Talking SME Podcast: Don’t Blame it on the Tech
Our guest on this episode, Richard McBarnet, CEO of IT company Lumina Technologies and also Chair of Herts IoD. In this episode ‘Don’t Blame it on the Tech’ he discusses how being technologically fit can help your business succeed now and into the future.
A bit about Richard
Richard is CEO of Lumina Technologies. Having founded the business in 1998, today the firm is an established IT Managed Service Provider. Lumina Technologies has proven expertise in delivering and supporting enterprise-grade IT ecosystems for larger firms and fast-growing start-ups. Richard’s role has evolved from founder and first engineer to now CEO and strategic leader. His day to day responsibilities include being the visionary, moral compass, strategist and custodian of the business. Coupled with that, is his strong emphasis on driving the team and the company forward. Even though he has long since hung up his engineering hat, he still provides consulting services to his clients. These are specifically around IT strategy, budgeting, operational maturity, cyber security and business continuity. He revels in solving business problems and applying technology, where appropriate, to deliver creative solutions.
In addition, he is also Branch Chair and Cyber Security Ambassador for the Institute of Directors (IoD) Herts.
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Transcript[00:00:02.910] – Jane
Hello and welcome to Talking SME, a quickfire chat with business leaders. I’m Jane O’Gorman and I’m very pleased today to welcome Richard McBarnet, M.D. of Lumina Technologies and chair of Hertfordshire IoD. Hi, Richard. Good morning. Hey, thanks so much for joining us. [00:00:23.970] – Jane
Well, here we are again, trying to cope with lock down number three. And it’s safe to say the last 10 months have been a technological whirlwind for many of us with new learnings, new tools, new challenges and and the occasional temptations to blame on the tech. If we reach back to last year, Richard, as a business, how prepared were you to cope with the first lock down. [00:00:55.530] – Richard
For us, really, based on what we do, we were well prepared. As for our clients it’s a slightly different story. But as an I.T. services organization, what we fundamentally do is provide remote services to our clients. And so effectively, the main mechanisms, the frameworks for what we need to be able to support users remotely was already there. So to then take our staff, send them home and have them continue to use the same tools, it was a very, very seamless position. But perhaps we are in a slightly more unique place in regard to how we were prepared for it. [00:01:27.090] – Richard
But certainly it was a challenge in terms of the non-technical side of things. And certainly I think a lot of businesses have experienced similar things in terms of staff wellbeing, mental health and various other bits. But as far as that kind of tech relocation and being able to sort of get everyone up and running very, very quickly, I’m pleased to say it actually wasn’t a particular challenge. [00:01:48.090] – Jane
That’s obviously good to hear. And as you say, given the market and your area of expertise, you were in a better position than I think than many. Having said that, what would you say was your biggest challenge during the past few, you know, these recent months? And how have you overcome it? [00:02:07.320] – Richard
The biggest challenge that we faced from a technology perspective, and it’s been a challenge faced by so many other businesses, is connectivity. So we have so many of the other aspects and make sure that we’ve got the right care to people who’ve got the right webcams, laptops, speakers, headsets, whatever they may need to do. But the area that’s been outside of our control is the broadband connection. And as a country, we already knew that we were well behind so many of our European and indeed international competitors in terms of broadband rollout and high speed rollout. [00:02:39.060] – Richard
The first lock-down really kind of put that to the test. And I don’t think we’re there yet. And whilst it’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had around how we get there as a nation, as individuals, as companies, there’s still a lot more that could be done. I think getting the team to have the right connectivity and ensure that they can actually deliver their jobs properly was probably the number one thing that we had to address. [00:03:04.980] – Richard
We only needed to address one of the team members who had a particularly sort of slow connection. We were able to overcome that and provision, a new line, But for other organizations and for supporting our users and getting them up and running, it continues to be a problem today. [00:03:21.660] – Jane
Yeah, I can I can imagine. And we’ve seen over the previous months, you know, some of those issues that have come up, you know, in terms of those challenges and it’s good you’ve pointed to connectivity. Do you think that’s been the biggest tech challenge for businesses who you’ve worked with, of businesses that you’ve connected with, that you’ve seen in the last 10 months? [00:03:47.550] – Richard
It’s certainly part of it. And I think that what has shifted and there’s all sorts of debates going on around the world, what our future is going to look like and sort of the hybrid roles that we’ll fulfill moving forward, the disappointment that I’ve had in my interactions externally, and I think these are the business challenges that other organisations need to address is, if you’re not doing it right now. Sorry. If you’re not doing it right, it’s undermining your credibility as a business and the reputational damage of having poor tech is now actually having an impact.
And we were working with an organisation the other day and it was so frustrating to not be able to actually arrange some form of conference call. They weren’t in a position to do a Team’s call a Zoom call, an audio conference call, even just reverting back to old school audio conferencing. There’s now an expectation that we should be able to fire up a teams meeting, a zoom meeting, whatever platform we’ve chosen to use, and be able to connect people and seamlessly work with them.
If you come across an organisation that hasn’t got the right tools in place or that you connect to them and then the audio is glitching all the time because they’ve got poor connectivity, it does influence your opinion of that business and, you know, we’ve all had 12 months now to get our act together, to get sorted and for those that haven’t. It does give you pause for thought.[00:05:12.940] – Richard
And I think that for us in working with our clients, thankfully, our own client base has been very responsive and they’ve been willing to to make the changes that are needed to get them up and running. And indeed, in most cases, we have the right infrastructure in place. But the resource challenges around the first sort of three or four months. So, of course, everyone wanted a webcam, everyone wanted speakers and headsets, and they can supply a lot of money on eBay and selling second hand ones or indeed imported ones we’ve overcome that now. [00:05:45.610] – Richard
Stock is absolutely fine. You know, people need laptops, desktops, printers, they’re all available. We can supply those. The thing that also has been very interesting to observe is how businesses have been able to adapt their workflows and really sort of we can provision the technology it’s very easy to send out a laptop to a user. But if people just effectively try and do the same thing they’ve always done but just relocated back into their homes and say, well, actually, I need a printer to be able to print off documents so I can sign them and scan them back, then we’re missing the point and its not taking advantage of what IT and technology has to offer. [00:06:22.420] – Richard
Most of the tools that we need to actually create a better environment, a more efficient, seamless, paperless environment already were out there, but firms aren’t necessarily embracing them wholesale. And so the ability to electronically sign documents, I mean, it should be a given in this day and age. There are many, many platforms out there that can fulfill this. There are signatures that are legally acceptable, both from a contractual law perspective, but also from just a general legal standard. [00:06:52.060] – Richard
So there’s no excuse not to be doing it. And that’s really what we’re wanting to see businesses now embrace is to say this is the time to not just embrace homeworking, hybrid working, but actually as a business to really evaluate your processes, really scrutinize them under a microscope and say … Because we’ve always done it this way does not necessarily mean we should continue to always do it this way and actually find ways of working better and don’t just sort of accept the status quo, harness technology, utilize everything that it can offer and drive the business forward. [00:07:25.560] – Jane
Yeah, that’s so interesting. And and it’s interesting, I guess, to think about you always have to look for the optimism and the benefits and perhaps the learnings that have come out of the recent months. You know, and from a technological perspective, it’s probably quite easy to, on occasion, blame it on the tech. You know, there’s too many occasions and we’re all guilty of it, you know, of saying, sorry, I’m losing you or thinking about how is our tech actually working for us. [00:07:58.380] – Jane
And I think you’ve probably touched on already. But I wonder if there is perhaps one piece of advice you might have for businesses struggling in the third lock down about how they can make tech work better for them. And you’ve touched on some really valuable points there in terms of how we can certainly be more digital. But is there anything from that perspective, one little piece of advice that you would say to them, make Tech work better for you? [00:08:26.830] – Jane
You referenced, Richard, that you know, that impression of how, you know, when we’re all having meetings now remotely. So it’s a very important aspect of how are actually communicating, you know, not only with our teams, but with businesses, suppliers, clients and so forth. [00:08:43.950] – Richard
Absolutely. I think really the thing that stands out to me most is investment. And the step change that we’ve undertaken now as a society, as a workforce has to be recognized. In the past and our own position was to say home working and flexible working was really seen as a benefit to the individual, to the employee that was asking for it. So we essentially put the burden on them to ensure that they had the right technology. If you want to work from home, saves money and not having to commute all the other benefits that come from that, then you have a responsibility to make sure that you can actually do your job adequately from home. [00:09:22.930] – Richard
I don’t think that really cuts it anymore. And I think we’ve moved into a space where there has to be a greater dialogue between employer and employee as to what that looks like and that some of that burden does come back to the employer. Now every circumstance is going to be different, but as the general rule, if you are making that investment, if the technology isn’t up to par and the user experience is inferior, you are impacting productivity. You are impacting your reputation. You’re giving customers a negative impression of how you are as a business and how you invest it.
If we were looking at our I.T. investments in the office, then with most organizations, it’s very clear cut as to how investment absolutely pays off if you invest in the right tech. And you equip your employees to do their job efficiently and productively you reap the benefits from that. So why wouldn’t that extend into the home? So I think that that’s something we need to really look at very carefully and have an open dialogue.[00:10:21.190] – Richard
I’m not saying that employers want to shoulder the whole burden there are clearly going to be elements of hybrid that need to be addressed on that, because there’s going to be shared usage. If you don’t go back home and there’s other family members, there’s other household members that they could potentially share that line. But who shoulders that burden? But there’s a conversation that needs to be had. And I think that’s really what I would the advice I would give to organizations now is to have ongoing dialogues with your teams as to what is needed to ensure that everyone can be productive and can actually deliver to the best of their ability. [00:10:56.850] – Jane
That’s really useful. And I think it’s also important in terms of technology, even more so now, because you talk about investment and thinking about that and thinking about how people are set up at home and obviously it is an important factor, even more so because we are working remotely. But what we can see is that it’s clear that the future of the workplace is going to look quite different. And you mentioned the word hybrid? There’s a lot of talk around hybrid roles. [00:11:30.990] – Jane
So talking about investment in technology and how we make technology work for us. We’re not talking about a short term solution here, are we? You know, we’re talking about how best to prepare for this because we can see a different workplace going forward. As an organization it’s something we’ve been advocating in terms of flexible working for a long time. But we can see now just how important technological security in terms of what we have is important for the business. How do you think we can best prepare for that, Richard, in terms of thinking ahead and thinking about the longer term. [00:12:14.540] – Richard
So in most circumstances, clearly there’s a shifting of workforce patterns at the moment, it’s a competitive marketplace, if you are seeking to recruit the best talent out there, if you are looking to equip your organization with the right sort of A players to drive your business forward, your offering has to be appealing.
And I think that the some of that sort of conversation and that sort of shift of need has moved from employer to employee. And people now are going to be expecting that there is a provision for them to work flexibly, now to just cut that off at the knees and not have that available restricts access to the best talent that’s out there. So if we acknowledge that and we say that actually it’s got to be part of our policy and part of the package that we put forward, we need to be thinking about what that should look like for our sort of standard package.[00:13:10.050] – Richard
Maybe now it’s sort of also shifting what our tech investments look like even within the office? Whereas before it was sort of fairly clear cut that if you were an office space worker, your got a desk top because it was cheaper. And if you were a remote worker or consultant, anyone that needs to be out on the road, then you’d be provided with a laptop. But actually, now, if we’re looking at a hybrid environment, people are moving in between the office we want to make it a seamless as possible. [00:13:35.150] – Richard
And I’ve always really kind of adopted the mantra. And it’s sort of more Microsoft’s than mine so I will give them the credit for it. But eventually, as a workforce, as an individual working, we want to access more data anywhere, any time from any device that really needs to be embraced. And this was already happening prior to Covid but we’re moving into the cloud based environment. [00:14:05.130] We’ve got that sort of flexibility of devices, flexibility of work and locations, flexibility of working patterns. And we need to really cater for a world where we can access our data from any device, anywhere, anytime. And people are wanting to work that way. So our investment decisions around how we kit out the office need to shift – the office of the future isn’t going to look like the office of yesterday. Thinking about purely laptop suites or station’s connectivity at home. [00:14:37.380] What sort of external monitors need to look like? Do we provision those? And really sort of building that into part of our employee package? That’s that’s the sort of the standard. I think the key last one is that broadband line, which, as you probably gathered from the start of our conversation, is a little bit of a bug bear of mine because actually there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to have a conversation and the person you’re talking to keeps talking offline or you can’t hear what they’re saying. You ask them to repeat themselves. It really interrupts creativity. It interrupts the flow of conversation. And it’s the last piece that we need to get right.
Actually provisioning laptops and other bits and pieces that’s the easy bit, because pretty much any laptop may be used to sign up into zoom and have a credible experience around that. But having the peripherals around that of appropriate sound and vision experience and so a microphone and a camera that are up to standard.
We need high quality around that noise cancelling if you’re in a new potentially noisy environment. The echo that is also frustrating when you start a conversation off and somebody has got and they’re not using a headset, for instance, they’re using speakers and a microphone they’ve got the speakers up too loud and getting some feedback around, these are all negative experiences that are very, very easy to overcome. And a minor investment can actually achieve a much more productive and collaborative environment. So those are kind of areas that I would look at.[00:16:04.350] – Jane
That’s very, very wise advice, Richard. It’s interesting, I think from both our perspectives, you know, we’ve been obviously challenging and trying to campaign and pioneer flexibility and and from your perspective, in terms of technology, perhaps we haven’t given it quite the attention that we should have done. And I think now we’re realizing just how valuable having a good support is to a business. So thank you. Thank you very much for all of that very, very helpful information. And I think it’s something that that many of us can take on board. And perhaps it’s accelerated, you know, some of the things that businesses might have got around to possibly thinking more seriously about now. [00:16:56.460] – Richard
Absolutely. I think that if I can just throw my parting words of wisdom, this is a real opportunity for businesses and for society to build a better future for all of us. I think that we can emerge from this pandemic and some 12 months as it will be 12 months at least, I think, before we are out of it as a better society and as better businesses and I am all for embracing flexibility and creating an environment whereby we absolutely acknowledge a better sort of family life, the better social and work life balance and a greater flexibility. What it has taught us over the last 10 months is that productivity absolutely can be improved upon and we can deliver far better outcomes by embracing the flexible working pattern. [00:17:48.230] – Jane
That’s so true and obviously providing we’ve got great technology to support it. [00:17:54.710] Well, hopefully that is a given. [00:17:59.630] – Jane
Richard, thanks so much for joining me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. [00:18:05.200] – Richard
Likewise. [00:18:07.610] – Jane
And I will speak to you again very soon and hopefully, perhaps we can have another chat in the future. And to all our listeners, I hope you’ve enjoyed Talking SME. Look out for future episodes coming soon.