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Overcoming the digital skills gap

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Ambrozy Rybicki, Co-founder and CEO, ARP Ideas

 

2022 was a challenging time for SMEs. Rising inflation has increased the costs of running a business, made more complex by successive interest rate hikes and the UK now finding itself in the midst of a recession, which could last throughout 2023.

At an operational level, SMEs are also facing pressure due to a widening gap between workforce demand and supply. This is particularly prevalent in the digital and IT space. It is estimated that 75% of UK companies are struggling to fill vacant positions, while the widening digital skills gap is estimated to be costing £6 billion in lost GDP every year.

ARP Ideas has been working closely with clients across a range of different sectors to ensure they have the correct IT solutions in place to support how they operate. Based on our expertise and experience, it has become clear to us that many companies are suffering from a knowledge gap when it comes to understanding and implementing IT solutions that ultimately support their ways of working.

For this reason, SMEs across all sectors need to prioritise their access to IT and digital services in 2023. Doing so will ensure they are best positioned to tackle prevalent challenges, enhance their operational efficiency and ultimately find opportunities to leverage new technologies to improve how they engage with their clients and facilitate long-term growth.

 

Top IT trends for SMEs in 2023

While there are challenges specific to each industry, there are three trends linked to the implementation and use of IT and digital services.

Ambrozy Rybicki

The first is cybersecurity. The migration to the cloud and adoption of remote working practices has increased the digital footprint of SMEs. At the same time, we are seeing a risk in cyber attacks taking place, with evolving new threats being deployed to exploit weaknesses in current defence systems. SMEs are a prime target and can fall victim should they rely on outdated software or lack the knowledge to effectively minimise their risk of being attacked.

The second is finding talent. As mentioned above, finding and hiring an inhouse tech and IT team can be costly and time-consuming, particularly for companies which are planning to launch a new CRM system or deploy a new internal IT process. The gap between demand and supply in hiring talent will widen in 2023, making it more difficult for talent acquisition.

The third trend is linked to innovation and proliferation of new technologies. Through its modern evolution, IT has naturally become embedded into SMEs due to its ability to simplify and enhance how they operate. Innovations like AI and machine learning means SMEs can use these technologies to reduce the time and resources traditionally required for manual and tedious activities. There are huge advantages here, yet understanding which technologies are relevant and how they can be integrated requires careful strategic planning and industry insight.

Having worked with a diverse range of enterprises across many verticals, it is evident that the majority of companies face similar obstacles when attempting to address their digital skill needs. This has become more important following the rapid digitalisation of business processes instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what can UK businesses do to ensure they are able to meet their digital skill and IT needs in 2023?

 

Outsourcing talent to overcome skill shortages

One solution lies in outsourcing IT – that is engaging with external, third party service providers who are able to provide the necessary services. The concept of outsourcing has been around since the 1990s and has slowly established itself as a viable tactic for companies that don’t have the resources to have on hand a full time, internal support team.

There are multiple advantages to this.

Companies choosing to outsource IT services can do so at the fraction of price compared to having one or more people working in house. Certain providers, like ARP Ideas, can also provide a diverse team of specialists depending on the needs of the project, from analysts and programmers to software architects and technical consultants.

On top of this, there is the ability to quickly scale-up the amount of resources dedicated to particular IT services that might warrant attention, and scale-back accordingly.

For example, if an e-commerce platform is preparing to roll out a new CRM system, they can focus on the strategy and find an IT provider with the creative talent and experience needed to successfully deliver on this project. This removes the stress of having to implement a new CRM system and overcome any initial problems that could be encountered following the launch.

Ultimately, it is this flexibility and cost-efficiency on offer from outsourcing which makes an attractive option for scaling SMEs. However, the decision to outsource IT services isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Like any IT project, an SME needs to do the necessary research to find an IT partner that can not only take on the necessary work but also aligns with the company culture. Doing so ensures there are clear and transparent lines of communication, laying down the foundations for a long-term partnership.

Outsourcing is one way SMEs can improve access to IT and digital services, promoting cost-efficient and secure online processes that can help overcome the challenges they may face over the coming 12 months. With a digital skills gap, macroeconomic pressures and a likely increase in cyber attacks, engaging with a third party provider is one way of making sure that IT and digital remains a top priority in 2023.

 

Ambrozy Rybicki, Co-founder and CEO, ARP Ideas  an IT company specializing in custom software development, outsourcing and consulting. As a Gold Microsoft Partner, ARP Ideas supports clients with Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft SharePoint and dedicated solutions based on the Microsoft .NET Framework.

Business

How can law firms embrace automation and revolutionise their payments?

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Attributed to: Ed Boal, Head of Legal at Shieldpay

 

Once again, AI is dominating international headlines. This time, it’s due to a closed-door meeting this month between tech leaders and US senators to discuss the technology’s regulation.

AI and automation isn’t just for the likes of Big Tech. We’re seeing predictive and automated technologies transform almost every sector and the legal industry is no exception. In fact, recent research from HBR Consulting found that 60% of law departments had implemented a legal data analytics tool last year and more than 1 in 4 indicated they were using AI for at least a single use case.

However, adoption isn’t without its challenges. Reticence remains among some and there’s also the danger of ‘transformation fatigue’ slowing real progress. If law firms want to reap the many benefits of automation – including revolutionising their payment processes –  these challenges need to be carefully considered and thoughtfully addressed.

 

An area of great opportunity

Often seen as conservative, the legal industry has been gradually warming up to the idea of automation and technology.

While some pioneering firms have been quick to embrace automation tools, others remain cautious about disrupting their established workflows. As we navigate this landscape, it’s clear that certain areas of legal services are ripe for innovation.

One area is contract management. The process of drafting, reviewing, and managing contracts has traditionally been time-consuming and prone to human errors. Automation can alleviate these pain points by streamlining the entire lifecycle of contracts, from creation to renewal, thereby enhancing efficiency and reducing risks.

Another promising domain is legal research. Thanks to advancements in natural language processing and machine learning, legal professionals can now leverage AI-powered research tools that analyse vast volumes of legal data to provide accurate insights and case precedents swiftly.

But, while progress is undoubtedly being made, the legal sector still lags other sectors when it comes to innovation.

 

What’s getting in the way of progress?

This isn’t always down to a resistance to change. Often, it’s a result of firms spreading their resources too thinly across numerous technology initiatives.

Ed Boal

Attempting to tackle everything at once can result in ‘transformation fatigue’, where the benefits of individual innovations get diluted – leading to frustration and slower progress.

Before legal firms embark on digital transformation projects, a critical first step is introspection. Recognising and acknowledging areas where legacy processes and manual tasks still hold sway is paramount to optimising the impact of automation.

For many firms, archaic practices continue to consume valuable time and resources, diverting attention from higher value, billable tasks. One often-overlooked area is payments.

Legal firms play a critical role in complex transactions, from M&A and real estate deals to litigation and arbitration payments. The associated admin and processes represent a drain of firms’ time and resources. Spanning everything from collating stakeholder payment details and verifying payee identity to ensuring compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti Money Laundering (AML) regulation, this adds unnecessary stress for lawyers – who would rather dedicate their time and expertise to their clients’ legal needs.

The repercussions of such time-consuming financial processes reverberate throughout the entire organisation. Administrative burden weighs heavily on the team, affecting productivity and ultimately, the bottom line: recent research from Shieldpay, surveying the UK’s Top 100 law firms, found that almost 1 in 3 (32%) say KYC collection and verification checks take 4-9 working days.

At the same time, firms are exposed to significant financial risk which can make handling client funds a costly endeavour. Not only are they penalised with fines if found to be in breach of stringent client account rules but firms are also subject to hefty premiums for Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance. No wonder 73% of all legal professionals and 90% of junior law professionals are concerned about the risks and time costs associated with holding client funds.

 

Revolutionising  payment transactions

In short, manual payment processes are more than just an inconvenience for modern law firms. They can damage relationships with clients – who have come to expect a fast, painless and automated payout experience in a digital world – and impede revenue generation by tying up top talent in an endless cycle of paperwork and (unbillable) admin.

So how can firms take the pain out of legal payments?

Fortunately, new payment technologies have emerged as a formidable ally. Third-party payment providers offering solutions for law firms, such as escrow and paying agent services for specific transactional deals, or more embedded payment solutions such as managed accounts (TPMAs) – i.e. outsourced client account functions – offer secure and instant transactions, while prioritising transparency and automation.

TPMAs operate as an escrow payment service in which the third-party – a licensed external payments partner – receives and disburses funds on behalf of a firm and their client(s).

With advanced encryption ensuring data security, working with a regulated payment partner means legal professionals and their clients can engage in financial transactions with peace of mind – while law firms benefit from improved operational efficiency.

And the advantages don’t stop there. Enhanced transparency builds a sense of confidence and trust, while the elimination of manual data entry and repetitive tasks allows legal professionals to devote more time to legal services and fostering stronger relationships with their clients.

AI and automation has much to offer the legal sector. But its adoption must be carefully planned in order to avoid transformation fatigue that risks stalling progress altogether. With typically shallower pockets than Big Tech giants, it’s important for law firms to focus their efforts on specific areas that could benefit from automation, rather than rush to overhaul their entire way of working, all at once. This controlled phase-out is the key to avoiding adoption frustration, seeing a real impact on profits and productivity and setting firms up for real, lasting change.

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Business

In-platform solutions are only a short-term enhancement, but bespoke AI is the future

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By Damien Bennett, Global Director, Principal Consultant, Incubeta

 

If you haven’t heard anyone talking about artificial intelligence (AI) yet, then where have you been? Conversations about AI and its advantages to society have been a key talking point over recent months, with advances being made in the generative AI race and ChatGPT opening a whole plethora of possibilities. Many have highlighted the advantages of AI, but notably it’s ability to create human-like content.

But these discussions have only scratched the surface of what AI is capable of doing. It is for far more than just essay writing, adding Eminem to your rave and photoshopping dogs into pictures.

In marketing, we have been using AI for years, for everything from analyzing customer behaviors to predicting market changes. It’s enabled us to segment customers, forecast sales and provide personalized recommendations, having a huge impact on how our industry works.

It is even, for the more savvy marketers of the world, becoming a key tool in maximizing budget efficiency – which is apt, considering over 70% of CMOs believe they lack sufficient budget to fully execute their 2023 strategy.

Now, as AI becomes more intelligent, the number of efficiencies it can unlock continues to rise. Not only can it help brands get the most out of their available resources and identify any areas of waste, but it can also help highlight new opportunities for growth and maximize the impact of your budget allocation.

The trick, however, is to veer away from the norm of using in-platform solutions with a one-size-fits-all approach and create your own, bespoke solutions that are tailored to your business needs.

 

Pitfalls of in-platform solutions

In-platform solutions aren’t by any means a bad thing. In fact, built-in AI tools have become increasingly popular, owing to their ease of integration, user-friendly interfaces and minimal set up requirements. They come pre-packaged with the platform, offering the user the ability to leverage AI technologies without the need for in-depth technical expertise or the upfront cost of building a solution from scratch.

However, the streamlined and accessible nature of in-platform AI solutions comes at the expense of complexity and customization. They are designed to serve a broad user base, but for the most part are built using narrow AI solutions with predefined features and workflows.

This makes them great for assisting with common AI tasks, but they lack the flexibility to tailor functionality towards unique business requirements or innovative use cases, limiting the potential efficiencies and cost savings that can be unlocked. Additionally, if a business’ competitors are using the same platform, they are probably using the same AI solution, meaning any strategic advantage gained from these will be reduced.

Bespoke AI solutions, on the other hand, may carry a higher initial investment – but can offer a significantly more attractive ROI over a short amount of time.

 

Why customized and adapted AI is the key

The difference between bespoke AI and in-platform solutions is similar to that between home cooked food and a microwave meal. Yes, it is more time consuming to prepare, and yes it likely carries more of an upfront cost, but the end result is going to be far more appealing and will carry more long-term value (financially… not nutritionally).

That’s because bespoke solutions, by nature, will have been tailored to address your brands specific needs and challenges. These custom-built tools allow for much greater efficiencies by streamlining workflows across different channels, automating more complex tasks, and providing deeper, more relevant insights.

The increased level of optimization can significantly improve productivity and reduce operational costs over time, offering a higher ROI. The increased flexibility of bespoke AI also allows brands to implement innovative use cases that can significantly differentiate them from their competitors.

The data analyzed can be specifically chosen to match business requirements, as can the outputs of the AI tool, providing a significant advantage when understanding and acting on the insights provided.

Additionally, these tools are, by nature, more scalable. They can be updated, upgraded and expanded as needs change, ensuring they continue delivering value as the business grows. They can also be designed to integrate with any existing IT infrastructure, from CRM systems and databases to marketing platforms and sales tools – leading to more efficient and effective decision-making.

 

Managing finances with AI

It’s no secret that AI in marketing automation has, and will continue to, revolutionize the way marketing is done. It has a bright, if slightly terrifying, future and can help CMOs to unlock new efficiencies, maximize the impact of their budgets and increase their ROI. And as this technology becomes more advanced, its impact will only increase.

But we already know that…and so does everyone else.

So, in order for businesses to make themselves stand out from the crowd , they must look to fully adopt the power of AI. Creating a customized and unique AI solution could be the way to set yourself apart from your competitors. A bespoke AI tool can provide brands and businesses with features unique to them and their business needs. As a result, companies will benefit from more useful data and better results to make more data-driven decisions for their business. Ultimately, this will help brands to maintain a competitive edge over their competitors, deliver ROI and most importantly optimize their budgets.

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