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THE THREE AGES OF DIGITAL BUSINESS

Adam Prince, VP Product Management, Sage

 

Businesses, like people, grow up. From start-up to funding rounds to mid-market stability, their needs change as they evolve. But how many truly understand how to get the best solutions and processes for their age and stage?

 

You wouldn’t give a toddler the keys to your car; you wouldn’t give an undergraduate a Fisher Price pushcart. The same goes for business solutions – the wrong solution at the wrong time will do more harm than good. Businesses need a partner who will grow with them and help them implement the right technology at the right time – in other words, to continually digitally transform.

 

Digital transformation is often misunderstood as a one-off project – buying a new ERP platform or implementing automated customer contact. We can often imply that we see it as a shortcut to success – buy the right widget and your business will magically unearth a whole new line of customers and revenue. But in reality, it’s an ongoing process that will accompany the business through its whole lifecycle, from start-up to SME and beyond.

 

Having a partner that can help you navigate that progressive change is the key not only to effective digital transformation – but also sustainable business growth. This article gives an overview of the key steps in that journey and the key things businesses should look out for in terms of technology partnership.

 

The first age: new life

The first major step on the way to business growth is, of course, the start-up. Start-ups are born of entrepreneurs or as spin-offs from other companies or education establishments. Start-ups typically have a small number of employees, who are focused on whatever the business is doing, rather than dedicated back-office staff who are experts in accounting or finance. It is no surprise that when it comes to financial processes, they normally follow the advice of a trusted external individual – like their accountant. In their infancy, businesses are guided less by policy and more by personality, so the technology they use needs to be flexible, easy to use and operate on the right scale.

 

For that reason, at this point, start-up companies often adopt systems that focus on the basics of accountancy, which work well for their immediate needs. It’s important to be able to fulfil basic requirements like VAT and national insurance payments at a time when you might not have a full-time finance director and certainly won’t have a sizable finance department. Technology automates this burden – financial software can complete routine tasks, freeing up the young company’s entrepreneurs to focus on bringing in new business and shoring up the revenue stream.

 

The second age: walk before you run

These small-scale, flexible, automated systems work well at the start-up level, but change must come if the business is to continue growing. At this point, the business is what we might term a ‘functional start-up’ – still in its early days, but with enough staff, processes and funding in place to be able to confidently forecast a year or two of growth.

 

After a few years, the business gains a better understanding of what it needs, and so may change accounting software vendor to gain access to specific features and capabilities. However, if the business is not careful to move with a trusted advisor that understands their holistic needs, they often find that marketing promises lack depth and that the features they wanted do not solve the underlying challenges.

 

For example, just because a platform can support more users and comes with a larger selection of features doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right platform for you. It’s important to add the right capabilities at the right time. Increasing complexity such as tracking sales orders as projects can significantly increase costs leading to confusion and potential disaster.  Businesses at this stage in their growth need an advisor who understands their needs and their industry so that the most appropriate tools and features can be identified and implemented in a way that supports rather than hinders growth.

 

The third age: stability and growth

As start-ups grow into established mid-sized businesses, they will need even more capabilities – for example, to support multi-site deployments, more complex inventory, international sales, outsourced manufacturing and so on. Many need to change accounting software to Business Management Software (BMS) or Enterprise Resource Management (ERP).

 

This is where businesses need to take care to find the solution that meets their need, not just the software. Whilst add-ons may be common in accounting software that supports earlier growth stages, it becomes more critical at this growth stage, as no-single software vendor is likely to be able to provide all the required features.  Even functionally rich software may not help if support and professional services are poor or expensive – and critical functionality gaps can cripple future growth even if support and professional services are outstanding. For example, if a business uses outsourced manufacturing but lacks visibility into external production status or does not integrate into critical supply chains to track the timing of critical deliveries then production lines and sales promises run into major challenges.

 

Having a trusted advisor to support the selection, implementation and then use of business software as businesses grow is not only critical, it is probably the secret to successful business transformation. Technology change is a key part of effective, sustainable business growth – and like any other aspect of that growth, it needs to be done in the most targeted, strategic way possible.

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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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