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WHEN BUSINESS FREEDOM COMES BACK TO BITE YOU

Stefano Maifreni is Founder & Director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion advisors.

 

Small companies often bask in the privilege of being fast on their feet — unshackled by corporate culture. However, can companies with few rules start to spiral out of control? Moreover, if so, how can this be avoided?

 

Anyone who’s worked for large, global enterprises will know how refreshing it is to be part of a leadership team at a small company. While SMEs can lack the deep pockets of their corporate counterparts, you can avoid departmental politics, stifling administration and that sense of being lost in the machine.

 

Stefano Maifreni

When new business opportunities come along, you can have a real impact. Decisions get made quickly, plans roll into action, and the results become visible. The sense of satisfaction is enormous, and the financial rewards may be significant too.

However, can all this ‘running free’ go wrong for small companies? Unfortunately, Yes.

 

Where is everyone?

Have you ever been out in the sea on an inflatable or a bodyboard? Maybe you’re enjoying the waves and splashing around with friends. After an hour, you return to shore, only to find everything is different and, worryingly, your clothes are nowhere to be seen!

 

However, after two minutes of panic, you realise that amid all the noise and excitement, you’d merely drifted. Bit by bit, you’d been swept quietly by the current. You look up and spot your family — 200 metres away.

 

Unfortunately, there’s a similar scenario that can affect small companies. It could begin to impact any smaller company going through significant business growth and change at any time. So how does it happen?

 

Five steps to chaos

Growing organically as a small company sounds natural and healthy. However, it could be straightforward to lose sight of what you’re all about and to lose connections with each other.

 

Imagine a small company of ten people that’s been operating 18 months. Business is going well, the client base is growing, and now there’s a new round of funding to take things to the next level. Full of optimism, the company expands.

 

Here’s what might unfold…

  • Step 1: In the early days, the founders had a clear idea about company objectives. However, nothing was written down; it was so ‘obvious’. Today everyone has a different interpretation of these goals.
  • Step 2: The workforce increases from 10 to 15 and then to 20 people. However, nobody gave the new joiners a clear vision of the company. Often, there’s no time to explain everything.
  • Step 3: Big decisions need making. However, the once-united management team is now at loggerheads. Their hopes for the company seem to clash. Each accuses the other of being reckless, having a lack of imagination or losing the plot.
  • Step 4: Rather than being agile and nimble, the company seems to be stalling. The passion has ebbed away. Staff lack direction and inspiration.
  • Step 5: Customers start to notice. They’re getting mixed messages depending on whom they speak to about new features, support issues or order completion. It feels like a mess, and they lose confidence in the company.

So, can this scenario be avoided? If you make some essential changes early on, then Yes.

 

Keeping yourself focused

Yogi Berra, the American baseball star in the 1950s and 60s, was well known for his pithy statements. One often-attributed quote goes like this: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Small companies might even want to have this framed and stuck up in the conference room because there’s a fundamental truth here.

 

Going back to our seaside analogy, if you don’t keep yourself level with a visual marker on the beach like a clump of palm trees or a cafe — while being buffeted around in the surf — then you’ll be someplace else soon enough.

You need to fix on something, keep checking yourself against it and make it your destination.

 

Down to earth

There are things we all loathe about the corporate world. However, some practical tools and procedures keep companies anchored — and can be calibrated to suit smaller companies too.

 

Many of us have wasted hours in conference rooms thrashing out a corporate Vision, a lofty Mission and a set of Values — only for these to amount to a vague wish-list.

 

However, Vision/Mission/Values can work well for smaller companies and be the roots of effective operations if you approach them in the right way and use them correctly.

 

Small companies should aim for a ‘light’ version of these, perhaps just a couple of lines under each heading. Think of this as minimal governance: Something simple and down to earth. The earlier you lay them down, the better — and they can become the “one” story you share with new employees.

So how does it work in practice?

 

Balanced and focused

Rather than forming a strategy to conquer the world, this is about setting a clear direction that everyone understands. Try to see your Vision/Mission/Values as tools to drive the right decisions in day-to-day business and to place the right level of governance around them — not too much, not too little.

 

You can do this if you are small AND if you know where you are going. It’s the best of both worlds.

 

Small companies can still retain their ability to adapt and be agile. However, when circumstances change, you won’t be blown off course. There’s a danger within small companies to play everything by ear — or for the ‘issue of the moment’ to suddenly overwhelm everyone. Your Vision/Mission/Values will help you to keep balanced and focused: you can check decisions against your goals without it being bureaucratic; you can make decisions quickly too, without the swirl of the involvement of too many emotions. It’s far less likely that people will fall out with each other. Moreover, if they do, you’ll be able to see who’s gone adrift.

 

That said, it’s essential that you don’t set your strategy in stone. Also, this is another advantage you can have over corporations. Because your goals are lightweight and flexible, they can adapt quickly. You can feedback what you’re learning as a company — and revisit your Vision/Mission/Values and your strategy from time to time.

 

Checks and balances

If crafted carefully, your goals won’t throttle your growth. Instead, they’ll serve as useful checks, balances and inspiration to help you to thrive.

 

If you rarely end up needing to refer back to these guides, then that’s great. However, if the waters get choppy or you want to ride some monster waves, then you’ll know whether the company is sticking to its correct course and headed in the right direction.

 

Stefano Maifreni, Founder & Director of Eggcelerate

Passionate about helping companies to succeed with their business challenges in effective and profitable ways. An engineer by education, product manager by role and expert at achieving growth by career, Stefano has an outstanding track record in business strategy, operations, product and marketing, with extensive P&L management and international expansion experience.

 

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Business

MAKING THE (ENTERPRISE) GRADE IN LOW-CODE SOFTWARE

SOFTWARE

By Willem van Enter, Vice President EMEA, OutSystems

 

We all use software applications every day, all the time. That part should make sense to everybody. With many of us now happy to call ourselves digital natives, the question is not whether we are going to use apps to make our lives better; it is now a question of which apps we will choose to build our personal workflows around.

This ubiquity of software penetration is a good thing. It allows us to automate our work (and indeed personal) lives in a manner that we may never have considered, even as recently as the turn of the millennium.

But there’s a bigger challenge here.

More users need more apps in more places with more functions spanning more data sources connected to increasingly complex analytics engines, and all of that software has to be deployable across an ever greater number of device form factors and platforms.

 

Low-code validation

Once an IT shop is empowered with low-code efficiency, the speed of development and release can rise sharply. But no business should expose themselves to this level of power without first thinking about all the control mechanisms needed to be able to accommodate new low-code-created apps.

 

Policy, provenance & policing

We’re talking about areas such as user provenance checks (so that we know who built which piece of software and if they were supposed to), policy controls (so that we know which software is accessing which data sources and whether it is supposed to) and areas like scale-provisioning (so that an organization’s IT estate can cope with a much higher throughput of information) and so much more.

The move to taking advantage of low-code software development is happening already. But, for enterprise organisations large and small to truly take advantage of the efficiencies it offers, they need to have faith in the ability of any platform’s ability to ultimately deliver workable, serviceable, functioning enterprise-grade software.

They need, to coin a phrase, to know that low-code makes the grade to enterprise-grade. So, what elements of core form and functionality should they look for?

 

Making the enterprise-grade grade

Building secure enterprise-grade low-code software is imperative; obviously, it is. Secure software development in this space is so fundamental that efficient low-code platforms will always be presented with security controls as an inherent and implicit part of their core functionality.

Nobody expects business applications designed to serve potentially millions of users with digital experiences to let them down, so enterprise-grade security, scalability, governance and performance should form key elements in the platform and toolsets that are used.

Because low-code is typified by a high degree of automation, an effective low-code approach should offer hundreds of automatic security and risk controls in its portfolio. But implementation is just the first step; an always-on monitoring and operations source also needs to exist for the customer to be able to assess their risk factors at any given time.

 

Climbing the scalability peak

Enterprise-grade low-code software may start off as an experimental application or some level of prototype or test case. Its speed of development naturally gives rise to its use in this type of development. But when an application (or some other code-based data service) hits the spot, the team behind it will need to know that it can scale.

Let’s say a small medical tech lab develops an application that helps track some aspect of disease outbreaks that takes a radically new approach in some way. If a viral pandemic ensues, then that software would need to scale seamlessly from something smaller than departmental level to an Internet-wide deployment – all without rewriting any code or hitting a wall.

Climbing the peak to true enterprise-grade scalability with low-code software involves taking advantage of technology that includes containers and microservices. Only by ‘thinking small’ in this sense can you consider being able to ‘think big’ later on and build mission-critical apps that scale to support millions of concurrent processes.

 

Governing principles

Within all of this discussion, it will be crucial to keep an eye on governance so applications built with low-code platforms can comply with controls such as GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, FedRAMP and more. The proven way of doing this is to use low-code development tools that offer a fine-grained control of your software portfolio with the ability to perform dependency checking, audits and validation.

There’s a human factor here, too, i.e., organisations can rely on low-code automation advancements for a lot, but they also need to think about establishing teams that can work simultaneously and keep conflicts to a minimum.

Finally, let’s mention performance. It’s a key measure of how and why any piece of software was developed in the first place. Software needs to work, it needs to drive business forward, and it needs to do so at a pace that is commensurate with and proportionate to the use case requirements behind why it was developed in the first place.

In the low-code universe, we have the ability to deploy enterprise applications that are automatically optimized to ensure they perform as designed and expected. We also have the ability to use pre-built connectors that integrate with automated enterprise logging technology, which gives developers real-time performance monitoring feedback to help avoid possible bottlenecks.

Low-code software application development can offer all of these features, controls and characteristics, so organisations can be assured that low-code does make the grade for enterprise-grade. All that’s needed is for the customer themselves to know how high low-code can go to be able to graduate to this new grade of efficiency.

 

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Business

CORONAVIRUS: FURLOUGHED WORKERS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR BUSINESS

CORONAVIRUS

by Tina Chander, Wright Hassall

 

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All businesses with a PAYE scheme in place on 28 February 2020, regardless of size or sector, will be able to benefit from the scheme with the government reimbursing employers up to 80% of their employees’ wages, to a maximum of £2,500 per month, plus employer’s NICs and auto-enrolment pension contributions.

Employees on agency contracts and flexible or zero hours contracts can also benefit from the scheme. In addition, the scheme also covers employees who were made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.

 

Furloughed workers: what does that mean?

Businesses have to ‘designate affected employees as furloughed workers and notify your employees of this change’. However, employers still have to heed employment law which means that, having designated those employees whose jobs were at risk, they will need to agree with those employees that they will be ‘furloughed’.

Given the extraordinary situation prevailing at the moment and given the alternative to being furloughed, it is likely that most employees will agree to the terms.

For those workers who do not agree, they will either have to take unpaid leave for an indeterminate period or employers are likely to have to go down the redundancy route. It should be noted that furloughed workers are designated by the employer – an employee cannot ‘self-designate’.

 

Eligibility

Employees hired on or after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme, presumably to stop people ‘gaming’ the system by hiring family members after the scheme was announced and then furloughing them.

However, those businesses that have made people redundant since 28 February 2020, can re-employ them and then furlough them. To qualify for payment under the Job Retention Scheme, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks in order to prevent employers putting staff on a furlough ‘rota’ i.e., one week on furlough, one week off.

 

Who can be furloughed?

Normal employment law still applies so employers must not discriminate when deciding who to furlough. Employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence, or self-isolation, can be furloughed, however they cannot be furloughed whilst they remain on a period of sickness absence or self-isolation.

Furlough will only take effect when this period comes to an end. Employees who are “shielding” however, will be eligible to be furloughed. Employees on maternity leave can be furloughed if they agree to return to work early or change to shared parental leave, alternatively they will remain on Statutory Maternity Pay where this is applicable and will not be furloughed until their return.

When agreeing changes and moving to furlough status, it is important to remember that normal employment law processes apply. Employers must be careful not to discriminate against any employees when deciding who to offer furlough to.

 

Furloughed workers remain employed but must not work

Assuming the designated employee has agreed to be furloughed, they cannot undertake any work for their employer at all. If the employee continues to work, even reduced hours, they are not eligible for the scheme. The good news for furloughed staff is that they can volunteer or undertake training providing neither activity generates income for their employer. Whether or not people can take advantage of this while confined to their house is, of course, another matter altogether.

 

How it will work?

While furloughed, the government will pay related employment costs including pension contributions and NICs (but not commission or bonuses) in addition to wages. All furloughed workers will remain employed by their employer for the duration of the scheme.

Employers can make up the missing 20% of their employees’ salaries but that is their choice (or ability to pay). There is no legal obligation for the employers to top up the salary to 100%, but any contractual clauses regarding withholding pay and deductions should be taken into account when this decision is being made.

For those employees who are furloughed, their employment status will change but their employment record remains continuous.

Employers need to give HMRC a list of furloughed employees. Employers pay their workers as usual, via PAYE, and then apply for funding, every three weeks (not weekly) to cover 80% of their wages (up to £2,500 of gross pay).

You will receive a grant from HMRC to cover the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular wage or £2,500 per month, plus the associated Employer NICs and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage. Fees, commission and bonuses should not be included.

For workers whose pay varies, the 80% is based on the higher of:

  • the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or
  • the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they’ve worked for less).

If employees paid the minimum wage are furloughed, the fact that 80% of their earnings will bring their wages below the NMW does not contravene the legislation as people are only entitled to the NMW if they are working. They can, however, claim the NMW if undertaking training.

The HMRC system through which payments can be made should be up and running by the end of April. The scheme is expected to run for three months, subject to review.

 

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