Phil Race: “my CEO Today Award is a reflection of AdEPT as a whole“

Earlier this year, our CEO, Phil Race, won a prestigious ‘CEO Today UK Awards 2021’ award from CEO Today Magazine. It follows a seminal period in AdEPT’s history – one where we’ve helped businesses and organisations get the best out of their connectivity and ICT to rise to the colossal challenges of the pandemic.

I spoke to Phil Race about the award and what it means for him, AdEPT and our customers…

Why do you think you received this award – and how does it relate to AdEPT as a whole – and our customers?

Phil Race (PR): “Although the award has my name on it, it’s truly a reflection of the whole AdEPT team, not me. It’s a recognition of the performance of our people, our great culture, and of how we’re integrating our acquisitions.

“Obviously it’s fantastic to be recognised in this way – but just as important to me is the immense rewards I get from the positive feedback from our clients and our team day-to-day. I see my role as getting the best out of everyone in AdEPT – from my direct reports, but in some ways more importantly those across all of our offices in the UK. I’d like to think I do this in a highly driven, but supportive way – and that might be a factor in why I’m receiving this award.

“I think the award also reflects how we’ve been helping our customers through the past 12 months – the work we’ve done to give our customers different ways to communicate, reliable connectivity, high-performing ICT wrapped with help and support, has been incredible. For example, we’ve helped doctors move to remote diagnosis; we’ve supplied tablets to care homes; and we’ve helped more than 500 schools move to digital education platforms for remote teaching and learning – these are particular highlights of the past year for me and all of us.”

“We’ve helped doctors move to remote diagnosis; we’ve supplied tablets to care homes; and we’ve helped more than 500 schools move to digital education platforms for remote teaching and learning – these are particular highlights of the past year for me and all of us.”

You mentioned AdEPT’s acquisitions and your role in bringing together those companies. How are you doing that?

PR: “We are a consolidator, and we’ve been acquiring and integrating companies continuously for many years. During my tenure we’ve bought a number of companies that are now part of the AdEPT family. Our success in doing this is because we appreciate the human side of acquisitions – it’s not just about the finances or the customers. We need to appreciate the personal aspirations of the team who are part of the acquired business and ensure we alleviate fears, appreciate ambitions and nurture people through what can, for some, be a stressful transition.

“I’ve been in businesses that have both been acquired, and that have been the acquirer, so I have a lot of personal experience that I can bring to bear in these situations. I think this really helps when making acquisitions, and the subsequent integration work for everyone involved.

“We set clear goals, we ensure everyone is kept informed, we create a coherent integration plan and we make sure everyone sees the logic for what we are doing; it means that our decisions are given both context and meaning.”

The pandemic has kept us all apart from each other – so how has this affected your work in bringing together the companies and people?

PR: “One thing that’s really important to me is open and honest communication, frequently. For example, once a month I write and share a newsletter, covering our news stories, our work and where we as a business are going. And it’s not about sugar coating everything – it’s about being transparent and approachable. We call it Carpe Diem! (inspired by the Dead Poets Society film), it means ‘seize the day’ and is one of my core philosophies: you only get one life.

“I make a point of sharing the whole picture – the good and the bad. It’s about treating staff as grown-ups so we can come together and solve our challenges and those of our customers.

“This has been even more important during the pandemic. Over the past 15 months we’ve had staff working from home, on kitchen tables and in bedrooms – so regular communication has been especially important. Being open can help employees alleviate the stress of feeling like they’re in the dark.

“Obviously we’re an AIM-listed company so there’s some things we can’t share for legal reasons, but as much as possible it’s about sharing the strategy with everyone. I do this formally once a year in an all staff briefing, but for me it’s a continual dialogue – I never want any employee to feel intimidated by my job title and communication is always two-way thing.

“I think this ties in with something I’m often described as: a solver of puzzles. Obviously problem solving is a big part of work in technology, but it’s true in my position too – solving the puzzles of conflicts in resources, of changes in the markets, of new technology. Doing this is my passion – not to turn up and get paid – but to get up in the morning and solve those puzzles – Covid-19 has been a huge puzzle to solve, and I think we’ve done it pretty well.”

Do you think this ‘problem-solving’ nature is mirrored across AdEPT?

PR: “Yes, definitely. First and foremost, our employees are always looking to solve our customers’ problems. We always keep in mind that the world of ICT is complicated and confusing, with lots of discrete areas of technology – and that’s a big part of how we approach our day to day work – solving our customers’ problems.”

“Our employees are always looking to solve our customers’ problems. We always keep in mind that the world of ICT is complicated and confusing, with lots of discrete areas of technology – and that’s a big part of how we approach our day to day work – solving our customers’ problems.”

Where else has this problem-solving culture come to the fore?

PR: “It feels like a long and different time ago, but back in 2019 we took on the Three Peaks Challenge and it stands out as an example of our culture. For me, being there in the rain and the dark with my colleagues was a fantastic personal achievement but also especially valuable because I believe in leading by example. So, whether we’re facing the challenge of climbing a mountain, or the challenge of helping our customers through the pandemic, my role is to be part of the team, helping navigate us through it all.

“I’m also a great believer that we should be a force for good and supporting charities is part of that. But this belief is also shared by our team, so it’s a great way to engage with every part of the wider team, helping in two-way conversation as well as the integration of new companies and offices. I can’t wait for the next charity challenge when we are allowed out again.

“Many of the charities we support have a very personal meaning to our staff, so it’s important for me to get involved. And being a judge on the bake-off fundraiser we ran in our Orpington office had a few tasty perks, too!”

What keeps you motivated and how do you apply this to your role?

PR: “There are a few I can name. First, without a doubt, solving problems is the biggest motivator for me, and I’m fortunate to be part of a board that challenges and helps me solve them. Next, continual learning – it’s important to never stop learning, especially in the fast-paced world of ICT – I’d like to think that I’m always curious. Third, I’d add that it’s important to be flexible and willing to change – the world changes overnight, as we’ve all seen over the past 12 months. Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big – just as our customers have dreams of where they want to be, we should have dreams, too. Learning constantly and being open to change helps you achieve those dreams.”

Are there any other highlights that stand out for you as CEO in your time at AdEPT?

PR: “Every day there are lots of victories, such as when we help a customer find a solution where an answer wasn’t immediately obvious – that’s a huge reward, and seeing the positive comments from our customers this leads to is priceless!

“The creation of a clear strategy, with the support of the AdEPT leadership team, and our progress against this strategy is massively rewarding. Keeping our business moving forward despite the pandemic has been a huge highlight. We are a very different company than when I first took the reins thanks to a lot of hard work by many people, building on the superb work of our Chairman, Ian Fishwick. I’m very proud of what we are becoming.

“One other highlight is the ‘Tech United’ event we held in December 2019. I can remember it like it happened yesterday. We brought together more than 200 of our customers to share knowledge, experiences and ideas and we were joined by many of our partners as well as Sir Andrew Strauss OBE, who gave a great talk on leadership. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we’ve not been able to repeat this which is a real shame. “One of the proudest moments for me was seeing, throughout the day, members of the AdEPT team talking passionately about their specialisms and their professional experiences. It was absolutely brilliant – and fingers crossed, we’ll do that again one day.”

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT

Helping you with smarter, more secure networks

Introducing you to Datrix, part of the AdEPT Technology Group Plc

In April, AdEPT announced the acquisition of Datrix, an award-winning specialist provider of cloud-based networking, communications, and cyber security solutions.

At the time, industry press reported on this ‘game-changing’ development – and now that the dust has settled on the acquisition, we’d like to get behind the numbers to look why this is a gamechanger – and, most of all, what that means for our customers.

I spoke to AdEPT CEO, Phil Race, and Datrix Managing Director, Mark Thomas, to find out more…

What brought AdEPT and Datrix together?

Phil Race (PR): “Our focus is long-term, sustainable organic growth coupled with acquisitions that consolidate our fragmented marketplace. And with that strategy in mind, we have made a number of acquisitions over the past few years. When we do acquire, we look for businesses that are complementary to ours, using a rigorous scorecard to assess, among other areas, if the company can consolidate our offering in a vertical market, is financially stable, has strong levels of recurring revenue and margin, and which will bring enhanced capability to customers. We are also extremely focused on whether the team we acquire has a positive cultural fit.

“With Datrix, this acquisition ticked all the boxes. It’s an enterprise network and security specialist, and it deepens and builds on our portfolio of services in these areas and strengthens our position within the health sector.”

Mark Thomas (MT): “Interestingly, I’d not crossed paths with AdEPT before we started exploring the possibility of selling Datrix. I say ‘interestingly’ because it’s a reflection of how our specialisms don’t overlap. Of course, we work in similar areas, but the products and services we offer are distinct. So as two companies, we’ve got many similarities, but we have different areas of expertise and experience – and that’s what makes this such a great pairing – we fit together like pieces of a jigsaw picture.”

What does this mean for AdEPT’s customers?

PR: “I think more and more, customers are looking for a joined-up service from their IT partners – they don’t want lots of different suppliers to manage. But at the same time, they want those providers to have expertise in a wide range of different areas – and to be able to offer and work with a wide range of ICT product vendors – but do so objectively.

“This is why, with any acquisition, we look to join forces with organisations that have the right mix of services, talent and experience to complement what we offer. But more than that, we want them to be right for our customers.

“One other point that specifically relates to Datrix concerns a survey of ICT professionals we ran last year. We asked them about their experiences of the pandemic and found that cybersecurity and networking were their top priorities.

“This makes perfect sense, since we ran the survey soon after the first lockdown, just after ICT teams had taken on the enormous task of enabling their staff to work from home, overnight. With that business transformation, came renewed concerns about using home networks, cybersecurity of personal devices and the like. As Datrix specialises in enterprise networks and security, this strengthened capability is great news for our customers looking to address this change.”

MT: “Yes – we’ve seen the same themes emerge over the past year. And a good example of where we can help is our partnership with Cato Networks.

“Primarily, it delivers a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) network architecture for enterprises, especially those with multiple locations and flexibale architectures. But admittedly, that’s a bit of a mouthful – so in simple terms, it means that a  business can control its network and security at a granular level.

“For example, if you have an employee that works partly in the office, and partly at home – you can adjust their individual security settings by location, application, device – personal or business – or other contexts, like time of the day. The technology works by ensuring that the end user has a consistent experience, with security policies being applied in the background – it just runs in the background. For the IT team, the administration sits in the cloud, it affords levels of visibility and control across the WAN that to date have only been dreamed of, and importantly to the internal teams its flexibility across sites, devices and applications provides a seamless experience to both the end user and the business as a whole.

“What I will add is that it’s easy for people like us, who work in offices, to forget that a lot of businesses aren’t office-based and never have been – for example, hospitals, councils, schools, hospitality and retail. For far too long, they’ve had to deal with the challenges of multiple sites and people working in different locations, due to them consuming legacy WAN technology solutions; however by both deploying a CATO infrastructure and combining this with the Datrix managed service overlay, this now allows them to both embrace cloud solutions but with an enhance security posture.”

“With the pandemic and the massive changes it’s made to organisations, has come renewed concerns about using home networks, cybersecurity of personal devices and the like. As Datrix specialises in enterprise networks and security, this strengthened capability is great news for our customers looking to address this change.”

– Phil Race, AdEPT CEO

What makes AdEPT and Datrix unique?

PR: “On our website and documents, you’ll see we stand for ‘Uniting Technology, Inspiring People’, but this goes much deeper than a slogan. What it means is that we bring technology together for the benefit of people, our customers, to help them see what is possible. The latter part of the slogan is about our people, too – we want our staff to be ‘inspiring’, in the sense that they bring different thinking and ideas to our customers.

“And I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique – first and foremost, our staff live for solving our customers’ problems. We don’t have agendas to push particular products or vendors, but instead we always keep in mind that the world of technology is complicated and confusing, with lots of discrete areas of technology – and that’s a big part of how we approach solving our customers’ challenges. We’ve got real breadth and depth of knowledge and expertise, so we’re able to draw on this to provide the right solution – not just any solution.”

MT: “It really is over-stated, but yes, I agree with Phil, it’s our people that make us different. We have a 96 per cent customer retention rate and in that respect, we punch well above our weight compared to the really big players out there.

“Another point – and it’s a passion of mine – is that we make our customers feel as important when they’re not buying anything as when they are buying something. Our service is consistent – our sales staff become account managers, so it’s in their interests to be transparent and open from the outset, to make sure a client always gets the service that they’re promised from day one.

“One other way we’re unique is our agility. In this respect, a lot of companies ‘talk the talk’ but don’t ‘walk the walk’. I say this because a lot of our business comes from customers who are disgruntled with their current vendor – and often their experience is their providers aren’t flexible – they’re not responsive to their day-to-day challenges. With us, if a client has a problem, our first thought is ‘how do we solve this for you’. That’s very reassuring for a client who is in a difficult position.

“On a final note, one other way we’re different is how transparent we are with our clients. We give them access to the same things we see, so they know what we’re doing and can see it with their own eyes. It’s a genuine partnership – not a supplier doing the work but leaving the client in the dark, giving them no choice but to turn to us if something goes wrong.”

“Through our partnership with Cato Networks, we can help a business control its network and security at a granular level. For example, if you have an employee that works partly in the office, and partly at home – you can adjust their individual security settings by location, application, device – personal or business – or other contexts, like time of the day.”

– Mark Thomas, Managing Director, Datrix

As Datrix is new to the AdEPT family – and will be sharing formal case studies in due course – are there any examples of Datrix work that stand out, particularly in relation to the pandemic?

PR: “I’ll let Mark answer this, but I would say that Datrix’s work with the public sector is outstanding.”

MT: “Thank you Phil – there are lots of great examples of our work with the public sector over the years. For example, we support Community Health Partnerships (CHP) with a fully managed wireless infrastructure across 164 sites, providing this service for both their clients and for internal users.

“We also work with a number of NHS trusts, where we provide an end-to-end service, with the likes of the Royal Surrey County Hospital, where we provide a full managed service – covering design , configuration, installation, network, security, with staff on site.”

What’s next on the AdEPT-Datrix plans?

PR: “The next step is integrating the companies – our ’Project Fusion’. But as our clients will know, bringing together companies is not an overnight project. For us, while we’ll be integrating systems such as customer relationship management and human resource management – and we’ll be doing this in a way that maintains and builds on the unique strengths of each company.”

MT: “Yes – it’s about bringing the two companies together in a way that complements each other, building on each of our joint strengths and providing maximum benefits to our customer base. What I’d add is that I’ve already been working in an AdEPT office, and it feels like I’m part of the furniture – in a good way!”

On an individual note, what makes your job rewarding?

PR: “Without a doubt, it’s solving problems. And continuously learning. I don’t think you should ever stop learning, and in that sense, being humble is essential. I’m the son of a plumber and I grew up on a council estate – I hope this grounding stops me getting too big for my boots. Plus, my children are always happy to give me a reality check.”

MT: “I completely agree with Phil on this – it’s solving problems that gets me out of bed in the morning. I’d also say that working in technology and the associated services industry exposes you to a huge rate of change – and I thrive on this. I’m passionate about finding solutions to customer challenges – it’s not passionate about pushing a particular vendor – it’s about seeing through that and understanding where your value lies; more often than not it’s a sum of the parts. And the older I get, the more interesting I find it.”

Further information

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT

Outsourced ICT procurement gets easier with a new framework from the CPC, joined by AdEPT Education

10 June 2021

Flexible and adaptable ICT services have become critical for schools and educational establishments during the pandemic. Therefore, a new framework agreement from Crescent Purchasing Consortium – to which AdEPT Education has just been appointed – is an easier way for schools to procure ICT services that can help in their recovery.

Schools and educational establishments looking to outsource their ICT to help recover from the pandemic can now benefit from a new procurement framework from the Crescent Purchasing Consortium (CPC), on which AdEPT Education are a supplier.

The new ‘Outsourced ICT’ framework, launched on Monday 7th June, has been created specifically to help education professionals to procure everything from remote technical support to ICT project management – and to do so easily, with confidence.

As one of the newly-appointed suppliers, AdEPT Education says the launch of the framework couldn’t come at a better time for the education sector.

“Over the past 12 months, the education sector has faced huge challenges involving ICT. Through that, it has seen more than ever the importance of both reliable and robust connectivity and ICT support services,” says AdEPT Education Sales Director Nick Shea.

“Yet, being able to research, shortlist and assess suppliers in this respect is a huge job in itself. With the pandemic too, more and more education organisations have recognised they need a different mix of support for their rapidly-evolving ICT setups – especially as they have seen considerable migration of services into the cloud.

“Due to this, they need partners that can respond quickly to both traditional ICT support issues and to new, more remote and cloud-based ones, as well as having the tools in place to anticipate problems before they arise.”

It is this mix of reactive and proactive support that underpins AdEPT Education’s partnership with its clients. This is also combined with a flexible, can-do attitude.

Nick adds: “We’ve heard from some schools that lockdown exposed holes in their ICT support. For example, some staff didn’t have the right setup to work remotely. Other schools that might ordinarily have a reliable on-site network found that the same network wasn’t able to handle a large number of staff working at home.

“The difference for us is that we’ve always prioritised business continuity – and we’ve always taken the view that ICT needs are, without fail, complex and changeable. In fact, I’d say ‘change’ should be the biggest focus of anyone working in ICT and I’d say it’s for this reason that flexibility and agility are part of our DNA.

“As a result, when the pandemic took hold, we were able to adjust quickly and continue supporting our education clients with minimal disruption.”

Of course, nobody could have predicted the real impact of the pandemic, and it may only be now that the education sector can start to regroup and look ahead. As it does, the new CPC framework will be of great help.

The agreement has two lots: lot 1 is for ‘Outsourced ICT Services’ and lot 2 is for ‘Outsourced ICT Consultancy’. The former received responses from nearly 30 suppliers and saw the appointment of 10, including AdEPT Education.

Nick adds: “We are incredibly proud of being awarded this place. As you’d expect from the CPC, the application process was highly methodical and rigorous.

“We were evaluated for everything – for example, how we handle initial enquiries, through to our pricing structures, our business continuity, compliance with regulations, security… the list goes on.

“This is great news for the education sector – being assessed and approved in this way saves education ICT professionals a lot of work and time, which is especially important right now.”

Education organisations looking to procure through the new framework will be in good hands and in good company, because being owned and run by the further education sector, the CPC has a real understanding of education – as reflected by its membership of more than 8,000 educational establishments.

As a purchasing consortium, the CPC’s main purpose is to develop and manage procurement frameworks that comply with procurement regulations, making the sourcing of goods and services easier for its members. Those frameworks cover a wide variety of products and services – and the CPC continues to develop this portfolio, while providing specialist advice on best spending practices for the education sector.

Managing the new Outsourced ICT framework is Procurement Officer Lisa O’Shea. She says: “We are delighted to launch this brand-new framework providing education organisations with an education-focused route to market for outsourcing managed ICT services. The framework comes with detailed guides, support and templates making it easy to put your managed ICT requirements out to competition.”

Full details about the framework are available on the CPC’s website. Additionally:

  • AdEPT Education works with schools and educational establishments across the country. One of its main clients is the London Grid for Learning (LGfL), and through this partnership, AdEPT provides network and ICT services (including web filtering and security) to hundreds of schools in London.
  • AdEPT Education has vast experience helping educational establishments move to the cloud, having helped more than 500 schools adopt remote teaching platforms through the pandemic, as part of the recent DfE scheme. Notably, the vast majority of this work was conducted remotely, respecting social distancing and helping schools avoid disruption and downtime.
  • The CPC was created in 1999 as an arm of the purchasing team at The University of Salford. The consortium was developed to fill a gap in the provision of reliable and best-value frameworks for the further education sector. This work proved to be so useful that the FE sector bought the company in 2009, at which point it achieved charitable status. CPC now operates as a not-for-profit organisation, meaning that any surpluses generated are invested back into the education sector.

Written by Ben Rogers

Marketing Manager

Local government cloud migration: put people first, technology second

A little-known fact about local government never ceases to amaze me: a typical council is responsible for more than 700 distinct public services for its local community.

This number, based on research by the Local Government Association, is all the more astonishing when you consider the diversity and complexity of those services – and the financial challenges that local government faces.

£16billion reduction in revenue

If you work in local government, you don’t need me to remind you of the services your organisation runs. But for the benefit of our wider readership, it’s worth elaborating.

At any one time, our local authorities are simultaneously protecting vulnerable people; keeping our streets clean; vetting and licensing pubs and restaurants; helping those who need it most have a roof over their head; running elections; attracting tourism and investment in the local economy; ensuring our buildings are safe; administering births, deaths and marriages; planning for disasters; running recreation and sports facilities… The list goes on… And on…

Now, for an interesting comparison, think about the number of services offered by a private company – for example, a high street bank. A quick scan of my own bank’s website, and I can count, at most, about 20 discrete services.

Next, take a look at the financial picture in local government. Clearly, our councils aren’t banks making millions of pounds of profits. Rather, they’re public organisations, funded by council tax and other fees, as well as grants from central government. Generally, it’s about a 50/50 split between local funding sources and those from Whitehall.

And finally, consider the past decade. Between 2012 and 2020, councils lost 60p out of every £1 provided by central government to spend on local services, compared to the preceding decade. This equates to a £16billion reduction in revenue.

How have our councils even started to address this colossal shortfall? 

Increasing council tax and rates is rife with challenges. First, there are limits on the amount by which council tax may be increased without public consultation. Second, the taxpaying public does not generally welcome council tax rises with open arms.

And so, local government has had no choice but to explore other ways to offset the cuts.

This is often described as ‘doing more with less’. But in my experience, as councils face not only this immense financial pressure – but pressure from citizens for ‘smarter’ services, too – it isn’t just about ‘doing more with less’. It’s also about ‘doing better with less’.

The challenge of meeting digital expectations while serving diverse communities

Not only has the past decade seen local government income cut to the bone, it’s also seen consumers become more accustomed to digital services.

The more we’ve embraced digital technology, the more we expect the same joined-up digital experience in everything from the systems we use for work to the tools we use for shopping.

Additionally, we expect all of this to be available on our handheld devices. In fact, in the UK, 85 per cent of online activity in 2020 was conducted through smartphones.

In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift. Obviously, one can argue that we’ve had no choice but to use online services during lockdown. But consider news about Amazon’s biggest profits everthe cardboard box shortagethe surge in video calling and the growth in streaming services. These stories all point to one thing: the pandemic has led us to the point of no return with our digital lives.

At the same time, not every member of the public has the means, the inclination or the ability to use digital technology. So, while local government is looking to digitally transform services – and with good reason – it must do so in a way that works for everyone. This is no small feat – particularly in light of data and privacy issues…

Data in local government

It’s difficult to comprehend the staggering amount of data shared worldwide in a single minute, let alone an entire day, month or year – but this World Economic Forum article gives a good idea. However, it’s safe to say that the volume of data we produce and draw on is growing exponentially. And that’s the case in local government organisations, too.

As Big Data has gotten bigger, so too has public concern and regulations about the handling of that data. In 2018, the GDPR heralded stricter laws for data protection – and more recently, tech giant Apple has been on a crusade to improve data and privacy.

For local authorities, the challenges around data go beyond those seen in the private sector. The handling and processing of sensitive personal data within councils – for example, in children’s services – comes with other practical, ethical and legal challenges.

Additionally, unlike the companies that were born in the internet age – whose systems and data might be in the cloud from the outset – councils often have a legacy of paper-based records. And GDPR applies to physical data as much as it does to digital data.

Consequently, when it comes to their data, councils have another enormous job on their hands. Not only must they comply with GDPR and other strict regulations in their everyday activities – they must ensure decades or historical data are brought in line with the 21st century, too.

Digital transformation must be more than skin deep

As I’ve described, among the many challenges local government has faced in the past decade, there are three that stand out. And the pandemic has only compounded this situation:

  1. Significant loss of revenue
  2. Citizen demand for online services
  3. Greater concern and regulation around data

Additionally, due to the hundreds of services they run, councils also face the challenge of using and managing a wide range of disjointed back-office systems – many of them relatively old – all dependent on reliable IT.

One of the ways local government is responding is through digital transformation. It’s a term you’ll hear bandied about in discussion across all sectors. And it gets a lot of hype, often being lauded as a money-saving miracle worker.

This is true to an extent – effective digital transformation projects can cut costs and be hugely beneficial. But for local government, these projects must be much more than cosmetic fixes, such as launching an e-commerce site, giving staff tablets, or running customer service through social media.

While all of these activities are forms of digital enablement, they are likely to be a drop in the budgetary ocean – or worse, an expensive mistake – if they are poorly planned, or tacked onto services that were designed and established long before the advent of the internet.

As a result, many councils have been going back to the drawing board to overhaul their services to incorporate technology from the ground up. And this is what we at AdEPT consider to be true digital transformation. I have included some examples of this at the bottom of this blog – projects that are especially impressive given the challenges of the past decade.

One of the common themes in these examples is cloud migration. Put simply, this is the act of moving processes, data, applications and resources out of on-premise systems, into a cloud-based system.

Cloud migration in local government

When it comes to cloud migration in a local authority, the responsibility usually lies with the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer. However, because such projects affect everyone in the organisation – and it’s vital all staff are on board such significant changes – I’d like to offer an analogy for our readers who don’t work in IT.

To me, cloud migration resembles the process of moving house. When you do this, unfortunately, you can’t just appear by magic in your new home.

There are many reasons you might move, and we all do so in the hope of a positive outcome. So you start by considering the size and type of property you need, what you can afford, and how it will suit your household. You’ll also research the area – is it near your workplace and schools, does it have good transport links and attractive local amenities?

Then you’ll consider the finer details. What might your new bills cost? How will your utilities change? Will you need new services, like fuel for a different heating system? Will your children take to their new bedrooms? Will you need a lawnmower? Will the home be right for you in the future – could you need an extension in five years’ time?

Once you’ve answered these questions and chosen your dream home, you’ll start the process of selling and buying. And with that comes another long list of questions, tasks and paperwork.

Then, you’ll move. But not before you’ve organised removal services, carefully packed up your belongings and checked every last cupboard to make sure it’s empty. By this point, you’ll have also switched your utilities, redirected your post and shared your new address with your loved ones.

And then, finally, you can settle into your new home. Invariably, there’ll be wrinkles to iron out – but ultimately, you’ll have gone through this major, stressful, change for the best. 

A successful cloud migration project has similarities to this process, not least because it requires an enormous amount of upfront assessment and planning.

This is because, in any organisation, such a project can affect hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people – both customers and staff – and can impact everything from an employee’s swipe card to entire rooms of expensive hardware. It can change how and where people work, how customers might interact with your organisation and how you provide your products and services.

Additionally, in local government, cloud migration is about much more than the functioning of a business – and the bottom line. It affects the very lives of citizens – the people who rely on those essential services provided by our councils.

Cloud migration should be as much an exercise in careful, considered planning as it is migration. And with this, it offers significant gains.

Moving to the cloud: what’s in it for local government?

Being an IT company with a long history of helping the public sector adopt cloud services, it’s tricky to answer this question without sounding a little biased.

However, moving to the cloud does bring substantial benefits – and many local authorities are already realising this, as shown in the examples below. Additionally, these benefits can mitigate some of the challenges I’ve outlined in this blog. They include:

  • Financial: given the economic picture described earlier, reducing costs is often the most attractive benefit of moving to the cloud. Such savings typically come through data storage, reduced capital investment, streamlined workflows and increased productivity. Cloud’s adaptability also brings financial benefits – see below.
  • Modernisation: cloud platforms often work as springboards to greater innovation. For example, both Microsoft’s and Google’s cloud environments offer analytics, automation, and no-code app development tools. Additionally, both platforms have integrated marketplaces where users can buy vetted apps from independent developers. With such an environment, it’s not hard to see how cloud platforms can be valuable starting point to satisfy the public’s appetite for digital services.
  • Data security: while this is invariably the top priority – and concern – for local authorities looking to migrate to the cloud, reputable providers also make this their number one priority. Impeccable security is crucial to vendors’ reputation and success, and they tend to invest heavily in security research and development for this reason. 
  • Flexibility: cloud-based environments are more conducive to flexible working. Having data and applications stored in the cloud means staff have easier and more flexible ways to access their work. This is especially beneficial for the widespread home and remote working that has emerged through the pandemic – and for council staff who may routinely be on the road, such as social workers.
  • Adaptability: in the past, many councils might have over-invested in hardware and systems as an insurance for the future, taking the view that ‘I’ll buy twice as much data storage than I need right now because I might need it in a year’s time’. While this is understandable, it has meant councils have seen enormous setup costs. Cloud services are different. Not only do typical pricing models often mean lower costs at the outset, it’s much easier to scale up and scale down cloud services.
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery: many cloud services started life as backup tools. With years of customer feedback under their belt, this means they have evolved to offer some of the most sophisticated backup functions on offer. Additionally, data in the cloud is available round the clock – and updates and patches often prove to be simpler than on-premise and physical upgrades, avoiding the need for system downtime.

Why cloud now? And what next?

In technology circles, discussion about cloud is neverending. But in truth, it is not a new topic. Central government has been championing its ‘cloud first’ policy since 2013 – and in fact, as long as the internet has existed, so too has the cloud.

When it comes to the digital transformation of local government, while there are examples of successful cloud adoption by councils, the projects tend to happen on a piecemeal basis – and for areas that are relatively straightforward, such as moving to Microsoft 365.

But, many councils want to go beyond this. They want their older, more complicated systems to work in the cloud – or a better alternative. Sometimes it’s seeing the art of the possible, and in our experience, there are more options available than might be immediately apparent. But all cloud migration work is a gradual process rather than an overnight switch. There is no such thing as a quick fix in the public sector – and given what’s at stake, rightly so.

Cloud vendors and technology companies must respect this. Cloud migration is not like installing a new piece of software or plugging in a new device. And it’s not about offering a particular product – or even mentioning a particular product – until the vendor has listened long and hard to the council – and not just IT staff, too.

Among many considerations, moving to the cloud is about understanding the IT landscape of the organisation, the infrastructure, the systems in place, the data held, and access rights and requirements. With such an extensive reach across different services provided by local authorities, this can be a complex exercise, so it’s essential to have the right method and support to undertake this.

At AdEPT, we start with our Cloud Readiness Assessment (CRA). As a specialist in local government cloud migration, we’ve developed this process to go beyond an IT audit, looking at existing systems, services and suitability, as well as the need for cloud migration. As with my house-moving analogy, we’ll help you answer the questions; we’ll find out what’s right for your organisation and the community you serve, and we’ll explore all the possibilities –including the things you might consider impossible.

We also believe that while councils are looking to innovate, a phased approach may be appropriate to provide a seamless transition. Any cloud migration plan that looks to change everything overnight is doomed to failure.

Beyond assessment

Once we have completed the CRA, the next step is to reduce the complexity of the IT environment that has evolved over many years. This includes reconfiguring, rehosting, retiring and consolidating systems and data in a way that is right for the organisation at the right time. While it might be easier to migrate some systems and services to the cloud, others may need to be reconfigured and rehosted before being migrated or retired at a later stage.

Additionally, working with us as a dedicated cloud migration provider offers other benefits. Helping staff access the systems they need to carry out offsite work on the go can substantially increase efficiency – and building in flexibility to adjust to seasonal fluctuation can be cost effective. A paid-for service can offer financial agility, too, with the ability to pay a consistent monthly service fee rather than outlay large capital expenditure. And having a dedicated IT support team can also reduce shadow IT, bringing all systems together, providing control and clear oversight of systems and applications across all departments. 

We can help

AdEPT has extensive experience in helping the public sector with its technology. We support more than 100 councils, the London Grid for Learning and the Cabinet Office with their technology. And last year, we completed a project to switch the entirety of Kent NHS – serving some 1.6 million citizens – to the new HSCN network.

We’ve helped these organisations to not only digitally transform – but to also identify opportunities for efficiencies, increase agility and provide high-quality, uninterrupted support for the public benefit.

I hope this blog gives you a useful introduction to our stance and our unique approach. But if you have any questions, you can get in touch with me through LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can call 0333 4002490 or email enquiries@adept.co.uk.

And as well as the examples below, you can find more useful information in the public sector section of our website, starting here.

Examples of cloud adoption in local government

Written by Paul Hutton

Business Development Manager, Cloud & Local Government Specialist

AdEPT Acquire Datrix

A substantial, strategically important acquisition in the growing advanced cloud-based networks market

AdEPT, one of the UK’s leading independent providers of managed services for IT, connectivity, unified communications solutions, and cloud services, is pleased to announce that yesterday it completed the acquisition of the entire issued share capital of Datrix Limited (“Datrix”) for an initial cash consideration of £9.0m (the “Acquisition”), which has been funded through the Group’s new bank facility.

Datrix is a well-established, award-winning supplier of advanced cloud-based networking, communications, and cyber security solutions, headquartered in London, with expertise in the growing Software Defined Wide Area Networking (“SD-WAN”) market.

This substantial, strategically important acquisition is wholly in line with the Board’s stated strategy to; a) grow both organically and by acquisition, leveraging the Group’s banking facilities which are supported by a strong balance sheet and high cash generation, b) to consolidate a fragmented market, through complementary acquisitions with strong levels of recurring revenue and margin, and c) continually bring enhanced capability to customers.

Datrix fulfils all of these criteria, enhancing the Group’s capabilities and increasing its market share in a key cloud-centric growth market and in complementary verticals.

Financial highlights:

Following the Acquisition, Group run-rate revenue and adjusted EBITDA1 for the year ended 31 March 2022 is expected to increase by c.18% and c.13% respectively
Initial cash consideration of £9.0m on a debt free cash free basis as at 31 March 2021, funded through the Group’s new banking facility
Datrix unaudited reported revenue in the 12 months ended 31 January 2021 of £10.7m, generating adjusted EBITDA1 of £1.5m and profit before tax of £0.6m
63% of revenue and gross margin were generated from recurring services for the 12 months ended 31 January 2021
The Acquisition is expected to be earnings enhancing in the current financial year ending 31 March 2022, being the first2 full year of ownership
Earn-out consideration of up to £7.0m payable in cash based on the performance of Datrix in the 12 months ending 31 March 2022

1 Adjusted EBITDA is after £0.4m of synergies, comprising staff savings post acquisition.

2 Pursuant to the terms of the share purchase agreement, the effective date of the acquisition is 1 April 2021

Operational highlights:

Datrix provides instant scale in the growing advanced cloud-based networking market, expanding the Group’s portfolio of core competencies to include the latest technology, SD-WAN
With 63% of revenues generated from complementary customers in the public sector, Datrix strengthens the Group’s position on Local and Central Government supplier frameworks and its presence in key vertical markets, particularly the NHS
Strengthens AdEPT’s cloud product portfolio, bringing additional highly complementary, market-leading, Gartner Magic Quadrant products to the Group, from significant new partner relationships
Experienced senior management team, who have transformed the business since joining Datrix in 2019, are being retained by AdEPT and incentivised to continue delivering growth

Background information

Datrix designs, delivers, and manages end-to-end enterprise solutions for large, complex, multi-site, mission-critical environments. Approximately 63% of revenue and gross margin is generated from recurring services, with 63% of total revenue generated from public sector customers.

The Acquisition provides instant scale, expanding the Group’s portfolio and creating core competencies in the latest secure cloud technology, SD-WAN and related cyber security products.

The demand for such unified, secure cloud-based network and communication solutions has been accelerated by the changes to working lifestyles, driven by the pandemic, and this demand continues to grow in both the public and private sectors. Datrix is very well positioned to benefit from the increased need for these new technologies.

Complementary vertical markets

Datrix has a strong customer base which is well aligned with AdEPT’s vertical market focus. The Datrix customer base includes NHS Trusts, care homes, local authorities, universities, energy companies, law firms and construction companies. As well as bringing new customer relationships, the addition of Datrix strengthens AdEPT’s position on Local and Central Government supplier frameworks.

This builds on the AdEPT expertise in this field, as evidenced by the recent completion of the Kent wide NHS HSCN network deployment benefitting over 400 NHS locations across the county, including critical care hospitals, care homes and Doctor’s surgeries. 

Gartner Magic Quadrant product strategy

The Datrix strategy is focused on the delivery of next generation solutions from companies ranked as leaders by Gartner within their Magic Quadrant methodology. Gartner is a widely respected technology research and advisory firm.  To be deemed a leader by Gartner the product or company must excel based on their vision and their ability to execute the vision within their field.

Outstanding partner relationships

Datrix is a highly respected partner of Extreme Networks, a provider of end-to-end networking solutions for large enterprises. Datrix holds the ultimate Black Diamond Specialized Partner status with Extreme. This status reflects that Datrix has significant expertise and experience in their technologies and solutions. Bringing benefits in terms of technical, marketing and pricing support. Datrix is a premium partner with Cato Networks, which provide converged SD-WAN and network security solutions delivered as a cloud platform, and is also a Gold Partner of Palo Alto Networks, a global leader in cyber security.

Financial information on Datrix

The valuation of the business was based on the unaudited management accounts of Datrix, for the 12 months to 31 January 2021, reported revenue of £10.7m, up 8% on the previous 12 months’ revenue of £9.9m. Gross margin rose 36% from £3.1m to £4.2m, driven by an increase in contracts for highly secure enterprise networks and professional services. The business was restructured, during this period, to match the new product focus and EBITDA improved from a loss of £1.1m, in the prior 12 months, to a profit of £1.1m. Net liabilities and gross assets at 31 January 2021 were £1.7m and £3.8m, respectively.

Additionally, as a result of the Acquisition, the Group expects to generate cost synergies of £0.4m in the year ending 31 March 2022.

Terms of the Acquisition

Initial consideration of £9.0m of Datrix on a debt free, cash free basis as at 31 March 2021 is payable in cash. Pursuant to the terms of the share purchase agreement, the effective date of the acquisition is 1 April 2021. Further earn-out consideration of up to £7.0m may be payable in cash dependent upon the trading performance of Datrix in the 12-month period ending 31 March 2022.

The total consideration will be funded out of AdEPT’s new bank facility, announced as part of the Trading Update announced on 7 April 2021, with headroom in the facility to support further acquisitive growth alongside the payment of the outstanding deferred consideration.

Management

The key management of Datrix are retained in their current capacity, with a clear focus on expanding the Group’s presence in advanced cloud-centric networking.  The Datrix operations will be migrating to the new One AdEPT platform, creating improved operational and financial insight. Under AdEPT’s ownership, Datrix will be led by a current Managing Director of Datrix, Mark Thomas, who will report directly to AdEPT CEO, Phil Race. 

Mahmood Chaudhri, Datrix exiting CEO, will be retained in a consultancy role during the earn-out period. 

Financial impact of the Acquisition

The Board expects the Acquisition to be earnings enhancing in the year ending 31 March 2022, being the first full year of ownership.

Following the Acquisition, the Group run-rate revenue and adjusted EBITDA1 for the year ended 31 March 2022 is expected to increase by c.18% and c.13% respectively, including the £0.4m of cost synergies the Group expects to generate for this period.

Phil Race, Chief Executive of AdEPT, said:

“This acquisition is a game-changer for AdEPT, taking us to the forefront of next generation networking delivery. The AdEPT Group already has a strong presence in the networking and cyber security arena, as evidenced by the delivery of the mission critical Kent NHS network, the deployment of the secure Fortinet firewall across London schools, and through offerings on our AdEPT owned hybrid cloud platform, Nebula.

Datrix, with the outstanding new products and partners it brings, builds significantly on our capabilities, adding scale and extending both our expertise and our solution breadth, which will benefit our customers in this large and growing marketplace.

“Datrix is a high-quality business with a well-established customer base, generating strong levels of recurring revenue and a cash generative, capex light, business model.

We are delighted that the key members of the Datrix senior management team have chosen to join us. I look forward to working with them over the coming years and, on behalf of the Board, welcome them wholeheartedly to AdEPT.”

Mark Thomas, Managing Director of Datrix, added:

“We are delighted to become part of the AdEPT Technology Group.  From the outset, it was clear that the solution set we take to market is complementary to AdEPT’s, and that the combination of AdEPT and Datrix expertise will bring benefits to both parties, and crucially to our customers. Our joint presence in the NHS will undoubtedly create new opportunities and being part of a larger group will help us capitalise on the growing and substantial market for advanced cloud-centric networks and cyber security.”

For more information please contact:

AdEPT Technology Group Plc 
Ian Fishwick, ChairmanTel:  07720 555 050
Phil Race, Chief ExecutiveTel:  07798 575 338
John Swaite, Finance DirectorTel:  01892 550 243
  
N+1 Singer (Nominated Adviser & Broker) 
Shaun Dobson / Iqra AminTel:  020 7496 3000
  
Belvedere Communications 
Cat ValentineTel:  07715 769 078
Keeley ClarkeTel:  07967 816 525
 adeptpr@belvederepr.com

This announcement has been released by John Swaite, Finance Director, on behalf of the Company.

About AdEPT:

AdEPT Technology Group plc is one of the UK’s leading independent providers of managed services for IT, unified communications, connectivity and voice solutions.  AdEPT’s tailored services are used by thousands of customers across the UK and are brought together through the strategic relationships with tier-1 suppliers such as Openreach, BT Wholesale, Virgin Media, Avaya, Microsoft, Dell and Apple.

AdEPT is quoted on AIM, operated by the London Stock Exchange (Ticker: ADT). For further information please visit: www.adept.co.uk.

For further information about Datrix: https://www.datrix.co.uk/

About SD-WAN – advanced cloud-based networking:

Networks were historically designed to support a collection of locations, joined by fixed connections, where the locations held both users and their data, all within a firewall to protect information. 

This has changed dramatically in recent years, accelerated by the pandemic, with users requiring remote access to systems from any location. Information needs to pass via the unpredictable internet, and via owned and managed networks.  Data sets can be substantial, and security and performance challenges are exacerbated by the remote nature of users, who may not be ‘living’ within a firewall.  Furthermore, applications can reside either within a company network or hosted virtually in the Cloud. 

This new world needs to connect groups of users securely, in a resilient and highly performant way, to their applications, and their data – all in a flexible manner which can be changed readily. 

Enter the new world of SD-WAN and Secure Access Service Edge technology (SASE), encompassing the latest technologies and advanced services, which allow networks and their security to be controlled, managed, adapted, and monitored, through software, in a cost-effective way.

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT

How technology can put the ‘home’ into ‘care homes’

What might we think of when we hear the term ‘care home’?

We might imagine rooms that look a little different, with walk-in baths, handrails and emergency alarms.

We might envisage nursing staff checking the health of residents.

We might picture medication trolleys wheeled around, rattling with medicines as they go.

These are all typical care home scenes. But they discount a crucial aspect of these places: that they are homes.

It’s a subtle but important distinction. Being homes, they must go beyond medical care to help residents enjoy a comfortable, rewarding and rich life – just as we all strive for in our own homes and our lives.

Technology can be a huge help where this is concerned. But before we consider how, it’s worth spending a few moments on the bigger picture.

Person-centred care

If you work in a care home, you’ll already know that the CQC (Care Quality Commission) is the independent regulator for England’s health and social care sector.

The CQC inspects, reviews, and rates social care organisations, having the power to order improvements or shut homes. And among the criteria it uses to do this are its 13 ‘fundamental standards’.

One of these standards, ‘person-centred care’, sets out that residents must be at the heart of their care. It requires that residents are treated as individuals with unique needs, and they must be closely involved in the planning and monitoring of their care.

As an example of how this might work in the real world, consider an imaginary resident. Let’s call her Joan.

She has always taken pride in her appearance but now finds getting dressed a little tricky due to arthritis.

Joan is a private woman, so she would like a female carer to lay out her chosen outfit then wait in the bathroom next door while she dresses, in case she has any difficulties.

On days where her arthritis flares up in her hands, Joan might need help buttoning her blouse and applying her makeup and nail polish.

Once she is ready, Joan feels more confident, sociable and prepared for the day ahead. And painting her nails in her favourite shade brings back happy memories of her wedding day.

This example does not entail a great degree of ‘medical’ assistance – the things that we might imagine are the mainstay of healthcare.

But it does involve listening closely to Joan, understanding what makes her tick, and developing a plan of care that puts her first. Doing so can help her feel respected and valued. And doing this for every resident is what makes a care home a real home-from-home.

And this is why thoughtfully-designed care plans are essential to person-centred care. It’s also one area in which technology can help.

Digital care plans

More and more organisations – in more and more sectors – are moving towards paperless systems. The care sector is no different, and for good reason.

But let’s take a step back. Historically, care plans have some similarities with the folder you might see hooked at the end of a hospital bed. But there are drawbacks with this approach:

  • Being in one place, staff must visit the bed to update the records.
  • It’s not easy to share this paper record between staff, across teams and departments.
  • To use their time efficiently, staff members might save all their note-taking for one period, meaning there may be a delay between talking with a patient, or resident, and recording the conversation. This can, in turn, mean important details – like Joan’s favourite nail polish – get forgotten.

Of course, more than ever, digital technology is being used to record notes like this. But putting them on a static desktop computer in a nursing station still poses similar problems.

One care home that we work with closely has found a solution to this. It has now installed care plan software on a suite of tablets. This means care plans are easily accessible, everywhere and at all times.

The care home is using Person Centred Software. We have no affiliation with this software developer, but we know that it has made a hugely positive difference to staff – and ultimately, to residents.

It’s helped the care home iron out these wrinkles in care plans. And when you make improvements to lots of little things, they all add up to a big difference.

Enriching entertainment

As with our own homes, a big part of making a care home a rewarding place to live is to offer a mix of leisure activities.

TVs are one such aspect of entertainment. Typically, residents’ rooms each have one – as do communal areas. But in many cases, these TVs function in a traditional sense – that is, they are the glowing box in the corner of the room that might make us laugh or groan. Ultimately, they’re a passive form of entertainment.

But they can be much more than this. Again, using our client as an example, this care home has installed internet-connected smart TVs and, through them, now runs various software designed to enrich residents’ lives.

Interactive Me, for example, is one application this home uses in its smart TVs. It’s software that allows family members to send their relatives digital media – like images, music and video. It can work as a family photo album, or provide a collection of internet-sourced media that will entertain the resident. One family created a library of images, sounds, and articles about Italy to help their grandparent recall their fond memories of growing up there.

Another smart TV application used by our client is Care Messenger. As the name implies, this is a messenging service that residents and their families can use to stay in touch. It allows for the sharing of rich media, but is designed for simplicity – so residents can interact through their remote control. The care home can also use it to send messages and news to residents, rather like an internal noticeboard.

In the age where Facebook, Twitter and the like are so widely used, it may seem unnecessary to have standalone applications like these – with features similar to those we see in social media. But social media can be complex and intimidating for people who have not grown up with such platforms. And so, incorporating simple apps into televisions is a more accessible, ‘gentler’ way to bring technology to older people.

Smarter safety and security

We all like to feel safe and secure in our homes. Care homes are no different – but they have a tricky balancing act to consider in this regard. On the one hand, care homes look after vulnerable people and have a duty to protect them from risks – but on the other hand, they must ensure their security measures do not encroach on residents’ lives.

Clearly, technology has an essential role in this respect. CCTV and access control systems can now connect wirelessly to IT systems – making it easy to change security settings in certain areas, and view live reports of staff, residents’ and visitors’ movements. Additionally, RFID, swipe cards or biometric systems can be used to ensure the right access for the right people. They can work as clocking-in systems, too, which is valuable for tracking and planning employees’ work patterns.

From the perspective of individual residents’ safety, one innovation that we’ve seen is the GPS watch from CareLine Care. Used by our care home client, it has proved to be especially valuable for residents at risk of falls or wandering too far from the home boundary.

It features a GPS-based alarm, which can be programmed to alert carers if the wearer travels beyond the care home perimeter. It also has an accelerometer that can detect if the wearer has fallen over, again automatically alerting care staff so they can respond promptly.

For both scenarios, the watch offers an advantage over more traditional protective measures. It means residents can enjoy the outdoors with a greater degree of independence – and do not even need to think about reaching for an alarm in the distressing moments after having a fall.

Another, less obvious, aspect of security in care homes is that of cyber protection. Care providers handle, store and manage sensitive resident records. And consequently, they must be compliant with the UK GDPR, and must protect themselves from cyber attacks.

Care homes in the post-Covid world

No blog right now would be complete without a mention of the pandemic. But we’re conscious that nothing we can say can do justice to the amazing way the care sector has responded to events of the last 12 months.

As a technology company, we’ve seen the emergence of two contrasting trends within care sector technology and innovation during this time – and both are entirely understandable.

The first approach has seen technology projects put on the back burner. Given that time, resources and budgets have been stretched by everything from staff self-isolating to extra cleaning, it makes complete sense that things like IT upgrades have taken the back seat.

The second approach has seen some care homes divert their technology plans towards innovations that can help during the pandemic. For example, one of our care home clients installed special visiting ‘pods’ so family members could see residents in a safe way.

Sadly, good work like this never makes headlines quite like the rare occasions when things go wrong. But there are impressive and moving stories everywhere. Our experience is that, overnight, care homes became extraordinarily self-sufficient, sourcing their own PPE, taking brave steps to protect residents in the face of ever-growing challenges.

One article we read recounts the experience of a care home nurse working through the pandemic. She said of her colleagues:

“What teams they were and are to this day; professional, uncomplaining, and immensely hardworking, keeping the home clean, residents well-fed and cared for in the best way possible.”

People first, technology second

There is one common theme to all the technology described here: underpinning all of it is high-speed, reliable and secure internet connectivity. This is where we can help – but it’s about more than the technology products and services. Here are some unique reasons why you might choose us:

  • We put people first, before technology – as reflected in our slogan, ‘Uniting technology, inspiring people.’ For us, that means technology should serve people, not the other way round. We believe this approach makes a good fit for person-centred care.
  • We work with more than 20 care home organisations of different sizes.
  • For a London-based care home group of eight affiliated homes, we’ve provided a full set of IT services including secure Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery service to protect their data and IT applications – a real comfort over the last year, when so much uncertainty has existed elsewhere.
  • In north east Lincolnshire, we work closely with a provider of community health and care services. For this organisation of more than 800 staff, we’ve provided a fully flexible telephony solution, which has enabled them to react quickly to changing circumstances.
  • In the case of the care home described in this blog, we have helped them simplify their IT support, upgrade their internet line and their wifi to support the great person-centred technology they’ve implemented in their home.
  • We are also HSCN (Health and Social Care Network) Stage 2 compliant. This means we are approved by NHS Digital to provide HSCN connectivity services to health and social care organisations. In fact, we’re one of only 20 in the marketplace to reach this stage – and we were one of the first to receive this accreditation.
  • We have a long history of working with health and social care organisations. One example of this is our work in Kent, where we provide high-speed connectivity to more than 400 hospitals, GP surgeries and hospices through the HSCN.
  • With HSCN, we work with over 60 health organisations, including Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and Great Ormond Hospital – you can read the case study here.
  • We don’t have pushy sales agendas and prefer to spend time at the outset getting to know you and your needs. Our founder, Ian Fishwick, has driven our year-on-year growth for more than 30 years by focusing on customer loyalty. And loyalty is never achieved by dazzling clients with hyped-up products for the sake of a sales target. Ian shares some valuable insights into our ageing society in this video.

One last point

As mentioned above, we are not affiliated with any of the companies listed in this blog. But we have worked with the care home sector to help them make the most of these services. And we are sure that they could help other care homes, too – so we hope you found this blog valuable.

  • Written by Tim Scott

Tim is AdEPT’s Chief Commercial Officer. He leads our work with partners and suppliers, and develops our products and services. In his personal life, he is closely involved in a local children’s football team and a local care home.

Written by Tim Scott

Chief Commercial Officer at AdEPT

Life beyond the pandemic: People-first technology for housing associations

A grandmother who lives alone needs her leaking tap repaired. She calls her landlord, which is a large housing association.

She gets through, and the call agent checks the woman’s records. He notices a history of similar issues reported at regular intervals for some time.

For a moment, the agent wonders to himself about the plumber’s past work. So he makes a note to investigate after the call.

But keen to help her right now, he arranges for another plumber visit, confirming the booking details to the woman. She is delighted.

Three days later, the plumber arrives at the woman’s flat to discover the leak has mysteriously stopped and the woman has been baking.

The plumber needs to go to his next job, but the woman insists he stays for a moment. So over tea and cake, she starts proudly telling the plumber about her 12 grandchildren, who she hasn’t seen for far too long. She shows him the drawings stuck to her fridge and talks him through every family photo on her bookshelf.

In a fortnight, the woman will call the housing association again to report yet another problem. Until then, she will spend her days looking longingly at reminders of her family, hoping she will soon speak to a human being.

This is not a fictional story. In today’s society, the impact of loneliness is significant and has increased as an effect of Covid lockdowns.

Social landlords face a huge challenge. Face-to-face contacts are expensive and unnecessary repair calls are a huge financial overhead. At the same time, many social landlords believe it important not only to provide housing but also look after the welfare of their customers, too.

So why am I – an independent ICT consultant – and AdEPT talking about it?

Because for housing associations, it’s one of many unique challenges that have been compounded by, or emerged due to the pandemic. And technology has a critical role in helping address all of them. 

This blog takes a closer look at this very topic.

Working from home

Before we expand on the topic of loneliness, let’s consider the most obvious shift of all: working from home.

As with organisations of all shapes and sizes, March 2020 saw housing association employees decamp from offices and onto home working.

For me, strangely, this switch feels like it happened both yesterday and a million years ago. For housing associations, having staff work from home on this scale has posed some new and significant technology problems.  Challenges have included communications with customers – significant numbers of interactions have traditionally been face-to-face. There has also been significant disruption to repairs, safety checks, and void processing. Visits necessary to investigate ASB cases have been difficult. And with many customers’ work patterns disrupted, income has often been erratic whilst working in an environment where evictions have not been permitted.

First and foremost – and like all businesses – housing associations have found themselves having to find the bandwidth in their infrastructure to keep all of their basic customer-facing and property maintenance services functioning.

This has seen a demand for laptops and suitable furniture for homeworking – and for many, has presented challenges to provide secure remote connections. Providing telephone, and in particular contact centre services has often presented significant challenges. Alongside this, many working practices have had to change to remove the use of paper and support a geographically dispersed home workforce.

None of these areas are unique to housing associations – both have affected other many sectors. But, combine them with the duty of care that many housing associations see as an obligation to their tenants – and the increasing demand from those tenants as they spend more time than ever in their homes – and we’ve seen a perfect storm form before our eyes, affecting every facet of these organisations.

One other big factor here is the speed in which the changes happened. Tectonic plates shifted overnight. There was a clear distinction between those that were prepared for these changes and those that were not. And as I’ve continued to work with housing associations throughout the whole period, I’ve realised that although the changes have been enormous, they are in fact an acceleration of trends I’ve seen over recent years.

AI and chatbots

Using AI in customer service is one such trend that has been on the cards for housing associations for some time. We’ve already seen widespread adoption of chatbots in the private sector – and they tend to get mixed reviews.

For housing associations, using chatbots throws up some unique hurdles related to the demographics of social housing. Namely, that this sector tends to serve a greater proportion of older, vulnerable and disadvantaged people than in other sectors.

Take, for example, age. According to government statistics for 2016 to 2018, 17 per cent – or 3.9 million – of England households lived in social housing. Of those households, the biggest age group was those aged between 55 and 64.

Now consider the leaning towards chatbots by age group. Although it’s wrong to stereotype older people as more reluctant about technology than their younger counterparts, it does appear that older people are particularly unenthusiastic for chatbots, at least according to this GenPact / YouGov survey of 5,170 people.

Consequently, housing associations that are looking to use chatbots – and many are, in the wake of the pandemic – must tread carefully when rolling them out.

One housing association I am working with is doing precisely that. It’s looked at the common, repetitive tasks that can be automated – for example, booking a plumber – and now offers a chatbot to help with such enquiries.

In turn, this has allowed the organisation to reassign customer service staff to more complex tasks – and during the pandemic, that includes more regular outbound calls to isolated and vulnerable people.

In going through this process, this housing association found, first-hand, what we often see in other projects that involve unfamiliar technology: the more people use it, the more people get used to it – and even come to appreciate the rationale.

But, as I’ve seen over decades of working with this sector, whenever you increase capacity, you increase demand. Let’s return to our first story for a moment.

Video conferencing and collaboration

Many housing associations have been traditionally reticent to adopt video conferencing.  This, particularly for those who cover wide geographic areas, has meant a huge cost in travel expenses and time for both staff and board members.

We now live in an age of Zoom and Teams calls. The social housing sector is no different. With that, I’ve seen many organisations making the switch to Microsoft 365 – and they’ve soon realised that by using Teams, it makes sense to integrate it with Microsoft’s related products. This in turn is promoting greater use of other elements of the 365 suite such as SharePoint.

Business intelligence

Recent trends show that there is an ever-increasing demand for artificial intelligence to interpret the vast and rich sources of data which are typically held by housing associations.

This has included adoption of business intelligence and PowerApp tools available from within many housing associations’ Office 365 subscriptions. These are now being used to provide customer insights to allow better planning particularly around lettings, repairs and rents.

These tools can create dashboards which simply and visually highlight the use of resources and customer trends, allowing housing associations to have better insights about demographics and customer demand. This in turn allows a more proactive service to be delivered to customers whilst ensuring an efficient use of valuable budgets. For example, as mentioned at the start of this blog, it can help identify where demand is being created and can allow planning around more appropriate and cost-efficient remedies. 

Proactive response to customers benefits the customer as well as the housing association, as often simple solutions can be found – let’s not forget that technology exists to serve humans, not the other way round.

This is just one example of where using technology to provide real business intelligence can make a difference within, and beyond a housing association. It’s also ties into the many and complex regulations that this sector.

Tougher legislation ahead

In November last year, the government published its long-awaited social housing white paper. While some argued that the paper did not properly address the issue of housing supply, it did say “We will establish a new arm of the Regulator of Social Housing to proactively regulate on consumer standards including quality of homes, repairs, meaningful engagement with tenants and complaints handling”.

In short, this points to tougher regulations for the sector – and any housing association technology partner that’s worth their salt must be fully on board with these regulations.

For me and AdEPT, it’s about seeing the big picture and the seemingly little details – and being able to comply with rules from every direction.

For example, housing associations are obliged to make paying rent as easy as possible, including taking payments over the phone. And they must do so to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Prior to the pandemic, this was well established. But in the age of home working, processing such transactions over home networks carries greater risk of non-compliance.

Consequently, we at AdEPT helped housing associations take steps to improve their data security, ensuring that they comply with all payment regulations.

There’s a reason why we’re Stage 2 compliant with the Health & Social Care Network (HSCN) and work with more than 30 NHS Trusts – it’s because we know the regulations inside out – and we know how they translate to technology.

As the pandemic continues – and the true impact of the government’s whitepaper emerges – it’s clear that there are many areas where technology must step up to the plate.

For housing associations, this can only happen with a deep understanding of the complex regulations involved – and foresight to see what’s ahead.

Flexible working

With the mass vaccination programme now well underway, there is some hope on the horizon. But will we return to our old ways of working? I doubt it. And for housing associations, this offers some food for thought.

One lesson of the pandemic is that we perhaps do not need to follow the 9-to-5 routines of old. Perhaps we need to rethink our long-held view that being tied to a desk, at set hours, is not always the best option. And this may be especially beneficial for housing associations.

Prior to the pandemic, many housing associations remained traditional office-based organisations. The pandemic has led to a more pragmatic approach with appropriately socially-distanced visits to estates and properties.

It has also led to a move away from a rigid 9-5 office hours mentality – and home working has meant that housing officers have been able to adjust their work-life balance, in turn making them more available to customers at more appropriate times such as early evenings and weekends.

It has also seen a move to communications systems appropriate to customers’ needs. For example, in many areas WhatsApp has become a common way in which housing officers keep in touch with their customers.

One housing officer’s experience was particularly telling. She explained to me that prior to lockdown, her Monday-to-Friday hours meant she would visit homes to find people at work, wasting her time. She told me she would complete more home visits in a few hours on a Saturday morning than she would through all five weekdays.

Now, through the lockdown and home working, she’s seen a more flexible mindset emerge. Staff have been more willing to spend a few hours in the evening helping tenants – when tenants are available – if it allows them time in the day to be with their children. And home working affords that flexibility.

This one example illustrates the adage that necessity is the mother of invention – and I believe it heralds a permanent change in the housing association sector towards more flexible working. And technology must follow suit.

Legacy systems

It is worth mentioning one long-running technology challenge affecting the sector – that of the housing management systems used by the majority of housing associations.

Typically, these applications were developed decades ago for ICL mainframes, but they now struggle to work with the modern software used and valued by the sector, often meaning that staff must re-key the same information in multiple systems.

So far, I’ve not seen any software developers offer any real solutions to this problem. And so, I see a big opportunity here and hope that innovation comes soon.

I say this because it’s a critical point to address when working with housing associations – and we already factor this into our work with existing clients.

How we can help you

There are lots of ways we can help your organisation to use technology to better support your tenants now in lockdown, and tomorrow in life beyond the pandemic. Below are some of the areas where we already help housing associations, the public and third sectors:

・AI
・Business intelligence
・Data and cyber security
・Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
・Internet of Things
・Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Dynamics
・Microsoft Teams and collaboration tools
・Networking
・Private / public / hybrid cloud
・VoIP and telephony
・WAN and SD-Wan

It may be that you’re already aware of these technologies, or do not know exactly what you need. Instead, as with most technology projects, you have a problem and want help finding a solution, irrespective of what that might entail. Either way, it all starts with a conversation – get in touch today through the contact details below.

People first, technology second

For a blog from a technology company, I’ve said very little about technology itself! And that’s because the housing association sector is inherently focused on people.

Returning to the story of woman at the beginning of this blog, there are clear ways that technology can help with the unique challenges this sector faces at this time and beyond.

Like all good technology solutions, they start and end with people. Here are our details – let’s start the problem solving with a conversation today…

  • Phil Riley is an independent ICT infrastructure and network consultant for housing associations. He has worked with this sector for more than 40 years – and at AdEPT, he is joined by Garry Drinkwater and Dean Barnes, who also specialise in supporting housing associations.

    You can get in touch with Phil, Garry and Dean on:

    0333 4002490
    enquiries@adept.co.uk

Written by Phil Riley

S.Tel Consultants Ltd

In 2021, small businesses need bigger ways to join the dots

In 2021, small businesses need bigger ways to join the dots

In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about Big Data, and how it promises so much for businesses.

This excitement makes sense – after all, thanks to our connected world and the Internet of Things, we can use technology to give us all kinds of insights into our products and customers.

But not every company wants entirely new datasets to handle and analyse.

In our experience, a lot of companies just want better, smarter ways to manage their existing data and information. And sometimes, that can translate to one simple need: “I just want my systems to talk to each other.”

It’s for this reason that we’d like to introduce you to Sage 200.

But first, a little background.

The roots of Sage 200

Sage is a real British success story. Back in the early ‘80s, Sage’s founders wanted to automate accounting processes, so they worked with a team of Newcastle University students to develop the original software. And staying true to its roots, Sage still has an office in Newcastle. But it also now has 7.5 million business customers across the globe, with 800,000 of them in the UK and Ireland, including more than one third of the FTSE 100.

One of the Sage’s most popular products with small businesses is Sage 50. But a small SME can soon become a medium SME – and when it does, software requirements often change.
You may identify this in your own business. Perhaps you’ve used software for word processing and spreadsheets, and have reached a point when you need to upgrade your licence for more features.

Similarly, while Sage 50 is an excellent product for accounting in smaller businesses, it does have its limitations if your business grows beyond a certain point. And that’s where Sage 200 comes in…

The basics of Sage 200

From the ground up, Sage 200 is built for bigger businesses – the medium enterprises that fall into the SME category. According to Sage, it can handle more than 100,000 annual transactions and is designed for businesses with multiple cost centres, departments and locations – and for firms that need warehouse inventory management.

The software is available in a number of deployments. It can run in the cloud, or it can be installed on a server at your business – the ‘on-premise’ version. Your choice depends very much on the specific needs and nature of your business.

Much more than accounting

Businesses move from Sage 50 to Sage 200 when they grow and see their processes and needs becoming more complex. Nonetheless, many companies still associate Sage software with accounting and finance. After all, it’s accounting where Sage started – and decades on, it still tends to be associated with those business functions.

But one of the most valuable aspects of Sage 200 is that it goes beyond accounting and finance. It is modular, meaning you can add in modules for everything from stock control to customer relationships, using the CRM module. Here’s a full list of the modules available:

• Base platform (sold as a single user suite):
・Financial Ledgers (Sales, Purchase and Nominal Ledgers)
・Cash Book
・CRM
・Business Intelligence
・Sage Services

• Commercial modules:
・Stock Control
・Purchase Order Processing
・Sales Order Processing
・Price Book

• Additional modules:
・Project Accounting
・Bill of Materials
・Manufacturing

Another benefit of this modular setup is the agility it gives you for your business and its future. If you’ve outgrown Sage 50, you may be ready for Sage 200 – but you may not yet want to add additional modules, preferring to work on an ‘as and when’ basis. Sage 200 gives you this flexibility from day one, allowing you to be confident that you’ve chosen a system that can genuinely grow with your business.

The customisation doesn’t stop there.

Integrated services and adapting to the unique ways you work

There are more ways you can adapt and enhance Sage 200 to better suit your business. One option is to consider integrations with third-party software. We work with a number of Sage-accredited partners that can help with everything from document management to linking your finance functions with your website.

For example, one of our partners offers software that automatically converts invoices received as an email attachment into a Sage 200 entry. And another partner offers software that can connect your Sage 200 software to eCommerce platforms such as Shopify, Woocommerce and Magento.

Another route for customisation is to consider how the modules are built from the outset. I’m sure your business has its own unique ways of working. We certainly do. And so, one of the most valuable benefits of Sage 200 is that the modules can be customised at a very granular level to match your processes – a feature that is highly valued by existing customers, making Sage 200 stand out from similar products.

Imagine you have a particular, routine way of working on a regular task that you’d rather not change to accommodate new software. With Sage 200, the modules can be adjusted to suit your processes, which I’ll explain more below.

In doing all these things – allowing you to integrate different business functions in a way that suits you, your colleagues and your organisation – Sage 200 joins all the dots.

When I say this, I think back to my early days involved with Sage 200 (then known as Sage Sovereign) and can remember visiting many companies that ran manual ledgers and were reluctant to move to a software platform.

Fast forward six months and I would revisit them to see how they were going. When I did, I couldn’t help but notice their ledgers sat on the top shelf gathering dust, and people asking “why we didn’t install this software before?”.

Fast forward again to these days, and very often it’s a similar story visiting companies that are growing, having started with a number of software systems that whilst helped the business grow, are now actually holding them back – systems that simply don’t join the dots and suit employees’ working routines.

Having said that, a lot of our working routines have been completely shaken by the pandemic – and there are many ways Sage 200 can help with this.

Why now?

If growth feels a little out of reach right now, but you’re still interested in getting your business systems to work better with your accounting functions, then it might be worth considering the changes we’ve all experienced over the past year.

Knowing that customers have no choice but to shop online, many businesses have turned to ecommerce to keep trading. That might be for selling physical products, or for delivering everything from fajitas to flowers. It might even be for selling services, such as consulting, recruitment, and counselling – if it involves an online platform to promote and secure such work, then it’s ecommerce.

Certainly, stats for the retail sector bear out this change in direction. According to leading consultancy IMRG Capgemini, November 2020 saw a 39 per cent increase in year-on-year ecommerce sales.

It’s a monumental shift that may be irreversible – and if so, we’re facing a future where ecommerce is the norm and other forms of shopping are the exception.

So where does that leave your business – and how does it relate to Sage 200?

Here’s where I share a more recent anecdote, about a customer’s experience of the pandemic.

Wanting to do all they could to weather the storm, this customer decided to move into ecommerce. And to begin with, it all went well – it even started to make up the shortfall in physical sales. But, as time passed, it became apparent that the website wasn’t talking to the stock system, which in turn wasn’t talking to the financial system.

And so, customers were unknowingly ordering out-of-stock items; the warehouse team struggled to manage inventory, and accounting struggled to track all the associated financials. Consequently, a sensible and well-intentioned move to ecommerce brought its own headaches.

If this sounds familiar – or your own business is looking to launch an online store, then this is precisely the time to think long and hard about how your systems talk to each other – and ultimately lead right back to your financials.

It’s also why we advise all customers looking to move to Sage 200 to invest time at the outset in understanding how your different business functions work together, so Sage 200 can be built to match. Doing so will mean it’s right for everyone from day one, and ready for future changes and growth.

Why AdEPT?

As I’ve mentioned, one of the most important parts of setting up Sage 200 is getting under the skin of your business. In the initial stages, this means we’ll spend time with you and your colleagues to understand your priorities, how you work and the other things that makes your organisation tick.

This is no small undertaking. But at AdEPT, we take the view that if you ‘fail to plan, then you plan to fail’. In other words, we want to get it right for you from the start so it’s right for the future. Not all companies have this ethos.

Beyond the initial setup, there are other unique ways we at AdEPT can help you.

We have in-house Sage developers, so we can add or adapt modules for you as your business changes or grows.

It all stems from our problem-solving culture. So, while in nearly all cases we’ll address issues first time round, we’ll also put our hands up when we don’t know something – but do all we can to find the answer and solve the problem, rather than pass you off with an abrupt ‘no, it’s impossible to do that’. Again, not all companies are like this.

Finally, we’re not the sort of company that completes a project and says goodbye. Our support and training staff focus on being approachable, with a can-do attitude. And as my anecdotes suggest, we value long-term relationships with our customers.

It’s for these reasons that we’re an accredited Sage Support partner.

Where next

If any of the points in this blog resonate with you and you’re interested in Sage 200, then it’s time to talk.

You may now be wondering how much Sage 200 costs and how long does it take to set up. Unfortunately, those questions depend very much on a long list of variables: the size and nature of your business; the size of your workforce; which modules you’re interested in; how you’d like them adapted to suit your business… the list goes on.

Consequently, as much as I’d love to give you a fixed price and an idea of turnaround, it’s impossible to do so without listening and learning from you. And that leads me onto my conclusion.

Let’s talk today

Having worked with Sage products for decades, I hope to have a wealth of experience about how its products, including Sage 200, can help your business.

But more than talking about how we can help you, I’d like to learn as much as I can about your business and your needs. It’s how I’ve been fortunate enough to develop long-standing relationships with clients throughout my career.

So if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You’ll find my contact details below.

• Mike Sheard is our Sage 200 Sales Consultant. You can find out more and connect with him here on LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can get in touch with him through our website, here.

Written by Mike Sheard

Sage Consultant

Everything you need to know about government funding to help your business recover from the pandemic

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.”

Beyond VoIP

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.”

Practical tips

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.”

Final words

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:

1. Visit https://www.lepnetwork.net/ and find your local LEP.

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.

Written by Sami Malik

Marketing Campaigns Manager

Demystifying government grants for Covid-19 recovery: Blueberry and AdEPT unite to share their experiences and advice for SMEs

13 January 2021

 

In the wake of government announcing a new round of emergency funding for businesses, AdEPT Technology Group shares the story of one telemarketing company that used a government grant to fund technology that helped it stay resilient through the pandemic.

SMEs looking to bounce back from the pandemic may find some inspiration in the experiences of Blueberry, a telemarketing company that successfully applied for a grant and used the funds for a new telephony system that kept it fully functional through the past six months.

The Leeds-based firm specialises in helping businesses grow – and as such, has a long history of advising companies about business grants, having used such financial support to buy and set up an Avaya voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) system, with the help of AdEPT.

“I honestly don’t think we’d have got through the last six months without the VoIP system in place,” said Blueberry director Faresh Maisuria, who made the application in 2017, focusing on business resilience and growth in his submission.

Faresh applied for a Digital Growth Voucher from Leeds’ Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), was successful, and it was during the pandemic, in a much-welcome good news story, that Blueberry saw the fruits of his labour.

“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 with an older analogue system that was tied to our office, the pandemic and lockdown could have threatened our very existence.”

In making the application and rolling out the new telephone system, Faresh sought the advice and services of AdEPT, whose telecoms expertise and foresight helped ensure the system brought both immediate and long-term benefits. Notably, AdEPT is a vendor agnostic company, but in this instance, an Avaya IP Office system was right for Blueberry – and being an Avaya Diamond Partner, AdEPT ensured Faresh and his colleagues were comfortable and confident about every last detail of the new system.

“With VoIP, we were able to continue business as usual – or as close to it as possible,” explained Faresh.

“By using it, our telemarketing staff could continue their normal roles from home, and the tools and analytics we use to manage our work could continue as usual.

“For example, we record our calls for training purposes – and with VoIP, we could still do this even though our staff were working from home.”

Now, as the government continues to offer financial support to businesses affected by the pandemic, Blueberry and AdEPT are on a mission to help other businesses that might find the application process intimidating or confusing. And although it was a telephone system that brought the two companies together, both Blueberry and AdEPT are keen to point out that the funding schemes are not limited to technology.

“The Business Support Service here in Leeds offers funding for equipment and machinery, for recruiting and employing apprentices, for trading overseas and for help with energy bills,” said Faresh. “Many of these things could be very useful to businesses looking to bounce back after the pandemic.

“What’s interesting about Blueberry is that helping businesses grow 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,” he said.

“So through that experience, we’ve come to realise that there’s an understandable perception that applying for grants is a long-winded process that takes a long time, and involves lots of complicated forms.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth,” he added. “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 to help keep it ticking over – then you’re well on the way to a successful application.”

The experiences of Blueberry and Faresh form part of AdEPT’s new blog about government grants. But for those businesses looking to apply for funding right now, Faresh has some quick-win pointers…

1. Focus your attention on your Local Enterprise Partnership. There are other bodies out there, but if you’re new to the process of applying for government funding, this is a good place to start.

2. Visit https://www.lepnetwork.net/ and find your local LEP.

3. Study the information on your local LEP website.


4. Don’t be bamboozled by the different names of the schemes. The principle behind all of them is largely the same.

5. Sign up for all the newsletters available. And make sure those emailed newsletters don’t disappear into your junk box.

6. Register your interest for funding schemes as soon as they are announced.


7. When it comes to making your application, make sure you emphasise how the funding could help your business grow and benefit the local economy.


8. If you are unsure about any of this, then get in touch with the LEP business managers – or indeed Faresh himself.

• On 5 January 2021, the government announced that it 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.

ENDS: 853 WORDS

 

For a full briefing please contact:

AdEPT Technology Group Plc

 

About AdEPT Technology Group plc:

AdEPT Technology Group plc is one of the UK’s leading independent providers of managed services for IT, unified communications, connectivity and voice solutions. AdEPT’s tailored services are used by thousands of customers across the UK and are brought together through the strategic relationships with tier-1 suppliers such as Openreach, BT Wholesale, Virgin Media, Avaya, Microsoft, Dell and Apple.

AdEPT is quoted on AIM, operated by the London Stock Exchange (Ticker: ADT). For further information please visit: www.adept.co.uk

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT