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The construction industry needs a digital platform for guarantees and bonds

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The construction industry needs a digital platform for guarantees and bonds

Why is the construction industry still working with paper versions of these vital documents in the digital era? It’s a question asked by Simon Streat, VP Product Strategy, Bolero International.

By Simon Streat, VP Product Strategy, Bolero International 

In the highly competitive world of construction, where the pressure to perform is unrelenting and the penalties for failure can be severe, guarantees and bonds are essential instruments to provide the protection that companies are looking for.

Simon Streat

Simon Streat

The variety and complexity of handling these documents can be daunting, as businesses with offices dispersed across the UK strive to manage everything from parent company guarantees to bonds covering performance, land clearance, advance payments for plant and off-site materials, as well as the guarantees required of house-builders for defects liability by regulatory bodies such as the NHBC.

While lawyers may find a steady stream of work from disputes arising from guarantees and bonds, those responsible for these documents within the industry know that without the original, a business can do nothing to either amend the document or receive what is due to them as a beneficiary.

In the absence of the original guarantee, the bank or surety provider has no obligation to compensate a developer when a contractor falls down on the job or the supplier fails to deliver specialised plant or prefabricated building components.

Stuck in the paper era

Unfortunately, the majority of businesses in the construction sector are limited by paper-based processes, using spreadsheets in an attempt to gain some degree of visibility and control. This is not easy when thousands of guarantees and bonds may have multiple signatories or beneficiaries and most relate to projects managed by staff in remote, regional offices.

Guarantees used by construction companies, for example, are often remitted to head office for supervision, leading to mistakes and hugely unnecessary delays. Far too much time is consumed completing amendments to match the evolving nature of projects, as, for instance, when a business hits its targets early and wants to end or reduce payments for the guarantee its bank is providing. Without the original document, the bank will potentially ignore such a request.

Lack of visibility for the builder, developer or indeed, the surety-provider, not only makes this difficult, it also will frequently lead to such potential cost-reductions being entirely overlooked. And of course amending a paper document when these three parties are typically involved (as well as obtaining confirmation from a national organisation’s regional offices), can take days or weeks if the guarantee is distributed by traditional means. In a digital world, this time is significantly reduced as  all parties will have access and visibility to the guarantees involved.. If a builder completes ten houses, a guarantee may be called up ten times before it is terminated, each occasion taking up time and resources. The process of termination itself also needs agreement from all parties before the document is sent on to the bank.

None of this is straightforward. At any time, businesses engaged in construction, depending on their size, are likely to have paper documents constantly in physical transit, flowing back-and-forth, racking up costs and consuming precious staff-hours.

Digitisation is safer, smarter and faster

It makes it all the more incomprehensible that the construction industry, which is constantly embracing and driving innovation in all other areas, has yet to grasp the huge efficiencies of document digitisation. Once documents have been digitised, they can be securely exchanged over a single, cloud-based platform that gives full and secure visibility. Speed of exchange is only constrained by the internet, negating the need for documents to be couriered between the parties and their regional offices, which is when they are frequently mislaid, lost or sent to the wrong address.

Electronic guarantees or bonds, by contrast are constantly visible to all the parties on a digital platform, including banks and surety-providers, but only the legal holder can amend them, with every action automatically and irrevocably logged.

Why stick with paper-based processes?

When documents can be passed securely between builders, contractors, suppliers, developers, banks, surety companies and regulators at the click of a mouse, it seems inconceivable that any of these organisations would want to stick with paper-based processes, even if they have already managed some sort of ad-hoc integration of guarantee management with treasury systems.

Digitising their guarantees, bonds and the workflows that have evolved around them, will achieve major gains in cost-reduction and release of working capital. No longer will businesses routinely lose money paying for bank guarantees that have outrun their original purposes but which have never been updated. The problem of lost documents will itself disappear, while the laborious process of couriering paper around to gain acceptance for amendments or terminations will be consigned to the construction industry’s history along with timber scaffolding.

If the industry is serious about embracing all the advantages of the digital era it must now leave paper in the bin and start managing vital documents such as guarantees and bonds on a cloud-based digitisation platform.

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Study: 1 in 10 fintechs’ main priority for 2021 is survival

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Study: 1 in 10 fintechs’ main priority for 2021 is survival 1
  • FinTech Connect reveals that many fintechs simply want to survive the next year
  • 44% of fintechs are focused on optimising business processes to improve efficiencies
  • Over a third said they had launched new services addressing new demands

FinTech Connect, the trade show that connects the global fintech ecosystem, today revealed the priority for one in ten fintech firms over the next year is survival. The findings from FinTech Connect’s FinTech State of Play Benchmarking Report, which is based on a survey of 144 fintech professionals, explores the biggest industry issues of 2020 and looks forward to what 2021 has in store.

Impact of Covid-19

As remote working and living remains a priority to keep customers safe, fintechs have adapted their offerings. Although a number of other sectors including hospitality and travel have suffered as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, fintechs remain confident that business will survive and even thrive.

  • 40% said Covid-19 had accelerated their digital transformation model
  • 36% said they had launched new services addressing new demand
  • 34% said their growth had accelerated as a result of the pandemic
  • 65% said that the remote working had driven innovation

The Wake of Wirecard

Despite the Wirecard scandal prompting industry soul searching and a review of regulation and governance practices, 83% of fintechs said the collapse had no impact on their own business. However, when fintechs are asked about the wider impact on the industry:

  • 59% said it will result in overcorrection from regulatory bodies
  • 42% said it will result in declining trust from customers
  • 25% said it will lead to declining investment into the sector

Brexit Uncertainty

Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, fintechs remain confident in their ability to manage Brexit:

  • 40% of respondents believe London will remain the European capital of fintech after Brexit
  • 30% of fintechs admit they haven’t made significant headway preparing for Brexit

“The spread of COVID-19 has brought the sector’s profitability and long-term business model sustainability into sharp focus—to a point where I believe the path to profitable scale for challenger banks has been structurally altered. But it is not at all to write off the sector,” said Abhijit Akerkar, Non-Executive Director, TBC Bank Group PLC. “Challenger banks have several long-term advantages—they are native to the digital arena, with more efficient cost structures, organizational agility, and, most importantly, higher customer loyalty. These advantages will help challenger banks weather the storm.”

“Whether we look forwards or backwards, Covid-19 is defining a new status-quo for the industry. From regulation to innovation to funding and culture, it is impossible to step out of the shadow cast by the pandemic,” Laurence Coldicott, Content Director, FinTech Connect “In response, fintech’s are prioritising digital transformation to meet customers where they are, and improving operational processes to ensure they are as efficient as possible.”

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How to Build an AI Strategy that Works

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How to Build an AI Strategy that Works 2

By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino

Six steps to boosting digital transformation through AI

In the age of artificial intelligence, the way we interact with brands and go about our work and daily lives has changed. No longer blithe buzzwords, AI tools and algorithms are solving real business problems, streamlining operations, boosting productivity, improving customer experience, and creating opportunities for advantage in a competitive marketplace.

However, many businesses struggle to unlock the full benefits that come with its adoption across the whole organisation. Making the most of AI requires a strategic focus, alignment with the specific operating model of the business, and a plan to implement it in a way that delivers real value.

Not all AI strategies are equal. To be successful, businesses need to set out how the technology will achieve objectives and identify the specific assets and case uses that will set them apart from competitors. The process of creating and delivering a successful AI strategy includes the following six essential elements that will help to bake in business success.

  1. Start with your vision and objective

One slip-up companies often make when developing an AI strategy is a failure to match the vision to the execution. Almost inevitably, this results in disjointed and complicated AI programmes that can take years to consolidate. Choosing an AI solution based on defined business objectives established at the start of a project reduces the risk of delay and failure.

As with any project or initiative, it’s crucial to align your corporate strategy with measurable goals and objectives to guide your AI deployment. Once a strategy is set and proven, its much quicker and easier to roll it out across divisions and product teams, maximising its benefits.

  1. Build a multi-disciplinary team 

AI is not an island. Multi-disciplinary teams are best placed to assess how the AI strategy can optimally serve their individual needs. Insights and inputs from web design, R&D and engineering will together ensure your plan hits objectives for key internal stakeholders.

It’s also important to recognise that with the best will and effort, the strategy might not be the perfect one first time around. Being prepared to iterate and flex the approach is a significant success factor. By fostering a culture of experimentation, your team will locate the right AI assets to form your unique competitive edge.

  1. Be selective about the problems you fix first

Selecting ‘lighthouse’ projects based on their overall goals and importance, size, likely duration, and data quality allow you to demonstrate the tangible benefits in a relatively short space of time. Not all problems can be fixed by AI, of course. But by identifying and addressing issues quickly and effectively, you can create beacons of AI capability that inspire others across the organisation.

Lighthouse projects should aim to be delivered in under eight weeks, instead of eight months. They will provide an immediate and tangible benefit for the business and your customers to be replicated elsewhere. These small wins sow the seeds of transformation that swell from the ground up, empowering small teams to grow in competency, autonomy and relatedness.

  1. Put the customer first, and measure accordingly

Customer-centricity is one of the most popular topics among today’s business leaders. Traditionally, businesses were much more product-centric than customer-centric. Somebody built products and then customers were found. Now, the customer is, and should be, at the heart of everything businesses do.

By taking a customer-centric approach, you will find that business drivers determine many technology decisions.  When creating your AI strategy, create customer centric KPIs that align with the overall corporate objectives and continually measure product execution backwards through the value chain.

  1. Share skills and expertise at scale through an ‘AI community of practice’

The journey to business-wide AI adoption is iterative and continuous. Upon successful completion of a product, the team should evolve into what’s known as an ‘AI community of practice’, which will foster AI innovation and upskill future AI teams.

In the world of rapid AI product iterations, best practices and automation are more relevant than ever. Data science is about repeatable experimentation and measured results. Suppose your AI processes can’t be repeated, and production is being done manually. In that case, data science has been reduced to a data hobby.

  1. Don’t fear failure: deploying AI is a continuous journey 

The formula for successful enterprise-wide AI adoption is nurture the idea, plan, prove, improve and then scale. Mistakes will be made, and lessons learned. This is a completely normal – and valuable – part of the process.

Lighthouse projects need to be proven to work, processes need to be streamlined and teams need to upskill. Businesses need a culture of learning and continuous improvement with people at the centre, through shorter cycles, to drive real transformation.

An experimental culture and continuous improvement, through shorter cycles, can drive real transformation. A successful AI strategy acts as a continually evolving roadmap across the different business functions (people, processes and technology) to ensure your chosen solutions are working towards your business objectives. In short, let your business goals guide your AI transformation, not the other way around.

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Iron Mountain releases 7-steps to ensure digitisation delivers long-term benefits

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Iron Mountain releases 7-steps to ensure digitisation delivers long-term benefits 3

Iron Mountain has released practical guidance to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys. The guidance is part of new research that found that 57% of European enterprise plan to revert new digital processes back to manual solutions post-pandemic.

The research revealed that 93% of respondents have accelerated digitisation during COVID-19 and 86% believe this gives them a competitive edge. However, the majority (57%) fear these changes will be short-lived and their companies will revert to original means of access post-pandemic.

“With 80% still reliant on physical data to do their job, now is a critical time to implement more robust, digital methods of accessing physical storage,” said Stuart Bernard, VP of Digital Solutions at Iron Mountain. “Doing so can enhance efficiency and deliver ROI by unlocking new value in stored data through the use of technology to mine, review and extract insight.”

Why revert?

When COVID-19 hit, companies had to think fast and adapt. Digital solutions were often taken as off-the-shelf, quick fixes – rarely the most economical or effective. But they are delivering benefits – those surveyed reported productivity gains (27%), saving time (20%), enhancing data quality (13%) and cutting costs (12%).

So what now?

The Iron Mountain study includes guidance for how to turn quick-fixes into sustained, long-term solutions. The seven-steps are designed to help businesses future-proof their digital journeys and maximize value from physical storage:

1)     Gather insights: The COVID-19 pandemic allowed organisations to test and learn. Companies should ensure these insights are fed into developing more robust solutions.

2)     Use governance as intelligence: Information governance and compliance are fundamental to data handling. But frameworks aren’t just a set of rules, they hold valuable insights that can be turned into actionable intelligence. Explore your framework to extract learnings.

3)     Understand your risk profile: A key early step is to analyse where you are most vulnerable. With data in motion and people working remotely, which records are at risk? What could be moved into the cloud? Are your vendors resilient?

4)     Focus where you will achieve greatest impact: To prioritise successfully, you need to know where you will achieve the largest impact. This involves looking beyond initial set-up costs towards the holistic benefits of digitisation, including reducing time spent on manual scanning, and the risk of compliance violations.

5)     Reach out and collaborate: We are all in this together. Your IT, security, compliance and facility management teams are all facing the same challenges. Ensure you collaborate across functions to develop robust, integrated solutions.

6)     Find a provider who can relate to your digital journey: For companies that still rely heavily on analogue solutions, digitisation can be daunting and risky. It pays to find a vendor who has been on the same journey, understands your paper processes and can guide you through the digital world.

7)     Prioritise and evolve communication and training programmes: To reap the full rewards from any digitisation initiative, thorough and continuous communication and training is critical. Encouragingly, our survey found that 81% of data handlers have received training to work digitally which is an excellent step in the right direction, but consider teams beyond data handling to truly succeed.

The research was commissioned by Iron Mountain in collaboration with Censuswide. It surveyed 1,000 data handlers among the EMEA region. It found that the departments that have digitised more due to COVID-19 include IT support (40%), customer relationship management (36%), and team resource planning (34%).

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