Archive for the 'economy' Category

What’s wrong with sales?

I was talking to one of my friends recently about career prospects. He’s not long out of uni, and like most recent graduates, is confused about his options. However one thing he is adamant about is that he doesn’t want to go into sales. It’s a strange attitude, but one that I encounter quite often. And the question needs to be asked, ‘What’s wrong with sales’?

His immediate reaction to this question was to say that he didn’t want to be a double glazing sales person. Slightly narrow minded immediately! However in my view, everyone needs to have a degree of sales knowledge about them, as at some stage in everyone’s lives, we will need to sell either ourselves, a brand or a product. Whether it be in an interview, selling your company to potential  investors or even selling yourself on a date. We need to be aware of how to persuade someone to trust us. And here is the problem, as one of my colleagues put it recently. Sales (and it’s respective attributes) is a skill that many feel uneasy around, as people don’t want to feel as if they’re being sold too, instead wanting to be left alone to make their own decisions. Using the example of guys trying to pick up girls, I can remember plenty of times when younger, when friends (and probably myself…) chased girls badgering them to go out with us! Cringing to think about, but inevitably it didn’t work, as it reeked of desperation. However it only reinforces the point that when actively selling, it comes across as needy and desperate. And when my friend thought about getting into sales, this  is the image that he had of sales people.

Is there a way to change this image? Probably, but it will need to start in the home or at school. However, is there a willingness to change this? Probably not unfortunately. In my opinion, the more young people we generate that have an understanding of sales, and how it can fit into an organisation, the more entrepreneurs this country will generate, which will help the private sector plug the gap of the public sector.

This is NOT a party political broadcast

So we have heard the budget, and to be honest, there are few surprises for us telco’s. We all knew that this would be an ideal opportunity for Labour to posture somewhat prior to the election to gain votes. And that is exactly what they’ve done.

The one thing for me personally that has been interesting is both parties use of the advancement of broadband in their respective manifestos. The Tories have confidently stated that they will get 100Mbps lines to 90% of the population by 2017. Last year Labour confidently announced that their USC for #digitalbritain would be a paltry 2Mbps per household. This has been subsquently revised to providing ‘superfast’ broadband by 2020. However despite elaborate methods of financing this from each, there doesn’t seem to have been much thought as to how this would be delivered, and more importantly, who will deliver this.

Fibre is and has been the obvious method. Much noise has been made for both BT and Virgin Media to provide access to their ducts for other carriers use. However when the purported cost to deliver fibre to each and every premises is between £5bn and £30bn you can see the massive investment needed. Hence the government’s involvment. Many different technologies have been considered to deliver ‘next generation services’ today. Satellite, LTE, WiMAX and even BPL (that’s an acronym for Broadband over Powerlines) have been mooted as being able to service those much talked about not-spots, that are rightfully threatening the validity of the #digitalbritain manifesto.  The disappointing factor is that there seems to be little communication with telco’s to understand how best to deploy services that will help Britain move into a digital future.

In my view, there are 2 key issues that stop any government really moving forward with providing high speed universal access.

  1. Lack of communication with those in the trenches – I’m sure the likes of BT and Virgin Media have been consulted about their opinions on providing high speed access to all (or badgered to open up their ducts). However what the government hasn’t done is try to assist smaller providers who have worked in other more rural areas to try and deploy networks designed for tomorrow. An example of this can be found by the inequality in the tax rates paid out on fibre by the likes of BT and smaller providers, such as Vtesse. If there is at least parity, then this will spur people like Vtesse to create efficient models to provide high speed access in areas the not-spots.
  2. The government inherently doesn’t GET the internet – This is a massive statement to make. However on one hand the government is trying to deploy a set of foundations to provide universal access, whilst on the other, introducing the Digital Economy Bill to massively restrict our use of the internet. Ever so slightly hypocritical. The government seems hell bent on protecting the revenues of industries who also don’t get the internet, instead of helping them to adopt new business models to fully embrace the internet.

Once the government realise that providing universal access is less of a political game  whilst engaging with those who could spur innovation, then will we truly see a landscape conducive to providing nationwide high speed access to underpin a digitally thriving economy.

The Ills of the public sector

My girlfriend works in the public sector, and for the last year and a half, I’ve had an interesting insight into the inner workings of a government-funded organisation. She works for a company that is tasked in giving direction and career guidance to students aged between 11 and 16 both in schools and in local communities. And she hates it.

One of the main issues with her job is the lack of work ethic her colleagues display. In the private sector, if you work hard and are successful, you get rewarded. If you don’t, are lazy or are permanently ill, you are disciplined or further still sacked. Fair enough you may say. However in the public sector this is not the case, as many a time she has complained about people displaying minimum effort but reaping the same rewards as someone who has worked much harder. Many times she has come back from work having to cover the shift of someone who is off ill. This does little for her morale. Furthermore she is then tasked with covering the target of this absentee, despite her exceeding her own target without praise or any incentive to perform. As a naturally hard-working person, this can be extremely demoralising. Until recently, I thought this was a local issue with her organisation. However it seems that this is symptomatic of the public sector.

Her argument was compounded by an article we read recently in the Sunday Times. Apparently Sir Stanley Kalms, upon becoming chairman of an NHS hospital, threw a tea party for members of staff who had served for more than 25 years, as a reward for loyal service. However what he encountered was a motley crew of people who neither he nor other members of staff even recognised, as the majority were either ill, grotesquely overweight  or “no longer fit and proper people to be in a hospital”, but crucially were still being paid. Also because their packages had been negotiated in more profitable times, they were generally on better pay than the majority of their colleagues. In the example, this had repercussions for the hospital, as wards were left short-staffed and hospitals were without funds to purchase vital equipment. Reading this made me realise that the local issue my girlfriend had mentioned time and time again was  actually a more generic issue afflicting the vast majority of the public sector.

But the question has to be asked, why can’t they just sack these individuals? In every company I’ve worked in in the private sector, if you had a long period of illness that was unexplainable you would at least be disciplined. However in the public sector, the trade unions have a much larger sphere of influence. Again according to the Harriet Sergeant’s article, 61% of state employees belong to a trade union, compared with only 20% in the private sector. Their influence is not waning either. In 2006, Labour received roughly 73% of their donations from unions. This figure is thought to have increased during the subsequent recession, as the labour government relied further on donations..

Unfortunately there is no real way to rectify this, as any real resolution will need to be dictated from the top, filtering down through the system. And as we know, this could take years to implement properly. However there are positive signs. There is pre-election talk of the Tories disbanding government-funded organisations such as Connexions, with a view to giving this responsibility to privately funded companies with a similar ethos. This is part of a more macro trend, as the government looks to increase the number of projects they relinquish. One way they are doing this is by outsourcing. Serco, one of their key benefactors of government outsourcing, recently posted a 34% rise in annual profit, and they expect this to grow further. By giving as much responsibility, jurisdiction and control where possible to companies who understand from the ground up their industry in the private sector will only help to weed out the inefficiencies of the public sector to bring it into line.

The power of a brand

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of brands within different sectors for a long time, probably due to Naomi Klein’s controversial No Logo. I recently came across the BrandFinance Global 500 tables. This basically aims to position the most powerful brands in the world by their percieved value. Although it’s quite focused on the financial sectors, it does help to give an indicator of general trends within certain sectors.

Coming off the back of the deepest and longest recession since WWII, it’s interesting to see which brands have maintained their value and which sectors hold the most powerful brand identities. In the UK, the most highly valued brand is Vodafone, who have usurped HSBC. This lends us a clue as to a macro economic trend, which sees the value of brands within the financial sectors decreasing in line with motifs formed from the recession. Interestingly enough, the reverse can be seen to within the communications and technology sectors, with brands from these two sectors making up half of those within the top 25 positions. It’s hard to pinpoint on a micro level where to attribute this success, as various factors can be seen to have made a difference, from the continued dominance of the IPhone to increased exposure in the BRIC economies.

In it’s conclusion, the article also states that the top 500 brands are starting to geographically diversify from the power bases of the UK and US. Although the article mentions new entrants from the emerging markets from their respective finanical sectors, it’s interesting to note that the top brand valued from outside of the UK and US is Toyota. It will be interesting to see where they stand next year, with the automative industry constantly tackling ever changing regulation and Toyota themselves starting the year off with a serious safety crisis.

How businesses evolve

It’s useful to understand how over the recent years, big businesses have reinvented themselves. I was reading an article recently on the departing Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, which gave an insightful account of the issues facing Ericsson after the dot-com bubble had burst. His model solely focused around consolidation, whilst others in their market either spread themselves extremely thin in looking for new markets to expand into (see Marconi) or acquired rivals to try and quickly expand (see Alcatel-Lucent). What Carl-Henric Svanberg did with Ericsson was to really consolidate, concentrate on their core business of building networks and inevitably cut costs. This worked, and he now leaves Ericsson today in the healthy position of having 40% of all mobile calls made on their network. I think a lot of companies get excited by the profits and market share available to them when they look outside of their domain. 2 large enterprises who are having mixed results are Google and Cisco. Although Google is still king of search, it’s increasingly more lucrative and more prestigious projects such as Google Books are starting to sap resources from it’s search empire. This has had the effect on competitors like Bing taking more market share.

It was also interesting to see how emerging technologies helped to spur growth in the ailing company. Although a large proportion of their spending is still attributed to legacy networks, opportunities increasingly present themselves to expand into so-called next generation networks. 3G networks are fast becoming their bread and butter, with customers such as Three (3) and T-Mobile in the UK having Ericsson infrastructure to power their data networks. Moving forward, with the advance of M2M, Carl-Henric Svanberg thinks that there is the potential for roughly   sim cards to be embedded into devices as seemingly mundane as fridges, microwaves and washing machines. This is where he envisages Ericsson’s next market shift. There’s no doubting the strength of the mobile data market. Whether it hits a natural saturation period or whether advance such as LTE will help it break through it’s glass ceiling are anyone’s guess. However one thing is certain. Due to the requirement for people to be connected on the move, this is definitely a market that will be key for a long time.

The shift in working practices

This is a guest post by one of my colleagues Max Stoner.

The rigid 9-5 structure that underpins Britain’s working week is something we’ve probably all questioned from time to time. In truth for most of us this has manifested itself in more of a meek whine or lament than an outright challenge to it, but even  louder and more boisterous voices of  discontent have often been undermined by a lack of belief; not necessarily in their our own powers to change, but in the working week’s capacity for significant change.

Until now that is…As currently the very structure and philosophy of our working week is under greater threat than at any other point in recent times. And if for a second you’re thinking of some recalcitrant movement; all dreadlocks and rotests and other musty wafts of non –conformity, then think again..

Because the role of agent provocateur in this attack on the working week, is in fact fulfilled by government backed initiative WorkWise UK. The organisation comes armed with fairly aggressive rhetoric about “consigning the working week to a thing of the past” and bringing about “change similar to the industrial revolution”. This no doubt conveys a pretty radical impression; although one somewhat tempered by closer inspection of their aims and principles.

In brief their raison d’être Is simply “to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices”, which in actuality would equate to a shift towards more flexible working practices, such as an increase in remote working and greater flexibility over working hours. Their cumulative and ultimate goal; to “have 50% of the UK population working mainly in their own home, or in different places using home as a base within 5 years”

In many respects then their intention is not so much to dismantle the structures of our working week but rather to alleviate the undesirable rigidity that has plagued it for so long. Sort of like administering a very old, arthritic man with a super strength, and potentially destabilising shot of cod liver oil.

But why do we need change in the first place? Well to begin with let’s look at the way many of us begin our working day, with that poor excuse for travel we call the ‘commute’.

I accept that these vary in their nature, for many of us they take place in the squashed, cramped, antisocial and sweaty confines of our nation’s fine trains, tubes or buses. For others perhaps within the comfort of their own vehicle: albeit one stalled along a stretch of polluting, noisy and congested motorway that pulsates with palpable tension and collective raised blood pressure.

As well as being about as conducive to relaxation as holidaying in Baghdad, the commute also places stress on our roads and public transport infrastructure, and contributes significantly to environmental damage, because “a car travelling at crawling speed generates over 500g/km of carbon dioxide as opposed to 175g/km it would generate at 100 kph a hour”.

Furthermore recent sociological research seems to indicate that our work-life balance is out of kilter. The majority of people questioned in the 2008 Work and Family Life Report claimed “work dominated their lives, and family life suffered as a result”. The report also concluded that “working long hours led to increased levels of stress, resulting in irritability, exhaustion and depression”.

And if you’re not one for sentiment in respect to the social side effects of British working life, then take note that last year the CBI calculated over £5 billion was lost as a result of mental health and stress related illnesses. And the ramifications this has on our health and welfare sectors, one can only assume to be detrimental.

Workwise UK seeks to paint a picture of our traditional working week as archaic; a moribund relic, ill-suited to the demands of a complex and diverse 21c, wheezing and coughing it’s last polluting breaths of life towards it’s death bed.

Whether we agree with this diagnosis or not, clearly ways and means for us to function in a smarter more adaptable manner, and help reduce the ill effects of work on our nation’s society, health, economy and environment is not just desirable, but commonsensical.

Of course that’s not to say that a shift towards flexible working comes without it’s own caveats. Logistical and practical pitfalls are a plenty and in my own humble opinion success will rely on changing working culture and psychology as much as any legislative measures. But with government schemes like Work Wise, with the proliferation of flexible working over the last decade*, and with government legislation passed earlier this month; giving employees with children under the age of 16 legal  right to request flexible working; what we should expect is for flexible working to start to emerge as more of a concrete fixture across Britain’s working landscape.

While Workwise and other government initiatives are hoping to engineer this change, the principle catalyst in flexible working becoming viable, is technology, as Workwise chief exec Phil Flaxton acknowledges “technology is the enabler here”.

And if technology enables then technology companies are set to profit. The company I work for Fluidata; provides businesses with the internet, and opportunity in this sector is plentiful.

For any employee to work from home or ‘hotdesk’ a working internet connection is almost a prerequisite these days, and while in some cases existing home user connections can be harnessed for these purposes, the increase in demand of the connection will call for,  in others, something more reliable and business orientated. Remote workers also have a causative effect on the wider connectivity requirements of businesses. For example secure communication between sites will need to be achieved via some kind of wide area network, while head office sites will likely require more robust and reliable connections to cope with the influxes of incoming traffic.

Another potential benefactor of smarter working practices, and of a more general shift towards green friendly business practices, is video conference technology. With the ability to transmit real-time and life size video, this technology reduces work related travel, and as consequence saves on time, money and carbon emissions. Although this technology can be deployed over ISDN channels, in many cases the favoured method of deployment is over the internet. Once more, consideration of what kind of internet connection is required here, with low contented, symmetrical and reliable solutions most suited for the technologies usage requirements and mission critical nature.

With such developments likely to force buyers to pay greater diligence towards the finer points of contention, uptime guarantees and resilience, it’s probable that ISP’s who not only provide such solutions, but who also sell on delivery and reliability over headline speeds, will prove to be the more successful.

Flexible, innovative services, and crucially ones tailored towards flexible working should be particularly popular with disgruntled IT managers wanting to ease logistical headaches.

Discussing the contents of this article with my own boss (Fluidata MD, Piers Daniell) was rather illuminating. While not enamored by my cheeky suggestions of 3 pm Friday finishes, and appalled by office murmurings of ‘duvet days’ he clearly sees not only the business opportunities in such schemes but also the need for innovation and adaptation in our current working climate.

“There is no reason that the way we currently work is the right way, businesses can no longer assume that old fixed corporate practices and methods will be successful. Change and disruption can invoke fear, but in times that are fast looking unprecedented in an economic, political and social sense, more than ever companies need to not only ride with change, but to consciously provoke change and disruption through new technologies, practices and methods of working”

Can we take lessons from the Apprentice?

I’ve missed a lot of this series of the Apprentice, however last night I finally sat down to watch what many deem to be the hardest task of each series – the interview. The militant nature of the interviews reminded me of some of the worse ones I’ve had to endure. Having an interviewer tell me that at the age of 25, I had achieved nothing with my life hurt. However, my dad alwyas used to say to me that a man is not defined by the setbacks he experiences, but how he deals with them.

The one quality that all the candidates seem to share is that they are all extremely self confident about their abilities. And this needs to be the case in any interview. If you are going to sell yourself to a potential employer you need to be completely confident in the skills that you can bring to the table. There is absolutely no point in being modest about yourself. No employer wants an average employee. However, in my experience, you should never gloss over your flaws. If someone is highlighting a mistake, admit it. Don’t try and blag. I remember when I was younger having an interview with an a company who sold double glazing. I was so desperate for the job that I told them I had sold windows previously. I got the job, but was very quickly found out and promptly humiliated. The same happened to Yasmina, who completely fell apart once her business acumen was exposed.  In my experience, a candidate or even just a human being, who is able to admit to their flaws, learn to overcome them and then rise above them, presents themselves as a stronger and more rounded individual than someone who seems to be the perfect candidate. This is because you know what to expect with the ‘warts and all’ character, whilst you are always waiting for the veil to slip with the perfect character.

It was also quite admirable how none of the candidates lost their bottle in any of the interviews. Although this was the final series and you’d expect candidates of this quality to give polished interviews, they were really tested. In that environment, it is hard not to take some of the critiscim personally. For me, that quality, combined with the propensity to learn from an experience can really shape a person.

Lastly, who do I think is going to win? It’s got to be Kate. Who did I hope to win? Debra. I think Sir Alan didn’t pick her purely because he realised he had met his match!


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