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How COVID-19 is future-proofing businesses with accelerated digitisation

How COVID-19 is future-proofing businesses with accelerated digitisation 1

By Rob Harrison, Managing Director, SAP Concur UK & Ireland

COVID-19 has thrown companies very suddenly into an unexpected situation. The sheer speed at which things have changed has meant businesses have had to quickly become accustomed to ‘the new normal’ – a phrase that has taken on a significant meaning.

Tech projects and updates that had been put on hold were implemented overnight. Many companies have been forced into sped-up digitisation and, for them, there is no going back. The accelerated rate at which businesses lagging behind have now had to adopt digital transformation has propelled them into the future. From remote working aided by online tools, to automated financial processes offering unparalleled visibility into cash flow – many companies have been changed for the better and inadvertently future-proofed their business.

The proven value of technology

Since March, businesses have been remote working and with colleagues now disconnected by geography, technology has been the driver of collaboration. Day-to-day communication tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams for messaging or video calls, and Asana for teamwork, have been essential for keeping employees talking and engaged. If you didn’t have these tools before, you most likely do now.

As well as helping firms from a unified communications standpoint, technology has also helped ease underlying business processes. The pandemic and remote working landscape has accelerated the need for cloud-driven technologies, for example, and the automating of finance processes such as expenses and invoices has been increasingly popular. Companies are turning to automation to handle finance tasks that ordinarily would still be manual and office-based – no longer an option in these times. Not only will automation speed up the mundane, allowing business leaders the time and headspace to think more strategically about their organisation, but at a time of real economic uncertainty, digital processes allow those in charge an ‘x-ray’ of cash flow.

If we look at the financial side of businesses, it’s clearer than ever that those working in accountancy or within in-house finance teams need to know if their cash flow is healthy. Automated technologies allow companies to foresee potential hurdles, cash flow problems and spot unusual or fraudulent transactions. With a period of significant belt-tightening underway, automation is key – it’s automated reports and analysis that will allow businesses to quickly see just what their status is, as well as ensuring payments don’t slip under the radar, and any future speedbumps in terms of cost are accounted for.

No regrets: why investing in tech is worth it

For the companies that have been forced into digitisation brought on by the pandemic, exciting times lie ahead. Before COVID-19, businesses may have found the prospect of digital transformation daunting and potentially costly – the thought of having to invest a lot of money and get to grips with new systems was enough to keep stalling. But ultimately, these investments prove their worth in increased efficiency, insights and importantly, hard savings.

Businesses have realised that legacy systems are slowing them down and by not upgrading tech, it allows their competitors to overtake them. Recent YouGov research found that a third of businesses struggled with the move to remote working. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to assume the companies who faced difficulties lacked sufficient technology. Future workplaces will be quicker and more eager to upgrade legacy systems, knowing the benefit that new technologies can have and the ease with which these can be implemented.

The road to the future 

Rob Harrison

Rob Harrison

Backing technology decisions is always a smart move for businesses irrespective of the scenario. There may be a move from the board to keep expenditure as tight as possible, but in order for innovation and efficiency to thrive there simply isn’t room for standing still.

Investing in the right software isn’t a simple task however, it requires support and understanding of the complexities, so really Software as a Service (SaaS) is the only answer. With access to experts, the human side of technology remains intact and means hours of frustration and confusion can be avoided. Just like yin and yang, neither people nor technology are absolute in operational excellence; both balance each other’s strength and weaknesses. If you’re given the right training and advice, the man hours saved when technology works seamlessly is immense. What it boils down to is working with the right partners; those that offer guidance and support on top of the technology itself.

Any technology implemented should be cloud-based to minimise hardware costs needed to run it. Flexibility in the model is also hugely important and most cloud businesses operate on commitment-based models, allowing companies to choose the amount of usage they require to meet their needs. Whilst not a pay-as-you-go model, this allows both client and supplier to have predictable cash flow; businesses can forecast and scale as they grow without future commitment, and suppliers can ensure they don’t take on unnecessary cost or margin burdens.

Aside from remote working technology such as collaborative messaging tools and cloud infrastructures, it’s critical businesses look at the finance functions – particularly expenses and invoices.

Firstly, there should be an emphasis on monitoring the types of expense claims being submitted. Indeed, a recent YouGov survey of 804 UK SMBs and enterprises found that since the implementation of lockdown, 57% of businesses have seen a decrease in expenses being submitted, but a significant 14% have actually seen these levels rise too. What’s more, accurate and data-rich invoice processing should be prioritised. With so many businesses under strain due to lockdown making it impossible for business as usual, the reality is one missed bill could have seriously detrimental consequences and be the difference between staying afloat or facing collapse.

No going back

The pandemic has made clear digital transformation works and can be implemented at scale, quickly. Many organisations have had to move fast and turn on a sixpence to suddenly drive real change in the way their organisation operates.  With this in mind, there is no reason to not adopt the latest technologies to empower the business. In these strange times, technology has been what has allowed businesses to stay connected and monitor cash flow whilst simultaneously safeguarding the company and employees.

Enforced remote working has made a positive impact in lots of ways and it’s even bringing teams closer together. Daily morning ‘huddles’ on Microsoft Teams that ensure teams are working towards the same goal and running competitions on Strava have empowered company culture, not hindered it. Automated finances have made life easier, not more complicated. Employers are realising that the changes made will go a long way after the pandemic is over too.

Without even realising it, many businesses have future-proofed their businesses by investing in the technology they should have considered long before. After this initial acceleration of digital transformation, it would make no sense for businesses to put the brakes on or reverse any changes that they have made. As lockdown restrictions ease, businesses will realise that digital transformation has not only helped them survive this period, but it will help them thrive as they move forward.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 2

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   3

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 4

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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