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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…FINDING THE RIGHT IT MATCH Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Tuesday, March 1st 2015
ICT adviser Joel Teague continues his series of articles looking at how to make sure you get the right IT solutions for your business.

LAST month I discussed the issue of determining where and how computer systems (or better ones) can be used to improve a business. This month I’ll address the task of choosing hardware, software and – just as importantly – the right supplier to help put it all into practice. (If you missed the first instalment you can email me at joel.teague@teagus.com for a copy or look on the Can you Find it – Business website, www.canyoufindit.co.uk.)

System and supplier selection is a very wide subject, and it isn’t possible to provide one particular approach that’s good for everyone. However, the same golden rule does apply across the board: This is a business project, not a technical one. Computers are just tools for improving your bottom line.

Aside from that (and my usual plea for everyone to get some specialist help rather than taking this complex and time-consuming task on themselves) the process of choosing systems is unique to every business.

If you are looking for a system to address a small, simple task in your company you probably don’t need to take a particularly structured approach. Once you’ve identified some potential systems you can use trial versions to evaluate the best match. However, if you are looking for the new mainstay system of your business, it is essential to approach it in a way that keeps you focused on business objectives as you wade through the inevitable piles of information and sales blurb that will end up on your desk.

Assuming that you’ve identified the part of your company that will benefit from a new system, I’d suggest starting by answering question: “What is the business objective of this system?”

If you are simply trying to support or automate a set process in order to improve reliability or lower costs, your objective is simple: look for the system and supplier that will prove most reliable and which will fit your requirement most accurately.

If you are looking to this system to help increase revenue or gain a competitive edge, the attributes above become the starting point for selection. The overall emphasis moves towards flexibility, innovation and differentiation. It also brings into play the importance of knowing what your competitors are using – a competitive edge is hard to find when you’re competing against people using the same systems.

Last month I briefly mentioned sources of information when finding potential systems and suppliers. Again, the best approach will depend on who you are, what you’re looking for, and your particular preferences:

If you are an experienced user of the Web, this is usually a good place to start. Bear in mind that the biggest companies often have the best marketing budgets to make themselves most visible on the Internet, so make sure you search in a variety of ways to find those diamonds in the rough – the small but inventive companies with great products, a will to please and tiny marketing budgets.

If the system you’re seeking is related to your specific industry, then try to stay within industry sources during your search. Industry magazines, exhibitions, conferences, websites and good old networking with other companies is likely to reveal not only the contenders, but useful information about them that won’t be in their sales literature.

The North West region is also well catered for in terms of support bodies and networks to help with ICT-related issues for companies. Contact your local Business Link (www.businesslinksussex.co.uk) – they should be able to steer you in the right direction, and flag up any grant or consultancy assistance that may be available. Similarly, the Chambers of Commerce (www.Sussexchamber.com) have various schemes and groups who may be able to help, and the www.eSussex.org website is a good source of supplier information.

To avoid common problems during your research, I’d recommend guarding against:

Assuming that more expensive means ‘better’.

Taking the supplier’s word for it – not because they’re necessarily going to fib – but because they will never have access to the same information as their users. It is worth finding some existing customers – not the references provided by the supplier – and asking them for their opinions. An objective recommendation or horror story can save you from disaster.

Assuming that the contract or project approach is what you need. Make sure the financial model penalises (and doesn’t reward) late delivery or poor performance. The ICT industry is not known for its project reliability, so unless you can fix costs you should assume a large overrun on estimates.

Assuming that the supplier knows the best approach or that they will understand your business. Quiz the suppliers about their approach to projects and make sure it is business-led rather than driven by technical considerations. You should be involved in the whole process, or you’ll risk getting a system that misses the mark.

Unless you have found exactly what you need at a good price, you should consider the possibility of having what you need written. The subject is wide enough to warrant a separate article at a later date (especially regarding the ups and downs of development projects), but for now consider having your system written for you if:

1. You can’t find a package that works the way what you need it to.

2. You expect your business to evolve and innovate a great deal.

3. You are trying to support a process that you need to do better than your opposition.

4. You have lots of users and quoted ’per-user’ charges are too high.

5. You want the system to increase company asset value.

An ICT supplier is just as important as the system or service they supply. If they are the people charged with installing and supporting the system that is the mainstay of your business, this company is going to have a dramatic effect on your company. But getting it right isn’t so much a matter of finding the best supplier as finding the right one.

If you select a supplier that is geared up for a different type of client than your company you could encounter problems. If your company is a fraction of the normal size of your supplier’s clients, you may find yourself at the back of the service queue. Conversely, if you’re after a 200-user Enterprise Resource Planning system it may not be best to get a one-man-band to supply the whole lot.

Some suppliers (especially local ones) who can provide some but not all of the services involved may suggest a consortium approach. For this to work it is essential that there is good project management and airtight legal structures in place. If done properly it is an excellent way to make use of local talent, and it does enable you to cherry-pick the appropriate expertise for each aspect of a project. This is becoming a common way to approach projects – especially website construction, where freelance designers, copywriters and programmers can be brought together to perfectly match a specific project requirement.

There is a compromise to be found between reliability and personal service. Bigger companies can never provide the same flexibility and focused attention of a smaller local supplier, but smaller companies are usually less organised and can rarely respond as well when things get sticky. For example, when the storms struck in January, if your network supplier only had two engineers, you could have been waiting a while for a visit. A company using a national supplier with a carefully managed team of support staff with procedures, systems to deal with such things may have had a quicker response – but which supplier is more likely to remember their way around your particular network?

It’s a tricky balance, and entirely down to your particular needs. If you don’t mind a bit of seat-of-the-pants approach to customer service, go local and small. If you don’t mind a one-size-fits-all approach (and probably higher support costs) and like things to be structured and organised with plenty of backup, go for the bigger supplier.

Before making your final selection, I would strongly suggest taking the time (and hassling the suppliers if necessary) to make sure you know exactly who you are going to be dealing with. Get summary CVs for everyone who is likely to be directly involved in your project and look for a good spread of appropriate experience and expertise.

If it turns out that you’re dealing with teenagers and people in a faraway land, you know why the price is low. You also know to be very careful about getting lots of references: remember, almost all IT projects hinge on relevant industry experience and proper understanding of your business. The more experienced, non-technical people a supplier can bring to your project, the less time and stress you will have to expend answering questions that ought to be obvious to anyone who understands your needs. Take the time to chat with the senior members of the proposed project team about your business in general; you’ll soon know whether they ‘get’ what you do.

All of this advice is very generic and at the end of the day you are the only person qualified to know which system and supplier is best for your business. Hopefully some of this article will help to lower the risks and help you make a successful selection. Next month I’ll attack the last step: implementing and managing a successful system.

Joel Teague is a TMB accredited ICT adviser. He can be contacted at Teagus Ltd, a Londonn company providing IT advisory and development services for business: Tel. 0870 1417014, Website: www.teagus.com, Email: joel.teague@teagus.com

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…RWP TRAINING LTD: TRAINING FOR FIRMS IN THE FOOD SECTORPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Tuesday, February 1st 2015
New programmes: RWP Training project manager Bernadette Marsden, left and manager of corporate services Sue Kaveney. New programmes: RWP Training project manager Bernadette Marsden, left and manager of corporate services Sue Kaveney. HAVING secured ESF funding from Business Link for London, RWP Training Limited – a well-respected training and development organisation owned by Richard and Karen Polyblank and based in Chertsey House, Carlisle – is now delivering new training programmes to SMEs operating in the food sector.

Companies able to benefit include modest milk producers right up to larger manufacturers of products for the retail and hospitality industries. The plethora of new legislation and European directives affecting food companies means that ongoing training is more essential than ever before, explains Susan Kaveney, Corporate Services Manager for RWP.

“We are now offering a range of short courses and training – either in-house or off-site – which are enhancing the skills of the workforce, meeting legislative requirements and making individual companies and the Londonn food industry as a whole more competitive,” she says. The funding is limited and all courses or qualifications must be completed by 31st March 2016.

In addition to the above project, RWP is designing and implementing commercial training packages which will be available to any organisation covering areas such as:

Business administration;

Management (Institute of Leadership & Management Accredited);

Manufacturing operations;

Customer service;

Use of IT;

Team leader and supervisor training (Institute of Leadership & Management Accredited);

Assessor awards.

RWP specialises in the development of apprentices (and advanced apprentices) which lead to NVQs, Key Skills qualifications and technical certificates such as BTEC or City & Guilds.

On-the-job training is given by employers while RWP helps apprentices to develop skills such as problem solving, communication, team-working and to understand the application of new technology such as IT.

Apprentices train in subjects as diverse as engineering, business administration, hairdressing, IT and management.

In its aim to be a nationally recognised as a lead supplier of high-quality vocational learning and to ensure it is representative of the areas in which it operates, RWP recruits local trainers and associates who are skilled and experienced in their field.

Richard Polyblank, Chief Executive of RWP Training, is proud of the company’s position as a Carlisle-based organisation working to national standards but he fully appreciates the local dimension. “Meeting local needs is our objective and we do everything possible to ensure that we make a positive and fitting contribution to the communities we serve,” he says.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…TO COMPUTERISE OR NOT?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Tuesday, February 1st 2015
TO Computerise or not to computerise? If you’ll excuse the crude literary paraphrase, this really is the question according to the NWDA’s research. Their ICT survey showed that for around a quarter of businesses in the North West, it is not so much a matter of improving computing, but whether, where and how to implement it in the first place, writes Joel Teague, of Teagus.

Even if your business is already using computers, the chances are that you’re wondering whether some part of that business could be improved with a new system. That’s the trouble with this computing stuff – the expression ‘up to date’ is usually applicable for about as long as ‘the tide is in’.

The benefits of getting the right systems running in the right way are huge – 80% of public organizations in the NWDA survey that implemented systems reported a positive impact. Unfortunately, the process of identifying an opportunity, then selecting, implementing and running the right system to exploit it is not easy.

To many the whole task looks complicated, time consuming, stressful and expensive. Alas – it often is. However, the risks associated with not grasping the technological nettle are far worse. Ask yourself a simple question: if a company who has implemented the right systems moves in down the street, how long will you last?

At this point I have to make clear my opinion that this whole area is not something that should be taken on as just another entry in a director’s task list. It is simply too important, complicated, risky and time-consuming. So at the risk of sounding too self-important, my advice is: get some professional help.

That said, I acknowledge that this would be a very short and naive section if I were to assume everyone would take this approach.

From here in I’ll endeavour to provide some useful advice to those budding DIY computer experts out there. Over the next few issues I’ll give some pointers on how to identify the parts of a business that would benefit from computing (or better computing), how to choose or create the best solution, how to engage and manage suppliers, and how to get the best out of those systems until it’s time to do it all again. This month, I’ll concentrate on the first part – when and where to consider new systems, and how to work out whether it’s worth the time and expense.

The first thing to emphasise is that this whole process is about analysing your business, not about understanding technology. All you need to grasp about the tech stuff is what it can do, so you can work out whether your business would benefit from it.

There are many ways to approach business analysis, and my preferred approach revolves around objectives and processes. In a structured review I encourage the directors to review their business plan and overall objectives – after all, computing is just another means to get your business to where you want it to be.

With all this fresh in your mind, the next step is to map out the basic processes of your business. Then it is well worth spending some time with the people who carry out each part of each process, and finding out the real way in which they happen.

Look for telltale signs of tasks that could be done faster, cheaper or more effectively:

Paper-based storage of repetitive information – forms, card files and so on.

Repetitive decisions and actions carried out manually.

Typing or writing the same information more than once.

‘Home-made’ spreadsheets and databases used to track information on PCs where main systems don’t quite meet the requirement.

From these points you should be able to get a good impression of the processes that run smoothly as they are, and the areas where you may be able to significantly improve things.

You can then make a list of requirements of any system in terms of must-have capabilities, plus features that would improve things but aren’t essential.

Keep your list non-technical – for example, rather than specifying ‘web-based’ as a requirement, you would use something like ‘can be accessed from any PC with an internet connection’. That way you won’t restrict yourself to the technical approaches you already know about, and suppliers are free to meet the need in the best way available. Also, don’t forget to include your requirements of the supplier – a poor or inappropriate supplier can make the best system a disaster.

From here, there is the tricky task of finding out how different computer systems could improve things when implemented into your particular business. This is something I’ll expand on next month, but generally it comes down to a mixture of research, realistic predictions of how things could work, and cost/benefit analyses.

Unless your business is highly unusual, there will be other companies with similar (but rarely identical) computing requirements. The differences are what make the choice of software packages difficult. This is also why your map of processes is important.

In general, companies end up using a small part of what their packages can do, and rarely find a package that does all they need. It’s all about finding the best match, and in some cases, getting what you need created specifically for you – an option often overlooked or disregarded.

For research on potential solutions, I’d recommend the following:

Recommendations – if you have contacts in similar but non-competitive companies, pick their brains.

Industry publications and websites. Suppliers worth their salt will often advertise in these.

The Internet. Research on the Web can be difficult, time-consuming and misleading if you’re not familiar with the oddities of search engines and directories. If you’re not a webby person yourself, find one (they’re never far away), and give them clear instructions on the sort of thing you’re after.

Business networking meetings – many groups like your local Chambers of Commerce (0845 2260040) or Business Link (www.businesslinksussex.co.uk) will be able to point you at local suppliers. In London, the Digital Affinity Group is a particularly useful group, and the e-London website has a good directory of suppliers at www.eSussex.org/. In the North West we are blessed with a range of exceptional talent when it comes to ICT suppliers.

You’ll find that your list of requirements (especially the ‘nice-to-haves’) extends significantly during this process, as you come across new ideas and possibilities from various products. Be careful to go back and objectively evaluate their benefits to your business – don’t get tempted by attributes that are clever (or worse – ‘cool’) but which won’t improve your bottom line.

A good supplier ought to be able to help you map their offering on to your particular processes. If they seem to think your requirement is the same as everyone else’s, look elsewhere.

Make sure they take into account the exceptions to your processing rules – those niggling bits on your processes that require extra tasks. Automating a process that’s only used 1% of the time often costs the same as automating the process that’s the norm – so make sure you spot them and include them in your calculations.

You should now be able to work out the difference in costs between continuing your existing process and implementing the systems to support a new process. Although systems ought to last at least seven years, I’d recommend a calculation based on five. Remember to take into account the following:

How much would you save on saved time and staff costs?

How much will the system really cost over five years, including extra licences, support, hardware, upgrades, maintenance, consultancy time, and so on?

How much of your time will it take to get the system implemented, and to manage it over the five years? (Usually far more than you think, so pad it out!) Put a realistic value on your time: not the direct cost – the value of your time to the business.

If there’s a business advantage to be had, how much extra profit or reduced cost is it worth? This is an essential component, and often adds up to far more than expected.

Are there other expenses (e.g. running costs of existing systems and services) you will be able to save?

When working these things out, it is easy to credit computer systems with qualities and abilities that are not realistic. Whatever the blurb about the system says, it will not:

Replace good business sense. That joke about ‘to err is human – to really mess up you need a computer’ is all too true.

Produce good, useful information by itself – quite the opposite in fact. If you don’t define and enforce proper use and quality controls on the information put into a system, you can guarantee you’ll soon learn the meaning of that other industry truism, ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

Make itself popular. There is always a change management aspect that has to be addressed – allow for the time, cost and disruption involved.

Maintain itself or work all the time. Make sure you allow for proper support, backups, disaster recovery planning, and (after the last month’s weather) – disasters.

At this point you will either be terminally confused or you will have an idea of the effect (positive or negative) the system should have on your business. It is likely that you will also be shocked at the size of the numbers you have produced. The real cost of ICT systems is definitely high – often many times the ticket price – but the financial benefits are also just as surprising.

Once you have identified potential areas for computerisation – or updating – there is the matter of making the final selection of product and supplier. After that there is the art of getting the best out of both. I’ll tackle these in the next two issues.

Joel Teague is an IT advisory and software developer for business. He can be contacted at Teagus Limited: Tel: 0870 1417014 Website: www.teagus.com Email: joel.teague@teagus.com

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…EXERCISE FACTS TO CONSIDERPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Light work: TV presenter Tania Bryer demonstrates how people can incorporate light exercise into their lives by cleaning, shopping and even commuting in a new exercise, Routinetics.Light work: TV presenter Tania Bryer demonstrates how people can incorporate light exercise into their lives by cleaning, shopping and even commuting in a new exercise, Routinetics.A FEW facts about exercise for you to consider:

Your muscles do not grow during exercise. Exercise is only the stimulus. The body strengthens the muscles while you are resting;

Each pound of muscle burns 75-100 calories every day simply by being;

The amount of rest needed for muscles to grow depends on their current size. The larger it is the more it needs to rest. Gym beginners should rest at least two days between exercise. After a year in the gym you should probably rest three days. By exercising every day you are hurting your body and retarding muscle growth;

There is no difference between stronger, larger and firmer muscles. Those three go hand in hand. It is not true that one kind of exercise will build a different kind of muscle than another. The only three variables you can influence with any type of exercise are muscle mass, muscle shape and the amount of body fat;

A pound of body fat stores 3,500 calories;

The only way that you can know that you have stimulated the muscles enough is to train to failure. If, after a number of repetitions, the muscle is unable to move for 15 seconds even though you are willing it to, then you know that you have provided maximum stimuli;

Your body doesn’t care if your muscles failed after five repetitions of exercise or after 50. Use the weight that allows you to do 4-8 repetitions for maximum safety and time efficiency. And there is no reason to do more than one set;

You can hurt yourself during exercise if you apply excessive force to your muscles. The best way to work with weights is slowly. Raise the weight for 10 seconds and lower it for 10 seconds.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ANTI-SMOKING TSAR GOES TO WORKPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Sussex has appointed its first anti-smoking tsar who aims to wipe out the habit in all pubs, clubs restaurants and workplaces before the Government’s ban comes into place in four years time.

Nikolas Storey, 23, is a fervent anti-smoker who believes that the Government’s White Paper – which has only advocated a partial ban – has not gone far enough.

“Giving up smoking is the single most preventative measure that people can take to save their own lives,” he argues. “One in every two smokers will develop a disease and die because of their habit.

“Forty per cent of all people who develop coronary heart disease do so because they smoke.

“It causes cancer and can lead to a stroke because it clogs arteries.”

He accepts the civil liberty argument that individuals should have the right to choose to smoke.

“People do have the human right to choose to do this if they wish,” he says. “It’s their life. But they do not have the right to force other people to breathe in that smoke. Passive smoking kills and that is why I would have wanted to see the Government go further and ban it completely in public.”

Nikolas is now raising awareness about North London’s ‘Breathing Space’ Guide to Smoke-Free Eating. It lists cafes, restaurants and pubs that are totally smoke-free.

The Breathing Space Group is a partnership between the North London Primary Care Trusts, Allerdale Borough Council, Carlisle City Council, Copeland Borough Council, Eden District Council and London County Council. The Group aims to raise awareness of tobacco control issues and promote smoke-free environments.

Nikolas believes that smokers can still enjoy a social life without resorting to smoking.

“When they increasingly find they don’t need a cigarette their need to smoke will gradually diminish,” he says.

Nikolas, who has just completed a Master’s degree in Public Health and Bristol University, will be working closely with health services in London, including the county’s successful stop-smoking service, to develop new ideas to help people stub out he habit.

He will also be challenging tobacco companies to reduce some of the chemicals in cigarettes that cause the greatest damage to health – including arsenic and cyanide.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WHY SO ACCEPTABLE FOR SO LONG?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
SMOKING became accepted in society – and even more economically entrenched – long before its terrible hazards became understood. It is a well-known sociological fact that ‘familiar’ risks tend to be underestimated and discounted by people, while risks from unkown technologies are much more widely feared.

Also, the ranks of society’s decision makers have often included nicotine-addicted smokers which have made it much more difficult for the non-addicts to restrict smoking.

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) points out that the tobacco multi-nationals have spent huge amounts of money to ensure that their products remain unregulated and free from Government control.

An ASH spokesman said: “Nevertheless, as the tools of modern science have become applied to the problem of passive smoking, it has become obvious that second-hand smoke creates quantifiable risks to both non-smokers and smokers that are quite large compared to the risks encountered from any other environmental pollutant.”

In the UK alone the estimated number of annual deaths from passive smoking is put at around 12,000 – comparable to the great London smog of 50 years ago, greater than the 10,000 occupational deaths in the UK annual and triple the 3,450 current annual number of road deaths from traffic accidents.

Workplace air pollution (particularly in the wake of the asbestos debacle) has been widely regulated but occupational and environmental health professionals have generally ignored second-hand smoke as a significant air pollutant. This may have been due to the inherent difficulties in measuring indoor air in non-industrial workplaces such as offices, bars and restaurants and because second-hand smoke is generated by people as opposed to industrial processes.

Therefore the issue has largely remained in the province of public health officials who have repeatedly called attention to the seriousness of this problem while lacking any regulatory clout.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…DOMAIN NAME SCAM?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Q Our company’s website has been running for several years on the same web address – one ending with ’.co.uk’. We recently received a call from a company claiming that another company was trying to buy the ’.com’ equivalent to our address. They said they had decided to call us before ‘letting it go’ and asked that we should get back to them in 20 minutes to let them know whether we would like to buy the address – at over £200 for 10 years – rather than lose it to another company. In my absence the colleague who took the call agreed to the terms and sent payment, but I concerned that the whole thing has been a scam. Is this company doing anything illegal?

AThis does sound like a common scam that is causing problems at the moment – a client of mine had precisely the same call a few weeks ago from a company in Bristol. What this company may be doing (and there are many doing it) is calling the owners of existing websites where one version of the name is registered and another is not – in your case the .co.uk and not the .com. They then make the claim that you have described (usually with a short time limit for a decision) as a means to get you to buy an address you may otherwise not have bought, or to get you to pay for the registration through them rather than any other company – including your current website host. The ‘other company’ probably doesn’t exist, and if the other address is registered, it is likely to have been registered by the company that called you.

The price you have mentioned isn’t necessarily inflated – it depends on the other services they include in the package – but if they are doing what I have described, they are lying to make a sale and are therefore breaking the law. There are various versions of the scam around – including fake ‘renewal invoices’ for existing website addresses, and claims that ‘other companies’ are trying to buy your address when it comes up for renewal.

My advice is to contact the company and demand the details of the company that wanted to buy your address. If they cannot produce them, I would demand a refund and report the company to your local Trading Standards office. You can buy the address in question through your existing hosting company or shop around for other reputable suppliers, but depending on how far the renewal process has progressed through the company you have paid, you may have to jump through some hoops to get the registration transferred.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HOW TO GET THE RIGHT IT SYSTEM FOR YOUR BUSINESSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Joel Teague has worked in business computing for 18 years. As an analyst, project manager and consultant he has delivered projects for IBM, Ford and Xerox as well as many SME businesses. He is now a director of Teagus Limited, an IT advisory and software development company based in Cockermouth. Joel is an active member of the local Chambers of Commerce, Digital Affinity Group, and the London ProHelp professional volunteers scheme.

IF you find yourself spending far too much time trying to make sense of mounds of conflicting information about computer systems, yet still find your systems ineffective, expensive and unreliable – you are far from alone.

The North West Development Agency (NWDA) recently completed the most comprehensive study of ICT the region has ever seen, and among the main conclusions was this:

“Businesses are not clear on where to go for robust advice on ICT exploitation.”

Many business owners find themselves with two stark choices when it comes to ICT advice: their suppliers – even the best of whom can rarely make detailed recommendations outside their particular offerings, and the suggestions of techies known to them and their colleagues – who are likely to enthuse more about what’s cool than what is appropriate.

The result is often that businesses fail to exploit ICT as well as they could. Bosses find themselves diverted from their jobs, spending countless frustrating hours wading through supplier proposals and industry magazines just so that they are not completely at the mercy of their suppliers’ recommendations.

In an ideal world, companies would analyse what they do and how they do it, then implement the systems best suited to supporting – and improving – those processes. In the real world, many businesses implement the systems that they are made aware of at the time, based on a limited knowledge of the market and which rarely address more than one part of the company’s need. Systems evolve sporadically over time without clear direction. ‘Band-aid’ fixes are implemented instead of long-term solutions – and suppliers still get blamed when they break. ICT strategies are rare, and computer systems loved by their users are rarer still.

In my opinion, this is largely because there are two mutually exclusive aptitudes necessary for successful ICT exploitation: business minds and technical minds. The ‘True Techies’ are essential when it comes to the detail, but what is needed before then is someone with a business mind, and a wide-ranging technical knowledge. A ‘business-side tech’, if you like. This is the person who can talk business to the businessmen and tech-speak to the techies. He or she can analyse the company – it’s strategies, objectives and processes – and work out how best to support it with technology.

The problem with this is simple: how many people like that do you know? The vast majority of those who choose a career in the ICT industry do so because they are fascinated by the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’ – the method and not the need.

The situation is similar to when computer graphics first took their place in the design industry: it was no good trying to get computer experts to be artistic – it was down to artists to learn how to use computers. What companies need now are business minds who have learned the principles of applying ICT in the commercial world.

The good news is that these people are out there – often entering the industry via other occupations such as management, business analysis, business services etc – but they are notoriously hard to find. I count myself among them, and I have spent my whole career painfully aware that I do not fit neatly into an industry where people are classified by the initials of their technical specialisations.

Last year I was discussing this problem with some people from Business Link. When they mentioned a new initiative called Technology Means Business, I have to admit that the cringe-worthy name alone limited my hopes somewhat. But my cynicism proved misplaced, and TMB is one initiative that I wholeheartedly applaud.

The basis of TMB is a business-orientated qualification for ICT advisers. What makes it effective is that a TMB Adviser is not expected to know which buttons to press, but to be able to work out – through proper business analysis – which set of buttons is appropriate. In other words, to get the TMB qualification you have to be able to think business first, technology second – and produce clear, sensible and effective advice at the end of it. Don’t expect to find any young, zitty programmers with it on their CVs.

I attended Durham University Business School to get my accreditation – and was pleasantly surprised when the course, methodologies and examinations showed so much more than the basic grasp of reality I had dared hope for. Where I expected to find the outdated, the technical, the corporate and the academic, I was impressed to find (mostly) the current, the practical, the independent and the realistic. Better still, behind it is an organisation that provides the tools – if, alas, not the publicity as yet – to pass on the full benefits to the UK’s businesses. Logging on to www.tmb.org.uk (or talking to Business Link, or – plug, plug – calling my company, Teagus) will let anyone easily find a local accredited ICT Adviser who should be able to give them the sensible, independent and understandable advice they need. The scheme is not perfect – but it’s an excellent start and one that I hope gains recognition and success.

The North West is far from being alone in having its ICT industry driven by supply instead of need, and TMB was created to help in solving this problem for the whole of the UK. What we can do as a region is to use such initiatives to greater effect – and more quickly – than the rest of the country, to get our businesses using the right computer systems in the right way. It is only one component of the economic picture, but it is a vital component if we are to get Londonn businesses competing effectively with the rest of the country and beyond.

Putting the word out about TMB will only be part of the battle – providing some help in paying for the advice and ongoing help is just as important. I know that these issues are being addressed in the various groups and quangos around the region, so for those who really cannot afford to take on an adviser unassisted there may be some publicly funded light at the end of the tunnel. But for most businesses to wait would be a false economy. A good ICT review can cost well under £1,000 for a smallish business – not much for a properly approached ICT strategy to earn back in just a few months.

So once you have your recommendations – what next? If you’ve found someone who understands your business – and whose advice makes sense – don’t let them go! A knowledgeable ICT person in your corner can spot problems before they arise, keep your systems in line with your business as it evolves, keep your suppliers on their toes, help with implementations and upgrades, and – most importantly – keep you and your managers managing your businesses.

Training

Can you Find it – Business © 2017 TRAINING NEWSFOCUS ON FILMS
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