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FUTURE FINANCE IS ON TRACK TO DELIVER £1.3 MILLION A YEAR IN SAVINGS”, ANDREW CONNOLLY, CFO AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER

Can you tell the story behind your career to CFO at Exeter University?
I joined the University of Exeter seven years ago and have been working in the Higher Education sector for a little over 23 years. Previously I held the positions of Finance Director at the University of Essex and Assistant Director of Finance at the University of Birmingham.
The University of Exeter is unusual in that it genuinely combines research and teaching excellence. The institution has transformed its league table position from being ranked in the mid-thirties in 2003, to now being close to the top ten. This type of transformation is pretty rare and it has culminated in the University joining the UK’s research elite, The Russell Group, six years ago.
It’s this dynamism that first attracted me to the University of Exeter; the focus and drive on performance creates a fantastic environment to be a CFO. Also, the University is located in Devon, one of the most beautiful parts of the UK and I absolutely love it.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your position at Exeter?
The nature of universities is that they are highly distributed, extremely collegiate, with lots of autonomy and decision-making units. This means that even senior leaders are challenged and tested by staff so securing buy-in to your vision, winning hearts and minds about the need to change is always a big part of the challenge.
How have you driven business transformation at Exeter?
I inherited a disjointed finance function. The University has six colleges (Humanities, Social Science & International Studies, Life & Environmental Studies, Business School, Engineering Mathematics & Physical Sciences and the Medical School), each of which had its own independent finance teams which were structured differently, worked differently, even operated systems and processes differently.
My first challenge was to unify the finance function. I went about making the case to invest in standardising and automating processes, at the same time as creating a new team of finance leaders across the University. We identified and analysed a wide range of issues and created a vision that resonated and aligned with the needs of the business. We then developed a new operating model and vision for the finance function – the Future Finance Programme. Fundamentally, the Future Finance programme was based on creating and delivering a whole new finance function, one that’s fit for purpose, meets the business needs of the university and was focused on people, processes and systems.
A finance function only exists to support the talent of the university’s staff and students in delivering teaching and research. The Future Finance programme is on track to deliver £1.3 million a year recurrent staff savings, all of which will be reinvested into frontline, whether that’s to improve the student experience or hire new academics.
What do you look for in a technology partner?
A vendor who has a good understanding of the nuances associated with higher education as our sector isn’t like a normal business. It is also important that our partner understands our objectives and is genuinely committed to delivering them. A strong focus on research & development also plays a part, as we want to work with an organisation that is committed to their products and won’t make our investment obsolete over time or undermine our competitive position by not continually enhancing their own products.
Part of our investment in technology is about standardising and automating processes; our TechnologyOne Financials software has enabled us to do this and in turn has driven efficiency gains – reducing the cost of the finance function by 20%. Equally important, and something we put at the heart of our procurement process, was the need for a solution which had a very end-user friendly interface. It wasn’t just about having the best functionality, it was about having that very strong user engagement and ultimately that’s what led to TechnologyOne being appointed as our preferred partner.
Universities are not standard businesses, we are full of multi-year projects funded from multiple sources, whether its research grants or commercial partnerships. We’re a charity yet we also undertake a range of commercial projects. We operate student hotels, catering and conference facilities, library and sports facilities. We have numerous partnerships and joint ventures. The breadth of our activity is astonishing. That’s where a partner like TechnologyOne can add real value as they provide dedicated solutions for universities.
If you had one piece of advice to give to other CFO’s regarding digital transformation, what would that be?
Change is difficult, so put lots of energy into planning and engaging staff and never underestimate the value of communications. Projects, especially ones that are multifaceted, can be long and arduous and it’s easy for those involved to get lost in the complexity. In order to combat this, it’s important to repeat your vision and enable staff to visualise the end result; this makes managing the change process that much easier.

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Interviews

A PROPTECH FOUNDER’S BEGINNING, THE START OF KLEVIO AND HOW ACCESS-TECH IMPROVES FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

KLEVIO

An interview with Klevio’s CEO and Co-Founder, Aleš Špetič 

 

What is Klevio? 

Klevio is a smart intercom that allows individuals to enter a building using a mobile app, providing digital access and removing the need to use a key. Teams or individuals can manage access rights from our dashboard or the app, understanding the usage of their buildings better, whilst cutting costs and improving efficiencies. As well as Facilities Management (FM) professionals, Klevio’s technology has been implemented across numerous sectors including short-stay lets and longer-term property management, a recording studio that manages room bookings and a London pub which allows temporary access to delivery professionals via its solution. Klevio is also popular with private homeowners.

 

How did the idea come about? 

The founding of the team and the products we worked on came from several influences along our journey. I was still working on CubeSensors, a company I founded that created miniature sensors for both the home and offices, feeding back data on temperatures, noise, light, humidity and the likes, something of a Fitbit for the room.

Aleš Špetič

My co-founder and now Chairman, Demetrios Zoppos, was involved in the creation of Sherlock, the digital entry system that went on to be the underpinning technology for Klevio. When Demetrios exited his previous company, onefinestay, he held onto the intellectual property (IP) of Sherlock, knowing that there was a future for this technology elsewhere.

We quickly came to the conclusion that my IoT experience and history with physical products for consumers and offices, and the IP he had kept for Sherlock, meant that it would be criminal not to pool our experiences and so Klevio was founded.

 

How do you compete with the other access solutions on the market? 

We have merged the new and the old. Keys have been around for thousands of years in some way or another, so have been ripe for a digital upgrade. With our competitors, although there is some amazing technology, most add confusion or annoyance to the process. There are smart-lock providers whose technology normally requires the changing of locks or at least the installation of an ugly and not always user-friendly pin-pad at the door.

Other options require magnetic cards and in many larger establishments receptionists are paid to ensure that someone enters their email for data capture, further adding to huge setup costs. With Klevio you do not need an extra key, token, or card. Everything is on your phone, similar to Apple Pay.Klevio is installed inside the building and is connected to the existing lock.

For office spaces, co-working and other large blocks, key cards are just one more item that can be shared and lost. With Klevio there’s no need to provide a keycard to anyone and it can be connected to an existing system. Many access systems do not have this benefit, and for offices this means you can change the access to your own unit without affecting the rest of a building.

 

What are the main challenges for your business? 

Changing a mindset. People have used and trusted keys their whole lives. Getting them to accept a simpler alternative isn’t an easy thing to do.

The other difficulty is hardware, especially when it comes to security and people’s offices and homes. With software, if you make a mistake or something doesn’t quite work, you can patch it and update things. If a hardware product has a fault, a product recall is going to be a huge undertaking, and no startup will have the budget to ride the storm like a Samsung or a VW Group. We invested a huge amount of time to make sure that Klevio performs well.

Customers need to build confidence and trust in your offering, rushing to deliver and make a splash can backfire in a huge way.

 

What trends in tech do you see shaping the future of offices and homes in the next five years? 

In the IoT space things are moving fast with the world’s largest companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook all vying to be the centre of the interconnected home and office. There are hundreds of startups carving out their own little corners too, so the next big shift will be consolidation. The industry leaders are already making moves to buy or partner with interesting startups to get ahead on IP and reach.

On a consumer level, people want smart solutions but are increasingly aware of their rights and privacy. Products that offer that on-demand feel, making lives easier and smoother, without taking too much data, will provide that personal touch consumers want and slowly start to manage the offices and homes of the future.

 

What is the one piece of advice you would give an organisation when looking to digitise its processes? 

Do your research – don’t rush to find a solution. There are companies out there that will be able to make your place of work run more smoothly. You just need to find the one that suits your systems, colleagues and budget.

 

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Interviews

OPPORTUNITIES IN FINTECH: LEVERAGING CROSS-BORDER PAYMENT SYSTEMS

As the world becomes increasingly global, the necessity for cross-border payments grows.

An interview with Aron Schwarzkopf, CEO and Co-founder of Kushki, a payment platform tailor-made for Latin America. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in the fintech sector, specifically related to POS payments?

There is a lack of standardization in the way that payments are handled in different countries, and this presents the most significant challenge because it complicates the process of connecting them all across borders. We’re working to address that by adding some standardized connecting processes and using artificial intelligence to help mitigate these complications and make smooth cross-border payments a given.

Why are cross-border payments becoming more of a necessity?

As the world becomes increasingly global, the necessity for cross-border payments grows. People and businesses are expanding their scope and reach and therefore need to be able to operate in different countries. Part of being functional is the ability to make those cross-border payments, and so the demand for better options for those payments will continue to grow.

What are the key opportunities for cross-border payments?

There are four main opportunities that I see for cross-border payments. The first is facilitating fast and direct payments, cutting down on the extra steps required, but still maintaining the security of the transactions. From this, follows the need (and opportunity) to centralize recurring payments. Smart links are also an area of opportunity, letting people make mobile payments through different platforms using personal payment links. Lastly, expanding the opportunity to store payment information, like card numbers, and using tokenization to facilitate recurring payments.

With several fintech startups launching recently, how can you tell which are valid?

One common mistake is to assume that just because a startup has built something innovative that it is going to be useful. Instead, the most important thing to evaluate is whether the company is offering a solution to a significant pain point or just offering a minor improvement. I recommend comparing the startup to the most established version of its product. Which is less expensive? Which is easier? Which is resolving a larger challenge? If the startup is doing well on both counts, they’re probably on to something.

 

What are the security concerns surrounding POS payments?

The authentication process for credit card transactions is different in different regions due to different technological infrastructure. This inconsistency can generate confusion and concern about the security of various transactions and makes it hard to verify and understand the different fraud management and security processes in place.

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