Node4’s boxing clever in the channel
Fri, 1st Jun 2018
Posted onFriday, June 1, 2018 - 14:25Cries of potential channel conflict have long hounded comms suppliers that deploy both direct and reseller sales strategies, but a Comms Vision 2017 keynote prompted Node4 to turn this perception on its head with the roll out of a well modelled Seminar in a Box programme.
The cloud and hosted services enabler has over 300 channel partners whose customers make up 40 per cent of its £40 million turnover, and Channel Sales Director Andrew Wilson and COO Paul Bryce fervently maintain that Node4's remaining direct customers provide a resource that can be leveraged via ‘referenceability'. We meet at the company's Northampton data centre, one of three spaced across the east Midlands, while the company's TransformIT seminar is in full swing with speakers from suppliers and customers providing education on the benefits of digital transformation and Node4's enabling technologies.
Wilson has been with the company for just over a year since joining from Virgin Media where he was Head of Indirect Channels. Before that he held the same role at Daisy. Wilson was eager to explain why he firmly believes the channel can benefit from Node4's direct customer relationships and the inspiration he gained from Comms Dealer's annual Comms Vision education and networking event. "People see having a direct sales force as a negative, but I see it as a positive, especially in a complex IT environment because we have true proof-points," he stated. "From today's perspective it's about taking customer case studies to describe how and why we won their business. People want to see how new technologies are being bought and consumed.
"At Comms Vision you had a large enterprise customer talking about what he liked from his supplier and how he likes to be approached. I distinctly remembering him saying if you cold called him he would never answer the phone. It was all about how you fit into his strategy and that really got me thinking. We have many case studies of our own with enterprise and mid-level customers who have gone on journeys with us, where it started with one product and lead to us supplying multiple services and becoming a key part of their IT strategy. I thought... ‘How have we done that? Let's hear it from them', so I launched Seminar in a Box six months ago.
"I have pre-canned content and go-to-market messaging for the channel and given them the ability to have access to our data centres, a presentation suite with all the AV facilities and all the key note speakers such as those at our TransformIT event. All they need to do is top and tail it, invite some customers along and we'll help them do the rest."
Wilson says the programme will help resellers develop their status and lead to face-to-face customer introductions where Node4's support team can help close deals. "I did some research with Virgin based on interviews with resellers on what they wanted from their supply chain," added Wilson. "One of the resonant points was that they needed help promoting their business and services and building their brand rather than the suppliers'. At the end of the day if a partner gets us in front of their customers with them, we win. That's what we are good at."
Bryce is certain the Seminar in a Box concept will give channel partners the confidence they need to open new customer conversations. "The channel has always been a route to market for us and it's a large part of our success - 40 per cent of our business comes indirectly," he added. "Andrew's appointment was an acknowledgment that we could do better to support our partners more. We have been trying to equip and enable partners more effectively and Seminar in a Box will give them everything they need to present to their customer base. It's never been done before. They can forklift the whole event into their brand and business and even use our venue if they want.
"Our strapline is ‘enabling business to do business' and we absolutely see ourselves as an enabler. We are in a fortunate position where we have been able to make a lot of investment early on. We've built data centres, cloud platforms, collaboration solutions and security operations centres. All this infrastructure adds up to a great end-to-end capability and we believe our partners should make the most of this investment and add new solutions to their portfolio because the customer conversation is changing. It's now more about strategic direction and digital transformation, and partners need to adapt to that conversation."
Pictured: Paul Bryce and Andrew Wilson
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Contact centre technology - an agent of transformation
Tue, 15th May 2018
Posted onTuesday, May 15, 2018 - 19:07Overworked and bamboozled contact centre agents saddled with legacy technology could be forgiven for wanting to run to the hills after a torrid time handling the daily swamp of incoming contacts. But according to IPNetix MD Kevin Boyer (pictured), their lives could be transformed by a modern day multi-channel solution that delivers on the promise of a golden age in customer engagement.
As an exclusive professional services provider for Avaya Contact Centre solutions, IPNetix knows first-hand what customers experience after a tech upgrade. "We implement solutions and then provide ongoing support," explained Boyer. "This offers a real-life view of what call centre teams think of the technology and how it affects their role and work life."
He cited one business as an example, Carlisle Brass, a developer of door and window furniture for residential and commercial properties and part of the Arran Isle group of companies.
Its Contact Centre Manager, Michele Hocking, once managed a team of agents swamped by answering a high number of calls and responding to orders, queries and issues as they came in.
"They had no routing or tracking capability in the old system, so had a best endeavours approach to serving their customers without any intelligence on the profile of the caller," stated Boyer.
Upgrading to Avaya Contact Center Select enabled Hocking to deliver a consistent level of customer service across teams, reporting and coaching, all of which were previously a challenge due to a lack of call demand management.
"Equally, reports were a trial due to the inability to access all the required information, and coaching was simply secondary," said Boyer. "The only possibility was spending time sitting beside agents and listening to the customer interaction."
Hocking added: "Despite all best endeavours to provide best in class customer service, call and customer wait time increased. It was an incredibly busy and reactive time and testing for the team. However, they did all they could to maintain an honest dialogue with customers, keeping them as informed and up to date as possible."
With the Avaya solution in place Carlisle Brass has seen wait times cut in half and customer satisfaction increase. "Reporting is transformed, and a host of new insights have helped improve the customer journey," explained Hocking.
The real impact, noted Boyer, has been to transform the everyday function of the team, primarily down to the call routing and management capabilities of the new system.
"There is a call flow in place that ensures calls are shared equally and routed to the right team enabling deeper relationships between agents and customers," he said. "Calls are prioritised over email and faxes and all are delivered to the right team and agent, enabling a proactive approach with customer knowledge.
"It now takes seconds to run reports and call recording has made a real difference to team coaching, along with individual performance monitoring."
Hocking commented: "I now have greater insight into the workload of each agent and can use recorded calls to help provide targeted coaching."
Hocking added that both she and the team are less stretched, more structured and focused in their approach. "This has had a tremendous impact not only for Carlisle Brass customers but for the team's wellbeing and culture," she stated.
"None of the team are running for the door at the end of the day. The pressure to respond has been removed and we are relaxed and in control, which naturally improves our interaction with customers and our lives in general."
According to Boyer, customer service really does begin with employees. "It is imperative to give them the ability to listen and resolve and ultimately deliver on time with perfection," he added. "The challenge for companies is to empower and motivate individuals to provide excellent customer service in an environment that considers their wellbeing."
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Empowered by Wi-Fi
Fri, 6th Apr 2018
Posted onFriday, April 6, 2018 - 12:28Multi-dimensional Wi-Fi solutions have created a new paradigm in comms, according to Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of global Wi-Fi analytics provider Purple WiFi, who offers an insight into the power of smart wireless solutions and what they could mean to you.
Advanced Wi-Fi is moving away from the principle of providing Wi-Fi simply as a utility and a cost to the business, to become an experience enhancing and ultimately revenue generating tool that offers improved, actionable intelligence that is a boon to businesses. Purple's proposition is based on turning a Wi-Fi network into a revenue generation tool through social media integration, intuitive analytics and profile-based remarketing.
"Advanced Wi-Fi provides endless opportunities for businesses to think more broadly about how they can connect and engage with customers," commented Wheeldon. "Through the installation of a visitor-based network, businesses can provide a high-speed and secure wireless connection for guests while also collecting data and demographic insights to help tailor and personalise communications, and therefore ultimately deliver a greatly enhanced customer experience."
Personalising a customer's experience can have a significant impact on retention and revenue. However, efforts to engage with customers and make the most of revenue opportunities fall flat when businesses are unable to identify who is in their venue. "With Wi-Fi analytics, organisations can start collecting customer data such as demographics (name, date of birth, gender and hometown), customer contact information, customer interests (via social media), the frequency of visits, customer movements around venues and dwell times etc," added Wheeldon.
"API access enables organisations to quickly integrate this data with their CRM system, something we see a lot of among our larger clients. Using this data, businesses can send real-time SMS and email campaigns to customers based on previous interactions with their brand, driving engagement and client satisfaction. Customers have come to expect personalised content and improved experiences."
Purple WiFi's integrated marketing tool, called LogicFlow, enables businesses to create and deliver such bespoke marketing campaigns with 'minimal effort', noted Wheeldon, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing initiatives and business operations. Purple WiFi works with channel partners to present such RoI based solutions for deploying new and refreshed legacy infrastructures, often pulling through 20x the Purple license cost in attributed hardware and services contracts for the partner.
According to a recent MarketsandMarkets report, which included input from Purple WiFi, the global managed Wi-Fi solutions market is expected to grow from $3.07 billion in 2017 to a $6.11 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 14.8 per cent during the forecast period. "Figures from our own data correlate with this prediction, with the number of UK venues using a guest Wi-Fi network increasing year-on-year (2016-17) by 36 per cent, while the number of users logging into the Wi-Fi at these venues rose by 57 per cent," said Wheeldon.
Purple WiFi is headquartered in the UK and has international offices in the US, Chile, Spain, Singapore and Australia. Its enterprise solution is live in 24 languages across 160 countries. "We have data on 50 million unique individuals across 300 million visits to 34,000 venues," added Wheeldon. "From this data we have been able to conclude that on average 75 per cent of customers do not return to a venue. We appreciate that this figure will differ across sectors and industries, but customer retention is a huge pain point for many businesses.
"Through the installation of a guest Wi-Fi network alone companies can improve customer retention by seven per cent. And by sending personalised real-time SMS and email marketing campaigns to guests this figure rises to 14 per cent. These increases can have a significant impact on revenue."
The future for Wi-Fi is certainly robust, characterised by strong growth and continued technological innovations. "Advanced Wi-Fi appeals to more than just IT - tripling the addressable market," added Wheeldon. "We do a lot of work with digital marketing, planogramming, customer insight and experience teams."
In working with channel partners Wheeldon has observed two key trends. "Resellers are moving towards a method of leading with RoI, touching customers' pain points and explaining ways they can support and help drive increased retention, which leads to a multi-dimensional Wi-Fi solution," he said. "We are also seeing a definite shift towards a managed service model where resellers can add value on a regular basis and generate recurring revenue. We expect this trend to continue as the demand for connectivity and wireless increases over the coming five years."•
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9 puts partners on road to IT services revenues
Fri, 2nd Feb 2018
Posted onFriday, February 2, 2018 - 12:23Appealing to partners on important matters outside their comfort zone is a productive strategy deployed by 9 which, for example, holds interactive workshops with resellers on how to confidently stride into the cloud IT services arena.
It is a fact that the IT market is a beacon to which comms resellers should now be following, but the rise of data and cloud-based communications can seem a strategic minefield for traditional comms players. The key to unlocking their potential to succeed in these new markets, believes Director of 9 Partners Adam Cathcart (pictured above), is to pique their interest and genuinely listen, engage and consult on the crux of where opportunity meets challenge.
"The channel is facing a range of pressures on traditional product margins, but there is potentially a larger upside opportunity presented by entry into a range of adjacent markets reselling new products and services," said Cathcart. "Simply handing over product information, as has been dictated by convention, is not enough. This is about presenting the opportunity, listening closely to real-world feedback and then delivering a go-to-market strategy and the support that our partners need to be successful."
With their eyes opened to the potential for business growth in reselling products and services such as Microsoft's Office 365 portfolio, Cathcart says partners find the courage to meet the challenges head-on, rather than risk vanishing in a cloud because they have not been given a fighting chance to future proof their longer- term business planning.
"Selecting the correct strategy, portfolio and provider can be a challenge and lead to inaction," added Cathcart. "But hearing Microsoft product experts describe the opportunity and share ideas on how to successfully market cloud IT services to current and new customers has proven to be a stimulating catalyst for partners who were once daunted by the notion of becoming an IT services provider."
9 stages its working groups at its headquarters in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. The company holds multiple Microsoft Gold Partner certifications and Cathcart noted that 9 has optimised its IT services product offering and commercials for partners and is planning to launch the proposition across the wider channel during Q2 this year. The cloud IT services portfolio is augmented by provisioning, billing and support services which Cathcart says will spark interest and growth across 9's partner base.
"By reducing the barriers and friction that partners often encounter when adopting a new product we believe that our partners will be enabled to win business from day one," said Cathcart. "Experts from 9 will support partners across the complete sales journey, offering pre- sales, sales and marketing resources that work hand in hand with partners and their customers."
One such partner is Lascom Managing Director Karl Cheshire (pictured left) who was drawn to 9's IT services strategy but required a leg-up to address the expansive opportunity that first appeared alien to him. "It is important for service providers to fully understand the issues facing their channel partners," he stated.
"Standard product information and off-the-shelf training does little to encourage interest let alone action. But through focusing on partner feedback and listening to our viewpoints and concerns 9 has formulated an approach that helps companies such as mine to engage with our customers, influence the market and secure new cloud IT services business."
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ICUK's infrastructure mapping tool sets a new course
Tue, 12th Dec 2017
Posted onTuesday, December 12, 2017 - 17:31The first version of a mapping tool that enables its users to locate and fully understand the carrier infrastructure serving specific locations has been launched by ICUK. The service is designed to help partners improve the planning of their infrastructure projects and anticipate potential delivery issues ahead of agreements being made with customers.
In its first phase the application gives ICUK partners useful data at their fingertips on Openreach's ducts and fibre installations.
This gives partners a clear view of the existing infrastructure, whether in situ or in planning, along with the available capacities (plus other useful data), all of which enables resellers to make the most coordinated and appropriate decisions when proposing leased line solutions (or the like) to customers.
In developing the service ICUK plotted Openreach's infrastructure chart onto Google maps and then created imaged representations via satellite and street views with graphical markers, bringing a new visual dimension to the data. "You can now stroll down a road virtually and make sense of street infrastructure and existing fibre installations," stated ICUK Director Paul Barnett (pictured).
According to Barnett another of the cast-iron advantages that Openreach Infrastructure Maps gives partners is an ability to demonstrate to customers deep knowledge of the local infrastructure and explain the implications of this data on project planning and delivery. "Armed with this tool the sales conversation isn't just about the benefits of a technology and its price," stated Barnett. "Partners are empowered by their ability to instil confidence in their customers by showing that they truly understand the product and are able to provide fair warning of potential challenges.
"The multiple technologies and carriers plotted on our maps will form the crux of initial conversations with companies wanting to improve their broadband speeds or resilience. This moves the sales discussion away from price, and allows sales people to up-sell resilience and differentiate by talking intelligently about the options."
The reality is that until now it has been difficult to correctly predict delivery timescales and make proper evaluations on whether an installation will be problematical, but trials of ICUK's infrastructure mapping service have for the first time introduced a new level of certainty to leased line quoting and delivery experiences, according to Barnett.
"The detailed data we give to partners is far superior to the traditional unspecific approach of saying to customers that 'delivery will be within 45-90 days', which leaves provisioning teams to deal with the fact that such time scales are generic and sometimes unachievable," added Barnett. "Current quoting processes for leased lines offer no visibility into the local infrastructure. Nor do they give insights into how tricky an installation may be."
To help partners get a firm grasp of Openreach's local infrastructure, ICUK's new application pinpoints ducts and their precise points of entry into buildings. "Duct visibility is helpful because it confirms that infrastructure is in place and that an access point is available," explained Barnett. "On the other hand, a postcode may be recognised but in reality the customer location could be under construction or newly built. Being able to understand scenarios such as this enables partners to alert customers about possible difficulties.
"Likewise, for diverse requirements we are able to determine whether there are logical exit points. Furthermore, we can locate fibre nodes nearby which may be in the street infrastructure - underground fibre pits for example - or existing installations in buildings or street furniture."
Barnett noted that knowledge of existing fibre into a premises (or nearby) significantly reduces the possibility of excess construction charges, while also flagging up the challenges or potential delays that may have a negative impact on an installation. To gain early insights into such cases, ICUK has access to Openreach's category classification for addresses, which is an assessment of how tricky certain locations might be to service.
The basis for ICUK's mapping tool is not a new idea, others exist, but Barnett says the firm's innovation has overcome the limitations of its predecessors - and is a fast-track to a new age of infrastructure mapping. "The drawbacks common to current offerings, which plot against Ordnance Survey maps, include not always being up-to-date, a lack of company names, and no zoom facility to properly assess duct entry points into a building," explained Barnett. "Visualising Ordnance Survey maps isn't as intuitive as Google Maps, and there are no satellite or street view options, nor the ability to extend search results.
"Converting the format of data used in Ordnance Survey maps to work with Google was a challenge. But our effort was worthwhile. Satellite views are helpful, especially in challenging or new-build locations. You can also get an idea of the geographical considerations which standard maps fail to show. And by simply repositioning the pin we can extend the search without losing the original data set. All this is a snapshot of what this tool will ultimately deliver over the long-term."
Barnett wants more mapping capacity and his plan is to steadily build up the service by adding more data about carrier infrastructure. One near-term possibility is to overlay Openreach and Virgin data. "Full knowledge about fibre which is nearby or in the same building can help to determine price as well as which carrier is selected," added Barnett.
Nor is that all. The service could extend beyond fibre to plot wireless carriers and their radial coverage (subject to line of sight). Why stop there? Introduce mobile carriers into the mix and determining the best 4G coverage becomes a piece of cake, making the choice of provider for back-up or pre-Ethernet services just as easy. "We could even get to a point where we show coverage based on the direction of an aerial," stated Barnett.
"Our vision is to maximise the potential of the Big Data at our disposal, and Openreach Infrastructure Maps is just the beginning. We're arming our resellers with true visibility of potential solutions, options and challenges, all as part of ICUK's quoting and provisioning experience. Our integration with Openreach is the first step-change as we look to overlay other carrier and technology data, extending beyond leased lines into all of our current and future services."•
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How analytics is changing customer interactions
Tue, 14th Nov 2017
Posted onTuesday, November 14, 2017 - 15:52The way bottomless troves of customer data are analysed and used is down to the R&D activities of communication interaction experts such as Akixi, Oak Innovation and Tollring. Here, we gain insights into their strategies and priorities as they manoeuvre to help resellers bring leading edge analytics and automation technologies to SMEs.
Developments in data collection, analysis and AI promise to give businesses the insights they need to improve the experience they deliver to customers. And the ability of speech analysis to interpret unstructured data such as call recordings, combined with the rise of natural language processing (NLP) technologies, means that organisations have a treasure trove of information at their finger tips. Modern day speech analysis, for example, is not so much about what is said, but how a caller says it, with their tone of voice, the words they choose to use, sentiment and pauses all suggesting a particular emotion or mood. "The dramatic improvement in speech technologies means that we can service incoming calls in a more automated way and with higher transcription rates than humans," said Phillip Reynolds (pictured), CTO, Oak Innovation. "And with mood detection we've got a lot more to work with in terms of understanding our customers.
"There is also a shift towards self-service, ongoing improvements in automation and the availability of apps for everything. Demographics will determine how each customer group wishes to be looked after - some wanting to talk to a person, others happy to interact with a computer service in the cloud or on their smartphone, some preferring to use email or the postal service. It's about delivering the best service to customers in the way they want to receive it. Resellers have always been brilliant at selling telecommunications, but now they're selling communications and the customer experience."
Unlocking the data treasure trove has hitherto been expensive and the exclusive domain of large companies and large contact centres. But these technologies are now affordable to all businesses. "Future growth in this area is an enormous opportunity for resellers," stated Reynolds. "We are following the trend with our cloud-based solutions and multi-site and multi-tenanted support, as well as our hosted, data centre and CPE solutions. The clever thing is to bring them all together into one platform with multiple and flexible deployment models, which we've done."
Reynolds is now 'majoring' on integrations and providing a managed integration service. "Customers don't necessarily want to fork lift out their business or CRM systems, but they do want to take advantage of the latest customer engagement and measuring models," Reynolds explained. "Resellers need support on this integration journey. Someone who can help them deliver solutions to a wide variety of industries."
Oak Innovation's R&D is focused on the company's single communications platform. It can be deployed on a cloud, hosted or CPE basis, and supports call recording, call reporting and performance analytics, with CRM and database integration. "We also have several mobile development tracks in progress," commented Reynolds. "Some for our traditional markets, and others for new methods of delivering the customer service solutions of the future."
According to Carl Boraman, Commercial Director at Tollring, we are entering a new phase of business analytics based on data from omni-channel communications. Not just phone calls but also Skype for Business interactions, cloud calls, video calls, web chats, web bots, emails, social media etc. Here, the analytics can be lifted out of their traditional silos, consolidated and easily analysed, he pointed out. "These insights will help to deliver an immense understanding of customer behaviour, which in turn will trigger initiatives to drive up customer satisfaction and profitability," stated Boraman.
The big opportunity is the 'democratisation of data', believes Boraman, as cutting edge analytics solutions become accessible to SMEs. "Cloud-based omni-channel solutions are beginning to emerge," he said. "Growth in the demand for omni-channel in the SME sector is going to explode over the next few years as the cost and complexity barriers to entry are removed. Omni-channel as a Service (OCaaS) will become the norm."
Another trend noted by Boraman is that more SMEs are investing in contact centre solutions, not to manage and increase agent productivity, but to access the rich information offered by customer analytics. "Forward thinking SMEs are hungry to understand their customers better than ever before," he added.
Tollring's main priority is to expand the capabilities of its reporting and recording products to deliver a single pane of glass analytics solution. "This will combine customer interactions with APIs into all major CRM systems, where the complete customer journey, history and behaviour can be easily captured and understood," stated Boraman. "The aim is to ensure that customers receive the best experience first time every time according to their needs and behaviours."
A key focus area for Tollring's R&D is expanding its omni-channel tools to include new features such as sentiment analytics around video, where Boraman sees a big opportunity. "GDPR compliance is another key investment area for us, to ensure the safe management of personal information that we hold on behalf of our SP and OEM partners and their customers," he added. "Our partners depend on us to keep them protected and ensure they meet current as well as future regulatory compliance. Tollring's ongoing development will enhance functionality and capabilities, embedding 'security by design' for GDPR compliance.
"GDPR is a huge consideration for businesses. In situations such as the contact centre where capturing and storing personal information for non-essential purposes is the norm, changes will take place over the coming months. We will be offering our partners and their customers full GDPR compliance products before the May 2018 deadline."
Having a clear sight of financial business stats and what they mean is also high on the wish list of all organisations, and Akixi Managing Director Bart Delgado is urging resellers to 'follow the money' with the launch of new features that deliver the 'dream'. "The link between company activity and fiscal results has always been one of the most desired metrics in the quest for business improvement," he said. "But this data has been too difficult or unreliable to correlate due to the disparity of information silos. Now it is becoming far easier to interact between those silos as we introduce features that highlight financial statistics and show the monetary value of calls waiting, answered and abandoned.
"It is only when resellers understand how customers make money that they can get a clear picture of the supporting business processes and customer engagement cycle. Resellers can then engage with the customer to ascertain their pinch points and challenges, before educating and working with them to define a better way of working. Of course, this also raises the question of Business Intelligence, and how by integrating and connecting customers' independent systems there is an opportunity to not only improve efficiency and productivity in the short-term, but also to inform better decision making across the customer's business in the long-term." •
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Why apprenticeships should become company policy
Tue, 10th Oct 2017
Posted onTuesday, October 10, 2017 - 16:53Green Telecom Managing Director Steve Hayden and the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP) have called on the communications industry to prioritise the employment of young apprentices as a matter of organisational policy. Here's why...
Just talking about the skills gap in telecoms doesn't get the job done. What we really need to do is take action and inspire apprentices with the wonders of our vibrant sector, and work hand in hand with the ITP to champion bright young people and help them lay the foundation of a successful career in IT and telecoms, according to Hayden. He has called for the employment of apprentices to become compulsory, with a minimum ratio of one apprentice per ten employees. "Apprenticeships are a great opportunity to take someone into your business and train them in your ways and systems," he commented. "And they help to fill the skills gap. Qualified engineers are hard to come by in telecoms."
Green Telecom was established in 1989 by Hayden as an installer of telephone systems for other telcos. The company became a reseller in 1995 and currently employs 12 staff with a turnover of almost £2 million. Green Telecom is based in Chesham and owns its offices, and has come a long way from the double garage in Ruislip where Hayden started the business. "We believe in honesty, value and a professional but happy work environment which includes apprentices," added Hayden. "We have been involved with the ITP apprenticeship scheme since the outset and our main engineer, Aneel Ahmed (pictured right with Steve Hayden), came through the first cohort."
Hayden himself started out as an apprentice engineer with BT when he left school in 1981. He believes that the number of apprentices employed by a business is a sound indicator of its practical approach to strengthening and growing from within. Moreover, apprentices like Aneel make their career decisions according to what they find relevant to their future lives, which means they have a long-term vested interest in their employer. "My first apprentice role at Green Telecom was as a Junior Telecoms Engineer," said Aneel. "I started off by learning the basics of telecoms such as the use of Cat 5 cable and how to terminate these at a customer site, and then moved on to system installations and programming."
The ITP's role was to help Aneel settle in at Green Telecom and Coventry City College where he studied. The ITP also provided a mentor for Aneel to contact should he need help with the NVQ and its associated assignments. His role as Apprentice Telecoms Engineer lasted 18 months, the time it took for him to complete a Level 3 Diploma. "Once I had achieved my qualification I had a review meeting with Steve Hayden to discuss my future role and career ambitions," commented Aneel. "Because I was qualified my job role changed to Telecoms Engineer.
"My work colleagues were supportive with my apprenticeship assignments and NVQ, and I was given all the help I needed. I was also assigned a mentor within the workplace so I had someone to discuss, plan and complete my apprenticeship NVQ. Although studying and working together was challenging, it helped to develop my skills as I was able to put the theory I was studying into practice almost straight away."
Aneel is now a Senior Engineer and has trained as a multi-skilled employee, enabling him to help in the IT and customer service departments when required. "The apprenticeship scheme not only enabled me to develop technical skills in IT and telecoms, it also helped me to develop key employability skills such as communication, presentation and time management," he explained.
Aneel is currently studying through The Open University to achieve a foundation degree in Networking. "Once I have achieved this I aim to sit the Cisco CCNA exam and in the future look at completing other Cisco certifications," he said. "I will keep my options open for future qualifications and certifications as I think it's important to carry on learning and developing skills to keep up with future technologies in this industry."
Apprentices are more likely to be loyal to a company that has given them an opportunity to gain qualifications and practical experience in the workplace. "I would recommend all businesses to consider employing an apprentice" commented Aneel. "It provides a fantastic opportunity to train a young, willing individual and develop them into the type of employee the company requires. The apprentice can be trained in areas of the business where there is a lack of skilled employees, leading to more productivity and the freeing up of staff time to undertake other responsibilities."
Aneel's success during his apprenticeship was rewarded with an Apprentice of The Year award at the Annual ITP awards evening. "Aneel's story is a fantastic example of the power of apprenticeships and highlights the benefits apprentices bring to any business, large or small," commented Crissi Williams, CEO of the ITP. "It's a win-win situation for both the apprentice and employer, and is almost always a great learning experience for both. Green Telecom has paved the way in terms of employing and developing its apprentices, and we hope this will encourage other businesses to get on board. Even if they only employ one apprentice per year, it can have a huge impact on the bottom line."•
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The making of HSCN: An inside view
Thu, 7th Sep 2017
Posted onThursday, September 7, 2017 - 16:15Close collaboration between the comms industry and the Public Sector has delivered a new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) designed to help SME providers flourish in a far more competitive marketplace. Here, Adept Telecom CEO Ian Fishwick provides insights into how the new framework was created.
In tandem with his Chief Executive role Fishwick doubles up as the Commercial Director of Innopsis, the Telecoms Trade Association that advised NHS Digital on the creation of the new HSCN. He also represents the telecoms industry on the Cabinet Office SME Panel, and brings key insights into the progress made towards the new competitive marketplace for integrated networks in the health sector.
In early 2016, NHS Digital (HSCIC as it was then known) approached Innopsis for help in the creation of the new HSCN. The key questions to address were: How to replace a single supplier network (N3) that has been around for well over a decade with a vibrant competitive marketplace for the supply of health and social care data networks? How to ensure that non-NHS organisations can connect to the NHS securely? And how suppliers can be seen to be approved and operating to the same standards?
According to Fishwick, the formation of HSCN and its introduction in April this year is a shining example of how industry and the public sector can work together in answering questions such as these. And in addressing the issues at hand, Innopsis settled on three key focus areas - Commercial and Governance, Technical and Security, and Service Management. The first of these categories looked at how to create a marketplace where suppliers can compete on a level playing field. Innopsis explored ways for suppliers to become compliant and what that approval process would look like.
In terms of Technical and Security, the pressing concerns focused on how HSCN can become an interoperable 'network of networks' whereby the individual supplier networks work together seamlessly. It considered the security standards suppliers and users should follow to ensure the network is safe to use. Next, the Service Management category assessed how the 'network of networks' will be monitored and managed in-life to guarantee a high level of availability for end users.
To address the big issues outlined above each working group had joint chairs - a subject matter expert from NHS Digital and a corresponding director from Innopsis who co-ordinated the view of industry. Fishwick was the industry joint chair of the HSCN Commercial and Governance working group.
"On passing stage 1 of the HSCN Compliance process a supplier is given the blue HSCN Compliant logo so that users can see that it is authorised to sell HSCN connectivity," stated Fishwick. "Once a supplier has achieved HSCN Stage 2 Compliance they are then authorised to start installing new HSCN circuits."
Early procurements were placed under RM1045 (Crown Commercial Service's Network Services Framework). Customers could either issue tenders or choose a supplier and place direct awards from a suppliers' online catalogue. Crown Commercial Service will then issue a HSCN-specific framework because some of the HSCN Compliant suppliers did not qualify for RM1045 when it was awarded two years ago. This means there will be more suppliers to choose from.
"In order to speed up the migration from N3 to HSCN, NHS Digital will co-ordinate aggregated procurements whereby several organisations can be grouped together under a single tender," explained Fishwick. "Before a customer can install HSCN circuits they need to get the funding approved from NHS Digital. As N3 was previously funded centrally, each buyer now needs to apply for funding from NHS Digital before they commence procurement. The buyer also needs to sign a HSCN Code of Connection. This has been simplified to one code per organisation rather than one per site, making it much easier for multi-site organisations."
The migration to HSCN is planned to be completed by August 2020. It is expected to support around 35,000 digital connections across England and Wales (even more if it reaches its full potential), creating the largest public sector network infrastructure in the UK.
Adept Telecom has long been a SME provider of network services to the public sector and has a strong customer base in public and private health organisations. The company is a Crown Commercial Services supplier with the right to provide services under the CCS Network Services Framework RM1045. Adept gained approved supplier status in July 2015 for all four lots that it applied for and has since won a number of significant contracts across them.
Adept Telecom is now able to offer HSCN compliant network services to health and social care organisations. "The ultimate goal is to support better integration across health and social care organisations," added Fishwick. "But it also represents an important opportunity for health organisations to achieve significant cost savings on network spend."•
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Ways to gain business acumen
Wed, 2nd Aug 2017
Posted onWednesday, August 2, 2017 - 12:48Resellers who set on a path towards the BI landscape will soon have the power to change the course of how businesses will operate in the future, according to Ged Cooney, Director of Legal & Commercial at TeleWare.
All case studies show that BI projects overwhelmingly benefit the end user, which is an undeniably good sign for resellers who observe with interest what is happening in the analytics market, who understand that BI solutions are essential for the future workplace and see how they can be adopted to both their own and their customers' advantage. But this means asking serious questions and facing new challenges, noted Cooney.
"The main challenges faced by businesses wanting to embark on a Business Intelligence journey are in establishing their business intelligence and analytics targets, demonstrating a significant return on investment and overcoming the perception that it is costly and resource intensive to achieve analytics goals," he stated. "Data held on numerous legacy systems makes a single source of truth difficult. A wide range of specialist skills and tools are required, such as data engineering, data science, data visualisation, Machine Learning and Cognitive API platforms. It is unlikely that many businesses will have the required expertise therefore they need partners with these skills to bridge the gap."
Resellers can help customers by partnering with companies that have the range of expertise necessary to achieve their customer's analytics goals, while helping customers understand the competitive advantages that new analytics technologies can bring in terms of increased sales, reduced costs and enhanced customer experiences. "But first they must gain a deep understanding of the customer's different business intelligence requirements, whether this be high level performance management dashboards or self-serve tools enabling specific business users to gain deep insights from their data," added Cooney. "Then, clear delivery milestones that enable project sponsors to set expectations within the business should be agreed."
It is important for resellers to engage with end user customers at all stages of deployment and adopt an agile approach that also delivers early wins, believes Cooney. Resellers should aim to deploy solutions that maximise self-service analysis tools as they work best when placed into the hands of business users rather than the IT teams. "The users are the ones who will identify the insight but they need to rely on the IT team to produce the analysis," advised Cooney.
The BI market trends of most interest to Cooney include the rise of the cloud which enables the flexible and cost-effective deployment of feature rich services; Machine Learning which promotes advanced analytics including predictive analysis; and automation techniques that allow actions to be taken following analysis with minimal intervention.
In response to these BI market opportunities TeleWare leverages expertise across a range of disciplines to deliver insights for customers. With over 50 years combined experience of BI and analytics, it has developed a simple and structured approach (see panel box). TeleWare's main target markets are retail and financial services, and Cooney cited two examples of BI in action within these sectors.
Through Stream Analytics, Azure Machine Learning and Power BI, TeleWare provided predictive analytics for a retail customer's contact centre solution that enabled it to understand the factors affecting their agent answer rates. TeleWare was able to significantly reduce the abandoned call percentage. And with Azure Machine Learning and Power BI, TeleWare developed a sales pipeline predictive analytics solution that enabled customers to target resources at the high probability opportunities. This substantially reduced the customer acquisition costs.
As we have seen, key growth areas for TeleWare include providing advanced analytics services into its financial services customers, enabling them to reduce the cost of compliance, as well as bringing the power of machine learning and predictive analytics to its retail customers enabling them to enhance their customer experience. TeleWare's current priorities also include helping its customers to realise the value from their data through the adoption of the latest Microsoft cloud technologies. "While these technologies offer some outstanding features, in order to realise the full benefit of them still requires a range of skills that are not generally available to customers," said Cooney. "Therefore the channel has a major opportunity to help customers fully realise the benefits of BI."•
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Top marks: Partners bring fibre to the classroom
Thu, 6th Jul 2017
Posted onThursday, July 6, 2017 - 13:21Technology is reshaping the education sector and pushing the limits of learning and its delivery. Here's how one channel partnership is harnessing full fibre to remodel the future of education.
The education sector is undergoing a technological transformation and Exa Networks, CityFibre's primary education partner, is at the forefront of this digital transformation. "Education sector requirements have shifted over the last few years with schools increasingly needing higher speed connectivity to get the best out of online teaching resources," said Mark Cowgill (pictured above), Director and co-founder, Exa Networks. "Meanwhile, the emergence of academies has created a new dynamic in terms of purchasing with more opportunities for educators to seek out service arrangements that fit their particular needs."
As demand for bandwidth-intensive resources grows Cowgill expects more and more schools to introduce gigabit capacity services. "They're choosing connectivity options that offer the flexibility and capability to increase speed to match demands," he added. "Our DarkLight product is suitable for these schools, giving them the ability to increase their bandwidth within minutes at any time and for as long as needed. Schools also want secure connectivity at all times, and they're often looking for high upload speeds to make it easier to use cloud back-up services."
Andy Nash (pictured left), Head of Public Sector at CityFibre, noted that the alternative provider has been supplying dark fibre connectivity via its partners to a growing number of universities over the past year. "Demand is driven by the need for higher bandwidth of course, but it's additional benefits such as multiple fibres and full control over scalability for the future that really influence the decision making process," he explained. "We're also seeing more local authorities choosing to include schools in their procurements irrespective of the academisation programme."
Investing in dark fibre infrastructure to serve schools as well as other public sites maximises the benefits of a full fibre network investment. It also leaves schools free to focus their IT budgets on other priorities and serves to improve education across the whole region. That said, many schools are concerned with budgeting and planned cuts, which means that buying new technology isn't necessarily as much of a priority as it has been in recent years, noted Cowgill.
"Many of those wanting to introduce new technology are therefore looking for cost cutting solutions," he commented. "That could mean reducing time spent on things that could be handled quicker by technology. Or, increasingly, reducing what they're paying for various services."
ICT buyers in education face ongoing cost versus bandwidth challenges due to the relentless rise of curriculum dependencies on Internet and IT use, and a constant pressure on available budgets. This is prompting them to take a much longer-term view of ICT investment, one that will derive savings over a lifetime and make the entire school or college ecosystem more efficient.
"That's exactly what full fibre solutions can deliver," stated Nash. "By providing easy and affordable access to dark fibre CityFibre gives partners the choice and control they need to build and deploy services that are tailored to meet the needs of technologically demanding Higher and Further Education establishments, and more budget challenged primary and secondary schools. And of course, as CityFibre continues to accelerate its UK Gigabit City build, so the opportunity for digital transformation deepens right across the education and public sector as well as for businesses in those same regions."
Fibre services are more important to schools now than ever - and this will only increase, believes Cowgill. "Even before considering the high bandwidth requirements of BYOD and tablet schemes (reliant on wireless connectivity), there's an overwhelming amount of genuinely useful material for students online and we're encouraged by the number of schools that are actively working to get the best out of these resources," he added. "Over recent years connectivity has become significantly more powerful and less expensive, and we expect things to get even better with the increasing availability of dark fibre."
Future trends will also bring far more coding, applications development as well as distance and cloud-based learning, some of which will take place beyond a typical classroom environment. For these types of activities to be successful across multiple classes simultaneously, high capacity and scalable bandwidth will be increasingly essential, pointed out Nash. "The trend towards learning outside of the classroom using iPads and cloud will continue, leading to a greater dependency on ubiquity, resilience and performance of connectivity," he added.
"Wireless is a way to derive maximum use and flexibility from investments in full fibre and high capacity networks. But it also enables students to break free from the class room. This brings enrichment, flexibility and variety to learning for the benefit of all students and staff. Reliable wireless connectivity also opens the door to innovative new technologies and services that can help schools become safer, more efficient and far better managed."
A number of school districts are coming to the end of their connectivity contracts with local authorities over the coming months, so many schools will be looking to improve the services they're getting, prioritising higher speeds, increased reliability and better prices. "We also feel that there's going to be an increased focus on value added services such as content filtering, with schools looking to get the best possible offers from their providers," said Cowgill.
"Pure fibre connections, such as our DarkLight service, are a major area of opportunity for those looking to provide to schools. This technology enables the improved speeds that schools are looking for, while often allowing resellers to offer schools better pricing than other options - a real no lose situation in a lot of cases."
But getting a foothold in the education sector is a tough task for many resellers. "The main challenges generally relate to a reseller's ability to appear on key public sector framework agreements that universities and schools use to procure ICT services," said Nash. "This tends to restrict some of the smaller players as the costs and accreditations required to get a position on these frameworks can be expensive."
Cowgill also underlined the challenge faced by smaller players. "It's traditionally quite difficult for resellers to approach schools," he said. "Most schools in any given area see their contracts renew at the same time, so there's a short period of opportunity for those looking to sell to the education sector, particularly considering the relatively long contract periods involved. Beyond that, it's often difficult for schools to actually talk to an unbiased source about the advantages of the various services available to them, so sites like EduGeek are invaluable in this respect."
CityFibre has a powerful message for the education sector. "The CityFibre model is one of inward investment, the stimulation of competition into next generation gigabit capable networks and progressively making fibre solutions available to all," stated Nash. "That starts with the education sector. All of our schools should be able to benefit from the very best in connectivity and bandwidth speed. We should be equipping schools with the right infrastructure solution to support their needs.
"The JANET framework which procures dark fibre infrastructure has been successful in serving higher education requirements. We understand that this framework will be re-procured this year, potentially giving more companies the opportunity to bid for a secure position on the framework.
"We also encourage local government to procure on behalf of schools. By combining the civic estates of the local authority with the schools or higher education estate, substantial economies of scale and savings can be derived for the public sector. CityFibre has a number of examples where this shared platform proposition has been procured by local government, such as our Gigabit City projects in York, Kirklees and Edinburgh."
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