By Jeppe Rindom, Co-founder & CEO, Pleo
Ask any decision maker at a business about admin and you’re likely to be met with a familiar response – it’s a necessary evil that swallows time, but also helps inform strategic choices. Informed decisions are always better than uninformed ones, but many businesses still rely on outdated legacy processes to gather the data they need to make critical choices… and we’ve all seen the perils of a poorly maintained Excel spreadsheet in the news recently.
At director level, these administrative tasks can consist of signing off expenses or monitoring company spending to inform upcoming budgets. Although crucial to running a business well, these can be time-consuming and frustrating when you don’t have the right tools to make sense of it all. The solution? A simple change of approach.
A logical solution
This is where automation comes in. Over the last decade, we’ve seen how technologies including chat-bots and artificial intelligence have impacted everyday business, from customer-services and marketing to data analytics and time-management. More than ever, this is allowing employees to free up time to work more efficiently and focus on business-critical tasks. But this isn’t a quick fix. At a decision making is required. Ironically, a lot of these tasks relate to how a business can improve efficiency and productivity.
Add in the fact that many of these senior staff members have tight schedules, and can’t afford to spend several hours trawling through spreadsheets, and it’s little wonder high level admin is still an issue. In a recent customer survey, we found that 75% of senior managers spend over an hour a week on expense reports, with 14% losing nearly a whole working day (five hours or more) a week to managing them – time that could be better spent growing their business. The same study found that our platform saves people an average of 11.5 hours a month on managing company expenses. If you consider this could mean an extra day for a CFO or Finance Director to spend on more essential tasks, such as business forecasting or growth planning, the reward for investing in well designed automation at this level is clear.
But, automation isn’t just a case of saving time; it also fosters trust. Our study found that over half (51%) of users agreed that automating the laborious parts of their expenses like receipt capture, categorisation and expense reports also helped them build trust within their organisation. Automation helped them to excel at the things they’re most interested in, and were actually hired to do. I’m a huge advocate of empowering people with the tools they need to succeed. And through the empowerment automation brings, it’s only natural that employees begin to feel their worth in the business and that they are trusted.
A business-wide approach
Yet for automation to work, a company-wide understanding of its potential is vital. Adoption by senior staff should not be seen as simply a fringe benefit, as automation relies on understanding and endorsement from all levels of a business to work efficiently. A report titled ‘Automation and the future of work,’ published by the British Government in September 2019 noted that the successful implementation of automation “relies on managers and business leaders themselves being able to understand the potential of automation and the impact of technological change.” In this respect, managers will be your biggest ally when embracing automation. Any manager worth their salt understands the benefits of leading through example, and by creating automation ‘advocates’, businesses can ensure teams are comfortable with the impending change. While many busy managers often resist new processes (especially those to do with unfamiliar technology), they usually find that investing a short amount of time getting to grips with an automation platform pays off in the long term.
One of the most frequent pieces of feedback we receive is that an effectively automated platform allows staff to focus on strategy, culture and creativity, with the knock-on effect of automating mundane tasks being felt throughout an entire organisation, not just one relieved individual.
Having a smart, automated platform can also massively reduce the chance of human error at an early stage. This can be disastrous when data is relied upon to make important decisions at a later date. In this respect, having access to accurate information can be a game-changing benefit for decision-makers, particularly those working under increased pressure.
At a time when businesses are facing rapid and unpredictable changes, ensuring your business is equipped with the right tools for success is crucial. And while automation may seem an intimidating change, the huge benefits it can bring to both processes and culture will outweigh any initial concerns. By giving senior staff and their team members alike the ability to embrace smart automation, efficiency will speak for itself, and your business’ success will flourish.
How financial services organisations are using data to underpin future growth
By John O’Keeffe, Director of Looker EMEA at Google Cloud
In addition to the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant decline in venture capital investment has left many financial services organisations feeling deflated, with others struggling to survive. According to figures from trade body Innovate Finance, investment in UK fintech organisations fell 30% in Q2 of this year, with smaller challenger firms and start-ups being the most profoundly hit by our current economic problems.
As a result, both challenger banks and more established players have had to pivot their strategies in order to maintain relevance and market share. Nonetheless, the outlook for fintech in the UK and further afield looks promising for the future. The reality of spending much of our time at home, and out of reach of brick and mortar services, means that many of us are becoming even more accustomed to digital banking for example. Recent analysis of finance application usage from Adjust, found that the average sessions in investment apps surged 88% globally, while payment and banking app sessions increased by 49% and 26%, respectively, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the fact remains that investment in the sector is currently hard to come by. To help regain momentum, a review into the UK’s fintech industry was launched to identify opportunities to support growth across the industry. Data has – and will continue to – play a key role in this push for innovation, helping organisations spot gaps in the market, predict customer behaviours and ensure that the decisions they make are based on real insights. At such a critical time, enabling a data-led approach will help organisations ascertain exactly what is required to accelerate change and ensure the sustainability of the industry.
The financial services industry is a data-rich environment, giving organisations a potential goldmine of customer interactions, product performance and market trends. However, the difficulty often lies in bringing this into a coherent whole, and extracting the business insights required for long-term success. This is as much about strategy and accessibility as it is about technology. Fostering a true “data culture” where employees across the business, whether data experts or not, can access real-time intelligence that informs their day-to-day decision making in a positive way, is crucial. This may mean tweaking your onboarding and training programmes, identifying data evangelists that can catalyse others, or simply making data engaging and relatable for those who are new to the practice.
For many organisations, data is often stored within traditional business intelligence tools, third-party SQL clients or even just a simple spreadsheet, meaning that valuable data insights are siloed and often hindered by a bottleneck between a stretched analytics team and the rest of the business. There is also the all-important General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to consider, so data governance and having a clear view of where data is being housed, and for what purpose, is particularly pivotal.
With this in mind, it is crucial to have a “single source of truth” to bring various data streams together and enable real-time, self-serve insights to your whole employee base. As an example of this in practice, data is a great way to understand your existing clients more intimately and nip any problems in the bud early. By building a custom data dashboard incorporating, for example, number of support tickets issued, change in ticket sentiment and number of days to renewal, you can build up an accurate picture of account health and how this has changed over time. In combination with real-time metrics on which products and features are being used and how, sales teams can have more meaningful and accurate conversations with their customers, converting at-risk accounts into potential growth opportunities.
Given the dip in VC investment mentioned earlier, it is more important than ever for startups and scale-ups to do more with less and set a strategic roadmap that supports rapid growth. By using data to measure and action customer feedback, these organisations can be more agile in taking new products to market and making sure these are useful and address specific pain points.
Whether a fintech scale-up or an established name, it has never been more important to shift your operations to a more data-led strategy. With an uncertain outlook ahead for business across all sectors, making data the “single source of truth” can help to navigate market trends, identify new growth opportunities and simply make an organisation’s decision-making smarter and more efficient. Through data-driven innovation and growth, one of Britain’s most valuable industries can continue to thrive in the future.
The Bank of England partners with Appvia to assist in the design, construction and assurance of a new cloud environment
The Bank of England has appointed self-service cloud-native delivery platform Appvia to support the creation of a new cloud environment.
The announcement follows a public procurement process which commenced in January 2020. The Bank of England will work with Appvia on design, construction and assurance of a modern, fit for purpose cloud environment.
During the two-year partnership, Appvia will be supporting development and project teams within the Bank in testing and deploying code in cloud environments, working with security teams to integrate the cloud into existing operational and security processes; and implementing information governance compliance so staff are able to collaborate safely and securely.
Oliver Tweedie, Head of Digital Platforms at the Bank of England, said, “We have selected Appvia as our Cloud Delivery Partner to help us realise the Bank’s cloud ambitions and unlock the potential of the Cloud. Appvia come with a great pedigree and a wealth of experience delivering Cloud services within government. Working in collaboration with Bank Technology teams, Appvia will help us shape and build the future of Cloud services across our organisation – a key part of our Technology strategy.”
Jon Shanks, CEO and Co-Founder of Appvia, said, “This is an exciting opportunity to work with the Bank as it undergoes a step-change in its approach to the cloud. Harnessing innovative cloud solutions, such as containers and Kubernetes is a real business enabler for the Bank to streamline the software development lifecycle, ways of working and cloud operating model. We look forward to working with all stakeholders at the Bank of England to support its digital transformation journey.”
Appvia, which counts the Home Office among its major clients, is a self-service platform that enables organisations to scale their infrastructure quickly, securely and easily using services such as Kubernetes. In September, Appvia launched the world’s first developer-centric tool to enable teams to predict and control cloud costs.
Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN
Three key benefits of SD-WAN can help retailers solve new and old challenges and prepare for an uncertain future
By John Tait, Global Managing Director, TNS Payments Market
As customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies, retailers are confronted by continuous challenges in the modern era.
But no year has been quite like 2020. Mandates ordering the public to stay at home crippled foot traffic earlier this year and, even when physical stores were able to open, social-distancing measures have limited the numbers of customers permitted indoors, while fears of the virus have driven others away.
With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be vital in an uncertain future.
One network technology, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can offer a host of benefits for retail businesses. At its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centres and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.
But that’s not all it is. Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.
It can support new strategies and modernises operations
Many retailers will have heard the term ‘digital transformation’ and their stores may even be working towards it. The basic premise is that all businesses can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.
For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers, instead of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported e-commerce options and curb-side pick-up options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Alternatively, it could mean adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use then they’re in a store.
The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring retailers want to be and how much tech they want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Even simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.
That’s where SD-WAN can come in. Because it can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritising business-critical applications like payments. In other words, retailers don’t have to worry that their payments terminal might slow or go down just because they’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, such as customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.
For shops that have shifted to more of an e-commerce/delivery/pick-up strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.
It helps retailers embrace and secure the cloud
The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Retailers’ own operations, like their databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but they almost certainly use services that are. Tools such as Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square are all cloud-based.
Even if retailers aren’t there yet, their vendors are most likely going to push them there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors they use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like e-commerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally. Once they’re in the cloud, retail organisation will have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, they need to solve any connectivity issues they may have.
While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all of the organisations that IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.
SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.
It boosts security, including customer payments security
SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options such as self-service kiosks and mobile POS. For example, outdoor terminals can be used for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.
This flexibility regarding where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks. This means properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.
SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, e-commerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.
SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Retailers should opt for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.
While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. They also add an extra layer of security: with a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.
Solving existing and future Challenges
This year has challenging in many ways and surprises are likely to continue for the next year or so. This uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way they do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth, even in a volatile environment.
Implementing an SD-WAN solution can help retailers support digital initiatives and new strategies, deploy and secure modern cloud applications, and secure payments data. With the option of a managed service provider behind the SD-WAN, stores can focus on boosting the customer experience and modernising retail operations instead of managing payments terminals or troubleshooting a network. This will save time and money at a time when everyone needs more of both.
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