us how many clients and others have never even heard of the Cyber Essentials Scheme. This government-backed scheme is aimed at enabling companies to protect against the most common cyber-attacks. If you haven’t done so already, familiarise yourself with it now by clicking here and stay tuned to our blog, as we will be discussing the scheme in more depth very soon.

The real value of auditing and outsourcing

If you’re as serious about cybercrime as the cyber criminals are, you’ll already be considering an investment in an audit by an independent expert. They’ll be able to check your whole system, procedures, and policies against regulations and industry best practices, with the benefit of access to highly specialised talent and leading edge resources.

The interconnected world is evolving so rapidly right now that maintaining an internal IT department with the necessary capabilities is incompatible with most budgets and strategies. This is especially true of SMEs. The answer is to outsource your IT needs. By doing so, you’ll find that your business:
  •          Is better able to focus on core business functions
  •          Reduces costs
  •          Has access to resources on-demand
  •          Reduces downtime
  •          Becomes more competitive in its market
  •          Remains constant, consistent, and informed in all IT matters
You don’t have to struggle with your IT, or remain in constant fear of cyber-attack. Pick up the phone or send us an email today, and we’ll be pleased to help you explore a new way of working and the best bespoke strategies to avoid the theft of data and loss of reputation that follows it.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

How can Entrepreneurs Elevate Their Business by Using External Solutions?

By their very nature, entrepreneurs are talented risk takers, while delegation of operational matters often comes less naturally. A successful company relies on its leader remaining focussed on driving the business forward and increasing its value. So how can entrepreneurs juggle operational matters, hiring and retaining the right people, and still achieve their business goals?

The answer is all about getting the balance right; ensuring that the day-to-day running of the business is handled by a great team with proper, expert support.

How you, the business leader, can benefit from your people
The creation of a robust and dependable team, strong at all levels and across all disciplines, should be achievable providing you don’t lose sight of your most valuable asset – your people. Few people are truly happy to be doing the same job year on year. This doesn’t lead to job satisfaction and in turn can damage the company’s growth as a team becomes stale and disenfranchised. The team and its members should grow in skill, experience and passion alongside its founder.

The art of delegation
To aid this, the entrepreneur can focus on identifying those necessary processes that he or she can delegate to others who not only have the skillset, but also the resilience and procedural acumen to ensure that the business remains secure in a constantly-evolving world of compliance – irrespective of the aspect. Whether it be taxes or employment, data security, communications, or risk, the challenge remains the same.

This is where using a highly-skilled specialist team works best.  Sadly, the terms Outsourcing and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) have both developed uncomfortable overtones for many Offices of Management and Budget (OMBs). Many link these phrases to a lack of ownership, responsibility, and quality. This is unfortunate since that same bucket also contains some very select solutions that can free key assets, enabling the business to expand and keep its CEO happy in the knowledge that complex and time consuming elements of business such as risk management and compliance are both in safe hands.

The benefits of delegating to Briars
Clients that work with us quickly discover the advantages and benefits of doing so. In brief:
  • We are your team: we act as if we were physically sat in your offices and directly employed by you
  • We do not act or think as external advisors
  • We take full ownership and we adapt our working practices to best suit your culture
  • We are your engine room for all compliance matters, your back office operational team and your expert guide when you choose to step into unknown territories or potentially dangerous waters
By freeing key personnel to further enhance the business, the entrepreneurial leader can punch above their weight and move forward in the same way as much larger corporates. 

With these advantages, our clients benefit from the ability to react rapidly to changing circumstances and take advantage of opportunities, without worrying about procedural or governance vulnerabilities. This is a reason we now see more examples of the small ‘tug boat’ sized companies taking on the ‘large liner’ corporates and winning.
Come and talk to us, and together we’ll explore how you can grow more quickly by getting back some of the time you spend servicing your company rather than developing it.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Part 2 - How to Find the Best Provider for Your HR functions

In my last article I discussed the many and varied benefits of outsourcing HR functions. For the majority of businesses, it’s not a question of whether they would benefit from outsourcing non-core functions but which they would benefit from most. Many organisations begin by ‘dipping their toes in the water first’, outsourcing just one or two HR functions to measure the impact.