Posted by Paul Bresnihan

CEO of Growth Partners Plc

Fri 02nd, Nov

Growth Partners plc is a rapidly growing company set up to transform the working environments of UK businesses. Effectively an employee engagement company, Growth Partners’ unique platform of HR services provides a practical solution for employers looking to improve employee wellbeing and enhance workplace performance.

Yesterdays Awards & Dinner was truly a spectacular evening, and we were honoured to sponsor the Responsible Employer of the Year Award. It was a wonderful showcase of strong leadership, and continues to be an aspirational category for any business wanting to make the right moves in their industry.

In the age of social media, increasingly it seems that employees and customers alike look beyond just the product or service purchased, and consider the bigger picture...

What does this company stand for?

Do I feel comfortable standing by it?

Now, more than ever, ethos is under spotlight, paving the way to greater corporate merit whereby businesses can continue to make bold, but also responsible moves in the direction of success. Not only internally, creating vibrant and diverse workspaces, but also communally, environmentally, working towards a company vision that continues to care for customers, suppliers, and the wider community that their business will inevitably impact.

At Growth Partners, a positive difference is not just a last minute consideration or accessory to a higher goal, but integrated within everything that we do. At our core, we strive to build environments that employees look forward to working in. We make our clients’ office spaces/work sites/remote posts, whatever it may be, a healthier and happier place to operate from. We believe that an employee that ticks both boxes of sound health and spirit is far more likely to perform better, and with greater commitment towards their employer’s goals.

How might a company create a better workplace?

You could literally refurb, sprucing up the office or site with a few licks of paint, some swanky desks, a staffroom vending machine - all nice. Or, and what we believe is far more effective, you could refurb the policies ingrained within your company’s day-to-day. Undoubtedly, what underpins any strong workforce is a diverse and proactive company culture that uplifts and makes the full term of each individual’s shift an enjoyably productive one.

The Growth Pro platform that we offer gives our clients tremendous support in responsible employee management. To put it simply, our business is all about making employers’ lives easier and employees' working environments a happier and healthier space.

To do this, we give clients access to a market-leading suite, including:

  • Online GP & Counselling
  • Fitness & Nutritional Support
  • Occupational Health Guidance
  • 6,000+ Retail & Gym Discounts

And for employers, we are the go-to for everything HR, be it a request for general advice or an actual dedicated team to unburden a chunk of duties. The main ones:

  • A secure, GDPR compliant Payroll & ePayslip distribution
  • Top-rate pension schemes & investment management
  • Strategic recruitment support

In a way, a little pitch about what we’re all about, but also it’s our way of offering a unique solution to a key business concern: how can I support my employees, and in turn inspire them to continue to work hard for my business?

For us, Responsible Employers are businesses that seek to understand the needs of their employees, championing the growth of each individual alongside the growth of the company. Whether promoting fairness and equality in the workplace or pushing for positive development in the wider community, Growth Partners applauds the hard work of all finalists and to the winner, Mott MacDonald, from all of the GP team - a huge congratulations!

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Neil Ashbridge, Chair of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce provides some thoughts on the Budget.

Posted by Neil Ashbridge

Fri 02nd, Nov

Despite the fact that so many details of the Budget had already been published or discussed in various parts of the media, Philip Hammond still managed to surprise political commentators and adversaries.

There was certainly good news for business with support for investment and growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) have both however sounded a note of caution and if not quite the Sword of Damocles, the uncertainty around Brexit also continues to cast a shadow with the news that a new budget will need to be set if there is a no deal Brexit.

On the positive side there was certainly enough for business to celebrate, including the increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £1m and reducing the cost of apprenticeship training for SMEs, both of which should provide companies with the confidence to invest in capital assets as well as in their workforce. Maintaining the VAT threshold and support for UK high streets are also to be welcomed.

The Liverpool city region will benefit from the announcement that £37 million of funding will be available for Northern Powerhouse Rail to develop a fast rail link between Liverpool and Leeds. Extra funding will also be available to the metro mayors with the city region receiving £38.5m under the Transforming Cities Fund.

So is it fair to call the budget a “bit of a gamble”?

The OBR’s confirmation that the UK’s fiscal outlook is healthier than they expected, with the forecast for 2019 upgraded to 1.6 per cent (previously 1.3 per cent) and forecasted growth in 2020 upgraded to 1.4 per cent (from 1.3 per cent), allowed the Chancellor to provide additional spending on the NHS and public services. However, if UK economic growth remains subdued, he will need to ensure that additional measures are in place to drive productivity and growth.

Fundamental to that is increasing business confidence in the economy and looking beyond Brexit, as uncertainty over future trading conditions continues to act as a brake on business investment in both the manufacturing and services sectors.

Whilst there is much to be applauded in the Budget therefore, it is crucial that we continue to lobby the government on what really matters to business outside the Westminster bubble.

One example is access to finance, which remains a key impediment to business growth according to surveys undertaken by the British Chambers of Commerce and other business groups. Last month I joined representatives from MSIF and the Local Enterprise Partnership at a roundtable workshop to develop the policy position with the Finance & Leasing Association and Association of Certified Chartered Accountants.

An interim report has now been submitted to the government detailing policy priorities for businesses seeking access to finance and the report can be read here.

The key recommendations include enabling better resourcing and coordination of support mechanisms for signposting SMEs to finance and for the government to adopt a more proportionate and holistic approach to regulation affecting small business and those who fund them.

Let’s hope the Chancellor is still in the mood for listening!

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Philip Bird, Managing Director of The PC Support Group

Posted by Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 02nd, Nov

Introduce yourself – name, where do you sit in the business, and what does the business do?

Philip Bird, Managing Director of The PC Support Group

The PC Support Group is a multi-award-winning IT Managed Service Provider, supporting businesses throughout the North West. We specialise in providing a full range of IT and telephony products and services to enable SMEs to maximise the benefits of technology.  Using the latest remote management & automation systems along with our highly skilled technicians, we ensure our clients are connected, compliant, secure and adaptable to the fast changing commercial environment we all now operate in. Our services include fully outsourced IT support, one-off IT projects, managed data protection, file sharing solutions, security audits and services, and VoIP solutions. We don’t believe in “one size fits all” so we offer both on-premise and cloud-based solutions tailored to specific client’s needs.

What changes would you like to see to improve or develop your sector?

We desperately need more highly qualified youngsters coming in to the IT profession as there is a growing skills shortage and I would love to see more women working in the IT sector as it’s far too male dominated and there’s no reason why this should be the case.

What advice would you give your teenage self?

I’ve come to realise that most setbacks really do lead to opportunities, so I would tell myself not to worry too much if things don’t go to plan and look for those opportunities. When I did my A Levels I was expected to get high grades and go to Liverpool University to study Physics but the results didn’t come and I ended up at Manchester Polytechnic (as it was called then) to study Physics and Computing and I hated Physics! Since then my whole career has been with computers which may not have happened had I got good A level results. I also started my first company after the one I was working for went into liquidation. Another silver lining from a cloud. So I try to apply this thinking as much as I can now.

Where would we find you on your day off?

Usually up a hill on a bike in the Derbyshire hills. Like most people I rode a bike as a kid and then stopped as soon as I learned to drive but in 2012 I set myself a challenge to ride from London to Paris in 3 days and it sparked a real love of cycling. I must admit that as the cold weather and dark nights draw in you’re more likely to see me in the gym though.

What is the best advice you have been given in your career?

It’s probably a bit of advice that’s become a cliché but I still think it holds true… employ people that are better than you. To start a business and get it moving you have to be pretty good but for it to grow and become truly exceptional you need people who can bring more expertise in each area

Who is your role model in business?

I don’t think there is one business person that is perfect so I try to learn from anyone and everyone. However, if I was to select one then it would probably be James Dyson. I admire his commitment to creating wonderful products and providing great service when so many businesses focus on being cheap at the expense of everything else. I never wanted The PC Support Group to be cheap, I wanted us to provide exceptional service and bring real value to our clients, so I can at least say Mr Dyson and I share that passion.

Why choose Liverpool City Region?

Merseyside was a great place to start our business as it’s got a thriving SME community, a number of academic institutions bringing through potential employees and is geographically well located to allow us to service businesses throughout the region. We’ve now also added a Manchester office.

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Posted by Lindsey Knowles

Partner, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans Solicitors

Mon 29th, Oct

For employers, it’s second nature to check emails at least every 30 minutes, no matter what time of the day, or day of the week it is.

However, courts in Ireland and France have recently ruled that employees should not feel under the same pressure – and have heavily penalised companies that fail to recognise their right to ‘switch off’ outside of office hours.

In August, a business executive employed at a subsidiary company of meat producer Kepak in Ireland was awarded €7,500 after successfully arguing that she was required to respond to emails out of working hours, including some after midnight. This meant that her working hours went over the maximum 48 hours a week set out in Irish law.

The case followed a similar one in France in July, brought under the country’s new ‘right to disconnect’ law, which saw Rentokil ordered to pay a former employee €60,000 (£53,000) for failing to respect his ‘right to disconnect’ from his phone and computer outside office hours.

The judgements have caused shockwaves among businesses around the world as bosses have been forced to question whether they too are guilty of expecting their employees to provide a swift response to emails – no matter whether they are officially working or not.

Although neither of these cases directly affect English law, now that the issue has made its way through the judiciary system abroad, it’s highly likely that it won’t be too long before similar cases are brought before the courts here, meaning that firms need to take action now to avoid being penalised in the future.

Looking again overseas, companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany have led the way in self-protection by introducing bold email policies that prevent employees being contacted via email once they’ve left the office.

In 2012, Volkswagen agreed to stop its Blackberry servers sending emails to some of its employers when they were off-shift, while in 2014, Daimler introduced its much-heralded ‘Mail on Holiday’ policy, which gives employees the option to set their emails to auto-delete while away from the office in order to avoid facing an overflowing inbox on their return.

Last year, Uwe Hück, head of Porsche’s works council and deputy chairman of Porsche’s supervisory board, mooted the idea of the firm’s employees being protected from work-related emails out of hours, with any correspondence between 7pm and 6am being returned to the sender.

But what of the employees who prefer the flexibility that out-of-hours emails can bring? Those who have loosely-termed agreements in place that they can, for example, leave early to collect the children from school on the understanding that they’ll pick up any emails later on in the evening?

It’s a difficult balance to strike, but the recent cases have made it clear that any such agreement should form part of an employee’s contract and that the practice of regularly sending work emails out of hours should be brought to an end.

The need to stop and think before dashing off an email will be a culture change for some; but it’s a necessary one if employers are to protect their business from the prospect of hefty legal penalties.

Lindsey Knowles is Head of Employment Law at Kirwans law firm

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Posted by Lindsey Knowles

Partner, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans Solicitors

Wed 24th, Oct

Employers are being reminded of their legal responsibilities when it comes to protecting their staff at Christmas parties after a Court of Appeal Judge held a company liable for the behaviour of its managing director at a festive get-together.

Lindsey Knowles, employment law solicitor at Kirwans law firm, is urging employers to set out strict recommendations in relation to the office party, in an attempt to avoid altercations occurring that could lead to potential claims against the business.

The warning comes following a Court of Appeal hearing last week, at which the Judge ruled that a recruitment agency was vicariously liable for the actions of its managing director after he punched one of his employees, causing him brain damage, at a Christmas party.

However, Lindsey warns that not all businesses realise the legal responsibility they have to ensure that their employees are protected at such events.

She said: “In the run-up to Christmas, most people look forward to enjoying a drink with colleagues and celebrating the festive season.

“Often though, alcohol and work can prove an unhealthy mix, and a booze-fuelled party can easily lead to personal injury, sexual harassment or discrimination by members of their staff for which the employer can be held responsible - or vicariously liable.

According to Lindsey, however, there is a defence for companies that can prove they took all possible steps to prevent the act from occurring.

“Businesses can’t possibly prepare for every eventuality, but there are actions they can take to protect both their employees and their business so that the festive celebrations act as a conduit to bring the team together - rather than cause ructions that tear it apart.”

Here, Lindsey, along with her colleagues James Barker, personal injury solicitor, and Frank Rogers from Just Motor Law, Kirwans’ motoring arm, set out their top six ‘dos’ and don’ts’ for creating a Christmas party with no nasty aftershocks.

Ground rules for planning an office Christmas party

1. Remind staff of appropriate behaviour

This can be done in the form of an email prior to the party, reminding employers that the party’s location is, in essence, an extension of the workplace, so actions that would lead to disciplinary proceedings in the course of a normal working day will do so at the party too. Staff should also be reminded of your social media policy, to avoid numerous photographs of respected professionals in party mode appearing on the internet.

2. Ensure the event is not discriminatory

The Christmas party should be all-inclusive – and that includes making sure disabled staff can access all parts of it, there are a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks for teetotallers and that cultural, religious and medical dietary requirements are taken into account. Also remember that not all staff members may celebrate Christmas, so be sensitive to the fact when planning the festivities.

3. Control the amount of free alcohol on offer

If an employee becomes injured as a direct result of consuming too much alcohol, there could be implications for the employer in terms of potential claims, so put a limit on what’s on offer, or don’t serve high alcohol spirits.

4. Arrange transport home

It’s vital that staff are able to get home safely, so either arrange transport or ensure that licensed taxis are available.

5. Communicate your ‘morning after’ policy

Let staff know well in advance of any special working arrangements there might be for the morning after the event – such as coming in late or having the morning off. Make sure they’re aware of what is and isn’t acceptable, and remind them of the importance of being entirely alcohol free before they attempt to drive. Also ensure any employees who had been drinking the night before are not asked to drive for work purposes the following day as, in certain circumstances, the employer can be prosecuted as well as the employee in relation to driving offences committed the morning after the event.

6. Conduct a workplace party risk assessment

If the party is being held on works premises, there is a responsibility on the employer to make sure the property is safe for such an event and that the area designated for the party has been risk assessed and is suitable for the purpose.

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Posted by The PC Support Group

Fri 19th, Oct

Suddenly being unable to access data and systems is the nightmare scenario for all businesses.  For most, it’s a frightening experience. For those providing time-critical or confidential services, it can threaten their very existence.   A crazy thought when 93% of data loss incidents are avoidable1.

Almost all organisations experience some form of downtime whether it’s a critical hardware failure, a flooded office or the latest cyberattack.  Any one of these can happen when you’re least expecting it.

Sadly, there are many stories of successful SMEs being hit by an unexpected crisis from which they have been unable to recover. That’s not surprising when:

  • the average cost of one hour of downtime is £6,500 for a small business or £64,000 for a mid-sized company2
  • for those without a disaster recovery plan, downtime is even longer, taking on average 18.5 hours to get up and running2 – critical time no business can afford.

When The PC Support Group suffered a complete power outage at our offices for half a day very recently, we were able to continue supporting our clients because we had robust business continuity measures in place. It’s a model that we’d be delighted to share with you.

Our six-step plan helps you to assess your risks, identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities and put practical, proactive measures in place to deal with these challenges and recover. And the fact is, by planning for the worst you can make your business stronger and more resilient for the present. Just on the issue of your back up alone, here’s a quick check list for you:

  • Do you know what your business-critical data is and where it is held? Is it being backed up at all?
  • Is your backed-up data kept separate from your live system, in a secure place with restricted access?
  • How regularly is data backed-up – daily, weekly, monthly?
  • Is the back-up process automated and regularly monitored?
  • How soon could that data be restored to an alternative system – hours, days, weeks?
  • Do you know where you would restore the data to if your current live system failed?
  • How long could your business survive without access to its data?

The PC Support Group can help you to protect the business that you’ve worked so hard to build, with practical, real world advice and guidance for you and your people, combined with cost-effective technologies and solutions. Speak to our team on 03300 886116 for an informal and confidential chat or email them on info@pcsupportgroup.com  or click here and leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.

Best wishes

Phil Bird, Managing Director,

The PC Support Group

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Michelle Cameron, Senior Policy and Communications Advisor at the Chamber

Posted by Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 12th, Oct

Introduce yourself

I am Michelle Cameron, Senior Policy and Communications Advisor at Liverpool & Sefton Chamber of Commerce.

What do you enjoy most about working in the Chamber?

It has been a really exciting time in the Chamber over the last 12 months as we have restructured and refocused on how we can not only support our members through our information provision and networking opportunities, but also through the more strategic work we do around policy and advocacy. One of my priorities has been taking forward the responsible business agenda which we are once again celebrating at our Annual Dinner Awards this year. From being a civil servant in the Whitehall bubble, I really enjoy the opportunity work with businesses face to face, hopefully making a tangible difference where we can.

What changes would you like to see to improve or develop your sector?

As an ex civil servant I still find Whitehall's silo approach to policy development and delivery frustrating. Transport is an excellent example. It impacts on every aspect of our lives - how we access employment, deliver essential goods and services, our health, our environment and our economic well being. We need a much more collaborative approach, at both local and national level, to maximise the impact of available resources. Having a Metro Mayor with devolved powers should hopefully make a difference at city region level.

Where would we find you in your day off?

My perfect Sunday morning is curling up on the sofa with the Sunday papers listening to the Archers Omnibus! I also have to admit to enjoying some retail therapy especially as we now have a brilliant choice in the city region ranging from Liverpool One to amazing independents.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Frankly I didn't listen to any advice when I was younger! The positive side of that of course is that you act spontaneously and make your own opportunities. When I graduated I answered an advert in The Lady and after one telephone conversation, bought an open return and flew to New York to be an au pair for 12 months - it was an amazing experience! So my advice would be don't overthink it - just do it!

Who do you admire in business?

I come from a family of "shopkeepers" going back to my great great grandmother who ran a grocery shop next to Goodison Park so I really admire anyone who sets up their own business as I know how difficult it can be. Our Chamber Awards this year celebrate excellence in business and the applications have been such a positive endorsement of what has been achieved here in the city region. Our Local Hero nominees are inspirational and I really don't envy the judges in making the final decision!

Why choose the Liverpool City Region?

I went to University in London and returned to work there in the mid 80s not only because I loved the place but also because it was the only way to develop my career. Since I returned to Liverpool in 2004 it has been amazing to watch the transformation of the city and the growth in confidence and pride in what has been achieved so far. My friends from London love visiting me now!

To find out more about how the Chamber can support Members through our the work we do on policy and strategic communications please contact Michelle michelle.cameron@liverpoolchamber.org.uk.

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Ergonomic working practices are not being extended to home workers

Posted by BHSF

Fri 12th, Oct
  •        37% of home workers say they have experienced new back pain since they began working from home.
  •        58% of employees say they received no help or guidance from their employer on how to set up a workstation at home that supports healthy posture.
  •        Just 22% of employees who say they’ve had this help received an ergonomic assessment in person.
  •        Only 35% say they have a dedicated office.
  •        27% work at a table, 11% work from a sofa and 3% work from their bed.

UK home workers are being let down by their employers, who are failing to ensure that their employees are working in a way that supports healthy posture. While organisations are spending millions of pounds to make their offices as ergonomic as possible, they appear to be neglecting to do the same for their home workers. This could be storing up serious musculoskeletal problems for the UK workforce.

New research from health and wellbeing provider BHSF, commissioned to coincide with Back Care Awareness Week (8 – 12 October), has highlighted a serious oversight by many employers (58%), who are not providing support to their home workers on how to set up their workstations correctly.

According to the research, with employees who work at least two days a week from home, only 36% received this kind of support. Of these, 60% received an ergonomic assessment – 22% in person and 38% online.

Women are being particularly let down, with just 30% having help to set up their workstations, compared to 45% of men. Given that women are also much less likely than men to have a dedicated office in their home (30% to 43%), this means they could be highly susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.

In addition, only 26% of those aged over 50 could remember having this type of help from their employer. As this age group is much more likely to suffer with back pain, employers are leaving this section of their workforce particularly vulnerable.

The research reveals that this lack of support from employers may already be taking its toll, with 37% saying that they have suffered from new back pain since they began working from home. (The impact is being felt more keenly in certain regions, with 47% of home workers in London reporting new back pain, 45% in the North East and 44% in the West Midlands.)

The cause of this pain could stem from the lack of a proper workstation, as 27% work at a table rather than a desk, 11% work from the sofa, and shockingly 3% work from their beds. Working like this means that the back is not supported correctly, which could lead to serious conditions developing.

Another contributing factor behind this back pain could be that employees are not building any exercise (such as a brisk walk or visit to the gym) into their working day. 26% say that they rarely or never take this kind of break, meaning they could be sitting for hours on end at a computer. While in an office, the day is naturally broken up by meetings and discussions with colleagues, this does not happen at home. Regular movement is crucial to maintaining good physical health, and employers should be doing more to encourage this in their home workers.

Stuart Nottingham, physiotherapy lead for BHSF, said “While some employers are doing an excellent job providing ergonomic assessments in person and revisiting these biannually, the majority are failing their employees badly on this issue.

“There is a lot more that employers could be doing to help prevent back pain in their employees, from ensuring their home workstation is set up correctly to providing them with guidance on active working strategies such as getting up from sitting on a regular basis, or advice on simple exercises they can do to prevent back pain and other musculoskeletal problems.”

Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF, said: “Back pain is a serious burden for the UK economy, costing more than £10.7 billion a year and it’s a condition that’s on the increase.

“As more employers embrace the benefits of flexible working practices, they need to think about how they can help prevent an even sharper rise in musculoskeletal issues, which could lead to an increasing level of sickness absence.”

To find out more about BHSF and its occupational health services visit: www.bhsfoh.co.uk.

(Research conducted by OnePoll with 897 UK employees who work at least two days a week from home.)

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Posted by The PC Support Group

Fri 12th, Oct

Many businesses stick with suppliers even when they’re unhappy with the service they’re receiving.

Busy people running an SME find the prospect of finding suitable suppliers, evaluating them, making a selection and then organising the transition, just too daunting. “Better the devil you know” is often the conclusion – and one often prompted by the incumbent supplier!

This is an especially familiar scenario in the IT support sector. Losing our tech or our data is unthinkable, ramping up the fears associated with making a change even further.

But why should you jeopardise the future prosperity of your business by staying with a supplier that’s simply not providing what you need? The fact is you don’t need to because making a switch to a new IT support partner has never been easier.

Most importantly - don’t be put off by scare stories.  If you’re worried that moving email or cloud systems is too difficult, with the right people working with you, supporting you every step of the way, switching is usually quite straightforward – and more importantly the benefits can be swift and game-changing for your business.

And the value goes beyond potential cost reductions. The right supplier will provide more expertise, experience, innovation, the latest technology and processes.

If you’ve decided that your current IT support supplier is not right your business and you want to make a change, here are some simple things to consider that will help you achieve a seamless transition:

1. Check the conditions of the contract with your existing IT support company.

Before you give notice of your switch, make sure you are legally able to make the move.  A lot of companies tie you in for a year or more, require a number of months’ notice and even automatically enrol you into additional years if notice is not given. Even if you’re not ready to change now, make sure you understand your contract terms.

2. Pull together all your documentation about your IT network

Make sure you have collated all the IT documentation that you can, so you can pass this on to your new IT support company and make backups of all your data if possible. This may not be something you have to hand so arrange for your current supplier to provide it in advance of giving them notice.  Examples of the documentation that will help include your current website domain host, passwords to servers and other important systems, and information about where data is stored and backed up.

3. Do your homework on the IT support provider you are switching to

Thoroughly research your new IT support provider, ask them lots of questions and be clear about your expectations of the service you require. Tell them about your business requirements rather than your tech requirements – your tech is simply an enabler. Getting a strong and transparent relationship in place from the outset, with open communication channels, will stand you in good stead for the future.

We have devised a simple guide with 20 key questions to help you choose the right IT support provider, once you have decided to switch.  Please feel free to download this here.

4. Check the new supplier has migrated systems like yours before

Most issues arise due to a new supplier’s lack of experience migrating cloud and email systems. Check that the new supplier is familiar with your systems and has migrated other similar ones. Do they have a dedicated project manager and team to ensure the transfer is well planned and goes smoothly.

If you would like to discuss how The PC Support Group can help grow your business, then contact us on 0330 0886 116 or by email on info@pcsupportgroup.com for a confidential chat.

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Posted by Glenn Lyons

Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility

Fri 28th, Sep

Transport planners must embrace changing social attitudes and adopt new professional practices in the face of electrification and automation, argues Mott MacDonald professor of future mobility Glenn Lyons.

Some of us are connected – to work or social networks – from the moment we wake up. Through ubiquitous ICT there is a sense of seamlessness in life these days, and transport systems are starting to catch up. Transport is moving from the simple task of getting people from A to B to something more complex. It’s increasingly about connectivity. Looking at how people use their time while travelling debunks the idea that we have activities on one hand, and travel on the other, because the two have been brought together.

I’ve been referred to as a transport sociologist but once was a civil engineer. Travel demand derives from people’s lifestyles, goals and activities. Transport planners need to understand society, people’s social practices. It’s about placing transport in its social context.

Now that many countries have announced a future ban on the sale of petrol or diesel cars, society is primed for a technological breakthrough: the move from internal combustion to electric vehicles. We’re still at the very early stages of that transition, but motor manufacturers are geared up for it.

Potentially a burning issue is how EVs and autonomous vehicles (AVs) are going to fit into the existing infrastructure. With EVs, I can reflect on my own experience, living near a sleepy market town where charging points are emerging within the car parking infrastructure. They’re retrofitted and unobtrusive and one can easily imagine that there will be an ongoing permeation of charging infrastructure into the built environment over time as people’s engagement with the EV agenda increases. The transport industry is already talking about contactless charging, and charging on the move.

A much bigger question is around AVs. All the motor manufacturers are chasing automation — they can’t afford not to. But there are many questions to be asked about how far and how fast we are to be swept into an AV future. Some pundits predict urban and interurban infrastructures will be dominated by AVs in the near future.

But it’s likely we are still some decades away from AVs being transformative in their penetration into the fleet. If we’re talking about Level 4 autonomy — fully autonomous in some but not all circumstances – you will still have a steering wheel and vehicles which are humanly controlled at some point in the system. If this is the case, a radical transformation of infrastructure won’t be practical.

Of course, if we’re moving to fully autonomous (Level 5) vehicles then infrastructure can be rethought. AVs offer the prospect of empowering significant parts of the population, currently unserved by conventional private vehicles: teenagers with no driving licence and those (young or old) with mobility impairments.

In urban areas changes to the way people travel and connect are happening without EVs and AVs. On a normal day in Liverpool, it’s remarkable how many bikes pass by. It makes you realise that comparatively low-tech solutions can have big impacts. Meanwhile, in Cornwall or Devon reliance on individualised car-based transport exists and may endure.

Different models of connectivity are to be expected and embraced, rather than resisted. And that includes connectivity through our devices, which offer an accompaniment to or substitute for physical mobility.

With changing social and travel behaviours, professional attitudes and practice will need to change too. It’s going to be an evolution, rather than a revolution, just as those cyclists passing my favourite coffee shops will gradually increase in frequency and numbers over time.

In 10 or 15 years, we’ll look back and see this as an important era in the transport profession. Right now, transport planners are hidebound by precedent and compliance with rules. But increasingly, providing connectivity will involve multidisciplinary, cross-professional working. Future mobility will be just one system within a system of systems.

Part of me is excited by technological advance and the use of big data in transport and telecommunications systems. But, there’s a risk that we get seduced by the siren call of technology and my caution is ‘beware of the hype’.

Many years ago, I was seconded to the DfT to help deliver an IT project called Transport Direct which became a world-first door-to-door, multimodal journey planner. That was all about data and turning data into information. However, the remarkable achievement was less to do with building a web service and much more to do with unlocking the availability of data across multiple organisations through collaboration and formal agreements. The groundwork was laid then for what is now being called smart mobility or mobility as a service.

The goal of smart mobility? Technological sophistication is just an enabler, not an end in itself. Smart mobility’s goals should be to connect people in a way that’s affordable, effective, attractive and sustainable.

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