As part of this year’s Thames Valley Business Barometer report we spoke to five local businesses and what transpired was an overwhelming focus on innovation to improve productivity. The report showed that productivity is outperforming confidence in the region, and perhaps this is why.
Contexta360 improves the way contact centre agents interact with conversations and data and how they provide intelligence to customers. CEO Andrew White tells us: “We can improve performance by listening to conversations and prompting next actions. We also connect to internal and external data sources, using the human-to-human conversational data and applying it to the automated channels”.
Where automation is concerned Andrew says it is all about augmenting manual processes: “It’s about automating a lot of the work for the agent – auto summarise, auto classification, auto survey and so on. Contexta360 sits in the middle of this complex market with our conversational AI”.
Andrew believes the UK is a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs, but we are woefully inefficient and there is a big opportunity for companies like Contexta360 to drive more efficiencies and boost productivity through automation. Their use of advancing technologies is obviously key here.
Another business augmenting some of its processes is Virgin Experience Days, the market leader in gift experiences. According to CFO Christian Jennings, the team are focussing on optimising the business: “It is about getting quicker. Up until early last year we outsourced all of our tech. At the beginning of last year we completed the migration of all our webservers into the cloud. This has given us the capacity to grow at peak times, improving resilience whilst reducing costs”.
He adds that web chat has supplemented the phone system: “We need to acquire customers more cost-effectively, to send them relevant communications to prompt them to repeat purchase and cement loyalty to the brand”. The company is investing in other technology in order to become more efficient and, while this is still very early days, has even implemented a number of robots to automate back office processes on the corporate site.
A current example of digitisation is the implementation of Tax Automation, which addresses specific challenges in-house tax departments face by enabling them to take ownership of their data so that they are less dependent on finance and IT, and are more productive. Bryony Clinton, Founder and Director, believes that initiatives such as Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT has presented both an opportunity and a challenge: “This is HMRC’s first venture in outsourcing software development to the commercial world and I think it was slightly unprepared for it. There are some benefits to MTD, it will create process improvements for organisations, but it involves quite a bit of hoop jumping to send HMRC the same nine numbers. That said, it should encourage better record keeping and reduce mistakes”.
Once many of the manual tax processes have been automated, this will free up time/resource so that clients are free to think about what other processes can be introduced to increase business efficiency. Innovation in one area can often spark similar inspiration in other areas of a businesses, even if it is inspired or enforced by external factors.
Innovation creates opportunity
Clearvision is an Atlassian-based solutions and services company, helping customers concentrate on innovation while it looks after the production line of tooling. Founder, Gerry Tombs explains: “We are a cloud first company and under the cloud are our solutions and underpinning these solutions are our services. Everyone is going cloud and we have a very simple philosophy, customers either have their own cloud, or they outsource to a third party such as Atlassian SaaS Service Cloud, or they use our Clearvision cloud and we can deliver a fully managed service for any of these cloud scenarios”. The company is an example of how innovation cannot only drive efficiencies but also create business opportunities for service providers.
ESP Global Services delivers a tailored suite of IT support services specialising in supporting passenger-facing equipment in the aviation sector and does this for every airport in the UK and several major airlines globally.
Co-Founder, Dr Mike Harling, tells us how in 2000 ESP put employees into key locations around the world as it could see the market was changing. Airports were becoming simpler and the requirement for service companies was decreasing, it decided to branch out to other industries – such as manufacturing and pharmaceuticals – as they must have similar requirement to aviation. Mike comments: “Today it is not about whether you are capable of delivering the service, but what value you can add. For ESP, this has a technology focus and we continuously develop our toolset to greatly simplify the fault handling process and data visibility for our customers”.
David Brookes, BDO partner commented “We have a really skilled workforce in the Thames Valley when it comes to technology so I expected productivity to be high and ultimately when it comes to agile working it’s about trusting your staff.”
It is clear from the above examples that technology and automation is changing the way so many industries do business and provides an outlet for business opportunities. This is why we think it’s important for the government to encourage innovation and digitisation and provide funding to implement Industry 4.0 processes; just one way to solve the UK’s productivity puzzle and support a New Economy.
You can read the full interviews for each of these business in the latest Thames Valley business barometer report.
David Brookes is Tax Partner at BDO.