According to the experts: How business and customer needs are evolving in an increasingly connected world
Product Marketing Executive
There’s no doubt technology is playing a huge part in connecting people; it’s literally changing the way we live our lives, most notably in the way we work. Because our communications can be instantaneous – one click of a button and you can speak to someone halfway across the world in real time – we expect them to be.
But how is this standard of rapid-fire, instant access affecting businesses? We were curious to hear the thoughts of industry leaders in digital communication, so we reached out to 5 experts – Ken Seymour from KTS Computers Ltd., Mark Hughes from Tutora, Peter Jones from Dynamiq, Duncan Wright from Secure Squared and Raj Wilkhu from Baacco – to get their opinions on how businesses maintain continuity in this age of digital transformation, how they can continue to meet customer needs and how they keep their information safe.
What are the business challenges of adopting new technologies? Do you have any suggestions on how best to move on from strategic IT implementation to an ‘all-in-one’ approach?
Ken: Older businesses often don’t understand the benefits that can be had with incorporating new technology, which is of course where an IT professional should come in and advise. On the other hand, newer businesses think they ‘know it all’ and end up investing in the wrong tool for the job. In terms of switching your strategy, my suggestions are: hire a consultant to plan your approach, have an in-house ‘champion’ to follow it through, and make sure staff are properly trained on how to use it!
Mark: The biggest challenge is simply inertia: employees and other stakeholders get used to the ‘way things are done’. Any new technology comes with a period of re-learning and you only start to see the benefits after an uncertain transition period; because of this, many businesses are reluctant to go through it.
Peter: We live in a heavily-connected world; as such, we need business owners to consider the needs of the individual as well as the business. The first step is to get someone in to analyse your system; this will enable a more holistic design when implementing a solution. When considering new solutions, think of the business as an ‘all-in-one’: what does everyone need to make the tool/solution function effectively?
Duncan: One of the biggest challenges when introducing new technologies to the business is that of end-user interaction. Even a well-planned, high-functioning implementation is doomed to fail without the co-operation of its target audience. Utilising collaboration tools and forming focus groups from within your workforce are excellent ways to combat this: engaging users from the planning stages will ensure successful user adoption and prevent costly returns to the ‘drawing board.’
Raj: Introducing new technologies to support a technical strategy or a business process will cause some disruption. At the engineering team level, introducing a new technology will lower the output of a team temporarily whilst the team adopts the technology within their work process; at the business level, you are changing/supporting process, which requires training and getting people on board. Ideally, you have to start by introducing a time-constrained evaluation or experiment (a SPIKE or Proof or Concept [PoC]). Ideally, a SPIKE/PoC should be short and the output will be whether the solution should be adopted or not. At all stages, business stakeholders and engineers have to work together to agree on a final solution.
With 85% of enterprise decision makers believing they have two years to implement their digital transformations, how will you plan to ensure business continuity throughout this period?
Ken: In a word: planning. This is the key; there is absolutely no problem moving your data from one location to another – no more than there is moving your business to a new location. To plan well, you’ll need the correct advice from expert consultants you trust who will do what’s right for your business, not for theirs.
Peter: The next two years are about penetration and vulnerability testing in order to secure data, especially with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in May 2018. Businesses need to examine their operations and secure their digital strategy: once they understand the current strategy, they can forecast future implementation strategies.
What’s been the biggest impact to your business when it comes to moving into a digital landscape?
Peter: The biggest danger for any businesses is letting the evolution of technology spiral out of control without proper controls, especially if the company allows BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).
Ken: My customers don’t need as many staff: if the job is carried out correctly, it cuts labour requirements. This is a bonus as we live in an area of very low unemployment and high labour rates.
What are the key challenges in managing and transferring large amounts of data?
Ken: Internet infrastructure: it’s not consistent. Some local areas currently have 300MB broadband capability whilst others struggle to get 4MB and they can be a few hundred yards apart.
Mark: The key is to not get caught up on achieving perfection. Sure, it would be nice to have an accurate, instant record of every customer interaction with your product or service, but be realistic: are you ever going to use all that data? If that's stopping you from getting insights from the ‘juiciest’ bits of data, then you probably need a rethink.
Raj: When it comes to managing and transferring large amounts of data, the two main problems are security and durability. As we store data within cloud services, you have to evaluate the services: is durability more important to your data than availability (with most cloud providers, you can only have one or the other). Security can be a layer on top of whichever data management or transfer solution you select; if the data is sensitive, you may want to select a service that supports data at rest encryption.
How will you be looking to transform business models to adopt a digital landscape?
Ken: As a company we already do more remote working, but clients are finding they can now work from home instead of the office as required. This could mean, in terms of a business model, smaller offices. In reality, some businesses have found that remote working is not as beneficial as they originally thought, as they no longer have ability to ‘bounce ideas off each other.’ So I guess it depends on the specific nature of the business.
Raj: A phased roll-out, with incremental changes, is the best way to transform a business. In some cases, you have to run the original process in parallel with the new process and organise training sessions to help support colleagues. The trick is to keep change small, get everyone on-board and then progress with the next small change.
How do you maintain high levels of customer satisfaction in an ‘always on’ society?
Ken: We personally find this one a challenge. We have to work longer hours sometimes as people expect a personal response. However, we maintain satisfaction by training our customers and helping them apply the SUMO scales when they get it. However, in the future, we will probably outsource out of hours to a Network Operations Centre (NOC).
Peter: Advances in automated systems has helped meet the needs of ‘always on’, but what does get missed is the security surrounding the availability of society. There are numerous threats to society by those who want to compromise the systems that are in place, therefore it is important to not wait for it to go wrong, but instead be proactive as it will be cheaper in the long run.
Raj: Keeping a customer updated throughout an e-commerce process is important: you have to ensure that the product is completely transparent, allowing a customer to keep themselves up to date in the form of requests to a secure part of a website, or push notifications to an app. Push notifications is the way forward these days with Apple and Google now providing push capabilities via their browsers.
What do you think are customer priorities when approaching a telecoms provider?
Ken: Their priorities are: getting help when they need it, getting speedy responses, receiving high-quality customer care, clear pricing (not 30 pages of 6-point font, but 1 or 2 pages of 10 – 12 point font with white space for easy reading!), and still feeling loved after the sale (no one likes to see a special offer for new people if they’ve already bought the service).
Peter: The consumer is still focused on cost; however businesses are getting wiser to reliability, and have evolved away from the odd email traffic to constant traffic, so uptime, data transfer rates and support are becoming more important to them.
How do we deliver better customer service and meet customer expectations with the data we have, whilst protecting customer data from being exposed unnecessarily?
Ken: Be clear about delivery times and have 1 person handling all queries for the account. Too often you have at least 10 different people handling an account from sales to set-up; it’s just absurd. In fact, I would say the biggest problem many communication companies have is communication! Keeping data safe is not related to customer service in my books, but the biggest challenge is probably keeping credit card data secure; but how do you tell the client that their details are safe, and prove it? Run a penetration test, then publish the result. With good marketing, this could be very powerful.
Duncan: Whilst personal data allows us to attribute to the individual, there is great value to be gained from the efficient analysis of anonymised data sourced internally and externally; trends highlighted from data and metadata generated across business departments can be used very effectively to capitalise upon opportunities and identify areas of concern. The early adoption of a concentric security model guards against data leakage; placing users in groups determined by function and access requirements rather than a hierarchical structure limits this risk of exposure. A malicious insider, closely followed by a careless one, remain the biggest threat to your data. Therefore, a ‘worst-case’ scenario mind-set should always be adopted when determining who has access to your company’s most precious asset.
Mark: I think what customers are looking for most of all is acknowledgement. That's why channels such as Twitter are becoming such a popular medium for people to communicate with companies: their public nature means they will get a response.
Raj: Ideally, you should isolate data that can be publicly shared from the data that is customer sensitive and store them on completely different systems/technology stacks. Data that is publicly available should be cached as close as possible to the customer, ensuring quick access. Customer specific data should be secured using cryptographic technologies, ideally public/private key pairs secured with one or more passwords (multi-factor authentication) ensuring that the data can only be decrypted by the customer and optionally by a management system.
Peter: Providers need to understand their client’s privacy in terms of how they handle their traffic whilst providing the most reliable connectivity. In terms of security, more transparency in the routing of the data and access to logs can enable stronger trust with those looking after the security of a business.
Duncan Wright is the Founding Director at Secure Squared Ltd., which helps business understand cyber threats and create resilience strategies.
Ken Seymour is the Creator and Director of KTS Computers Ltd., which supplies, installs and configures new PCs, servers and laptops, runs network cabling, repairs PCs, removes malware and liaises with large companies.
Mark Hughes is the Co-Founder of Tutora, an online database of tutors designed to help parents find the right help for their children.
Peter Jones is the Technical Director of Dynamiq, an experienced team of professionals specialising in key business areas from bid and copy writing to QSHE systems development to cyber and information security.
Raj Wilkhu is the Co-Founder of Baacco, an e-commerce service that allows the user to search, discover and shop for high-quality wines from specialist wine merchants across the UK.