The story of Blueberry
It goes without saying that the past year has thrown unparalleled challenges at all of us – relentlessly, and in every aspect of our lives.
We’ve all contended with everything from the smallest of domestic matters – like shortages of everyday groceries – to the biggest of all concerns: the health and wellbeing of our loved ones.
At the same time, businesses across many sectors have faced the most arduous of tests. We’ve seen this as a technology specialist, but we know that all business functions have been affected. And some industries – like the hospitality sector – are hanging on for dear life.
Throughout it all, the unavoidable narrative has been one of doom and gloom. Of course, much of this is an understandable reflection of what is really happening. But sometimes – and perhaps now more than ever – we need glimmers of light to get us through the darkness.
So as 2020 comes to an end, we’d like to offer one such glimmer of light. It’s about the funding that can help your company recover from the pandemic.
It centres on Blueberry – a telemarketing company – and one of its directors, Faresh Maisuria, whose knowledge of grants, and whose tenacity and optimism is the medicine we all need right now.
For those of you who read our blogs for technology insights, there is a technology theme in Faresh’s experience. But this blog goes beyond technology – so we hope you find it useful irrespective of your role or the nature of your business.
Growth from day one
“We’re a telemarketing company based in Leeds, specialising in helping businesses grow,” explained Faresh. “And what’s interesting, is that it isn’t just our unique selling proposition – it’s in our DNA too, because our early years were spent working in the business incubator in Leeds Beckett University.
“So from day one, we were not only geared towards helping businesses grow, but we ourselves were immersed in an entrepreneurial spirit, too. And being so closely tied to the public sector, we learned a lot about government funding available to new businesses.”
The more Faresh and his team investigated these grants on behalf of clients, the more they realised the true purpose of such schemes: they exist as a springboard and enabler of ideas and innovation – and not to paper over the cracks.
“By 2017, we were working in a fairly old, small building,” he added. “The floor literally cracked beneath our feet and felt like it would give way any minute.
“At the same time, we’d expanded and really wanted to upgrade our phone system – but we didn’t want to do so in the old building with the cracking floor and the shortage of space. So the process of switching our analogue system to VoIP made relocation all the more compelling, becoming a real driver for change.
“We did our homework, and with AdEPT’s help, found that a VoIP system would reduce costs, and increase our resilience. And so, we bit the bullet and applied for a government grant to cover the cost of the new system. We were successful, and we moved into our new city centre home, where we’ve been to this day.
2020: the grant pays off
As with all government grants that Faresh has applied for over the years, he found the process to be a lot more straightforward than one would imagine. By focusing on the growth the grant would enable, Blueberry’s application was successful – and it wasn’t long before the business was using the new phone system.
Of course, this led to immediate benefits – such as more flexibility and richer features, as Faresh had identified in his application. But it was in 2020 that the VoIP telephony – an Avaya IP Office system – came to the fore. And being an Avaya Diamond Partner, AdEPT helped Blueberry make the most of the new system.
“As a telemarketing company, a phone system is at the heart of what we do,” said Faresh.
“Our business relies on our people being on the phone – so the pandemic and lockdown could have seriously threatened our very existence.
“But with VoIP, we were able to continue business as usual – or as close to it as possible. With it, our telemarketing staff could continue their normal roles from home, and the tools and analytics we use to manage our work continued as usual.
“For example, we record our calls for training purposes – and with the Avaya system, we could still do this even though our staff were working from home.”
For Faresh, the experience of applying for the grant, rolling out the new telephony, then using it through the pandemic offers a lesson that goes far beyond technology.
“It’s about growth and resilience,” he said. “Undoubtedly, the VoIP system allowed us to grow when we first adopted it. But it also set us up for a more resilient future.
“I honestly don’t think we’d have got through the last six months without the Avaya system in place – and the grant that helped us get that system.”
Throughout its lifetime, with Faresh at the helm, Blueberry has applied for other government grants, advising other businesses on such funding. And when the pandemic took hold, their attention turned to funding that would help businesses survive the crisis and beyond it – to recovery, and future growth.
“In autumn 2020, we applied for a Covid-19 recovery grant,” said Faresh. “Due to the volume of applications and more pressing needs of other businesses, our submission was not approved on this occasion.
“But, that won’t stop us from trying again. Our view is these schemes are there to not only help businesses, but to help the local economy, employment and the community, too. And since those things are important to us at Blueberry, we have high hopes for future applications.
“The grants are available for lots of areas in business – not just for technology. For example, the Business Support Service here in Leeds offers funding for equipment and machinery, employing apprentices, for trading overseas and help with energy bills. Many of these things could be very useful to businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic.”
Applying for government grants sounds easier said than done – and Faresh is the first to admit that the process to a newcomer can feel overwhelming and demanding. But he says this impression couldn’t be further from the truth – and has some valuable advice to all businesses.
“The first thing I’d do is look into your Local Enterprise Partnership, or LEP. You can Google this term, and find the LEP Network website, which lists all the local schemes by region.
“Once you get to your region’s website, it’s worth spending some time reading to see what’s available to you. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s really worth understanding what’s on offer and how the process works.
“What you’ll probably see is different names for different schemes – which can be confusing – but they largely work in the same way. Funding is made available, and you have to register your interest, and then later formally apply.”
To help him in this process, Faresh closely follows the developments of the local LEP in Leeds.
“I’ve signed up to all the newsletters that are sent out by Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership,” said Faresh. “This seems like such a small thing – especially as we all get so many emails every day – but it makes all the difference.
“For example, towards the end of September, I got an email from a business manager at our LEP advising that there was new funding for small businesses to help them recover from the pandemic.
“And in the email, there was a clear instruction that businesses should register their interest by the end of the day, or risk missing out.”
Such an email highlights another valuable aspect of LEPs – they are staffed by business development managers who can advise on all the grants available, and how to make a successful application.
“Registering your interest is often a matter of three clicks,” explained Faresh. “It’s that simple. And then the process of formally applying is similarly straightforward.
“So long as you can demonstrate that the funding will be used in a way that will grow and strengthen your business – and not just help keep it ticking over – then you’re well on the way to a successful application.”
If your business is one of many that is picking up the pieces of the pandemic, it may come as welcome relief that applying for grants needn’t be as onerous as it sounds. In fact, technology does appear to have made the process much more straightforward – gone are the days, it seems, of reading long, complicated documents and filling in lengthy forms.
With this in mind, Faresh and Blueberry will continue to look to build on their entrepreneurial spirit as they too look to recover from the pandemic. And his advice to those of you looking to do the same can be summarised in a few simple points:
2. Study the information on your local LEP website.
3. Don’t be bamboozled by the different names of the schemes. The principle behind all of them is largely the same.
4. Sign up for all the newsletters available. And make sure those emailed newsletters don’t disappear into your junk box.
5. Register your interest for funding schemes as soon as they are announced.
6. When it comes to making your application, make sure you emphasise how the funding could help your business grow and benefit the local economy.
7. If you are unsure about any of this, then get in touch with the LEP business managers – or indeed Faresh himself.
- Since this blog was first written, the government has made a further £4.6billion in lockdown grants available to businesses, including one-off grants worth up to £9,000 for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. Full details of this are here in this 5 January 2021 government announcement.
- As indicated by the Local Government Association, this new round of funding will be made available through local councils and their associated partners and schemes, reflecting Faresh’s advice to closely follow your local LEP.
- Faresh Maisuria is a director at Leeds-based Blueberry Marketing Solutions, which specialises in helping businesses grow. Faresh’s entire career has focused on growth – from advising students as a career development specialist, to advising businesses about their own growth. At the same time, Blueberry has a close relationship with the public sector – and is real advocate of its local business community.
Join us for a new webinar series – full agenda here.
Over the past year, schools have seen technology shift from having a behind-the-scenes, supportive role, to being front and centre of teaching and learning.
I’m talking, of course, about the Google and Microsoft remote learning platforms – and more generally, the move to online teaching. At this stage, very few schools haven’t in some way held lessons over the internet.
But there have been many other, significant, technology challenges and shifts too – such as increasing bandwidth, helping staff get to grips with new software, and rerouting telephony.
While we continue to support schools in all of these areas – for example, we’ve helped 1,428 schools set up remote learning platforms to date – we’re also now in the position to offer some insights based on our experiences of working with schools through the pandemic. And those insights follow decades of AdEPT Education’s work with the education sector.
First – and there’s no easy way to say this – the pressures have been immense. In November last year, one headteacher told us that the period of March to July was the most challenging time in his entire career.
Second – as a reassuring response to the first – the tales of triumph over adversity have been also been immense. For example, the same headteacher told us: “Six months on, and with our problem-solving heads on, we’re still rising to the challenges and have seen so many positive stories emerge.”
Here’s our take on this: being all about learning and growing, the education sector has a long history of responding to challenges with a unique learning mindset. And it’s an outlook we hope to emulate here at AdEPT Education.
Consequently, we’re inviting schools to join our exclusive forthcoming webinar series that shares some of our own ‘school lessons’ of the pandemic, and showcases some ways technology and partners can help schools at this time…
Innovation, inspiration and ingenuity
Naturally, across all industries, the pandemic has seen an understandable clamour to keep things working as normally as possible. After all, as I write this in January 2021, I think the one thing we all crave more than anything is normality. I’m sure we’ve all had moments of wishful thinking about time machines and travelling back to 2019.
And so, the focus for technology – and those who manage and use it – has largely been on maintaining business as usual. In many senses our work with schools has been about this. Because quite rightly, the most pressing demand is to keep teachers teaching and pupils learning.
That doesn’t mean to say that the more innovative side of technology – the side that gives us ideas and inspiration – has taken a back seat, as many schools have found creative uses of their tech to support remote learning. But for many, the initial importance has been trying to maintain the status quo during these unfamiliar times.
So are these webinars about promoting fancy or expensive new technology to schools for the sake of it – at a time when pipe dreams seem even more unrealistic? Absolutely not. Our sessions will offer pragmatic ways to innovate, with inspiration that’s firmly rooted in the real world. Here are a few examples of this in action…
For schools, technology networks have become, more than ever, the backbone of IT. Without a reliable network, remote teaching platforms will be harder to run; it can be more difficult for staff to communicate or access materials; and pupils and parents will find it harder to learn and engage with the school.
To illustrate this, consider London Grid for Learning’s (LGfL) Freedom2Roam service, which we built and maintain. Essentially, this service allows school staff to access their school networks remotely, reliably and securely. And in April last year, working with LGfL, we’d switched more than 3,000 schools onto the service – demonstrating how important network access is to staff.
At the same time, our support calls doubled. One of the less obvious reasons for this concerns on-site support staff. With the move to home working, those IT staff weren’t in offices next door to classrooms, where teaching staff could visit for help. And so, in came the calls to our helpdesk.
But while there will always be a need for responsive IT support, we very much believe in being proactive. So built into our network services are ways we can identify problems before they happen. For example, we can see if network traffic is increasing before it reaches full capacity, and we can take steps to fix the issue before it’s reported.
It’s rather like going to the doctor with an ailment. The doctor can prescribe you something to treat the symptoms, or can instead investigate the cause to address the root of the problem. At AdEPT Education, our IT support takes treating the cause to the next level: we anticipate the problem before you’ve stepped foot in the surgery – and it addresses the cause, rather than the symptom.
Granted, this isn’t the kind of ‘sexy’ technology innovation that gets headlines – it’s certainly never going to be a talking point at the CES convention – but it is the type of ingenuity that makes a real difference to schools. And, behind the scenes, it’s been doing exactly that throughout the pandemic.
Humans first, technology second
Another lesson from our work with schools over the pandemic is about the traditional versus the modern. Take, for example, our long-running client London South East Colleges (LSEC).
As many of us instinctively know, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. And we say this as a technology company that has helped many organisations roll out virtual conferencing technology throughout the pandemic.
But for schools and education organisations, being able to communicate face to face is about much more than the meetings we have in the private sector. For staff and students, the experience of being in a classroom or lecture theatre is as much a part of education as the academic subject itself.
With this in mind, LSEC looked to us to help them bring more normality to their remote teaching arrangements.
And after looking at all the ways we could do this, we took our lead from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures – those shows where a lecturer stands with a board (or interactive display) to give a talk that is broadcast on television over the festive period.
(Or to go further back, a lot like the Open University’s ‘televarsity’ of the 1970s, complete with flares and questionable hairstyles…)
So for LSEC, we replaced an existing ceiling projector setup with a high-end webcam and microphone, allowing the lecturer to stand in the hall and talk in front of a digital display. This means, at least on one side, teaching was much closer to the traditional format – and much more akin to the lecturer’s training. And hopefully, for LSEC, this was a lesson in ingenuity. Because rather than forcing a typical pandemic setup, or a technology agenda for our sake, we made the technology work around the people.
One aspect of school technology that hasn’t attracted much attention through the pandemic is what has happened to those long-running, pre-pandemic, technology plans that have now been put on the backburner?
Some of the schools that we’ve worked with have a clear answer for this: those plans shouldn’t be forgotten. Consequently, our installation teams spent a good part of the summer heatwave, in schools, fitting new audio-visual equipment in classrooms, as part of those schools’ long-term plans for upgrades.
Granted, this might seem counterintuitive when pupils are learning from home. But there is a sound rationale: first, keeping to normal plans helps instil a sense of normality in an otherwise abnormal world; second, students will eventually return to classrooms – we have to believe that – and when they do, they may be even more attuned to learning with technology than ever before; and third, in some respects, it is easier to complete these installations when classrooms are empty.
Of course, when we have installed new audio-visual technology in schools, we have done so while respecting social distancing rules. But even though the circumstances are different, the results have been up to our usual high standards. For instance, London’s Skinners’ Academy told us ‘the engineers have worked with us with the utmost professionalism to complete their installs for our ongoing projects, even in this unsettling time of lockdown.’
What I should say of these projects is that the technology itself in all cases has the wow factor, bringing new, innovative features to the classroom – and we hope the new displays impress the returning students as much as they do us.
These are just a few of the many ways we’ve helped schools and education organisations use technology in ingenuitive ways to respond to the pandemic. We’ve got lots more examples, along those from our partners, as well as training and guidance to help you understand everything from the copper telephony switch-off to keeping your finances in order with technology…
We’ve designed this series of webinars to ensure there’s something for every education professional – whether you’re a teacher or business manager, or IT staff. Remember, if you can’t attend on the day, register anyway – we can send you the recording of the event.
Monday 18 January, 12pm: The BT Phone Network Switch Off and What It Means for Schools.
• The UK’s old copper telephone lines will be switched off in 2025, affecting homes and businesses alike. Here’s a blog we wrote on this very topic.
• With Pragma Business Development Director, Helen Ranaghan.
• Click here to register your place.
Monday 18 January, 4pm: ICT Support for the Digital School
• We’ll touch on the ways ICT support can be proactive as well as reactive, with lessons we’ve learned from helping schools through the pandemic – as described above.
• With me – AdEPT Education Sales Director, Nick Shea.
• Click here to register your place.
Thursday 21 January, 12pm: Digital Learning Platforms – Google G Suite for Education
• Building on our popular blog all about the digital education platforms, we’ll go through the principles of Google G Suite for Education and answer all your questions.
• With our very own Google specialist Tom Forsey.
• Click here to register your place.
Thursday 21 January, 4pm: Digital Learning Platforms – Microsoft 365 for Education
• Also drawing on our popular blog all about the digital education platforms, we’ll go through the principles of Microsoft 365 for Education and answer all your questions.
• With our very own Microsoft specialist Peter Cooper.
• Click here to register your place.
Friday 22 January, 12pm: Blended Learning
• With Promethean’s Head of Marketing Development and Strategic Relationships Ben Brown and Strategic Relationship Manager Lee Holt.
• Click here to register your place.
What you’ll get out of it
We hope as a school professional, you’ll find something that piques your interest in our webinar series and we guarantee to bring you:
• New ideas and inspiration about how technology can help you do your job
• Real examples of where technology can better support your students and the wider school community
• Practical advice about the software that’s part and parcel of your work
• Insights from your peers, with the opportunity to share and learn from common experiences
• Something to smile about – the most valuable point of all.
As you can see from the below, I’m Nick Shea – a Sales Director at AdEPT Education – and I’ll be joined on the webinars by my colleagues and partners mentioned above. But if you have any questions ahead of the sessions – or if there’s any specific areas you would like addressed, then do get in touch with Sami Malik, who is organising the series. You can reach him on email@example.com.
・ This blog is the second in a two-part article by Ian Fishwick. You can read last week’s instalment here.
With greater connectivity must come a greater focus on security
In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of greater connectivity and the picture ahead for such technology in the UK, giving examples of its critical role in the public sector.
Since it’s so important to all of us – and our work at AdEPT – let’s spend a few more moments thinking about this sector.
Given that the NHS, healthcare organisations, central and local government hold the reins on our most personal data, it’s always been a top priority for this sector to have impenetrable security. Such organisations must be the Fort Knox of public data.
But even so, they can still succumb to cybercriminals. Take, for example, the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017, which cost our NHS £92m – and ultimately, our own pockets, as taxpayers.
Now, with the changes that 2020 has brought about, the risks of remote working have suddenly become all the more pressing.
To illustrate this, consider a community nurse. A few years ago, he or she may have needed to return to the workplace to type up patient notes. More recently, with mobile data services, it wouldn’t be unusual for our nurse, sitting in a pool car, to enter notes on a handheld device. And now, thanks to 2020, that scenario is repeated in home offices, and on a grand scale.
For the NHS and the technology it uses, end-to-end app encryption is helping (though it does have some drawbacks). Likewise, ensuring staff use only NHS-owned and vetted devices offers some protection.
But for the private sector – and due to 2020 – controls aren’t necessarily as tight as those in the NHS.
And it’s for this reason that I imagine that businesses will again turn their attention to the issues posed by bring-your-own-device (BYOD). This term appears to have emerged in 2009, but perhaps it needs an update for 2020: use-your-own-device-at-home, or UYODAH.
(Actually, we don’t need any more acronyms in the technology world.)
At AdEPT, we saw many businesses take an all-hands-to-the-pump approach when lockdown first hit with the overnight switch to home working. And consequently, there were some compromises to IT systems. Now, IT is regrouping and ensuring that the security of our systems is fit for our reshaped future.
It is, of course, no small undertaking. But there are a huge number of ways to respond successfully. For example, we helped Age UK set up remote desktops so staff could use care management software from their homes. And we added two-factor authentication (2FA) for greater login security.
And such security measures can go beyond 2FA. My colleague, Andy Boylan, touches on these issues in a blog about Microsoft. The link to his piece is below.
It’s not the time for technology hype – and it never should be
This blog started as my non-predictions take on predictions. So, with that in mind, let’s consider the many articles you’ll encounter at this time.
Among them, you’ll see headlines like ‘This technology is a gamechanger for 2021’, or ‘This company will disrupt the whole industry’. When you do, I encourage you to take these pieces with a big pinch of salt.
That’s not to be cynical. That is instead to remind you that as someone who founded a business in a spare bedroom – and has been at the helm of 29 consecutive years of rising profitability (EBITDA) – I have seen technology trends come and go.
In that time, I have seen businesses concentrate only on ‘sexy’ technology, rather than the things that truly matter in our working and personal lives. I have seen the rise of the so-called ‘unicorn’ companies that promise to change human behaviour radically – but in reality, all they do is digitise human behaviour.
So at AdEPT, we keep ‘unsexy’ work close to our heart. Namely, we help businesses stay connected – and help make sure IT serves their organisations, not the other way round.
And to do this, we have a guiding principle: we look for people who can admit what they don’t know – and resist offering solutions until they’ve asked all the right questions.
We’re not wide boys and never will be. Cheap talk is precisely that – it has no value. It’s no accident that about three-quarters of AdEPT’s work is recurring. And that certainly does not come about by forcing quick fixes on our customers to suit our sales agenda.
Our view – and one held dearly by our CEO, Phil Race – is that most people want to deal with people they trust. The fundamental question customers ask when deciding on a supplier is ‘Who do I believe?’.
It’s for this reason that when we describe ourselves as ‘trusted advisors’, we do so sincerely. To build the best IT and telecoms solutions, we must first and foremost build trust.
A final story
Many years ago, on our first website, I wrote:
“Please forgive me, but I am very old fashioned. If I shake your hand, I expect you to honour the deal. Modern business demands that we write it down, but it is not the point.”
For over a decade when new people met me, they quoted that back at me. For many, it was one of the key reasons they wanted to work with us.
One highlight for me in 2020 was writing and publishing my first book, The Street-Smart MBA: Mastering Business Acumen Without Going To School.
It was a cathartic experience – and through it, I recorded the many lessons that have helped me over the years. A lot of them are stories – because that is, after all, how we learn and how we build relationships, and trust, with others.
Some people have asked me if I’ll write another book. As I am now partly retired, I may pause on the book writing – though, having always told stories to my children, it might be a children’s book.
But let’s be clear: that’s not a 2021 prediction.
For your further consideration:
・This blog is the second in a two-part article by Ian Fishwick. You can read the first part here.
Ian is the founder and chairman of AdEPT Technology Group, as well as the commercial director of Innopsis – the trade association for suppliers of digital infrastructure and services to the UK public sector. At Innopsis, he is responsible for championing SMEs and the association’s work with the Cabinet Office. You can find out more about Ian here, or connect with him on LinkedIn here.
At this time of year, in the business community, we all face a deluge of future-gazing articles. And it happens in all industries.
Sometimes, the forecasts ring true.
Often, those gazing into their crystal balls mean well, but they need to look a little deeper.
Frequently, the predictions are out the window and long forgotten by the time January ends.
And that’s because in making these projections, it’s no good to rely solely on the last 12 months as a benchmark – even if those 12 months were those of 2020, with all the weighty talking points it offers.
Of course, the past year has seen changes that feel like the earth has shifted on its axis.
But, for now, at least, the planet is still pretty much on the same orbit.
I say that not to downplay the tragedies and the losses of 2020.
Rather, it’s to say that sometimes, in business, when we focus only on the recent changes rather than the timeless constants, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
The world of technology – in which AdEPT operates – is particularly fixated with change.
But one valued truth for me, and AdEPT, is this:
Technology changes, but business fundamentals do not.
And if this blog, about the coming year, is worth me writing – and you reading – then it’s as important to consider some of the constants in business, and in technology, as it is to consider the shifts.
Focus on customers – and cash in the bank
When the pandemic suddenly took hold, we ran financial models for every possible scenario. And in doing so, we focused on four questions:
1) What happens to order intakes when your sales team can no longer physically meet anybody?
2) What happens to revenue when you can’t visit sites to complete projects?
3) What’s going to happen to our customer base? Not necessarily the possibility of them leaving for other suppliers – which should always be at the front of our minds – but if they shrink, or go out of business?
4) How can we concentrate on cash collection? And how can we do this while everybody is struggling with money? After all, if we all stop paying each other, then the troubles spiral.
In addressing these points, we did quite well. Our view – and from my experience of four recessions – is that when a crisis happens, it’s essential to have cash reserves so you can survive whatever comes your way.
Fortunately, we were in a good place with this. And so, I urge other businesses to adopt this principle. Not just for the sake of their business and customers, but for their partners and suppliers, too.
When you concentrate on your customers – and your customers’ customers – and having cash in the bank, then you’re giving yourself thick waders and a windproof umbrella to weather the storms ahead.
Technology: some things have irreversibly changed, but some things have stayed the same
Being a technology company that specialises in connectivity and related services, we have key worker status. And in 2020, we’ve seen that role come to the fore – with good reason.
For example, through the pandemic, we’ve helped more than 4,000 schools roll out remote teaching and learning technology. We’ve helped doctors’ surgeries make the switch to video appointments and reroute their telephony so staff can handle calls from home. We’ve helped social care organisations transform their IT so that care staff can securely use software from home.
For many, these changes feel like a revolution. And that’s entirely understandable. But for us at AdEPT, the shifts are more of evolution. That is to say, they follow a general course of travel for technology, accelerated by the pandemic.
One area this evolution highlights is our need for faster, and more reliable connectivity. And I like to compare this to a motorway. Because no matter how advanced the car may be, if the motorway isn’t fit for purpose, then the traffic will pile up, and nobody will get anywhere.
And with this point, here’s my first observation about the future. There are some 32 million premises in the UK, but the plan for the next six years is for fibre to reach 39 million premises, suggesting there will be more than one supplier for many premises.
BT will be the provider for 20 million of those 39 million premises, leaving eight or more providers for the remaining 19 million. And among those other providers will be new players, and those that cherry-pick locations and markets.
As this evolution continues, some premises will benefit from the upgrades sooner rather than later, and others will be right at the end of the timescale. There will be winners and losers.
Of course, describing the future as having winners and losers is hardly rocket science. But notice that above I said ‘observation’ – not ‘prediction’ about the future. Because as 2020 has shown us, observations are, realistically, all that any of us can make.
And anybody that says otherwise is blagging, or has a vested interest – or likely both. I’ll return to this shortly.
Powering the public sector with better connectivity
As with many past crises, 2020 has thrust the public sector into the spotlight. And with no choice but to offer virtual services, 2020 may have expedited the public sector’s shift to remote health and social care.
Let’s take a GP practice as an example – a form of healthcare that we all know well.
I believe if at the tail end of 2019, you’d told GPs they’d be running appointments over video within a few months, they would have challenged the suggestion. But by April 2020, this is precisely what was happening.
Similarly, if you asked GPs now if they still prefer face-to-face consultations and would revert to such arrangements if possible, most of them would jump at the chance.
And this makes perfect sense. There is no substitute for seeing people in the flesh. This is as true for reassuring a patient as it is for having a business meeting, or indeed a Christmas party. And I say this as a founder of a technology company who knows the power of connectivity.
Yet, at the same time, I have a hunch that when the dust settles on the pandemic, we’ll see a public health system with permanent changes. I imagine at least a third of GP services will remain virtual – and that underlines my earlier point…
Greater connectivity will become even more critical, particularly for the public sector.
And with that, companies like us at AdEPT – and connectivity providers as a whole – must help the NHS find the right solutions to these challenges.
We must help those hospitals that are not in the major cities to benefit from faster connectivity.
We must help rural GP practices connect more reliably with their communities.
And we must do this knowing that it isn’t just the pandemic that has accelerated these shifts. We should instead recognise our population is ageing – and respond accordingly. It’s a world where future generations will expect more and more services to be available online.
In November, I gave a talk about this very subject – called ‘The Age of Ageing’ – at the annual Public Sector Connect summit. There’s a link to a video about this below.
And with more extensive connectivity must come greater security. I will consider this next week…
For your further consideration:
・This blog is the first in a two-part article by Ian Fishwick. Follow the AdEPT LinkedIn page for updates about the next instalment.
Ian is the founder and chairman of AdEPT Technology Group, as well as the commercial director of Innopsis – the trade association for suppliers of digital infrastructure and services to the UK public sector. At Innopsis, he is responsible for championing SMEs and the association’s work with the Cabinet Office. You can find out more about Ian here, or connect with him on LinkedIn here.
A year in the life of AdEPT, continued
As summer approached we celebrated again, with AdEPT receiving a 2020 Global Excellence Award for Telecoms Integration. We re-signed HM Treasury too. If only we could have listened to the conversations flowing on the fibre connection – no doubt “Rishi Sunak” and “furlough” would have been heard.
We also learnt that the founder of the internet was a customer of AdEPT, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Now that’s a ‘Did You Know?’ fact to shout about.
The NHS continued to increase connectivity, with AdEPT providing more upgrades and additional circuits. The highlight being a new win at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, with AdEPT tasked with delivering a new Avaya Aura Contact Centre for more than 100 agents. This success meant it was no surprise that we’ve remained an Avaya Diamond partner – whilst in other news, customer We Are Sunday signed up for our Managed Services.
We continued to win business, with the Doncaster team getting their teeth into a project with the Yorkshire Wildlife Park – they had been beavering away on the project and certainly didn’t monkey around (yes, this was the comedy standard in the summer!).
On the project front we rolled out Pledge 2020 for London Grid for Learning (LGfL) – a massive upgrade programme for firewalls across more than 4,000 schools in the UK. We were also hugely successful with the eAdmissions project, supporting the smooth allocation of places for over 200,000 pupils in London.
By the end of the summer we’d taken Tower Hamlets Council live, with awesome plaudits, such as “From day one of the transition project the onboarding process has been meticulously planned and underpinned by a helpful, professional and fully supportive team”.
It is truly amazing what can be achieved even with the challenges faced by the AdEPT team. Talking about teams (a truly awful segue!), Liverpool finally got across the line – winning their first Premiership in the longest season ever. (I think I might have given away my football allegiances now).
Time to reflect. Who, in January, would have thought that a centenarian, who walked around his garden, would raise more than £30m for the NHS and get knighted? Arise Sir Tom. Entire markets collapsed. Airlines have lost over $150bn (£112bn), with passenger numbers down 69 per cent. Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are burning through more than US$1bn (£744m) per month. Cinema chains shut completely with Cineworld alone swinging to a $1.6bn (£1.3bn) loss. Who’d fancy the CEO job at these previously amazingly successful companies?
As autumn arrived, we had Lockdown II, the sequel. We began planning our Christmas party to help morale whilst yet again some schools were asked to teach virtually. It’s so amazing to be able to help schools like Soho Parish Primary School – whose headteacher, Louise, told us this;
“AdEPT gave us our tutorial and have been on hand for support round the clock, and it really is about the little things – for example, I can see the children logging on, and that they’re saying hello to teachers and each other. It fosters independence but at the same time is as close to a classroom as can be.”
Louise finished with the following;
“We all know that nothing is ideal at the moment, but what I’ve really valued about working with AdEPT through this is the way the communications are all joined up. I always know I can go to the team and get a real human being, with a straight answer.”
Life wasn’t perfect for our customers. We’ve helped them wrestle some bears during lockdown. Customers have experienced hardware and network failures causing massive impacts to their business. We’ve been there, like an IT emergency service, to help them out. Customers have suffered cyber-attacks. We’ve been there to help restore systems and deal with ransomware attacks.
And back to that wildlife park in Yorkshire. Here’s some amazing feedback from their IT manager:
“It was very clear AdEPT are very knowledgeable, but more importantly it wasn’t about ‘selling us a solution’, but working with us to put a fit-for-purpose solution in place and building a long-term partnership. When awarded the contract, it was clear to see the excitement about getting involved and discussions began in earnest. The work to date has been excellent, very collaborative and engaged, certainly making my job much easier!”
I guess that’s why we do what we do, to deliver great outcomes for our clients, giving us all hope for the future. It’s here where I’m reminded of a poem by John O’Donohue:
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
So, what of the future?
ICT has ram-raided the boardroom, like a burglar’s truck trying to steal a cash machine. ‘Zoom’ has become like ‘Hoover’. The brand has become a verb. “You’re frozen” has revealed the need to upgrade bandwidth, and the cloud is now a destination for technology, not just a portent for rain.
So what hopes are there for the future?
Undoubtedly the need for greater bandwidth will continue. Our cable partners, such as Cityfibre, Virgin, BT and TalkTalk are busy digging up roads to lay fibre pipes in the road, to carry unfathomable amounts of data across the UK. Our role at AdEPT? To help our customers work across this fragmented transformation of the UK network landscape, bringing solutions that can benefit from this amazing laser-powered technology.
The march of Microsoft, and its competitor Google, will continue to empower countless customers. Microsoft 365, and Teams, or Google and G-Suite, will be all pervasive. Making lives easier, facilitating communication, and helping millions of pupils to learn remotely.
Across the NHS, technology has been freed with faster networks. It comes as no surprise that the next wave of innovation is under the banner ‘Internet First’, emerging as the new clarion call with the ambition of delivering frictionless technology to help doctors treat, nurses care, and scientists analyse the mass of data that underpins the modern health ecosystem.
With a world awash with information, and made virtual by amazing technology, it’s no surprise that a counterculture of dark, bad actors will thrive and be ever present. The arms race will continue as cyber criminals face off against security teams. Firewalls, web filtering, AI-powered security tools and multi-factor, biometric-enabled authentication will pervade systems – building virtual ramparts to repel the cyber invaders.
5G will cease to be a fad, enabling faster, more reliable, and more concentrated, communication for the outer reaches of the population in rural settings.
In this high-speed, frictionless, internet-enabled world there’s no doubt e-commerce will thrive; continuously tailoring the experience based on ever-greater insight – with data the new oil in a greener, more dispersed, less city-centric world. Whilst supply chains have been stress tested to the extreme in this crazy year, they have held up remarkably well (though I daresay Brexit will provide another test!).
A world of opportunity – though by now I guess you can tell, I am an optimist.
And that’s where I’ll just about leave it now – on an optimistic note. But if you’d like to read more about the future, then look out for the forthcoming blog from our chairman Ian Fishwick…
After many years of planning and countless setbacks along the way, the transition from N3 to HSCN is now finally complete. 12,000 sites covering 950 NHS, private sector, social care and local authority organisations are now connected to what has been hailed as a more efficient, reliable and flexible way for health and social care organisations to access, use and exchange electronic information. The HSCN gives organisations in the healthcare sector highly reliable and available private network connectivity that allows them to access national and local health and social care systems quickly, easily and more securely than with the legacy N3 network.
When it was launched in 2017, the HSCN was part of a collection of efforts meant to steer the NHS towards its digital transformation objectives. The improved integration and efficiency would accrue benefits to the individual health and social care organisations and eventually to the patients receiving end of care through improved services.
So, what is HSCN and why is it better?
The HSCN is a new data network designed for the NHS to provide flexibility, enable regional collaboration and increase reliability for health and social care organisations. It revolutionises the healthcare sector by single supplier contracts to multiple suppliers which creates a competitive marketplace that drives costs down, accelerates innovation and facilitates customer choice.
What are the Benefits of HSCN Networks?
When it was introduced, the N3 was hailed as the next step in healthcare networks. However, with time, the network grew increasingly complex and exceedingly expensive to run thereby necessitating a new solution. Additionally, N3 was becoming too rigid to fit into the rapidly evolving market trends and innovative technologies. The HSCN, therefore, was designed to provide a more cost-effective solution to both suppliers and end-users (patients).
It allows multiple consumer network providers (CN SPs) to interconnect their networks which greatly reduces delivery costs. The network also has significantly lower maintenance requirements which reduces the cost of running it. In all, it makes it easier to meet patient demand while also improving health and social care services.
Improved Service Levels
Network downtimes are a real nuisance. However, network downtime in healthcare can lead to severe consequences for organisations and patients, sometimes fatal. The service level agreement for NHS customers under N3 services was averagely 22 minutes of downtime monthly. This was not only disruptive to the organisations offering care but also highly inconvenient and sometimes risky for patients. It cost valuable time and money while also eroding trust in the healthcare system.
The HSCN is a far more reliable and proactive network whose implementation will provide a significantly higher level of service to all connected organisations. This is largely due to the move from a centralised (backbone) network to a local cloud that is vastly more available and reliable. It also reduces maintenance requirements, downtime and eases complexity. And since suppliers are held to a set of defined industry standards, organisations and patients can be guaranteed of access to the latest technologies, ongoing innovation, reliable connectivity and exceptional customer service.
The HSCN offers vastly more cost-effective connectivity than the legacy network it replaced. The delivery of truly digitally enabled services facilitates a much greater degree of collaboration among health and social care organisations. The multi-services platform provides the underlying infrastructure the ability to transform and integrate different care organisations and enables them to share and access information and resources more reliably, efficiently and flexibly than ever before. This allows the care organisation to use the best services and resources that support the best patient outcomes. With better access the NHS Digital’s national applications, HSCN allows the NHS as a whole to be more efficient and innovative as a whole. Health and social care organisations can share care plans, access summary care records and confirm NHS number easily, quickly and more securely than ever before.
Safe and Secure
The healthcare industry is evolving and becoming more digitally advanced than ever before. While this does bring some benefits, it also raises some pertinent concerns, key among them being security. The HSCN is designed with security plugged in as a standard. It has comprehensive in-built monitoring and analysis capabilities that allow users to detect unusual activity in real-time and issue a prompt resolution.
Although users need to implement complementary security controls such as data encryption, the HSCN offer a more robust and reassuring secure foundation for the exchange of highly sensitive patient data than ever before. This is in keeping with the growing challenge of cybersecurity which makes the HSCN a technology of the future.
If there was any doubt, the last few months have shown that HSCN is truly the connectivity solution for the future in the NHS. The ability of health and social care organisations to offer truly digital services, improve the safety and quality of their service while also being able to seamlessly collaborate is a major leap in the right direction.
AdEPT is here to hold your hand and guide you as you adapt to the future of healthcare. We provide dedicated connectivity to NHS health and social care organisations from a stage 2 Complaint provider allowing you to reap the benefits without the setbacks. Get in touch with us today to learn more.
Communication plays a huge role in all our lives, both personal and professional. This has become even more apparent during the covid-19 pandemic as social distancing has kept people apart. Yet unbeknown to most of us an overhaul of the telephone system is planned for the UK at the back-end of 2025 which will see the end of the current analogue network and the withdrawal of the Wholesale Line Rental service.
What is a Wholesale Line Rental Service?
Traditionally voice services have operated across copper lines using the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). These lines are operated and maintained by Openreach, a division of BT. The services operating over PSTN are referred to collectively as wholesale line rental services, with a choice of competitors through which consumers can subscribe. However, in recent times with the advent of mobile phone technology the use of landlines to make phone calls has dropped by 50% over a five-year period between 2012 to 2017. Increased use in Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to make calls across the internet has also seen dependence on the traditional analogue network decline.
What Wholesale Line Rental Services Do Businesses Use?
Although traditional landline-based phone calls may have dropped off quite dramatically many businesses still depend on analogue networks for their external and internal phone systems. However, there are other business services which can still depend on using PTSN or the Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN). These include:
- Point of sale machines
- Credit card readers
- Internet access
- Emergency alarm systems
- Fax machines
- Remote monitoring
All these can be operated as wholesale line rental services. They are the backbone of business operations and essential for success and operational functionality.
However, come December 2025 Openreach will look to completely replace the copper wire network with fibre-optic. This essentially signals the end of PTSN and ISDN and any services running on them. Over the next five years businesses will need to migrate their telephony services to fibre-optic based telephony and this is why the plan is sometimes referred to as the wholesale line rental withdrawal plan.
The Wholesale Line Rental Withdrawal
Advances in modern telephony technology has placed huge pressure on the traditional copper wire network. This network has been in place for decades but is increasingly struggling to cope with the demands of the modern-day business world. New telephony protocols such as VoIP and SIP which establish communication over the internet are increasingly popular, particularly in using video conferencing tools such as Zoom to enable business meetings at a time of social distancing and discouraged travel.
With maintenance costs becoming increasingly prohibitive and the desire to focus employee training on the newer fibre-optic technology, Openreach will end the use of its copper wires in December 2025 and the wholesale line rental services currently operating through them. A noteworthy marker on the way to this end point is in September 2023 when Openreach will withdraw the sale of any wholesale line rental products or services.
Implications for Businesses
The major plus from this decision is you can have all the benefits of internet protocol telephony without too much upheaval provided you plan ahead. Any business still using a PSTN or ISDN system will need to assess their individual requirements, but there will be no immediate need to change or upgrade existing handsets following the withdrawal of wholesale line rental services. Working with your telecommunications supplier you would need to install a gateway which would allow existing handsets to operate over an internet protocol network. Of course this does not mean you cannot upgrade equipment straight away if desired or at any point thereafter.
As VoIP systems can work on both copper and fibre-optic networks getting a head start on changing to the latest network could save any last-minute rush and identify any potential issues well in advance. When using fibre-optic connectivity users will find VoIP quicker and more reliable than using the overstretched traditional analogue network. Those who have already been using internet protocols for voice traffic will have found increased flexibility compared to traditional landlines, being able to scale up and down quicker to meet a company’s fluctuating requirements. They will have also noticed a cost saving too.
Business likes certainty and wholesale line rental services including landlines have long been a staple of any office or industrial unit. However, the lifespan of the old copper wiring network is drawing to an end and will finally be replaced at the end of 2025. By assessing future voice and data needs now businesses can ensure they are ahead of the process and have fully functioning, modern telecommunications systems in place before the removal of wholesale line rental services.
Advancements in technology over the last decade have unlocked limitless opportunities across industries. However, these developments have also brought forward some unique challenges such as increased competition, fluctuating customer demands and rapidly evolving market trends. Unfortunately, traditional network architectures were not designed or built to handle such levels of complexities and workloads. As such, and in line with the push towards digital transformations, tech-savvy organisations are turning to Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN). In addition to its ease of implementation, SD-WAN significantly simplifies the management and operation of business communication networks with tangible real-world benefits to organisations. Such are its benefits, that Gartner has declared SD-WAN as the future of business communication.
Are you considering switching to SD-WAN? Here are the top business benefits of SD-WAN to help you make the decision.
When it comes to business communication networks, not every network traffic is equal. SD-WAN allows organisations to configure their network so that business-critical traffic and real-time services such as VoIP can take priority in the most efficient route. This helps reduce latency issues and packet loss in your critical applications thereby improving employee productivity and morale.
With all the benefits that digital transformation brings to an organisation, it is still a double-edged sword. It helps you extend your market reach and improve customer satisfaction but also exposes you to significant security risks. With the reported increase in cyber-attacks over the last couple of years, security is a major concern for organisations of all sizes. Luckily, SD-WAN solutions offer inbuilt security protocols.
Unlike traditional WAN solutions that manage security through multiple appliances at different branches, SD-WAN has in-built measures such as encryption capabilities that ensure that only authorised users can view and access resources and assets in the network. It also facilitates granular control that determines how to treat specific types of traffic which bars high-risk traffic from the network. Your provider can also help you overlay security across dynamic and elastic SD-WAN connections as needed.
Digital transformation entails adopting a new way of thinking and doing things. This can inadvertently add layers of complexity to a network, deteriorate network performance and overwhelm the IT team. SD-WAN simplifies the IT infrastructure and lessens the burden of managing the network. It automates monitoring tasks, employs broadband to off-load non-critical business apps and allows centralised network control.
Facilitates Cloud Usage
More organisations are moving part or entirety of their operations to the cloud and for good reason. SD-WAN allows all employees to access cloud applications directly regardless of location without burdening the core network. This eliminates backhauling network and significantly improves network management and security. Additionally, by prioritising business-critical applications and allowing direct cloud access from the branches, SD-WAN greatly improves cloud application performance and reliability.
As organisations adopt an ever-growing array of cloud-based applications, networks are forced to carry more data than ever before thereby increasing operating costs significantly. SD-WAN reduces the cost associated with using and managing your network by leveraging low-cost local internet access, reducing the amount of traffic over backbone WAN and providing direct cloud access.
Greater Business Agility and Responsiveness
The speed of business and innovation continues to accelerate globally. Additionally, businesses today, across all industries are heavily reliant on connectivity and applications. And with rapidly evolving market trends, growing customer expectations and increased competition, time is money.
SD-WAN can automatically route your traffic through the fastest and most reliable connection thereby significantly reducing packet loss and latency issues. SD-WAN also facilitates rapid deployment of WAN services such as firewall and bandwidth. This allows organisations to distribute operations to branch sites without the need to send IT personnel. And as business requirements grow and change, bandwidth can be added or reduced to match requirements. The ability to quickly and seamlessly adapt to different circumstances in the market gives organisations extra agility to stay ahead of competitors.
Legacy WAN has had its place as a business solution. However, it is no longer a viable solution for today’s rapidly evolving market place, cloud technology and competitive business environment. After much consideration and research, all the experts at AdEPT have concluded that SD-WAN is the networking solution of the future.
At AdEPT, we pride ourselves in offering our clients the best business and IT solutions that we can boldly put our name on – and SD-WAN is one such technology. We have extensively assessed and hand-picked the best vendors that can meet the needs of any size of organisation across different industries and help you meet your objectives. We are offering SD-WAN as part of our Nebula platform allowing you to seamlessly integrate all your business communication. We have the expertise, resources and experience to help you transition into SD-WAN and reap its benefits without the limitations. Contact us today and let us help you improve your business connectivity, productivity and agility.
As organisations grow, so does the need to build a bigger and better network infrastructure. However, in doing so, IT teams must be keen to balance the need for simplicity, reliability, performance and security with compliance and costs. SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Network) has emerged as a leading WAN solution that meets this criterion in connecting branch offices in different geographic location – slowly overriding the historically popular MPLS (multiprotocol label switching).
Compared to MPLS, SD-WAN offers better availability, visibility, flexibility, cost savings and enhanced performance. However, MPLS also offers some unique advantages key among them being enhanced security. As such, in most organisations, SD-WAN works on top of the MPLS and internet connection to control costs and improve performance.
For an organisation that is considering switching over to SD-WAN from MPLS, what are the key differences you need to know to help you make the decision? Here are the top differences between SD-WAN and MPLS.
Historically, most multi-branch organisations used a hub and spoke WAN model relying on individual MPLS connections to connect remote branches. This required all traffic including access to the internet and cloud service to be backhauled to the central data centre for processing and redistribution which is extremely cost-inefficient.
In contrast, SD-WAN uses distributed private data traffic exchange and control points to provide optimised multi-point connectivity that gives users secure local access to the services and resources they need at a significantly lower cost – both on the network and from the cloud. It also secures direct access to internet resources and the cloud.
MPLS does offer a seemingly better security advantage over SD-WAN as it uses a private network rather than public internet connections. As such, it seems to provide a managed and secured link between the data centre and the branch offices through the service provider’s internal backbone. This level of protection is not natively available with public internet connections.
However, this deduction can be deceptive. In practice, the responsibility of analysing the data delivered through MPLS falls on the MPLS client. And as you can expect, even though MPLS is seemingly a secure network, there is a need to inspect the traffic for malware and other exploits. As a consequence, users have to deploy a firewall or any other security functions at least at either end of the connection.
To be fair, most SD-WAN solutions also require additional security measures. However, the benefit of SD-WAN security entails the insights generated from granular reporting that allows user to track the traffic as well as the ability to deploy IPS, Firewall, UTM, DDOS protection and content filtering from the same vendor. In contrast, traditional WAN services require separate vendors for each of the value-added capability.
The ability to have a more robust, comprehensive and centrally managed approach to security gives SD-WAN an advantage over traditional MPLS. However, it is important to note that this is heavily reliant on working with an experienced and knowledgeable provider.
MPLS provides a reliable, fixed level bandwidth which was a notable advantage in the last couple of decades. However, today’s traffic has highly unpredictable and volatile performance requirements. To keep up, organisations can opt to lease an MPLS connection to account for the spike in traffic load. However, MPLS connection bandwidth is notoriously expensive and it is not economically feasible for most organisations to have unused bandwidth. And as the volume of data being generated by organisations today continues to grow MPLS can significantly constrain connectivity. Even though some MPLS connections provide a sliding scale connectivity, the inability of the network to understand the nature of traffic and dynamically make the necessary adjustments is a major limiting factor.
There is also the issue of mission-critical traffic such as voice and video whose latency needs to be closely monitored. When multiple applications are running simultaneously, MPLS does not have way of recognising or prioritising latency-sensitive traffic which can lead to downtime, reduced employee productivity and morale.
SD-WAN recognises applications and their traffic, can initiate a series of parallel connections, prioritise traffic accordingly and also provide granular load-balancing among them. And in the case that there is a drop in available bandwidth in a connection, it can fail-over to a new connection while also uncapping traffic from latency-sensitive applications to support full employee productivity with no downtime or latency.
At AdEPT, we have used our experience and the expertise of our leading IT minds and concluded that the benefits of an SD-WAN solution far outweigh MPLS alone. This is particularly true given that today’s traffic comprising of complex workflows and advanced web applications requires a more dynamic and flexible connectivity environment than what MPLS offers which is traditionally static connections. Our SD-WAN solution, which is part of our Nebula Platform, gives organisations of all sizes the deeply integrated and managed interconnectivity capabilities they need to excel in today’s environment. Contact us today to learn more about SD-WAN and what benefits it can bring to your organisation.
A year in the life of AdEPT
This is the first of a two-part blog by our CEO, Phil Race. Keep your eyes out for the next instalment, next week.
Wind the clock back to January 2020. A new decade promised a future unblighted by the Brexit debate, as former Have I Got News for You host, Boris, was settling into Number 10 after a landslide election victory – with ambitions to digitise and level up Britain.
Liverpool FC was on a stroll to win the Premiership title for the first time, we were looking forward to an Olympics in Tokyo, the football Euros and a Ryder Cup, with the hype around the new James Bond film, No Time to Die ramping up.
Dare I say it, the year looked promising.
Who’d have thought that an invisible foe would destroy plans so carefully made? Who’d have predicted back in January that the word ‘coronavirus’ would see a 35,000-fold increase in use (according to the Collins Dictionary) – with ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’, ‘furlough’ and ‘key workers’ as notable mentions.
And, according to Google, the trending search terms of this year were dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic in a year we asked “why?” with “coronavirus” the most searched term globally. (People also asked questions about the US elections, Black Lives Matter, Australian bushfires, and the untimely deaths of Kobe Bryant, Maradona and Chadwick Boseman).
The word of the year though? Lockdown.
What. A. Year.
January and February 2000 were good months, with a BT survey talking about a post-Brexit bounce. Professor Puzzle chose AdEPT to provide their managed services. Redrow Homes decided to work with AdEPT to upgrade its 1200 user Avaya system. Electrolux went live with a new call centre provided by AdEPT. Tower Hamlets Council asked AdEPT to provide IT support for more than 200 members of their housing association team.
Customer feedback was great, with Kent NHS Trust gushing with praise for our team “In AdEPT we found a partner – rather than a supplier – aligned to us in each of the disciplines of; leadership, structure, collaboration and flexibility”.
We were attending conferences, and networking with hordes of people at the BETT show – poetically held at the Excel Arena, now a Nightingale Hospital.
Back in March at AdEPT we were lining up an acquisition, through fundraising for a war chest; we were closing out a successful FY20 (a seven per cent organic growth in recurring managed services a highlight) and gearing up for approving the budget. We’d even just won an award – “Fastest Growing Reseller of Pragma solutions”, receiving the trophy at a gala dinner in black tie event. Remember those?
Then came the 24th March. A day to remember. The announcement of the greatest restriction of British liberty in the nation’s history. An order for Britons to stay at home, with a Telegraph headline describing it as the ‘End of Freedom’.
And then the rollercoaster began. A tsunami of calls hit AdEPT support teams as customers scrambled to work from home. We saw a ten-fold increase in such enquiries and yet our team continued to deliver, receiving commendations for helping customers in their time of need.
The spring weather was amazing, cushioning the blow, with March to May 2020 declared the sunniest spring on record (626 hours of sunshine if you’re counting!). Pasta and toilet paper sold out (why?) and Zoom / Teams quizzes became de rigueur.
Overnight, we moved from having eight offices to having 300. Bedrooms, studies, kitchens and living rooms became the epicenter of a new world order. Thank heavens for Project Fusion as our Microsoft Teams & Avaya technology streamlined communications. Very quickly 70 of the AdEPT team were put on furlough, as schools shut up shop. Openreach stopped all but essential installations and, even though AdEPT were key workers, entire teams were unable to attend site. Tough times.
The AdEPT team performed miracles. We helped more than 4,000 schools move to working from home, and helped more than 400 doctors’ surgeries to pivot to remote diagnosis. In the private sector, we helped hundreds of companies to work at home.
Plaudits came flooding in – “AdEPT has stepped up to the plate”… “the team have been outstanding”… “key players in your organisation are superstars”… “your teams have been fantastic, and I’m sure they are run as ragged as we are”. One customer even asked for “ten toilet rolls, four packs of paracetamol, 24 bottles of Gordon’s Gin and six loaves of bread”. It wouldn’t surprise me if my colleagues tried to deliver that too!
Great customers commended the team; Age UK, the NHS, Care UK, the Health Corporation of America (HCA), London Grid for Learning, a host of schools, and countless doctors’ surgeries.
Technology stepped in.
Instantly Microsoft Teams lit up, with the tech giant reporting it saw more than 900 million meeting and calling minutes each week in the early days of lockdown, and more than 12 million new users in one week alone. Wow, Microsoft must have been busy!
If ever nature was sent to rescue us, it was at this time, made vivid by poetry (an extract from In the Time of Quiet, by Phillipa Atkin):
No one’s told the daffodils about the pause to Spring
And no one’s told the birds to roost and asked them not to sing
No one’s asked the lazy bee to cease his bumbling round
And no one’s stopped the bright green shoots emerging through the ground
No one’s told the sap to rest, deep within the wood
And stop the sleepy trees from waking, wreathed about in bud
Nature became essential for our wellbeing.
Despite the challenges, wins continued to flow. Norwich City Council purchased a managed wifi service. Worcestershire NHS bought new high-speed connections for acute hospitals.
In house we began our ‘wake me up sessions’ to educate the team. We had notable mentions for Arthur Daley, Smashy and Nicey, the Beatles, and even Dusty Bin – all appearing in training briefings in a competition to include the most surreal of references.
Internally across AdEPT we followed a philosophy of “when fisherman can’t go to sea, they mend their nets”. We continued the rollout of Fusion across the business. We even managed to sign up a new strategic partner – 8×8, to bring world class UCaaS / CCaaS capability to the team. Gamma awarded us Platinum Partner status and we officially became Google for Education Partners.
In support of schools, the Department for Education announced an initiative to cloud-enable schools to help them with remote education. This year, since its inception, the amazing AdEPT team have helped over 500 schools get to the cloud. What a fantastic achievement.
The AdEPT team found new ways to deliver solutions. Tracy Jackson, our Sales Director from AdEPT Doncaster, delivered more than 500 Samsung tablets in his Range Rover to care homes across Yorkshire. At the same time, for Regus, we shipped an entire telephone solution to an engineer’s kitchen, where it was pre-configured before delivery to site.
Our staff survey also revealed interesting feedback, with nearly 70 per cent of staff being “happy with the status quo” of working from home and 92 per cent feeling productivity had “stayed the same” or “increased”.
In a nod to Family Fortunes ‘our survey said’ that the key challenge for staff is “communicating with co-workers” and the biggest struggle “Unplugging after work”.
Fortunately, we could help as we responded to the key ‘ask’ was “Providing access to tools and information to do my job”.
And then, spring became summer…