QuoStar has appointed three new senior members to its recently restructured board as part of the firm’s continued growth plans. Since the start of the year, 20 new people have joined the experienced QuoStar team, with the new additions set to bolster the company’s growth trajectory in 2022.
Andrew Forder, who has nearly 20 years’ experience in the IT service sector, joins QuoStar as Commercial Director. Previously Head of Sales at Nasstar, Andrew has a wealth of sales and account management experience in both mid-size and large UK organisations. He will be managing a dedicated team of enterprise sales individuals focussing on new business while maintaining QuoStar’s first-class client service.
Joining as Chief Technology Officer, Gavin Vickers will take charge of service delivery, IT project management and pre-sales processes. Well-respected industry veteran Gavin was previously Principal Consultant at Nasstar and brings unrivalled experience and capabilities in technical transformation to the role
QuoStar also welcomes Neil Clark as its first Cloud Services Director. Neil, who will lead the cloud services team, has designed, built, and managed numerous cloud platforms over the last decade. Neil previously held the position of Director of Cloud Services at GCI and Nasstar before moving to Head of Service at IT firm Transparity.
With the extended board, the team will continue to develop QuoStar’s position as a leading consultancy and service provider. QuoStar has started working with some well-known clients earlier this year and is continues to expand with a further product launch set for later this year.
James Stelfox, Managing Director of QuoStar, said: “As a team, we’re firm believers in bringing the right industry-leading expertise to each pillar of the business. With these new hires, we’re reiterating our commitment to deliver the best service possible to our clients, which is not only deeply personal to us but also unrivalled in the industry. We’re joined by some of the very best talents in their fields and are excited to leverage their expertise to drive forward their areas of the business.”
Robert Rutherford, CEO of QuoStar, added: “It is an exciting time for QuoStar and we’re delighted to welcome Gavin, Neil and Andrew to QuoStar’s board. Our firm has always been seen as a smaller, heavy hitting consultancy, but the time is now right for us to expand our team and make this transition, while retaining the real care, quality, and outcome-focused attention we have always been known for.”
QuoStar CEO Robert Rutherford looks to the future, sharing his view of what’s going to be big for businesses this year.
Tech trends in 2022.
A shortage of tech talent will widen and rapidly develop the global IT skills market
There is a significant skill shortage in the UK from an IT perspective, which has been coming for some time due to numerous factors. The COVID crisis has certainly added fuel to the fire, as businesses have got used to working effectively with staff and 3rd party suppliers in a digital-only manner. This will certainly push more and more businesses to outsource parts of IT service, development, and other IT projects to outside partners.
You’ll see many businesses reach overseas to where the talent lies at the perceived right price. However, they are going to have to be extremely careful, especially where service is involved. The management overhead is also often underestimated, both during start up and day to day operations. You really need experienced and proven managers and frameworks to get the overseas play correct. The lure of ‘cheap’ labour always has hidden costs.
Digital First a core strategy
Anything that can be done digitally will be getting real focus in 2022. In any new business and departmental strategy, or project that involves a process or a procedure (most, if not all), a digital solution will gain extra weight by default. This is going to be driven by a need to improve efficiency, margin, and security, whilst also improving the user or customer experience. Of course, a digital first strategy doesn’t mean that every operation and interaction must be digitised, but it must be considered.
It is important that digitisation isn’t viewed as simply purchasing technology to solve problems. It’s about understanding the operations and processes (systems) within a business operation and choosing the right technological change or transformation to achieve a business result that is both measurable and positive. This is certainly going to lead to a board having to really get to grips with the strategic use of IT, whilst also bringing in senior IT professionals, such as aCIO, into the core of the business decision making process.
CRM technologies and their uptake will develop quickly
CRM growth has been ramping over the last few years due to customers’ service demands and expectations. Again, due to COVID, the expectation for rapid and effective service in a personalised manner has increased. The fact that most markets have in effect got smaller due to globalisation, businesses are going to need to do more to mine and utilise their data to compete and hold market-share.
It should be noted that CRM is not simply an IT project. It’s really an organisational transformation piece that involves most of the business, and it can take a year or more to even begin to realise the true value it can deliver. Too many businesses have been flying out to ‘buy’ a CRM post-COVID, which will typically lead to a failed ‘business’ project.
Automation will become essential
Due to skills shortages and growing competition, businesses are going to need to get leaner and smarter in how their operations and services are delivered. AI and other technologies are certainly going to help, however businesses do need to take responsibility for truly understanding, mapping and measuring their processes. This is where organisations can protect, as well as increase their margins, plus improve employee and client satisfaction.
You are certainly going to see process improvement and automation come down into the small and mid-market, as margins get squeezed, as the world effect becomes smaller, and as the pace of change ramps – fuelled again by COVID. The demand for systems and business analysts is certainly going to rise, but again the UK is significantly disadvantaged due to a lack ofstrategy from successive governments. Businesses are often going to need to train and develop their own talent to deliver initial and ongoing value.
Improvement in the User Experience
Many industries have been really let down by their main Line of Business vendors, in terms of the Customer Experience (CX), support and product development. This is going to create real friction points due to the more fractured way of working. Software vendors and those providing services to customers online are really going to have to work hard to ensure their products and service offerings better fit the new working model, in terms of the user’s experience.
Businesses are also going to have to consider how easy it is for their staff to complete their duties, especially when working in a remote manner. Are they really as effective as they should be? Is their working experience acceptable? Can they get support when they need it, i.e. 24x7x365? There is a growing trend of staff leaving businesseswhere they feel the technology and support overlays are holding them back.
Cloud workloads move around
There’s been a rush to the cloud prior, and during the pandemic, particularly the public cloud, and predominately Microsoft Azure for day-to-day operations infrastructure and systems. However, the cloud markets move extremely quickly, and a single infrastructure doesn’t fit all workloads, in terms of functionality, security, performance, interoperability and price. The market is pushing private and public vendors to compete within these areas and thus splitting workloads between public and private cloud. A true hyper-connected hybrid model will typically deliver organisations the best value going forward, right now and ongoing.
The rise of cloud multi-platform management, automation tools and the competitive landscape continues to drive innovation and creates specialist vendors and cloud providers. It’s continually becoming simpler to run, manage and migrate between different cloud vendors and platforms with ease. The shift is certainly empowering and aiding the customer. You’ll certainly see more workloads (not entire infrastructures) reverse out of the large public cloud providers into niche players who can deliver greater support, performance, and operational value to specific sectors.
ZTNA becomes the focus
The rapid escalation of remote working has dramatically increased the risk profile of a large percentage of operations. This will rapidly move the focus and ramp adoption of Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) – theGartner coinedterm to enable greater control and security of network access.
Traditional VPN type connections are clunky and can be slow, they also consume significant resources, in terms of equipment and management overheads. Organisations will look to ZTNA to improve the granularity of control of their remote workforces’ access to corporate systems, whilst also simplifying it through ABAC (Attribute Based Access Control) and RBAC (Role Based Access Control). There’s too much to go into here but the rise of cybercrime led by organised gangs focused on monetary rewards means that every door must be locked shut, whilst also not hampering the user experience.
Cyber security becomes board’s problem
Many leadership teams have had some experience of cyber security, due to experiencing a painful incident or perhaps implementing Cyber Essentials (the very basics). However, due to the risk landscape being so huge, and the impact of a security incident being so great, boards are going to have to take the reins on risk management from a cyber security perspective. They are going to have to fully understand risks and controls, thus expect to see a ramp in the demand for Information Security Management Systems (ISMS’s) and the experience of aCISO.
If a board doesn’t insist on an ISMS to ensure that Information Security is managed appropriately then in reality, they are being negligent; regulators know that, as do customers and insurers. No longer can the board leave Information Security to the IT team, they are going to have to take direct responsibility for some of the largest risks their businesses face.
Optimising manufacturing operations isn’t always easy, but it can be achieved with the right IT Solutions.
Manufacturing businesses are typically the best at seeking out efficiency and productivity in their operations, particularly on the shop-floor. However, many still do not apply the same LEAN principles to the rest of their operations, and that can mean the optimisation of processes is more challenging because of a lack of consistency throughout the business.
Systems and process analysis, and automation can be used throughout an organisation to drive down inefficiencies. IT is certainly an enabler of an efficient and well-performing optimisation.
As QuoStar’s Robert Rutherford was recently quoted in the Manufacturer: “Finance operations, for example, are often very bloated, but IT can facilitate outsourcing or offshoring, not only reducing costs but also allowing the process to become quickly automated to a good extent.”
What types of IT solutions and services can help with Optimising manufacturing operations?
Historically, manufacturers were always at the forefront of technology. This has in many ways meant that they experienced the falls and disappointments that come with testing cutting edge solutions. However, technology systems have also been driving results for manufacturers in some areas – such as IoT, cloud services and CRM.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) has certainly given advantage to manufacturers both on the shop-floor and within their products on customer sites – by helping in support and maintenance, but also in querying big data for insights and value. It’s driving decisions around productivity, wastage and research & development to deliver wins across the board.
Cloud services are also still extremely valuable to manufacturers. Although many still keep heavy processing in a private cloud, the public cloud (particularly AWS and Azure) allows operations and development to flex, trial and scale-up (and scale-out) without the traditional costs and complexities of big kit in the server room. The pandemic has heavily accelerated change. Customers have demanded faster innovation, more data and information, greater integration, and increased security.
CRM systems have moved on significantly and its greatly improving the service manufacturers are able to deliver to customers, whether it is on managing expectations, delivering value or collecting relevant information. They can also drive an increase in sales in terms of new business wins, cross-sales and real-engagement with marketing automation.
Big CRM projects were historically associated with large capex costs. However, now they virtually all come in a cloud-based delivery model on a price per user basis.
Digital Transformation Road Mapping & IT Consultancy
Software selection can be a daunting task. It’s a process that all businesses go through, and likely more than once.
Having been involved in the software selection process as project lead, I can understand the weight of responsibility you may feel if you are picking up the reins for the first time. Making the wrong decision can sting, from disgruntled colleagues and the cost of running out the contract to then having to go through the whole selection process again.
Not only does your purchase come with a significant cost (where you’ll need to prove justifiable ROI) but it will likely impact the business and its employees for several years.
However, when you get it right the results can be transformative. Increased productivity, greater visibility and better collaboration between departments are just some of the benefits, but to achieve them, you need to follow the right process. Below I’ve outlined some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to selecting the best software for your business. This can apply to any software, whether you’re looking for a new CRM or marketing automation platform or you need to upgrade your accounting application.
7 tips for business software selection
1. Do involve your colleagues
Unless you’re the sole employee your decision will likely impact others in the workplace, so it’s only fair that they should get a say too. While you may have an idea of the overarching aim for each department, it’s unlikely you’ll know every single process, activity and feature they use on a day-to-day basis.
You don’t have to bring them into every single conversation, but it’s important that employees feel valued and that their opinion counts. For example, when viewing demos, I invited our Sales team into the portion of the meeting where we were reviewing sales tools. It took 20-30 minutes of their time and allowed them to see the software in action, ask questions and see if it lined up with their day-to-day activities.
It may seem like such a basic thing, but you’d be surprised how many businesses make the decision at board level without consulting their employees. Then they wonder why there are grumbles when the software is rolled out to those who have to use it day-in-day-out!
If you’re working with larger teams you could nominate one person to collect requirements, feedback and questions on behalf of the department. That way you’re still involving the relevant people without causing too much disruption.
Before you even begin to contact suppliers, you need to understand why you’re doing it, why you’re doing it now and what your end goal is. This is your project brief and you need it to share with suppliers and to evaluate options. If you were looking for CRM and marketing automation software, for example, your brief may look something like this:
Issue: We currently use 7 different applications to run sales and marketing activity, but none of them integrates properly with each other. Marketing struggles to collect complete data and both departments are working in silos, unaware of the other’s activity.
Timing: Both departments will be growing by 35% in the next 6-12 months, so the current issues will increase, and this will affect the ability to meet targets.
Aim: To find one centralised platform where we can run, analyse and report on all sales and marketing activity.
Goal: To align both departments and increase visibility, allowing us to improve lead nurturing through the entire sales pipeline.
On a side note, if your project brief contains anything like “we want to buy this software because all our competitors have it”, then step away right now. This is never a valid reason for undertaking a project, whether you’re migrating to the cloud, buying new accounting software or any other line of business software.
You’ll also want to include relevant employees in the building of this brief, as you’ll need to get their input on features. I’d suggest each team create a “needs and wants” list. Needs are the features or functionality that they absolutely can’t work without, whereas wants are the ones they would like to have. Ask them to consider what works well with the current software, what issues they’ve run into already and any potential problems they see arising in the future. It doesn’t need to be an in-depth list, but only the people who use the software every single day can tell you how they use it.
3. Do reach out to your network
When we purchase as a consumer, we’re often quick to reach out to family and friends to ask for their recommendations – whether it’s for a new bottle of foundation or deciding which car dealership to engage with. I would recommend bringing this buying behaviour into the workplace as well.
Speak with relevant people in your network and reach out to peer groups to ask their opinion on the applications you’re considering. Ask them about their decision-making process, what applications they considered and why they chose that one. Did the software live up to expectations or are they now facing another brutal evaluation process? Ideally, you’ll want to speak to those in a similar industry and of a similar size to yourself. An enterprise-level business will have completely different requirements to a growing one and what is suitable for one, is unlikely to be for the other.
However, on this note, I do retain a healthy level of scepticism when it comes to online reviews. For every positive singing its praises, you’ll find a negative lamenting the software as the worst decision they ever made. One person will say the interface is simple and intuitive, another will say it’s clunky and makes their job infinitely harder. Of course, some of this comes down to personal preference, but you’ve also got to keep the background in mind. You have no idea how this company went about their decision-making process. Maybe they were mis-sold or maybe their requirements list was inaccurate, so although the software lined up it wasn’t what they needed?
Reviews are also likely the personal experience of a single employee who can also have their motives. Maybe they’re resistant to change, fearful that the software will replace their role or just frustrated that they weren’t consulted even once during the decision-making process.
At the end of the day you can consider reviews as part of the process, just take them with a pinch of salt and don’t base your entire decision on them.
4. Do think long-term
Major software purchases are not a process you want to be going through every year, so you need to consider the future of your business. What are the long-term aims and how does the software fit into the achievement of these. You need software which is flexible and can grow alongside you, adapting to your changing needs.
You’ll likely need your new software to integrate with existing systems, so you need to understand what is possible. Does the vendor have a limited library of integrations or an open API you could theoretically hook anything up to? Are they native integrations or do you need to involve third-party companies? Bear in mind this could come with additional costs, whether it’s a one-off set-up fee, monthly charge or both. Depending on what software you’re looking at you may even need to involve developers to create bespoke integrations and this can send things skyrocketing. That doesn’t mean the software is automatically a no-go, again you need to relate to your project brief. Thinking long-term, what may seem like a big initial outlay could translate into huge ROI in terms of increasing productivity and capabilities.
As part of this, you should also establish how the pricing structure changes. For example, if the amount of data you needed to store increased or you had new team members who needed access to the software.
5. Don’t get distracted by ‘bells & whistles’
Working in the IT industry, I’ve come to learn that technology is the last piece of the puzzle. However, I also know how distracting ‘shiny’ features are. Some software will have hundreds of different features, and with these often presented in a tiered format, you can quickly become bogged down by the detail.
With the rise of automation and with AI being used for things like predictive analysis and decision making, software can do some really ‘cool’ things. So, it’s important to take a step back and consider – is this feature necessary for my business? Yes, it may be cutting-edge, but how is going to help you achieve your goals and do you ‘need’ it right now? Always relate it to your project brief and your requirements list. If this is your first foray into automation, for example, do you need the ability to create advanced 60-step workflows with predictive analysis? Maybe in a few years’ when you’ve proved the ROI of automated workflows and need more advanced segmenting features, but too much at once can be overwhelming.
Remember simply having the software in place isn’t going to deliver results, it’s how you use it that counts.
6. Don’t rush to decide
Unless you have a business-critical issue – like a severe security flaw – you must give yourself plenty of time to decide. You’ll likely be reviewing at least three options, which means you’ll have a lot of information to review and pro and con lists to build.
We’ve all sat through 90-minute demos and by the time it comes to the Q & A portion you’re so saturated with information that you can’t think of anything. I like to give everyone a few days to ‘digest’, think about any questions they have and if they need a more in-depth demo of any of the features. That way you have one list to send back to the supplier, rather than ending up in a game of email tennis. “Oh, I’ve just thought of one more question…”
Do touch base with suppliers during this time, just to inform them you’re taking a few days (or however long) to review the information and will be in touch with questions. Expect them to follow up – after all, it’s their job – but don’t let them pressure you into deciding.
7. Don’t base it all on the flat costs
Moving to a more comprehensive platform is likely to come with a higher price tag than using a library of various applications and connectors, so don’t be immediately put off by the proposal.
You have to consider the cost of time and resources, as well as the information your business is missing. Does your team spend hours each month collecting data from each source to produce a monthly report when it could be done at a click of a button? Do certain tasks get left undone because they’re simply too difficult and painful to complete? Does each department work in silos with no clue what the other is doing – until they run into a problem? Issues like these can be difficult to quantify in terms of pounds and pence, but they will ultimately have an impact on your bottom line. You should also consider the impact on morale. If employees feel like they’re constantly fire-fighting or they’re overwhelmed with the sheer amount of ‘join-the-dot’ work between systems, productivity is going to go downhill quick.
A lack of connection between multiple systems also leaves you with knowledge gaps. How can you make effective business decisions if you don’t have a clear picture? Is this strategy working? What was the return on that activity? Which invoices have been paid? Where are we spending too much time? These questions will only increase and become more pertinent as your business grows.
Key takeaways for effective business software selection
Firstly, don’t let software scare you. There are some great tools out there which really can deliver for your business when utilised correctly. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it has all the answers. Purchasing marketing automation software or migrating to a new CRM won’t suddenly take your lead generation results from zero to hero, but it could help improve the lead nurturing process by giving you a clear overview of all your activities within one place, how they are performing and what is delivering the greatest return. Then you can direct more resources to these activities and improve lead generation as a result.
Just remember – know what you want to achieve, why you are doing it and to take your time. But if you do need a bit of help separating the marketing jargon from tangible business benefits, our consultants have helped many businesses with vendor selection, from practice management systems and ERP software through to cloud platforms and tools.