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Mid-market report: Four steps to navigating inflation

It sounds like something from the deep past of the 70s, like disco balls and flared trousers. But inflation is back. In the US, it’s over 5%. And the Bank of England warns it could reach 4% in the UK.

While we don’t see it reaching the heights of the bad old days, these relatively high levels of inflation — and the consequent interest rate hikes — may lead to changes in business fundamentals that we haven’t seen for some time.

As in any emerging situation, the question for us is, what does this mean to our mid-market clients? A few days ago, our US and UK Regional Directors had a virtual conference to discuss that very question.

The stories from our clients are dramatic:

So we do believe that there is cause for concern. But we’ve been listening to our clients and thinking hard about it, and we also believe there are ways of managing inflation.

Here is what we are recommending to our mid-market clients:

1. Strategise.

Take a step back and look at your markets and customers and revisit the basic strategic questions: what do they want? How do we give it to them?

2. Speed up reporting.

Demand, costs, prices, and supply are changing rapidly; pricing and purchasing decisions need to be made swiftly. So you likely need faster internal information flow for your reporting.

3. Automate to reduce costs.

Replace aging ERP systems. Integrate your processes. Use bots for the first line of customer service—consumers are used to them at this point. You won’t be able to automate everything, nor should you. But where can you?

4. Improve online experiences.

Look at your front end through a customer’s eyes. Is the product imagery and information detailed enough? Attractively presented? Are you delivering a simple user experience for even complex purchases?

Inflation is affecting almost every business sector from construction to investment management. But the real danger isn’t pricing, it’s complacency. It’s adapt or die: the winners will be those companies continually reassessing the opportunities, staying alert, and moving quickly.

If you need help with your business, get in touch.

 

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

The three-step strategy for hybrid working

The pandemic took us all by surprise, but we’ve had our eyes on hybrid working for some time.

In 2018, we wrote a CEO’s Briefing on Working from Home, prompted by the first sustained decline in UK railways’ season-ticket sales in its entire 150-year history. Urbanization and commuting remain established ‘mega trends’ across the world, but there were signs in both the US and UK that office working was on the wane.

Of course, with the pandemic, this gradual trend became a sudden flip. And what a flip: a US survey from late 2020 reported that the jump in remote-working was from 20% to 71%.

For many companies, there was a mass evacuation from the office conducted with little time to plan, and even less time for a strategy. Nevertheless, during the months that followed, people and companies adapted to new ways of working and found ways to cope.

Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and strategise.

As the pandemic eases, many companies are looking again at office working, home-working and hybrid arrangements. Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and enact a thought-through strategy.

We propose that your approach should be based on the following steps.

1. Strategise.

Remind your senior leaders of your business objectives and how your business stands out in the market. What makes it special in terms of customers and value? This should drive planning for you and other decision-makers in your organisation.

For example, if your market is highly commoditised, then of course this is an opportunity to look at offshoring further roles to lower costs (or to automate more roles and eliminate some costs altogether).

If your business thrives on creativity, however, we recommend that you bring your people together, because there is no substitute for the spark of brilliant people, in a room, face-to-face.

If you are competing to recruit rare talent, then perhaps home or hybrid working allows you to recruit more easily — to cast the net wider and to offer a better package than your competitors.

If you emphasise great service, then think about what your customers want, rather than what you want.

2. Segment.

Your plans for home, office or hybrid working should be rooted in the role profiles within your company. Not all office jobs have the same profile and needs; what makes sense for a credit control clerk may not make sense for a product designer.

Consider your roles in terms of:

Your adoption of home, office or hybrid working should be based on the needs of the role rather than the department or seniority.

3. Optimise.

It’s easy to do hybrid working badly. Meetings where half the team are in the office and half are remote can easily leave the remote workers feeling excluded. Getting the best from all your people requires more deliberate communications and inclusion; even more clarity on roles, processes, and controls; and investment in tech that supports hybrid working patterns.

In particular:

 

Need help planning for hybrid work? Get in touch.

One of our colleagues remarked that the pandemic was the first time that communication with his offshore providers had worked properly, because they were equals in video meetings rather than side-lined. This anecdote shows how easily we can get it wrong and lose so much of what people have to offer.

But when done right, hybrid working offers the opportunity to attract the best, to lower costs, and to reduce the impact on the environment. We have a unique opportunity right now to improve service to our customers and increase productivity and job satisfaction. Let’s make the most of it.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

CIO vs CTO: What’s the difference?

It is quite easy to assume that a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the same thing as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, there are important differences from the point of view of a mid-market CEO. Read on to learn about both job titles and their functions.

Internal or External?

Although there isn’t universal agreement on the difference, one way of thinking about it is that the CIO is more internal-facing, whilst CTOs are more external.

CIOs take ownership of internal processes – the day-to-day tech, the systems and devices. A CIO also facilitates collaboration between the Board, IT teams, and other stakeholders. A CIO speaks the language of tech and the language of business.

Of course, a CTO must communicate between techies and businesspeople. But they have a strategic function, developing the tech initiatives that will drive growth and value. For example, they will oversee the development of bespoke software and apps.

Is CIO higher than a CTO?

For organisations with both a CIO and CTO, the CIO is normally senior. But the positions should be complementary, especially if a business is looking to grow. And whilst there will of course be overlap in terms of skillsets, they are two different positions, with different career paths.

Do you need both a CIO and a CTO?

If the business is large and complex, it is a very good idea to have both a CIO and a CTO. Just make sure that there is a crystal-clear delineation of duties so that both roles add value and have space to operate effectively.

The internal vs. external idea is a good place to start. Remember: it’s the CIO’s job to keep things moving along inside the company and to communicate between the techies and business units. The CTO looks forward, developing innovations for growth.

And it behooves the CEO to ensure smooth communication and cooperation between the positions so there is no confusion or duplication of work.

Comparing a CIO and a CTO

CIO: Chief
Information Officer

image/svg+xml

Internal
IT operations
Builds systems to supports growth
Supervises vendors of internal systems
Represents IT teams to the Board
Focus on improving systems and processes
Organised, skilled communicator and technologist
Click to learn What is the meaning of CIO.

CTO: Chief
Technology Officer

image/svg+xml

External
Ensures connection between tech and business goals
Supervises medium – to long – term initiatives, e.g. bespoke software and apps
Skilled communicator and technologist
Uses systems and digital to drive innovation and deliver value
Click to learn What is the meaning of CTO.

“Freeman Clarke were able to provide a CIO to help us develop a roadmap for the future state of our IT systems, together with a strategic plan to help us get there. Our IT has always been a significant value driver in our business, and we need to ensure it stays that way.… [Our] Freeman Clarke CIO has not only helped us with creating that roadmap. He also became a key member of our senior leadership team.” – Chris Johnson, Chairman, JJS Manufacturing.

Why Freeman Clarke?

Freeman Clarke CIOs and CTOs work on a ‘fractional,’ or part-time model. This provides a business with first-class tech leadership without the full-time cost.

Our fractional tech leaders are uniquely suited to mid-market businesses. They have outstanding technical and strategic skills. They understand how to use tech to drive growth. And they are suited to the culture and reality of mid-market businesses.

Whatever the remit, our CIOs and CTOs operate from the fundamental idea of linking a business’s systems and digital strategy to business objectives. This should be the goal of every innovative, ambitious mid-market company because it’s one of the best ways to create real, sustainable growth.

To find out more about how we could add value to your business, Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Technology strategy and vision

Companies that have a clear business strategy need a system and digital strategy to match. Each function of an ambitious business needs a clear direction and someone to own it.

Your technology should focus on your customers, growth, efficiency, risk, security and value.

One of our experienced, competent and confident IT leaders can join your senior team to understand your business strategy and turn this into an IT vision and strategy.

For more information on this topic, visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use technology to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation. 

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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