Everything you need to know about digital education platforms for schools

This is one of our longer blogs – lots to cover. For a quick summary, click here.

When it comes to technology and Covid-19, discussion often focuses on the colossal changes that have been forced, at breakneck speed, on organisations.

You’ll have seen the stream of TV adverts featuring people on video calls, mirroring our own new ways of connecting in a disconnected world. You’ve no doubt encountered the various guides on how to make the best of remote working. And you’ve probably heard businesses talking about the radical steps they’re taking to protect their staff and customers.

In many cases, the dialogue unfolds in a way that suggests change is a new thing. But we all know that this is not the case.

That’s not to say the changes we’re all making aren’t profound. But rather, for many organisations, the pandemic has accelerated shifts that were already on the cards.

The education sector is a powerful example of this. Even though coronavirus is the most unwelcome of catalysts for change – and follows years of digital transformation in this sector – these organisations have responded amazingly.

Throughout the pandemic, our work for many schools – and organisations such as LGfL – has once again shown us that the desire to give every child the best opportunity to learn trumps every technical challenge posed by Covid-19. And despite the fact that those challenges have emerged with no notice and after years of budget restrictions.

This is why it’s worth explaining one of the most notable developments in remote education – the digital education platform (DEP). And why we’re encouraging you – an education professional – to take full advantage of the financial help that’s available for schools to adopt such a platform.

Before we explain how a DEP works, it’s worth noting that although these platforms have obvious benefits to schools during lockdown, they are extremely useful for life beyond the pandemic, when all students and staff return to school. Adopting one now – while Government funding is available to help with the setup – is an investment that will prove valuable for years to come.

What is a digital education platform?

As the name suggests, a digital education platform is an online ‘environment’ comprising applications and tools for the education sector. It’s used by teachers, administrative staff and students – and is designed specifically to accelerate digital teaching and learning for schools and is therefore a brilliant platform that can be used for remote teaching and learning.

A typical DEP contains tried-and-tested productivity software, such as those for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – as well as email and calendar tools. No doubt you’re already familiar with such software.

For DEPs, however, these standard applications are bolstered with software for education. This includes virtual whiteboards; planning, assignment, marking and collaboration tools; and software to run lessons by live video as well as in-class lessons.

In short, these platforms are a collection of software and tools that all work together for education organisations and professionals – and the communities they serve.

Extra help in the wake of the pandemic

Due to the pandemic and its impact on schools, the Department for Education (DfE) is offering your school financial help to roll out a DEP.

In its announcement, the DfE detailed a number of schemes available to schools, For digital education platforms, the DfE explained the funding is available for setting up one of two free-to-use platforms, with grants of between £1,500 to £2,000 per school.

Notably, we are one of only five accredited suppliers across the country to offer advice and services for both platforms, meaning we can give truly balanced guidance on which of the two platforms is the right choice for your school.

Meet Google’s G Suite for Education and Microsoft’s Office 365 Education

The two platforms that schools can get funding for are those from Google and Microsoft: G Suite for Education and Office 365 Education respectively.

In both cases, the platforms run from the Cloud, meaning you can use them through a standard internet browser – perfect for everything from a quick check of a document on a smartphone, or for a student to join a lesson on a desktop computer. And naturally, being browser-based and suitable for multiple devices, they are ideal for remote teaching and learning.

Here’s one example of how this might translate into the real world: As a teacher, you might plan your lesson and produce materials using the familiar productivity tools, as well as your school’s own curriculum materials stored conveniently in the same platform. Additionally, the Oak National Academy, in conjunction with the DfE, is providing 180 video lessons free each week, across a broad range of subjects, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.

You would then run the lesson either remotely or in-class, using a presentation format, live video, or a mix of both. Based on the lesson, you could then issue an assignment to students, who would complete it remotely and return it through the platform.

You could issue the assignment in question-and-answer format created with the platform’s questionnaire tools. Or you might ask the student to submit a freeform typed document – or even a handwritten response using a device stylus. For more practical subjects, the student could submit multimedia formats of their work – for instance, a photo of their drawing, or a video of a musical performance.

Once these assignments are completed and submitted, you could mark the work using the marking software. These are tools that go beyond marking up documents with comments – they’re intuitive and interactive, and can be set up so the data flows to a spreadsheet tracking the student’s progress.

Some important features for teaching and IT staff

Notably, both Google and Microsoft platforms can be set up to use existing user accounts. So there’s no need to create masses of new online ‘identities’ for staff or students. This is often music to the ears of the school’s IT team – and those of us who are averse to creating and managing yet another online account.

Another crucial point about the platforms is that they are impeccably secure – and designed from the ground up to address schools’ concerns around safeguarding and student welfare. For example, while students can collaborate on a project under the watchful eye of a teacher, they are restricted from communicating with each other in the ‘open field’. This prevents the platform from mutating into a form of social media, reducing the possibility of distraction or online bullying.

If you like to customise, both platforms offer a huge range of options.

From an administrative point of view, access levels can be adjusted at a granular level – meaning documents or features can be restricted to specific classes, or staff.

Another way you can tailor the platform to your school is through app marketplaces. Both Google and Microsoft platforms can be enhanced with a huge range of vetted add-ons and integrations. For staff, this might mean ways to streamline work, such as automation tools. And for students, this might mean new ways to foster innovation and creativity, such as software coding or video editing tools. With the direction and expertise of teachers, these platforms could bring out the next Steve Jobs or Steven Spielberg in our young people.

A final point worth repeating is that the platforms are free to use. In the case of the DfE programme, funding is available to help with setting up the chosen platform. As technology projects go, this is a typically straightforward process, but there’s a few things of note…

How to choose your digital education platform and what next

There are three key steps to setting up a DEP:

1. You must first decide which platform you will use – Google or Microsoft. As mentioned before, we’re one of only five accredited suppliers of both platforms, so we can objectively talk through your situation and help you make an informed decision.

2. Once you’ve chosen your platform, you must apply through the official channels. In this instance, you can do it here, through The Key. As you work though the form, you’ll be prompted to indicate your partner – we hope you will choose AdEPT Education (part of AdEPT Technology Group plc).

3. Your application will come through to us, and we’ll get in touch promptly to roll out the platform – and we can do it all remotely, without having to step foot in your school.

In terms of payment, the DfE will issue the funds to your organisation once completion of the work has been confirmed, which must in turn be paid to your chosen partner.

A note for multi-academy trusts (MATs)

Digital education platforms are particularly beneficial for multi-academy trusts. Using one can bring together the trust community, pool resources and give students the opportunity to learn from staff that they would not ordinarily encounter. To help you set up a DEP, your chosen partner can receive DfE funding of £1,000 per school, to a maximum of £10,000 per MAT.

More information

One of the best places we’ve seen for guidance on digital education platforms is from LGfL, through its digital cloud transformation programme. The Key is also a good place to – we suggest you do so here, on the main page – and for some inspiring stories of how digital education platforms work in the real world, see the case studies.

How we can help

Having rolled out these platforms with more than 900 schools already, we’re also on-hand for impartial guidance. You can call us on 01689 814700 or email enquiries@adept.co.uk. If you email, please use the subject line ‘DfE funding’ as given the circumstances, we are prioritising these enquiries.

Summary

  • Digital education platforms (DEPs) are a collection of software and tools designed for schools.
  • DEPs are extremely useful for online teaching and learning, meaning they can be of great help during the pandemic.
  • In the wake of coronavirus, the DfE is offering schools funding to set up one of the two main DEPs: Google’s G Suite for Education, or Microsoft’s Office 365. Both platforms are free to use.
  • The platforms offer benefits long beyond the pandemic. We’ve highlighted some of the key features above.
  • In order to secure DfE funding for a DEP, you must use an accredited supplier. AdEPT is one of only five companies in the country that is accredited to advise on, and set up both the Google and Microsoft platforms. We can help you make the decision with genuinely balanced guidance.
  • There are three main steps to setting up one of the DfE-approved platforms and getting funding. You must start here – but be sure to read this blog fully before you do.

__________________

  • This blog was written by David Bealing, Managing Director of AdEPT Education, and Clive Bryden, AdEPT Technology Group’s Chief Technology Officer.
  • Both David and Clive would love to connect with you on LinkedIn – you can find David here and Clive here.

Written by David Bealing

Managing Director, AdEPT Education

DfE Funding for Your Digital Education Platform with Google or Microsoft

Advice for schools on how to secure DfE funding for an Office 365 for Education or G Suite for Education platform

The DfE have recently announced additional funding to assist schools in moving to a remote learning solution during the Covid-19 lockdown. The benefits to your school of a secure Digital Education Platform will last long after the lockdown, and our advice at AdEPT Education would be to take the opportunity to enhance remote learning and collaboration now and for the future.

How can we help?

AdEPT have successfully completed over 600 schools’ migrations and are designated partners of the DfE scheme so we can help and guide your school’s transition.

What is a Digital Education Platform?

A Digital Education Platform is an ecosystem of tools enabling teachers, students, administrators, and parents to access the relevant resources they need for teaching and learning. By hosting it in the Cloud, your school’s users can access what they need, when they need it wherever they have an Internet connection without having to be on-site. Teachers can share information and set homework, students can access resources to assist in their learning, administrators can access critical data and information securely, and the whole school can communicate and share information better. Entire aspects of a school’s operation can be run digitally.

The benefits include increased efficiency and flexibility as well as a reduction in cost of maintenance of on-site hardware.

Where to get started?

AdEPT Education will be able to support you on every step of the Digital Education Platform journey, including consultancy on what is the best platform for your school (such as Office 365 or G Suite), migration from an existing platform and providing ongoing support and advice.

How it works:

  1. You need to visit either of the following portals
  2. Once in the portal, select AdEPT Technology Group Plc as your partner to help you set up your Digital Education Platform
  3. Schools in England without a developed Microsoft Office 365 or G Suite environment will be eligible for funding to help them implement a Digital Education Platform.

For more information, we’ve prepared a short guide, which you can read here:

Why AdEPT Education?

AdEPT Technology Group / Atomwide have 30 years’ experience in supporting schools across the UK in their IT and digital transformation. We are both a Microsoft Gold and Microsoft Authorised Education Partner and a Google Partner, now delivering over 600 school set ups enabling secure access to appropriate teaching and learning content for students both at school and home.

For schools using USO, AdEPT Education can also sync your existing USO usernames and passwords with Google or Microsoft to access G Suite and Office 365 services.

If you want a no obligation conversation about any of the above, we can walk you through it. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch and take advantage of this DfE scheme.

enquiries@adept.co.uk

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT

Coronavirus: technology helps, but it’s people that make the biggest difference

There is no way to sugarcoat it. The coronavirus pandemic is the most disruptive global crisis in decades. It will change every industry, every business, every employee and most of all, every human being on this planet.

So, what can I, a CEO of a technology company, say in a blog about this?

My natural leaning is, of course, to talk about technology. In many ways, it is glueing the world together right now. It is helping a lot of people continue their work, keeping the wheels of business turning.

But really, it’s about much, much more than that. So, I’d like to talk about the thing that is at the heart of all technology: People.

Helping teachers teach, and students learn

The most significant effect of the pandemic that we’ve seen on the people we serve relates to education. We help some 4,000 schools and education establishments with their technology – and right now, among all the other support that this community needs and deserves, is technology that helps teachers to continue teaching.

It is no small undertaking to meet that most critical of challenges.

After all, our youngsters need their developing brains stimulated and nurtured. They need routine. And even with the best will in the world, their parents and families cannot do this alone.

At the same time, our teachers want desperately to teach. They want to give their students as much as stability and continuity with their education as possible.

I know this, because not only am I a parent myself but because AdEPT has worked with the education community for a long time. And so, I’m proud and honoured to say we’re playing our part. It’s where our own people have come to the fore.

For example, working with organisations such as the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) and Virgin Media Business, we’ve been able to massively strengthen Freedom2Roam. This service allows school staff to remotely connect to school servers from their own devices and locations. From there, staff can access essential files and information – such as lesson planning documents, marking assessments and management reports.

In the wake of the pandemic and school closures, we’ve seen such a huge demand for the Freedom2Roam service that we have made it a top priority, putting the best brains from our back-end infrastructure and our front-end UX and UI teams onto this service.

We’ve expedited our normal, ongoing work; boosted its capacity to meet the 1,047 per cent increase in demand we’ve seen; and introduced a browser-based interface to make the service easier and quicker to use. Because – perhaps more than ever – no teacher or education professional wants to spend time downloading, installing and figuring out new software.

Of course, Freedom2Roam is only one tool to help – and it’s no substitute for face-to-face classroom time – but it is helping teachers get on with their job. One of them recently described it as a ‘godsend’. It is a real privilege to hear such praise.

I should also say a big thank you here to our staff here for working with the experts at LGfL to help develop guidance for schools around safeguarding. Through this work, we’ve contributed to official government guidance available here, under the ‘Children and online safety away from school and college’ heading.

Helping community healthcare communicate

Another area of work we’ve been doing in response to the pandemic pertains to public healthcare. I wish I could say here how we have somehow swapped our engineers’ day jobs for making testing kits, personal protective equipment for our fantastic NHS, or ventilators for those suffering from coronavirus.

I can’t say this. We are not specialists in any of those things. But we do specialise in helping public health organisations use technology to communicate. It is a less obvious and less pivotal aspect of the response to the pandemic, but still an important one.

One example of this is a recent project by our Wakefield team who work with a local GP practice. Like all primary care organisations right now, the practice needed to tackle a seemingly-impossible, threefold, challenge: respond to a surge in calls from concerned patients, maintain everyday community healthcare, but at the same time protect staff from exposure to coronavirus. 

Among our considerations was the sense that if primary care organisations like this cannot continue working, then there would be even more pressure on our NHS. So, for this practice, our Wakefield team set up a cloud-hosted soft phone system meaning staff could use their own mobile phones to answer practice calls while working from home.

Through this phone system, patients still dial the same number and get the service they are familiar with – a reassuring kind of continuity that is especially important right now. From the practice’s viewpoint, calls are recorded in the usual way, the setup adheres to NHS technology and data protection rules – and most importantly, staff can protect their own health and in turn keep community healthcare running.

Again, I am immensely proud of our team to have helped this practice, because they have played their part in protecting the welfare of health professionals, and ultimately, the public.

Adapting to increasing and changing demand

Away from public sector organisations, we’ve seen an enormous increase in demand from commercial businesses and some fundamental changes in the nature of those demands. One indicator of this is the 85 per cent increase in calls to our general helpdesk.

One way we’re responding is to use our own remote access and diagnostic technology to resolve queries. But such tools are the tip of the iceberg: in truth, the real difference to our clients is our people. They have genuinely shone – working longer hours and doing things that are over and above their day jobs.

For example, we’ve moved staff who would ordinarily be working in sales – or visiting sites to install equipment – into helpdesk roles. Not only does this reflect our culture of rolling up sleeves and getting stuck in, but it is also a real testament to having a workforce with breadth and depth of technical knowledge.

We’ve seen clients requesting products and services for temporary periods. Under normal circumstances, we’d work to long-term contracts, but this is not the time for red tape. For instance, a customer asked for extra phone lines for a short period and we’ve pulled together to solve this unique challenge.

Another sign of the times is the rise we’ve seen in orders of laptops. And here’s where I must thank our suppliers – it’s because of them that we’ve been able to honour every order. And I must thank our customers too – particularly the one who requested toilet paper, paracetamol and a few G&Ts with his laptop order. We very much value this humility and humour during this difficult time.

Working together

There are other, additional steps we are taking in light of the pandemic.

At the risk of being pests, we’re overcommunicating with our clients. In many ways, because we help organisations in technology, we get to see those organisations’ inner workings. We’re seeing the challenges and the repercussions of the pandemic first hand, every day. So, that means when we reassure our clients and say ‘we understand, we’re in your corner’ and ‘we’re available to help’, we’re saying it because we genuinely empathise.

When it comes to our staff, we keep in mind that, as technology specialists, we’re classified by the government as key workers – rather like the fourth utility. So, we’re not going to do anything at all that compromises the health and safety of our workforce.

Of course, we’re doing all of this with the incredible help of our partners. These are businesses and organisations like the LGfL and Virgin Media Business, which are facing and meeting demands on them from left, right and centre. There’s Gamma, whose staff are doing a lot of fancy footwork to increase voice capacity for our clients. And there’s Avaya, which is doing brilliant work to support our clients in remote-access technology.

Protecting people

There is little I can say to mitigate the challenges we’re facing now and will continue to face. Right now, it’s all hands to the deck and we’re busy – and in some ways, working from home is a novelty. But there may be a point where loneliness kicks in. I say that from experience as a regular home worker. So, among my responsibilities is keeping company morale buoyant.

There are a million articles out there about best practices for working from home. So, I’ll only offer a few tips.

Be flexible and adaptable. Be prepared to get involved in activities that are generally not part of your job role. Of course, those tasks should not be an unreasonable diversion from your usual work, but adopting a can-do attitude helps your own self-preservation and the spirit of your colleagues.

Overcommunicate. As mentioned above, we’re already doing this with clients, but it’s equally important to do that with colleagues. Calling or messaging a teammate to share a joke might not feel as spontaneous or natural as banter across office desks, but it matters. It’s ok to laugh among all of this.

Maintain the regular cadence of business. I’m still having my regular Monday review meeting. And my Friday sales meeting. And I’m still meeting investors. Even if all those meetings are virtual and I’m getting tired of seeing my head on the screen.

Thank your teams. You really can’t thank colleagues enough at this time. I hope I’ve highlighted the fantastic work of my colleagues in this blog, but in case it isn’t clear: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of all, take the government instructions seriously and follow them to the letter. At the heart of all of this is our collective responsibility to save people’s lives. There is no other responsibility to take more seriously. After all, it’s people that matter before everything else.

Written by Phil Race

CEO - AdEPT Technology Group

AdEPT Communications Secure Openreach Flexibility During Covid-19 Pandemic

Richard Burbage, Managing Director for AdEPT Communications discusses how AdEPT worked to get industry consensus on how to help customers through Covid-19

None of us could foresee the global pandemic (Covid-19)  in advance and the same is true as to just how much it would affect UK businesses and specifically AdEPT customers. However, there were some obvious areas where we knew customers would ask for our help. One of these is the ability to temporarily suspend some services and to restart them when needed, in support of the Government ‘mothball’ strategy.

On our own this would have been difficult to achieve, and so we knew we needed to put pressure on our Wholesale Partners, and specifically Openreach (part of BT) who look after the fibres, wires and cables that connect the majority of the county.

In early April the AdEPT Chairman, Ian Fishwick, reached out to a number of other Communication Providers to achieve a consensus as to what assistance our industry would require from Openreach to deliver tangible help for our customers during these times. This initiative resulted in a request for support signed by the majority of Communications Providers in the market and was submitted to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden, as well as to the head of Openreach in the UK.

Within days AdEPT had successfully secured the help we were looking for directly from Openreach.  The team at AdEPT are now in the process of reviewing the small print and we will then communicate this to all positively impacted customers.

We knew very early on what would be asked of us and we knew how essential it would be to go to the very top to secure such unprecedented support. Our Chairman’s approach with other Communication Providers to get an industry-wide consensus was essential to send a united message to the UK Government and to Openreach. The resultant positive response by Openreach will make a huge difference to AdEPT customers who need the help the most. Yes, there is some small print which means it doesn’t apply to everybody, but by and large, it’s a big win for AdEPT, the industry at large and our customers, and is further evidence of how we’re taking our role as the 4th Utility service seriously.

Written by Richard Burbage

Divisional Managing Director, Communications

How we’re financially weathering the storm of Covid-19

In times of crisis, one of the most important steps any company can take is to provide clear and candid communications. So, one thing I can offer you – whether you’re a client, a colleague or an investor – is all of that in spades, and for this blog – clarity on our financial position.

I’ll start by setting the scene.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic our role as a ‘fourth utility’ – covering telecoms, data and IT – has come to the fore. If you question the voracity of this statement just ask your family whether they’d rather you keep the heating on or the broadband connection with IT attached.

Since Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement on the 23rd March we’ve seen significant growth in demand for many of our services – from organisations of all sizes and industries, across both the public and private sector. As a clear example of how the team at AdEPT has risen to the challenge we’ve managed to help some 200,000 teachers and 900,000 students continue education through remote technology.

Of course, we would prefer for this demand to be the result of happier circumstances. Nevertheless, we are hugely grateful to everybody who continues to choose and trust us to keep their technology running through this crisis, and I am personally immensely grateful to the awesome team at AdEPT who have truly stepped up.

Behind the scenes, there’s much going on here to ensure we ride out this storm. Here’s a closer look.

The financial picture as it stands

We have a number of financial advantages worth highlighting.

The first core strength is our balanced client base. About 45 per cent of our turnover comes from public sector clients, including thousands of schools, the Cabinet Office, and the NHS. Clearly, at this time, such organisations have pressing technology and connectivity needs. But beyond the pandemic, the public sector’s digital transformation will continue – and perhaps become even more fast paced. During the election of 2019, ‘Digital Britain’ was a major manifesto commitment – and has been brought into stark relief over recent days.

As such, AdEPT and our partners have an invaluable role to play right now, and long into the future. Crucially, dealing with ‘government backed’ organisations means a secure flow of cash which is so important in uncertain times.

Our second core strength relates to the nature of our revenue. The majority of our income results from long-running and repeat contracts. Building this dependable revenue stream has been a core mantra of AdEPT for many years, a strategy that is bearing fruit for both our clients and us as a business during these challenging times.

Certainly, we have been more flexible than ever in light of the pandemic, helping our clients with short-term options, but we are able to be nimble and adaptive because of the bedrock of long-term visible cash flow.

Our third financial strength relates to a point I mentioned earlier: IT, communications and networking collectively being the ‘fourth utility’. Therefore, as a provider of these products and services, we play a critical role in the connectivity and communications of organisations. And – at the risk of stating the obvious – this means our services are not just a desirable, they’re essential. It’s therefore no surprise that our staff have been classified as key workers.

A fourth strength, though not strictly financial, lies in our people. As clichéd as this sounds, our people are our biggest asset. We’ve always nurtured – and been proud of – the breadth and depth of our people’s knowledge and their continued can-do attitude. However, this has become all the more striking in the face of the pandemic.

They say that culture is what happens in a business when you are not present in the office. With AdEPT now scattered across over 300 ‘offices’ – bedrooms, kitchens, studies and dining rooms – our positive culture is being demonstrated time and again. It is one of the main reasons why I know we will weather this storm. You can read more about how our people have been stepping up to the plate here.

These points are by no means an exhaustive list, but they do stand out in the wake of the pandemic. But what about our financial picture before the crisis, and beyond?

A look back

To look beyond our obvious financial strengths, it’s worth casting your mind back for a moment. As you may be aware, over the past few years we have been acquiring businesses to enhance and complement our portfolio of services.

For instance, in 2017, we acquired Our IT Department, incorporating this business into our group IT support services team. Also, that year, we acquired Atomwide, establishing a substantial presence in the education sector.

More recently, in 2018, we acquired Shift F7, growing our position as an IT provider. And last year, we acquired ACS, broadening our geographic reach and depth of capability in the education sector.

All of these acquisitions reflect our long-term strategic goal: to respond to the irrevocable blurring of the boundaries between telecoms, data and IT.

And so, in a relatively short time, we’ve become a leading independent provider of managed services for IT, unified communications, connectivity, voice and cloud services. Or, to put it more simply, a one-stop shop for all things ICT. This puts us on a strong footing for the future.

Looking ahead

You’ll have seen above some of our financial strengths that put us in good stead at this challenging time. But one thing worth mentioning here is that, prior to the pandemic taking hold – in February 2020 – we raised £4.25m in a share placing. Our plan at the time was to utilise these funds for more acquisitive activities, but given the situation we all find ourselves in, we have chosen the most sensible option – to conserve this cash as a buffer in the coming months.

In a clear demonstration that we are all in this together we have also cancelled the payment of dividends – we’ll review this decision later in the year, with a further update as part of announcements alongside our final results planned for July.

And, as our chief financial officer John Swaite tells Proactive Investors in this video, we have extensively stress-tested our finances to ensure we are as prepared as possible.

We’ve modelled various scenarios that have a low, medium and high impact on our business, looking at orders, lead times, delays to payments and business failures. In these scenarios, we will remain a cash-generative, profitable business.

Confident, but not complacent

Every organisation and every person is being shaken up by the coronavirus pandemic. We are fortunate that we have several levers at our disposal and structural strengths – all benefits of our strategy, our scale and our depth of expertise. However now is not a time to be complacent, and certainly we shall not be.

Written by Phil Race

CEO - AdEPT Technology Group

Helping Businesses Survive Covid-19

Founder and Chairman of AdEPT and Cabinet Office SME Panel Member Ian Fishwick offering help and advice to businesses on how to survive the Covid-19 crisis.

We have collated Ian’s articles into one place. To view these articles and future updates, and connect with Ian please see his Linked In page.

At AdEPT Technology Group we are committed to helping UK industry any way we can, not just by offering technology advice. As we review the various Covid-19 Government Schemes, I will share our thoughts with you, and we hope you find this useful. There are so many schemes that it can be difficult to keep up and understand how to get access to the money you all need. To keep it simple I will only cover one scheme in each post.

Post 1. HMRC: Time to Pay

The reason why some schemes are not available yet is they are new and web developers and system designers are frantically trying to get them ready. Today’s scheme already exists – the HMRC Time To Pay scheme. If you cannot pay any tax – Corporation Tax, VAT, National Insurance or personal tax – ring the special Covid-19 helpline to agree a plan to pay by installments. There are up to 2,000 call handlers. The helpline numbers are 0800 024 1222 or 0800 015 9559. It is open Monday to Friday 8am till 4pm, excluding Bank Holidays. Further details at: https://lnkd.in/d9cJwHa

Post 2. RATES RELIEF: Who Can and Cannot Get it

A BUSINESS RATES HOLIDAY IS AVAILABLE TO RETAIL BUSINESSES FOR 2019/20 AND 2020/21

Who qualifies for buisness rates relief?

These are the types of business that qualify as ‘retail’ and can therefore get the business rates reliefs: Shops, restaurants, cafe, bar, pub, opticians, post offices, second hand car lots, petrol stations, garden centers, hair and beauty, funeral directors, cinemas, music venues. NB – Nurseries qualify for the rates relief but not the grant.

What types of business do not qualify for business rates relief?

Offices, factories, doctors, chiropractors, accountants, financial advisers, architects.

What is the business rates relief I can get?

It depends on your rate-able value: Under £12,000 – no business rates are chargeable to any type of business £12-15,000 – taper relief discounts business normal rates Above £15,000 – retail businesses get 100% discount on Business Rates HOW TO FIND YOUR ‘RATE-ABLE’ VALUE The rates and reliefs are based on the premises’ “rate-able value”. If you do not know your ‘rate-able value’ check it here … https://lnkd.in/dpDSDtG

Post 3. VAT: Delay this Quarter’s Payment

This is the 3rd post in AdEPT’s series about how to help your business survive the Covid-19 crisis. We all need industry to prosper, so please share these articles. Today’s advice is about VAT payments.

DO NOT PAY ANY VAT THIS QUARTER.

The Government has announced that to help the cashflow of beleaguered businesses there is no requirement to make any VAT payment this quarter. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 can be deferred. Please note that you will still have to pay the VAT by the end of this tax year. Our advice is to make maximum use of this new rule and pay this quarter’s VAT to HMRC as late as possible, but before 31st March 2021. The official notice is here https://lnkd.in/dmsNkTV

Post 4. Covid-19: Grant Funding

Local council business rates team are currently sending out correspondence for those who are eligible for:

The Small Business Grant https://lnkd.in/d_8CMnn

Tthe Retail and Hospitality Grant https://lnkd.in/de2hUQj

Please check the guidance for your eligibility. If you are eligible, you will receive correspondence as normal by post or email. To receive either of these grants you must be business rates registered and been in occupation/trading on 11 March 2020.

If you believe you are eligible, but haven’t received correspondence from the business rates team by the 6th April then please get in touch with your local council. The correspondence will detail what you need to do in order to receive the funding, so please look out for this.

BUSINESS RATES UPDATE

If you are eligible for the Business Rates holiday for 2020-21, you do not need to do anything, this will automatically be applied to your bill. Business Rates have recently reissued bills, which detail if you qualify to receive business rates relief for the 2020-21 tax year.

Letters and emails from your local council should arrive this week if you are eligible for grant funding. They need your bank account details to be able to send you the money. Look out for them and reply quickly.

Post 5. New Covid-19 Business Interruption Loan Schemes (CBILS)

At the time of writing only 983 business interruption loans (£90 million) have been approved so far out of 130,000 company applications. Things had to change and they have. CBILS are extended so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19, and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will now be eligible.

Lenders now cannot request personal guarantees for loans under £250,000. The government will continue to cover the first twelve months of interest and fees. The new Coronavirus LARGE Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) will provide a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to make loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million. Loans backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest. Further details will be announced later this month.

Loans over £250,000: personal guarantees are limited to 20% of any amount outstanding on the CBILS lending after any other recoveries from business assets. Lenders are prohibited from asking business owners to put their house on the line. This will apply to finance already offered under the scheme.

Post 6. Safer Homeworking: Microsoft 2 Factor Authentication

We want to make everyone aware that homeworking is often not as secure as working inside your normal office and we have seen an increase in phishing attacks in the last few weeks. If you see any dodgy looking emails please delete them immediately and never give your bank details to anyone unless you are certain who they are.

I thought it might be useful if I explained what AdEPT has done internally to combat this threat. First, we asked all employees to change their password. Second, all employees implemented Microsoft 2-factor-authentication, so that we now have to login as normal with usernames and passwords and then we are sent verification codes to our mobiles (much as I do with my bank). Once the 2-factor-authentication system had been set up centrally, I simply downloaded a Microsoft Authentication app to my mobile and it was straightforward. If you need any help with making your homeworkers better at cyber security best practice then please shout and I will point you towards an expert.

Post 7. Wrongful Trading Regulations Suspended & Insolvency Law – Laws Changed

If you are worried that your company might be insolvent, this is for you … The Government will make changes to enable UK companies undergoing a rescue or restructure process to continue trading, giving them breathing space that could help them avoid insolvency. This will also include enabling companies to continue buying much-needed supplies, such as energy, raw materials or broadband, while attempting a rescue, and temporarily suspending wrongful trading provisions retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for three months for company directors so they can keep their businesses going without the threat of personal liability.

The proposals will include key safeguards for creditors and suppliers to ensure they are paid while a solution is sought. Existing laws for fraudulent trading and the threat of director disqualification will continue to act as an effective deterrent against director misconduct. Full details https://lnkd.in/djFpSdf

Post 8. Eviction of Commercial Tenants Banned

If you are worried about not being able to pay the rent on your office, shop etc, then this is for you …

Ban on evictions for commercial tenants who miss rent payments in the next 3 months.

Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction, the government has announced. Many landlords and tenants are already having conversations and reaching voluntary arrangements about rental payments due shortly but the government recognises businesses struggling with their cashflow due to coronavirus remain worried about eviction. These measures, included in the emergency Coronavirus Bill currently going through Parliament, will mean no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next 3 months. This does not mean that you do not have to pay rent – it means that you can agree to pay it at a later date. Full details here https://lnkd.in/drwPAbm

Post 9. Date Announced for Furlough Scheme Opening

HMRC have today announced that the online portal being built to process the payments of furloughed staff in Britain will be open from Monday 20th April. This will mean that HMRC will be ready to make payments by Thursday 30th April. The system will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, meaning that callers can queue to speak to an advisor. There will be millions of businesses wishing to submit claims, so expect a huge queue. I understand that payments will be processed within 4-6 working days of receiving the claim.

Post 10. Telecoms Industry Unites To Help Business Customers

On 10th April Livingbridge arranged a call for over 30 senior executives from the Telecom industry. We agreed the Covid-19 problems facing our industry and how we could alleviate them. I summarised 3 key issues that all need assistance from BT Openreach:

1. Customers need to temporarily cease lines or circuits at no cost and reinstate them once lockdown has gone

2. Early Termination Charges should be reduced when a customer can no longer afford a long-term contract

3. Customers need to cancel an order for a circuit that has not yet been installed

We agreed I should write a letter to the CEO of Openreach, and a covering letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for DCMS and the CEO of Ofcom.

David Goldie and I drafted the letters and 2 trade associations (Innopsis and FCS) plus 18 of the UK’s largest telecom companies agreed to put their names to them. On 14th April, the letters were sent to Openreach and DCMS/Ofcom. Many thanks go to Openreach as LESS THAN 6 HOURS LATER they issued a briefing addressing all the issues we had raised. Business customers can now reduce their communication costs temporarily.

Written by Ian Fishwick

Founder & Chairman, AdEPT

Web Listings

Web Listings allows a business to keep all it's information across a range of online hubs including Google, Facebook, The Yellow Pages up to date, from one easy to use central platform.

With a 900% increase of local searches for businesses online over the past two years, it has become crucial to ensure the accuracy of information on web directories, sat nav systems and social media platforms to remain visible to prospective customers.

It’s never been as important to make sure your business information is correct and up-to-date online. Organisations will undoubtedly have recently had to change opening hours, potentially locations and maybe even products and services available due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the measures implemented to constrict it’s spread.

Until now, the technology that enables the seamless update of information, be it opening times, logos, details of accepted payment methods or contact information online across a multitude of platforms have only been available to larger businesses.

Web Listings allows a business or organisation to manage and keep up-to-date it’s information on a vast range of online hubs including Google, Facebook, The Yellow Pages and Bing among many others so that customers searching are finding the most relevant information.

With our partners at Pragma and SO Connect, we are able to offer Web Listings now to all, with a free trial for 90 days.

For more information please get in touch.

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT

Action Taken with LGfL in Response to Covid-19

An update from John Jackson, CEO of LGfL, The National Grid for Learning, on work with partners including AdEPT Education to help schools in response to the Covid-19 virus.

LGfL is taking measures to support schools during this difficult period with the full support of its partners Virgin Media Business and AdEPT Education as well as Google, Microsoft and a range of other partners. Our response is set out below and we will be publishing regular updates and changes to schools at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net 

Ensuring Sufficient Internet Capacity – LGfL is upgrading all schools free of charge to support increased levels of remote access and access to cloud services. This activity is well advanced with over 1300 schools already upgraded. We are currently scheduling visits in schools and would welcome help and support for these appointments. If you have any questions then please contact richard.hannah@lgfl.net and information on this initiative is at https://pledge2020.lgfl.net 

Remote & Secure Access to the School Network (Freedom2Roam) – LGfL provides a secure service that supports remote access from anywhere to your school network. The licences are unlimited, and the service is provided free of charge. The service is called Freedom2Roam and replaces RAv3.  If you need to set-up remote access to enable staff to access information whilst working at home and haven’t used RAv3 (or aren’t sure), then please contact the LGfL Support Desk. For helpful information about Freedom2Roam please visit https://freedom2roam.lgfl.net    

Unlimited Access to LGfL Content & Resources – LGfL is opening up its curriculum resources, wherever possible, so they can be accessible from any location. Some resources such as Busythings and J2e will require the child or the teacher to login. Further information about individual products can be found at https://homelearning.lgfl.net    

Turning Old Kit into Chromebooks – LGfL have partnered with Google to provide free licences for Neverware CloudReady software, which turns old laptops into fully functioning Chromebooks. This will be particularly helpful when children do not have access to a computer at home or if you have a shortage of devices for children.  To find out more visit http://go.neverware.com/lgfl  

Claim LGfL’s Free Licences including Adobe Creative Cloud – Please claim your free licences from LGfL for products such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Egress (for secure data transfer which may be needed when sending sensitive information) and many more that may prove useful to your school to function remotely. You can claim your licences by visiting https://savings.lgfl.net and logging in with your USO account  

Signposting to Useful Resources – LGfL has curated a list of key links and information that the school may find helpful to support its planning for a possible closure at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net   

Web Filtering and Firewalls – A number of schools have asked us to update the web filtering policies to make resources accessible outside of the LGfL network and also in different settings. LGfL is implementing considered changes to enable this to happen. If you need any help and advice regarding the filtering service, then please contact the LGfL Support Desk

Safeguarding Advice – LGfL has pulled together advice and guidance for schools to ensure children work safely at home. This information can be found at https://coronavirus.lgfl.net/safeguarding

Making Use of Google G Suite and Office 365 – Google, Microsoft and LGfL are committed to supporting schools with G Suite and Office 365 and ensuring that cloud resources are accessible. LGfL can co-ordinate with your partners to help you transition to G Suite or Microsoft

LGfL VoIP – LGfL is upgrading the service to ensure that there is enough capacity to support increased use of telephones during this period

LGfL Support Desk For any technical queries, call 020 8255 5555 and select option 3.

For any questions regarding any other LGfL services, call 020 8408 4455. 

Yours sincerely, 

John Jackson

LGfL CEO

Written by John Jackson

CEO LGfL, The National Grid for Learning

The Technology Essentials of Remote Working: All You Need to Know in Light of Coronavirus

The topic of remote working has never been so relevant as it is today; no thanks to the coronavirus.

Despite this global, frightening phenomenon, the popularity of remote working is ever increasing amongst businesses and their employees. This is partially due to the major shift in businesses adopting Cloud services or various forms of off-site infrastructure solutions; taking the onus of working away from being just office-based and instead, encouraging/supporting a distributed workforce.

This is reinforced by the vast improvements in web conferencing and collaboration technology, making it easier to communicate using voice, video and share content, from anywhere with a solid internet connection.

Many studies have shown that enabling a flexible remote working practice results in greater productivity and quality of work, more engagement, loyalty and reduced absenteeism. Outside of the office it also helps manage a work/life balance.

However, businesses are at various stages of their remote working strategy; some don’t even have one yet, whilst others are fully committed to it and have already enabled their workforce with the necessary tools to implement remote working.

No matter where you are on your journey, here are a few pointers to consider.

These will help those businesses and organisations who are at the early stages of a remote working strategy, to those who are already benefitting from remote working practises.

Connectivity

No remote working solution will work effectively if the connectivity foundations are not adequate and security measures are not fit for purpose.

Providing access to IT applications and resources remotely starts with connectivity to the Internet and the corporate network, mapping out how employees will securely interact to access what they need.

There is also the question of employees having reliable and fast internet access from their remote location. If staff are in areas that are not yet on the UK fibre network, you will find their experience of working remotely significantly diminished, having a direct impact on their productivity and morale.

It is wise to survey your staff in order to quantify how many are able to work remotely, as and when the need arises. For key staff or those in rural areas, you may wish to invest in new or upgraded Internet access from their remote location, or look into mobile Internet access, to ensure they are online.

The key to this is bandwidth. Quantifying how much bandwidth remote workers will need to replicate their in-office productivity is vital. This of course varies across sectors and industries depending on the nature of the data and how often it needs to be synced to the corporate network.

For media, design and production businesses, this requirement is high due to the volume of high resolution images and video that are pushed and pulled across the network. This can also have a significant impact on conferencing and voice services, if they are also delivered over the same connection.

Unified Communications and Collaboration Tools

The enhancement of reliable real-time collaboration tools, like Teams, goes a long way to alleviate the bandwidth issue, due to the reduction in frequent uploading and downloading of large files across the network. Teamwork is an essential part of any successful business, hence the need to support this activity despite the location, is a key part of any remote working strategy. This is where today’s modern workforce collaboration tools play a significant part in keeping workers connected, whether it is using Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, unified communications/instant messaging solutions from Avaya, as well as web conferencing/meeting tools like GoToMeeting and Zoom.

The collaboration tools you choose will have a direct impact on your remote workforce and their performance, hence it is wise to minimise the number of tools you throw at your staff. Where possible, take advantage of the tools that are available or bolted on from existing providers, to encourage the user adoption and also make tool management easier.

Security

Delivering remote access to the corporate network, data and applications in a secure manner is critical. This needs to be deployed both at the user end and also on the network perimeter.

For users, this can be done by creating an encrypted network connection from their device to the corporate network, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) software application. VPN technology is reliable and proven to work, if installed, configured and maintain correctly. If not, there could be a detrimental effect on the performance of the device and the upload/download speeds.

There are a number of VPN solutions available that deliver an additional level of security and safety for your remote workers, so it is important to discuss this openly with your IT partner, to ensure you apply the right product for your business needs.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) should also be considered for the users, to double check their login procedure. In addition to their username/ID and password, 2FA is now commonly used to verify that only the designated users are allowed access. Again, your IT partner can recommend which 2FA service is fit for purpose, which the likes of Microsoft now including this service within specific Office 365 licences.

For the network, a fit for purpose firewall solution is a must. Again, they vary in size, spend and complexity. A firewall system should be designed to prevent unauthorised access to or from the corporate (or private) network, whether in hardware or software form, or a combination of both.

The User

It begins and ends with your people, the most prised asset of any business and organisation.

Remote working is more than choosing the right technology, it is a cultural shift for many. Some may be against the idea and due to extreme circumstances, are forced to work remotely. What seem like trivial aspects of office life, like banter and the quick chat whilst making the tea or coffee, can have a major impact when missed.

Therefore it is essential that the transition from office based to remote working is made as simple and straightforward as possible….for the USER too!

It is critical that an equal amount of focus and emphasis is placed on user adoption when choosing the right remote working tools and applications, as well as being technically proven, cost effective and recommended from a trusted source (IT partner).

Having a detailed Remote Working Policy in place can make a big difference to act as a guideline for the business and staff when it needs to be implemented at short notice. It is highly likely that you already have remote workers in your business, hence the ‘power remote users’ can play a great part in making those new to remote working settle in efficiently.

Speak to a Trusted Partner

At AdEPT, we help thousands of businesses and organisations with their remote working needs, from designing networks and security solutions, to delivering Cloud services, hosted desktop and telephony platforms, to unified communications and collaboration solutions; all managed by our in-house IT support teams.

If you have any questions on how to tackle the current issues and get ready for remote working, get in touch today to learn more about our wide range of services.

enquiries@adept.co.uk

Written by Sami Malik

Marketing Campaigns Manager

Sales & Lease Back Facility: Helping Cash-flow

A new scheme from AdEPT partner Clear Asset Finance for organisations who wish to retrospectively start leasing items they've already purchased out-right.

AdEPT are proud to announce with our partners at Clear Asset Finance an available scheme for our customers and any other business or organisation that may have recently purchased equipment from AdEPT or any other supplier, using capital expenditure rather than a finance facility, and now may now regret that decision due to unplanned cash flow shortages.

It is not too late. Organisations can now retrospectively lease those purchases and receive all the funds back into their business almost immediately, and replace with smaller, more manageable, periodic payments.

The scheme covers any purchase and is not restricted to who it was purchased from or what it was for.

It’s recently helped a business that bought £25,000 of office furniture and have asked if they could now lease that equipment. All they needed to provide was proof of payment and the original invoice, and then e-sign a standard lease document. Once signed the leasing company transferred the £25,000 into their account within 5 days from proposal; the lease agreement then commences as normal.

Purchases within the last 6 months qualify for 100% refinance. Older assets will also be considered taking depreciation into account. Subject to meeting credit criteria.

If this is of interest, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

enquiries@adept.co.uk

Written by Ben Rogers

Group Marketing Manager at AdEPT