Lunchtime Yoga anyone?

Can you leverage Tech and Software to Reduce Workplace Stress?

With stress and mental health issues accounting for a high proportion of absenteeism, many companies and HR departments are putting strategies in to place to support their employees in an effort to reduce workplace stress, and there seem to be a lot of in-house lunchtime yoga classes springing up.  Arecent survey by Perkbox found that 59% of 3,000 respondents felt stressed because of their work, with overwork being given as the biggest reason.  How will lunchtime yoga help with that?  Don’t get me wrong, I think lunchtime yoga is great and I think when it is part of a bigger initiative that also involves you reviewing your systems and processes to see how you can better manage workflows and workloads, it will be awesome.

There are several advantages to taking this approach to reducing workplace stress:  not only do you ensure a happier, healthier workforce but you also improve productivity and efficiency, potentially reducing costs in a variety of ways (not least via a reduction in absenteeism and an increase in staff retention).

So, let’s take a brief look at some workplace stress factors and possible tech solutions.

 

Office Environment

Hands up who still works in an open plan office?  Hands up who would rather not?  Thought so. From arguments over how hot/cold it should be to what music (if any) should be playing in the background, open plan offices can cause huge amounts of stress.  Even if the atmosphere is harmonious, the sound generated is usually quite harsh and it can be difficult to concentrate with all the distractions and interruptions.

So, what’s the solution? Ask your employees how they would prefer to work.  With all the different communication tools available to us now, is there really a need to have everyone working in one big, echoey room?  Moving to smaller work spaces with break out areas for when group working is beneficial, could make a massive difference. And if that really isn’t possible, what about utilising some of the new technologically advanced sound proofing boards that are available.  Strategically placed around the room, these boards will absorb harsh noise, making the open plan office a much nicer environment to work in.

 

Overwork

How many tasks do you still do manually that could be automated?  Overwork was highlighted as one of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace, so making processes more efficient could help massively.  There are so many factors here and while the time savings seem small when taken per action, they soon add up.  Take for example, the amount of time invested in dealing with an unpaid direct debit.  First, the non-payment needs to be picked up, then matched with the right customer, the customer record needs checking and updating – is this an expected cancellation or something else? Then a letter or email needs to be sent to request payment another way etc, etc.  Let’s be generous and say doing all of that manually will take 5 minutes – not long is it? The whole of that process (and more) could be integrated and automated meaning it would take seconds.  Is 5 minutes still not so long? And what about if someone is doing something similar 10 or 20 times a day?

There is another side to having multiple data entry points too: the risk of errors.  The more times data has to be entered manually, the higher the risk that a mistake may be made.  More stress.  There is the pressure to get it right in the first place and then there is the stress of dealing with the fall out if a mistake has been made.

The solution: integrate your systems and make use of push/pull notifications.  As workflows become more efficient, not only are you less likely to have overworked employees but those employees will have more time to work on new business instead of just managing existing business.

 

Inability to access information needed, when it is needed

There is nothing worse than needing some information and not being able to get your hands on it.  Perhaps it is held on a system that you don’t want everyone to have access to but isn’t able to support multiple permissions. Or the information is on the Sales CRM system that doesn’t link with accounts or vice versa.  Frustrating, annoying, time consuming – stress inducing.

Another benefit of integrating your systems is that you can reduce the occurrence of events like this. Introducing a new, or expanding your existing, CRM system will help to ensure that all your employees have all the data and information they need, when they need it.  Sensitive data will still be protected with multiple permissions ensuring that data can only be accessed and edited by authorised employees. Need to know if Mr Jones paid his bill before you ship his next order? There you go.

 

There are so many ways that savvy companies can utilise the technology at their fingertips to help reduce workload, reduce stress, improve efficiency.  While introducing lunchtime yoga is great, make it part of a bigger initiative that truly looks at your employees working day to see how you can improve it. It won’t just be your employees who benefit.

Roar are a small team of highly skilled software developers who can help you deploy your existing technology more efficiently.  Call us now to arrange a FREE, no obligation Systems Survey and find out how you could improve your employees work lives (and your Company’s efficiency).


As your SME begins to grow, you may find yourself spending too much time in the business and not enough time on the business.  So how can you change that?

The Situation

It is a familiar story.  Before you start up your company, you spend time planning and mapping out how you would like the business to progress, what systems you are going to put in place, how you will cope with increased orders.  As the business grows, you find yourself becoming increasingly busy and perhaps you employ a couple of people to help out.  Now you have a small team you think you will have more time to expand your business plan to suit your growing business… but the reality is often different as you get stuck in a cycle of completing tasks yourself rather than delegating, and there just being too much work for you and your team to manage without doing long hours.

And because you are so busy, you never get a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture.  You are immersed in your business instead of working on growing the business.

The Problem

This is the point where growth may stutter or even stop.  There just feels like there is so much work to be done and you don’t feel that you can stop doing any of it in case you lose the business that is coming in.  Perhaps the business is at that point where you feel you need more people but the turnover isn’t quite there for you to confidently employ another head.  The problem is that you are spending so much time working in the business that you feel you never get the chance to review properly where you are at and what can be done to sustain the growth you are experiencing.  Would another head solve the problem?  Or merely buy a little time until you find yourself in the same situation again? What happens if you take on more staff only to find the growth slows and you can longer pay the wages?  How many companies do you know of that have done that and gone under!

The Solution

Adopting tech in obvious and not so obvious areas, making small changes, can lead to big cost savings and massively improved efficiency.  The financial investment needed to make these changes need not be huge – in fact it may be zero – and nor does it need to be a recurring cost.

Let’s take the example of a company with a website that they have attached a shop to. A customer browsing the internet one evening places an order via the website.  Admin staff arrive at work the next day, see the order and then manually enter the details onto the internal system, making a call to the warehouse/production to check stock once they have inputted the order.  The order details are printed off and handed to accounts for them to ideal with and a copy is also given to dispatch so they can label up the parcel. But the warehouse then come back saying they haven’t got the item in stock.  Someone forgot to mark the sheet when they shipped the last one out the week before and replacements hadn’t been re-ordered or made.

It’s now lunchtime and the Admin dealing with the order has spent most of the morning trying to get this order (and several others) shipped.  Admin now has tocontact the customer to provide up dated shipping information or a refund.  They need to find the original order and contact details, type up an email…….  In the meantime, the other orders are piling up.

Imagine now that a small one-off investment has been made.  No need to buy new software or systems.  The website shop has been integrated with the internal CRM system, the accounts system and the warehouse stock system.  The same customer places their order and when Admin arrives the next morning, the warehouse is already picking the item, dispatch address and postage labels are already printed and waiting.  The accounts system has been updated without anyone touching a keyboard.  And the order can be filled because the stock control is automated – so the stock was re-ordered when it should have been.  And if there had been a flurry of purchases for that item and it was out of stock, the customer would have received an automated email with a revised delivery date.  And Admin hasn’t even taken their coat off yet.

How we can help

Are you getting the most out of your existing technology?  Do you know what your existing technology is capable of and what you can do to make it really work for you?  Roar IT Ltd are a professional team of software developers located in the heart of the North West and specialising in systems integration.  We can carry out a free systems survey for you, providing tips and advice on how you can get more out of your existing technology.  There’s no obligation – some of what we suggest may not even cost you a penny to implement – and the report we provide can be used to gain quotes from ourselves and other developers should you decide to take things further.  Phone Judy on 07472 972439 for more information or to book your visit now.


General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

GDPR coming into force May 2018

In this blog, we look at GDPR and some of the challenges the new ‘right to be forgotten’ may pose, and how Systems Integration may help with compliance.

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come into force on 25th May 2018.  They are designed to bring together existing Data Protection laws across Europe and harmonise them.  The Data Protection Act 1998 already protects personal data stored in electronic format or in organised paper files. It provides guidelines to companies about how they can collect, store and process personal data and GDPR re-confirms many of those principles.  There are some changes though.  Apart from substantially increasing the amount a company can be fined for breaching the regulations and altering the requirements around obtaining consent, GDPR creates three new rights and these are what may be likely to cause problems for companies.  The three new rights are: the right to be forgotten; the right to restrict processing; the right to data portability.  This blog focuses mainly on the ‘right to be forgotten’ and some of the questions to ask yourself when reviewing how your systems and software can help you to become GDPR compliant.

The Right to be Forgotten

This is also being referred to as ‘the right to be erased’.  The perception of the consumer is that this means you, as a company, must delete all of the personal data you hold on an individual at their request.  And to an extent, this may be true.  Where you hold data purely for marketing and analysis purposes, it should be easy to comply with the request.  It can still be complicated though, if you have shared the data with a third party (or even parties) the request to be erased must also be communicated to them.

If you are a company who processes personal information on line, for example on social networks or forums, you are likely to face the most challenges as you must try to comply with the requirement for yourself, and third parties who process the data, to erase links, copies or replication of the personal data.

There is also the question of what happens where you have collected, stored and processed the data in order to fulfil a contract with the individual – such as to provide an ongoing service, or to supply goods or information?   The chances are the data will now be held across multiple systems and you may need to hold on to some of that data beyond the end of the contract for legitimate business purposes:  in fact you may have a legal obligation to hold onto it.  In this situation, the right to be forgotten can be refused although you should be aware that you can only retain data that is needed for that specific purpose:  so, for example, is a profile picture really required for accounting purposes?

You also need to communicate to the individual what you are deleting and, more importantly, what you are retaining, why and for how long.

You can find lots of useful information about GDPR and how to be compliant from the Information Commissioners Office

Streamlining Compliance

You may already be working with integrated systems that automate many of your processes and it is worth investigating the current capability of those systems and the feasibility of extending and/or further integrating to help with GDPR compliance.

When you are looking at your existing software and systems, it may be useful to ask yourself the following:

Who do I share data with?  Consider this question in terms of external and internal stakeholders.  With either, you should only share the data that they actually need in order to be able to complete the purpose of their task. So again, accounts don’t need profile pictures or dates of birth, for example.  Is your system capable of splitting or screening data, or can anyone who accesses the system see the full customer record?

What do I need to do to effectively delete personal data?  If you hold data on several systems and have several data entry points, is all the data held accurate and up to date? Is your system capable of retrieving all the data held on an individual and will deleting it off one system remove it from all others (or not, as appropriate).

How will I communicate with third parties and the individual?  When you receive a request under the right to be forgotten, how will this be communicated to both external and internal stakeholders? Is your current system capable of auto generating appropriate correspondence and perhaps triggering an appropriate process?

Subject Access Requests (SAR)  Individuals also have the right to request a copy of any data you hold on them (and in most cases you can no longer make a charge for complying with an SAR).  Is your software capable of generating correspondence and ID verification processes as well as easily retrieving all of the data you hold across all of your systems and then supplying it in a structure commonly used and in machine readable form, as required by GDPR?  Where a company is likely to receive a high number of SARs is it feasible and/or desirable to enable individuals secure access to their data on line?

Archives and Backups  How easy is it to access and retrieve an individual’s personal data from your archives and backups?  As backups are intended only to be held for a short time and for a legitimate purpose, you may be able to justify not retrieving and deleting personal data from them.  A word of caution though – if that disaster does happen and you use a backup to restore the system, you will have to ensure that any data held that has been subject to a request to be erased is retrieved and deleted again.  So if it is appropriate to delete a record from a live system, it should also be deleted from a backup.

Archives are a little different as they tend to be around a lot longer and used for a variety of purposes.  When taking the decision to archive personal data consideration must be given as to what purposes the archive will be used for.  The        data stored in an archive must be relevant and limited to what is necessary.  Article 21 enables an individual to raise an objection and the storing and processing of the data then becomes subject to a balancing test:  the interest in the processing must not be overridden by the resulting risk to the individual’s rights and freedoms.  Because archives last for a long time, the security risk is greater and the balance is likely to be in favour of the individual.

 

Even where you can argue an exception for continuing to store and/or process data in the face of a request to be forgotten, you will need to review the data held to ensure you are only continuing to use data that is absolutely necessary for that purpose.  And did you know that a business email address containing an individual’s name classes as personal data and is caught within GDPR?

Working towards being GDPR compliant may provide the perfect opportunity to review all your systems and processes, locking in other efficiency improvements at the same time.

Roar IT offer a free Systems Survey that will help you to carry out an analysis of your systems and software, providing a report that will help you to plan out future actions and developments.  To book an appointment, email enquires@roar-it.com or call Judy on 07472 972439.

 

Roar IT Ltd – specialists in Systems Integration and Bespoke Software solutions.


Software Developers and IR35

tax-consultant-1249530_1920IR35 – Off-payroll working through an intermediary

With January and the self-assessment tax deadline rapidly approaching, this seems a good time to look at the off-payroll working rules often known as IR35. There have been a lot of articles about IR35 recently and it’s impact on individual contractors, particularly within the public sector. This is not actually due to IR35 itself though – after all, the rules and guidance have actually been in place for several years – but rather due to reforms that came into effect in April 2017. The reforms are a response to widespread non-compliance with IR35 and it is likely that these reforms will be extended to include the private sector within the next 18 months.

What is IR35?

IR35 was introduced in an attempt to prevent the practice of “disguised employees” – that is organisations utilising the services of an individual under the guise of self-employment rather than employment. The individual would offer those services via, eg, their own limited company (known as a personal services company) or a limited liability partnership. There were benefits to both parties in doing this – the organisation didn’t have to pay Employer’s NI and the individual would pay less tax on their earnings by, for example, claiming expenses against tax that they would not have been entitled to as an employee. Win, win for everyone but the taxman.

The IR35 legislation came into force in April 2000 and sets out the off-payroll working rules. In deciding whether a contract falls within IR35, the employment status of the contractor needs to be assessed and there are a number of factors to be considered when doing this, not just the wording of the contract. For instance: how many clients the individual works for; who decides what work they do and when, where, or how they do it; whether they are responsible for fixing unsatisfactory work in their own time, etc.

If the contract falls within IR35, ie the individual would be an employee if the services weren’t being provided via an intermediary, then the organisation must deduct tax and national insurance contributions before paying the individual.

What has changed?

The reforms that came into force in April 2017 only affect the public sector and place the onus on the organisation paying the contractor to decide whether IR35 rules apply. This effectively means that the public sector must examine every contract for temporary work and make a decision as to the employment status of the individual involved before deciding whether the contract falls within IR35. It is generally thought that these reforms will be extended to include the private sector within 18 months and possibly as early as spring 2018.

What will this mean for individuals and organisations?

Apart from the extra administrative time involved for the organisations involved, there are potentially quite severe penalties if a wrong decision is made or HMRC believe an effort to avoid tax is still being made. HMRC offer a Check employment status for tax service

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-employment-status-for-tax

and will stand by the result if a subsequent employment status review is opened as long as accurate information has been provided.

For individuals, if the organisation makes the decision that your contract is caught by IR35 then you will see your take home pay drop as they deduct tax and NI before handing it over. And it should be noted that being deemed an employee for tax purposes does not automatically mean you are entitled to employee benefits such as sick pay and holiday pay.

As stated earlier, at the moment the reforms only apply to public sector contracts but it is only a matter of time before this is rolled out in the private sector. Private sector organisations can make use of the Check employment for tax service and also the Contract review service via the IR35 helpline if they are still unsure if the off-payroll working rules apply. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/ir35-enquiries

How does this affect Software Developers and those seeking their services?

IR35 has caused a grey area for individual contractors and those making use of their services since it came into force in 2000. Over the last few years there have been increasing numbers of employment status reviews by HMRC, many of which have resulted in both the organisation and the individual contractor being found liable for unpaid tax and national insurance.

Making use of a Limited company (or personal service company) where there is only one director who is also the sole employee of the company, does not afford protection from IR35 – in fact, it was exactly that kind of situation that caused IR35 to be introduced in the first place. Organisations may be wise to consider contracting with other service providers, truly outsourcing their software development projects to companies with a team of employed specialists rather than individuals.

 

Roar IT Ltd are not tax advisers or accountants. Individuals and companies should check with HMRC or take professional advice if they have any questions about IR35.


Just because we can doesn’t always mean we should

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with the guys in the office about the number of different messaging services there are: messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype etc, etc. I was bemoaning the fact that I had to download each one in order to be able to communicate with my friends because they all used a  different one. “Why can’t there just be one thing that I can get that crosses all of these?” I cried. And they shook their heads and sent me this:

 

standards

 

When I stopped laughing, they pointed out that the real question everyone had to ask when embarking on a project was:

Does your solution add to the problem?

In the same week, I had been reading about Nick Herbert and the ReplyASAP app he had developed to stop his son ignoring messages. Whichever side of the fence you sit on with this app (personally, I think my kids would kill me if I even considered subjecting them to something like this whereas my husband thinks it’s a great idea), the fact remains that Nick developed an android app and his son has an iOS phone. These situations serve to emphasise that what is key is actually ensuring good solid architecture of projects to make sure that your solution is fit for purpose and doesn’t add to the problem.

So many systems that set out to simplify a task ending up actually complicating things. Take a step back and remember, just because we can doesn’t  always mean we should. And the simplest solution is usually the best solution.


Independent Contractors for Software Development Projects?

As your company grows, your IT requirements change. You may find you need to integratHippo cropped computer-nerd-2017653 copye systems to improve efficiencies or develop bespoke software, and you may come to the point where you need to make use of the services of a specialist software developer. Perhaps you don’t have any software development or systems integration engineers within your IT department or, if you have, they are either already working at capacity or don’t have the specific skills you need for this project. Your first thought may be to hire an individual contractor to come and work within your company to fill that gap for you. On the face of it, this appears to be the simplest and most logical solution – you get the skills you need without any of the financial commitments involved in taking on another member of permanent staff. While hiring a contractor can certainly have its benefits, it also has some, potentially serious, downsides.

The chances are your contractor will work from your premises, meaning that you have to supply them with a number of resources, even if they bring their own laptop! While a contractor will be employed for a fixed term that you believe will cover the time needed to deliver your project, this may not allow for delays in project delivery and your costs could spiral. Delays could potentially arise due to a number of factors such as sickness, holidays, or a skills gap in the contractor’s own knowledge meaning it takes them longer to effect a fix or provide a solution. There are also the difficulties that can arise from a desire to directly supervise the contractor’s work but actually being hands-off in terms of not being able to control their work.

Over the last few years, HMRC have been challenging contractor status in a growing number of instances. If the law decides that someone’s employment status is wrong, the company and the individual may have to pay unpaid tax and penalties. While you may believe your contractor to be self-employed, there are factors that could lead, in law, to that contractor being declared an employee. If they are, the implications are not just restricted to tax and National Insurance because there are also employee rights to consider – sick pay, holiday pay, maternity/paternity rights and so on. So what are the factors that are considered?

A truly self-employed contractor can decide what work they do and when, where or how to do it. They can also hire someone else to do the work and can work for more than one client. A self-employed contractor is in business for themselves so they use their own money to buy business assets, cover running costs and provide tools & equipment for their work. So is the person you have sat in your IT department, at your desk, on your chair, using your computers, and who you expect to work Monday-Friday 9-5 an employee or a contractor? What if you walked in on Tuesday and found a different person sat in that chair?

…under a contract of service a man is employed as part of the business and his work is done as an integral part of the business but under a contract for services his work, although done for the business is not integrated into it, but only an accessory to it.” Denning LJ (Stevenson, Jordan and Harrison Ltd v Macdonald and Evans (1952)

The whole situation has now been made even more complex with the introduction of the IR35 tax rules in April 2017 for public sector contractors. The general view is that these rules could be extended to apply to private sector contractors within the next 2 years, and possibly as early as spring 2018. More on that next month.

Of course, you could hire a contractor through an ‘umbrella’ company and that should take care of any employment status issues. There is another option to consider though, and that is to outsource your project to a company that will allow you access to a small team of software developers and specialists. Apart from removing all concerns about employment status, there are a number of other benefits: working collaboratively with a small team who have knowledge and experience of a broad range of platforms ensures that solutions are developed quickly, delivered on time, and to budget; a small, established company can provide more flexibility and expertise than an individual; sickness and holidays do not present problems and downtown is virtually eliminated.

Software development and systems integration projects need to run as smoothly as possible. Doesn’t it make sense to use not only the best type of resource for the job, but to eliminate the risk of a challenge from HMRC at the same time?

 

 

More information on employment status can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/employment-status-manual


Open Source Software

What is open source software (OS Software)?

OS Software is software with a source code that has been publicly distributed for other programmers to access, use and learn from, meaning that anyone can inspect, modify and enhance the software. Because of this, open source software is generally considered to be more stable, more secure and more flexible. While users still have to accept the terms of a licence when they use OS Software it is very different to the licence of a proprietary software (eg Microsoft Office). Use of proprietary software often involves the payment of licence fees that increase in line with the number of end users at a specified location, or the purchase of “seats” (often referred to in CRM systems). Proprietary software licences also generally prohibit the altering or sharing of the software so if it doesn’t do quite what you need it to you may end up adapting your processes in an unsatisfactory manner. In addition, if there is a bug in the software, you may have a very frustrating wait while the company decides on and distributes a fix. The Licence for OS Software, on the other hand, quite often specifies that modifications to the software must be shared so fixes are often quickly and freely available.

What are the benefits of using Open Source Software?

If someone is building software for you using OS Software, more often than not, you are paying for their skills and expertise rather than the software. And because the software can be modified and enhanced by any developer, there are many benefits to using OS Software, including flexibility, cost effectiveness and security.

Flexibility
Because the licence for OS Software generally permits developers access to the source code, the end product can be adapted to fit in with your existing systems and processes rather than the other way round. This enables a good software developer to seamlessly integrate the new software with your existing systems and processes. The software can continue to be enhanced to meet your changing business needs too rather than you having to wait until the owners of proprietary software decide there is a market for the enhancement before developing and releasing it.
Cost Effectiveness
The ability to modify and enhance OS Software also leads to cost effective long term solutions as there is rarely the need to purchase entirely new software when your business requirements do change. Because the source code for OS Software has been publicly distributed for other programmers to access, use and learn from, you can be sure that there will always be the tools and skills available to maintain your software, particularly beneficial if you are relying on your software for critical tasks! And you can be sure that any bugs will be fixed quickly and the fix will be shared freely amongst software developers saving time as well as money.
Security
Security is a huge consideration for anyone utilising IT within their business and because OS Software is freely distributed and open for developers to modify and enhance the source code, it would be easy to make the assumption that the software would be less secure than proprietary software. However, in reality, the opposite is true. Since there are many developers working on the OS Software, fixes for vulnerabilities are shared quickly and there are likely to be fewer problems. Indeed Open Source Software is already a part of many large companies IT infrastructures and concerns that OS Software is less secure than proprietary software are unfounded.

Open Source Software can provide you with flexible, long lasting, cost effective and secure solutions to your ongoing business systems requirements.