Remote Integration

Well April and May have been busy months for Roar Software, not least because our illustrious leader, Paul, was away in Rwanda for almost 2 weeks working on a software development and integration project for a live event.  You can read more about that here.

Even though Paul was over 4,000 miles away, the time difference was only 1 hour and the only thing that inhibited communication was his broadband speed.  Having Paul working away from the office for that length of time raised the topic of, for want of a better word, ‘home’ working.  I say for want of a better word because that was the first thing that I stumbled over – ‘home’.  How many of us believe that ‘home working’ is just a euphemism for spending the day in your PJ’s answering the odd call?

For years, I worked as a field-based employee and the majority of my time was spent on the road, visiting clients at their own premises.  And there was still a stigma if I was going to be working from home to catch up on my paperwork, even though my ‘office’ was hundreds of miles away!

Home v Remote

There is plenty of research to show that home workers are often more productive than their office-based counterparts but many employers still seem to be reluctant to encourage home working and I believe that is, at least in part, due to that PJ image. Perhaps a change of language may help? In the US, the term often used is ‘remote’ workers.  Apart from increased productivity, having employee work remotely can offer many other advantages, for example, reduced overheads as less office space is required, a larger pool of people to select the workforce from as there are no geographical limitations (especially good if the work is highly skilled and there is a shortage of talent); a generally more relaxed workforce as they no longer have a stressful commute into the office.

Technology Support

In this day and age, is there really an excuse for not encouraging home/remote working and for not ensuring that it works for everyone?  As many companies are now looking to migrate their systems to the Cloud, there are even fewer reasons to insist that everyone is in the same working space all the time.  Anything can be accessed from anywhere and the technology to do so is just as accessible and affordable. With so many different communication methods open to us now, there is no excuse for remote workers not to join meetings

The Flipside?

Of course, there is a downside to having a remote workforce – the employees can feel, well, remote.  Consolidata experimented with complete remote working for 12 months and this was definitely one of the negatives they highlighted.  For most companies though, a central office is maintained that employees can visit and hot desk in.  In the same way that we integrate our systems and software to function more efficiently and work better together, we can use a variety of tools to ensure that even a remote workforce is integrated.  For example, having extra cameras and screens when people are joining remote meetings so that everyone can see each other and not just the presentation/chair.  Hubspot experimented with “remote week” and have some great suggestions for meetings.

The Future

Technological advancements coupled with an increased use of Cloud computing will, I believe, see an ever increasing number of companies move to employ remote workers.

Wasting time in traffic or remote working?

With all the rail disruption of the last few weeks and ever increasing traffic congestion on our roads, remote working is looking like an even more attractive option for everyone!  Gain an extra 2-4 hours a day by getting rid of that commute? Yes please!


Disrupting your Business to Stay Ahead of the Competition

It is a competitive market out there and to stay ahead of the game, many companies need to radically change the way they work and make better use of technology.  Digital transformation may seem like a huge undertaking but it doesn’t have to be.  Nor does it have to require a huge financial investment.  What it does take, is a bit of homework before you even start.

When you take the decision to disrupt your business in this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean ditching all of your existing tech and systems – it’s really about how you can get more out of what you already have.  One of the things you may look to do is outsource any software development involved and the developer you select will be able to provide you with invaluable guidance on leveraging your existing technology.  But that is only part of the overall project and in order to be successful, there are a few other things that need to be considered.

Employee Engagement

The first is your employees’ reaction to change.  If you can exploit the positive and manage the negative reactions you may experience when you first suggest a change in the way employees work, you will be half way to a successful implementation.  The key is to engage your employees from the outset.  You may have your own ideas but, you know what? Your employees may have some pretty amazing ideas too. After all, they are at the coalface, working with your technology and processes day in, day out.  Listen to them.  For smaller companies it is easy to sit down with all the staff, gather ideas and gage responses.  For bigger companies, selecting a representative working group (remembering to include the “difficult, opposed to change” employee too) might be the best way forward.  Make these initial meetings fun and open – no idea is too way out and people should feel free to express those ideas.  I always remember sitting in a “blue sky thinking” session. Of course, all the creative sales guys had gone blank and then our P.A. piped up “What about giving away a naked fireman calendar with every purchase?”.  I cannot tell you how inappropriate that suggestion was considering what we were selling – but I can tell you how appropriate that comment was for that moment in time.  The ice was broken, wacky ideas flowed which in turn prompted more realistic ideas and a plan evolved.

Formulate a Plan

And that plan is your next step.  At this stage, it is probably more a wish list of outcomes – what you would like to achieve rather than how you are going to achieve it.  Peter Drucker famously said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” so keep that in mind as you formulate your plan.  What does success look like for you?  And what does success look like for your employees and customers?  The answers might be different and if you can achieve both, you’re on a winner!  When you are looking at what you want to change, however radical, ask yourself what you will gain or improve by making that change. Try working backwards.  What do you want to gain or improve, what can you change to achieve it?

Select a Software Developer

Whoever you select as your software developer, see them as a partner.  Invite them to a working group meeting (maybe even before you have made your final provider selection) as their input may be invaluable in drafting your final spec.  Be open to any suggestions they may make and take seriously any challenges they highlight. Exploit the wealth of experience the best software developers have.

Consider the Delivery Impact

So now you know what you want to achieve and you have selected your software developer – what next? You have already engaged with your employees and management are on board.  Make sure you have given due consideration to the impact on company stakeholders involved in the delivery of the project.  How will it affect their existing workloads?  Employees will quickly disengage if they feel all that is in it for them is a mountain of extra work and their day to day tasks are falling behind.  What else will being part of the group mean? Do you have field-based staff who will be pulled in to the office more often, perhaps? Have targets and objectives been altered accordingly?

You, your software developers and your working group should all be clear on which features of the proposed software are most valuable to the end user.  What are your priorities?  It is also important to agree timelines, key milestones, contacts and contact methods.  Delivery of the project is a two-way process and it is important that you are responsive to your software developers’ requests for data and information.  Many software development companies take an Agile approach to software – releasing early and then continuing the development until the desired end point is reached.  This has many advantages as long as you have both been clear on what the minimum viable product is.  Software developed in stages can help resistant employees to adapt as they don’t have to cope with too many changes at once.  Bugs are spotted and fixed early (it is almost impossible to replicate every scenario for a piece of software in a test environment – users will always do the one thing you don’t expect them to!).

Extending the scope?

Don’t be surprised if new and different opportunities begin to open up as the software is implemented. Talk to your software developer about how these can be incorporated but be aware of going beyond the scope of the work originally quoted for.  Go back a couple of steps and ask yourself what benefit the new opportunity will provide and is it worth extending the scope of the project or making it part of a completely new project.

 

The whole process will prove exciting, challenging and rewarding and if you want to stay ahead of the competition, disrupting your business is the way forward.

 

Roar offer a free Systems Survey and the resulting report forms an excellent basis for those early working group meetings.  Phone Judy on 07472 972439 to book yours now and find out how else we can support you to achieve your own digital transformation.


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.


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.


“It’ll all have to come down.” –

Builders, programmers, and the costs of rewriting software systems.

brick-and-mortar

I love a good builder analogy when it comes to software development.

Often when talking to business stakeholders it is useful to use terms that they are familiar with and concepts they can easily grasp and are analogous to those we use in developing software. As software developers, we are skilled tradesmen. We have years of training to develop the skills needed to build projects up from a greenfield site to something of value. We build with bits and bytes rather than bricks but often our concepts can be very similar.

A typical analogy I use is to explain why it takes longer to rewrite a badly constructed, poorly performing software project again from scratch than it did to write the software first time round.

Take it you had a garage built onto the side of your house. The builders you had in to do the job didn’t build the foundations properly. It looked a bit of a shoddy job, but you had invested a lot of money in it so you put up with it. A few years later, there are severe cracks showing in the walls, you know that it won’t last much longer, and so you bring in another builder to help you with it.

He tells you that it all needs to come down because the foundations are really poor, and we need to build the whole thing again. However, this time it will take a lot more time and cost a lot more money. Why?

One reason is that over the last couple of years you have integrated the utilities of the main building into it, running electrics, water, and waste through the extension, and all these need to be resolved. You’ve also added a further bedroom extension on top of the garage and so you not only have to rebuild the garage, but rebuild that too. In addition, all of these things are constantly in use – you need the garage for your vehicle, and the bedroom is your daughter’s room.

Software projects are often very similar. You have a legacy system with a fundamentally bad design which is causing massive problems within your business, and the only recourse, due to that initial poor design, is to do it again. However, since the software was first written you now have various integration points (the utilities) and other subsystems which look like they may not need rebuilding but rely directly upon the code in the badly performing system (the daughter’s bedroom). In addition everybody in your business needs to keep using these systems whilst they are changed over and will need training upon the new system, plus any data migrations need to take place to enable the move to happen easily.

Frequently, the subsystem also has to be rewritten with very little input from the end users, who may have been heavily involved in the original development, but now don’t have the time or the inclination to be involved in a technical rewrite. Original requirements documents, if they exist, are rarely useful, as during the process of development the requirements change and documents are rarely kept up to date. Imagine rebuilding the garage and the bedroom above it with little to no involvement from the homeowner to ensure they will be happy with the finished product!

Due to budget limitations, sometimes the only feasible way forward is to attempt remedial measures. Put in some props, dig some trenches around the foundations and pour in some concrete. This leaves you with an ugly mess, but at least the house won’t fall down!

Business stakeholders can often be bamboozled by technical talk, but the principles of constructing software are similar to any project that takes a concept from design through to completion and use.