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Technology fire triangle – Part 3: Compliance

Successful businesses are worth protecting. But it is very difficult to strike the balance between investing in the success of your business and spending time protecting it. Safeguarding your assets, managing risks and ensuring compliance is not the natural territory for an entrepreneurial business leader and, quite frankly, for many of us… it’s a bit boring! This is the final part of our 3-part Fire Triangle series where we focus on security and compliance which encapsulates:

  1. Understanding your risks
  2. Cybersecurity
  3. Getting certified
  4. Regulatory compliance
  5. Process and training

Part 1 deals with Systems Integration which you can download here and Part 2 looks at Data which can be downloaded here.

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

2017 Employment Law Update

Here’s an article by Angela McDonald, HR Director at People Puzzles, a very close partner of ours…

With so many changes afoot, is your company ready for the Gender Pay Gap reporting or taking advantage of the Apprentice Levy?

Gender Pay Gap Reporting
As of 5th April employers with 250+employees now have to calculate and publish their gender pay gap (the difference in pay between men and women). Even if employers don’t have to report it, they should be aware of this and ensure they are paying men and women equal pay for work of equal value.

Salary Sacrifice Changes
New rules come into effect on 6th April for certain benefits in kind which are provided by salary sacrifice.

Salary sacrifice for the following benefits will not be affected:
· Pensions or pension advice
· Childcare vouchers
· Workplace nurseries
· Directly employer contracted childcare
· Cycle to work
· Ultra-low emission company cars

Employers who are using salary sacrifice for other schemes should familiarise themselves with the new rules. Salary sacrifice contracts entered into on or before 5 April 2017 will be protected up until the contract hits a trigger point. The normal trigger point is when a contract renews, auto-renews, starts, ends or is modified or changed. If arrangements are still in place on 6th April 2018, then there will be an automatic trigger date of 6th April 2018 (6th April 2021 for certain benefits). Therefore, there is an opportunity for employers to review their current contract arrangements to take maximum advantage of the transition rules.
Employers should review all their salary sacrifice arrangements and understand where changes may need to be made, bearing in mind there may be further implications, such as amendments to employment contracts, handbooks etc. and communication with employees.

Apprentice Levy
The Apprentice Levy aims to fund three million apprenticeships in the UK by 2020. It will affect employers whose pay bill is over £3million a year and takes effect in April. These employers will have to pay 0.5% into the apprenticeship levy each month.
Employers will have their funds credited to their ‘levy account’ which will be topped up by 10% from the government. Employers can then use these funds to train apprentices in their business. If employers plan carefully, they will not only be able to recover their levy, but to draw down more than they paid in. Therefore, if employers do not already employ apprentices they should seriously consider where apprentices could be recruited into the business, or which roles could become apprentice roles.

Employment Status
Hot on the heals of the Uber and CitySprint cases, the case of Pimlico Plumbers and another v Smith is the latest case to challenge the employment status of the ‘self employed.’ In this case the Court of Appeal has ruled that a ‘self-employed’ plumber should have been classed as a worker.
The government has commissioned an independent review into modern working practices, including the gig economy. The issue of how law should regulate employment status in a growing gig economy is certain to remain a hot topic.

2016 Trade Union Act comes into affect
1st March 2017 saw the commencement of the majority of the provisions of the 2016 Trade Union Act. The Act introduces a 50% turnout requirement, i.e. at least 50% of those entitled to vote do so, with further requirements for important public sector services. Notice of industrial action has been extended to fourteen days and the Act also introduces a six-month time limit for the action to take place following a successful mandate (or nine months of the employer agrees).

Statutory wage rises
The National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage rates increase in April.

The table below shows the rates for the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage. Workers must be school leaving age to get the National Minimum Wage and aged 25 to get the National Living Wage. The minimum wage will still apply for workers aged 24 and under.

 25 +      21 – 24      18 – 20      Under 18      Apprentice
£7.50      £7.05         £5.60        £4.05             £3.50

If your business needs any advice on any of these areas just drop us an email [email protected].

6 Common IT Budget Blunders

1. No agreed IT strategy or plans
No IT strategy means “the IT guys” will come up with a new way to spend money every week. And no clear plans means that everything is an unwelcome surprise. The IT team won’t know how to explain why something is worth investing in. It feels like they’re going off in the wrong direction because there is no agreed direction.

2. Allowing suppliers to tell you what you need
Given the opportunity, your suppliers will be very happy to tell you what you need – and they will make a great argument! They have things to sell and targets to meet! Don’t talk to suppliers without understanding what you want to achieve and why you’re talking to them. Shop around. If it’s a serious decision then organise a serious tender process based on what you need, rather than what they want to sell you.

3. Overrunning Projects
A seriously overrunning project can torpedo your IT budget. And the most common causes of overrunning projects are companies who buy products they don’t fully understand; suppliers who don’t have the capabilities they claim; and projects that lack direction and aren’t adequately managed.

4. Just renewing a contract because it’s the easiest thing to do
There’s value to be had in doing a benchmark exercise if nothing else. Look around, talk to some other companies. There may be lengthy notice periods so start the renewal process early enough that you have time to consider alternatives without missing the deadlines. Let the supplier know that you’re doing that. Prices will tumble, service levels will improve. Just renewing means the supplier is only making more profit from you, nothing more.

5. Buying products you don’t need or can’t use.
We see plenty of clients who’ve spent money on things they don’t use. Amazing but true! If you’re buying something make sure you understand the value it will deliver, make sure you understand the full effort and cost necessary to deliver that value, and make sure a senior member of the team is on the hook to deliver this entire journey.

6. Not agreeing service levels and key performance indicators
Spending money without checking you get what you’ve paid for is just bad business. All IT services, whether they are insourced or outsourced need to be monitored and a simple set of KPIs should be the main dashboard. You must define what you want in terms of service levels and KPIs and, for external suppliers, bake this in to the contract.

Finally, remember that you can bring IT costs under control, but that doesn’t means much if your IT isn’t delivering real value and contributing to your business objectives.

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 IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Working with Wise (Wo)men

It’s on Twelfth Night, or Epiphany – that many Christians celebrate the wise men arriving at the nativity scene. We know them as bearers of great gifts, but they also brought advice: a message of an immediate danger and a call for urgent action.

Modernity may have eroded the mystery surrounding the Magi, but we still like to consult wise men and women in our time of need. We turn to experts when we hit a wall with our own resources, or those of our team. Sometimes we do it to check we’re on the right track, or just to discover what bright new stars might be out there.

Business consultants come laden with gifts and advice, but they tend to be expensive, so we don’t engage with them lightly. Here are some collaboration tips and ideas I think wise – and some that are otherwise (that is to say, gained from hard-won experience).

Contractor or Consultant?
There is a difference between a contractor and a management consultant.

Contractors are taken on for a fixed – often short – period of time to perform a task or a role, whereas consultants are brought in to influence strategic decision-making at board level.

Wise: Contractors won’t usually transfer their skills to an internal staff member voluntarily – and why would they?

Be wary of over-friendly contractors who try hard to be liked by everyone from day one, or those who are not happy to document what they do. They may be trying to make themselves indispensable.

Consultants, on the other hand, should be willing to part with their knowledge in order to train, instruct and guide your people and your processes.

Otherwise: With both types of expert, give them good, meaty projects to work on and they will love you for it, because it helps them enhance their CV for future contracts.

Industry or domain expert
I have had the pleasure of working with external domain experts (on HR, IT and corporate finance) as well as a couple of distinguished advisers from within the translation industry.

The former tended to be long-term projects at a time when STP was restructuring a key function or department. The latter were ad-hoc visits from industry friends we already knew and admired.

While the industry stalwarts were invited to come and target specific translation community issues in a workshop-like manner, experts from outside have been helpful in transforming our company in areas that are common to all businesses.

When implementing major changes in our HR, IT or finance department, we vetted external experts either through recommendations or by conducting traditional job interviews with the candidates.

Wise: Apart from selecting the most suitable consultant, you also need to create a project with a clear schedule. It should include fixed milestones and deadlines, well-defined objectives, an agreed outcome and a realistic budget.

You must set your consultant clear deliverables, or they will get dragged into other areas of the business and not deliver what you want.

Otherwise: The challenge with external consultants is that they need time to understand your business, yet you can’t afford to give them months to get up to speed.

You may get frustrated with meetings where the consultant finds out what you do, looks at your systems and records to see how you do it, and interviews your key staff to gauge their opinion on what is working and what is not. That’s before they write a report stating the starting point for their work, which is something you obviously already know.

More meetings then follow, in which the consultant studies the wider context of your business, analyses the situation, applies their prior knowledge to see what should be changed, and produces another report on their findings.

In most cases, you will learn nothing new here either. You already know the state of your business and what needs to be improved. It was you who gave them most of the information they are now presenting back to you, after all.

So far, all the money you’ve invested has gone towards bringing the consultant up to the level of knowledge that you, as the company owner, should already have. But try not to see this gulf in understanding as a negative.

By knowing less than you, the consultant is able to break straight through to the heart of the business or problem without being distracted by context or history. Sometimes a fresh face with a different perspective is all you need to make a breakthrough.

Analyst or implementer
Consultants are usually hired to analyse a situation and recommend solutions, and you should expect to be challenged at this point about how and why you have done things.

You should probably accept that without a notable investment, there won’t be a notable change. But what you should not do is thank the consultant for their report, dismiss them and let them walk away.

Wise: This is where the work should start in earnest, and where the consultant’s experience and expertise comes into its own.

Most small companies know what they are lacking – the problem is they don’t know how to go and get it. And if that’s the problem, the solution cannot be someone pointing out to them what is lacking and simply telling them to go and get it.

The real value of a consultant is in facilitating and managing the ‘go and get it’ process and seeing it through to completion. These wise men and women have witnessed how things are done well and how they are done badly at other companies, and they are an excellent source of experience in this respect.

Whether the company’s need is to acquire, implement and optimise new technology, to create a new function, department or role, or to expand into a new market or sector, the consultant usually needs to provide the strategy for the planned change, then map out the practical steps.

They must find and recommend key contacts and networks for the new solution, liaise with stakeholders, chair meetings and hold everyone’s hand while they take action. They must also make sure reporting is kept up to date, monitor the budget and finally instruct the key players how to keep the rest of the staff informed of what’s happening.

Otherwise: Small companies rarely get value for money from meeting someone charismatic at an industry conference, inviting them to assess the state of the business and asking them to suggest improvements.

At best, a fleeting visit like this may produce a positive report to boost the owner’s ego. But it is difficult to gain anything more from it because there is no accountability for the visitor to drive any permanent change.

Resource or partner
My most fruitful experience of consultants has been working with ‘fractional’ directors, also known as ‘part-time’, ‘parachute’ or ‘on-demand’ directors.

These are experienced, multi-faceted professionals who serve as part-time management experts in small or medium-sized businesses that otherwise would not need, or could not afford, a full-time executive.

Fractional directors can stay with you for as long as you need their strategic involvement, and their monthly hours can be adjusted. They usually provide a similar service simultaneously to a small handful of other companies.

Wise: As with any recruitment, to find a good match for this role, you must not compromise on your company culture. Choose a partner who fits in at least as well as your employees do.

Give them full access to the business, including an email address and a building pass. If you don’t fully trust them, why engage them in the first place?

Otherwise: Invite them along to away days and off-site visits, so that they can be part of the team and not an outsider.

I invited Paul Larner, our fractional IT director from Freeman Clarke, to my birthday party last summer, and it turned out to be a very wise decision – he took most excellent photographs.

About the author: This article was written by Anu Carnegie-Brown, Managing Director of Sandberg Translation Partners Ltd (STP). With an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Helsinki in 1993, Anu has built a career in Nordic translation companies in Finland and the UK. The past 23 years has seen her contribute to the growth of three Nordic language service providers from modest start-ups to streamlined organisations. Since 2002, she has devoted her people skills and operational management ability to Sandberg Translation Partners Ltd.

STP is an ISO-certified UK translation company ranking in the Top 100 in the world. It specialises in professional translation work from English and German into the Nordic languages, and from a wide range of source languages into English. For more information about STP visit or follow Anu on Twitter at @anucarnegie

Employment Law Changes – October 2016

Here’s an article by Ally Maughan, Founder and CEO of People Puzzles, a very close partner of ours…

Employment law changes are usually scheduled for either April or October of each year, and this year is no exception. There is only one key changes which is being implemented now:

National Minimum Wage increases for some ages – from 1 October 2016
For those aged 25 or over, there is no change from the previously updated National Living Wage. For younger workers, the changes are as follows:

In future, all statutory wage minimums will change in April, from April 2017.

Other private sector changes to look forward to:

For more information or to talk to People Puzzles, who provide part-time HR Directors visit their website.


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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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