During the festive break, I was fortunate enough to visit the Jack Daniels Whiskey Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I took a guided tour and it was both fascinating and enjoyable; unfortunately, I was driving so I had to forego the tasting sessions at the end…
I always enjoy finding out how other companies do things, no matter how disparate they may be to the IT and website business. For Jack Daniels I think there were two particularly interesting highlights:
1) Whiskey is relatively commoditised – anyone can make it. How did a small distiller in mid-South Tennessee build a global brand that is now one of the most recognized and popular in the world? There are numerous reasons for this, but the primary one is genuineness.
The brand has always remained true to its values – a specific recipe with high-quality ingredients. During World War Two, when high-quality grain was at a premium and being diverted to the war effort, the company refused to compromise on quality, and cut back production rather than use inferior ingredients.
They were undoubtedly helped by word-of-mouth marketing – Frank Sinatra (if you don’t know who he is Google him!) took a sip of JD before every concert and carried a bottle with him when touring. When he died and per his Will, he was even buried with a bottle!
2) Ensuring the commitment to quality was – and is – instilled in every worker. There are signs everywhere in the facility which state very simply ‘Every day we make it, we’ll make it the best we can’.
I couldn’t come up with a better statement of intent than that. In 2020, I’ve asked everyone in our Group of Companies to ensure that every single ticket, prospect and customer support request is dealt with as best we possibly can.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) first came into common business parlance and usage in the manufacturing industry post-World War II.
Simply put, an SOP is “a set of written guidelines or instructions for the completion of a routine task, designed to increase performance, improve efficiency, and ensure quality through systemic homogenization”*.
So manufacturers set about writing procedures, training their workforce in following them and then monitoring the same to ensure procedures were followed consistently. This brought huge benefits to manufacturers, including:
· Consistency of production – by following the same procedure every product and component would be the same. This brings huge benefits in terms of quality control, reduction in defects and therefore customer satisfaction
· Improved efficiency – no need to try and figure out how to do something – staff are trained on the procedure and then follow it. Eliminating guesswork streamlines processes and makes production faster
· Continuous improvement. With a procedure in place, consistently adhered to, it’s much easier to improve on it. If everyone ‘does there own thing’ best practice is almost impossible to determine. With a standard procedure and a feedback-culture in the workforce, it’s possible to improve procedures and processes continuously.
McDonald’s famously adopted an SOP approach to ensure consistency of food production and service. As a result, a Big Mac in New York looks and tastes the same as one served in Tokyo. This doesn’t mean the menus don’t also reflect local tastes – you can order a Teriyaki burger in Japan – but consistency remains key.
So what does this have to do with Information Technology and IT support for customers? Well, I’ve found that as our business has expanded so too has the need for consistency. As a start-up 11 years ago (in the British Virgin Islands) there was pretty much nothing written down – we were focused on building the business. Then as we grew and we recruited technicians, it was possible to explain procedures to them individually and advise them on an ongoing basis. With a co-located handful of staff, this was entirely possible and also made ongoing improvement communications possible too.
Then we expanded and acquired a company in England (CCS2000). We now had a choice – allow the businesses to operate autonomously and ‘go their own way’ – or standardise. We chose the latter route for several reasons:
· We wanted to ensure best practice could be shared across the companies
· First-class IT management requires the same expertise, training and knowledge no matter where you operate
· We wanted technicians on either side of the Atlantic to be able to provide support to customers no matter where they (the customers) were located
· We wanted to adopt a proactive-support model that minimised client IT issues – to move away comprehensively from the ‘Break-Fix’ approach which (to my astonishment) is still prevalent in the industry.
In adopting this approach we were also mindful of the need for flexibility of approach on a local basis (as for the McDonalds teriyaki burger example). This meant we needed to adopt a dual approach:
1. Operational standardisation – consistency of approach on all IT-related matters. So for example, setting up a new PC for a staff member in one of our customers
2. Non-standard standardisation – an oxymoron that means ensuring any non-standard requirements for a customer are recorded and written into a procedure accordingly. Customer ABC may require their PCs to have some additional configuration in addition to our standard approach from (1).
So how did (do) we do this? Well, by the adoption of SOPs in Information Technology.
I can tell you from experience, it’s much easier said than done! We have been working on it for several years and it’s fair to say that it will always be an ongoing activity. There’s always a new procedure to write or an existing one to amend or improve upon.
Nonetheless, when we acquired another IT business in England (IDT) in 2019, it was clear that all the hard work had paid off. We were able to standardise working practices in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, we were able to adopt best-practice from within the new business to our existing procedures.
It’s worth noting that it isn’t just a matter of writing (and updating) the SOPs. Underpinning standardisation is the need for:
· Ongoing training – existing staff refreshers, new starters all need to be trained and monitored for process adherence
· Open culture – openness to feedback from the technicians following the procedures is key to continuous improvement. It also has the added benefit of participation which lends itself to a healthy work culture
· Integrating tools – we have the benefit of a bespoke business management system that we have developed ourselves (JIM). This allows us to deploy and monitor SOPs accordingly, with the flexibility to amend our processes thanks to the bespoke nature of our BMS.
It’s been a challenging and fascinating journey to move from ‘start-up in the sun’ to a Trans-Atlantic IT business. No doubt it will continue to be so, but without the adoption of SOPs, I know it would not have been possible.
Am I crazy? Possibly. Probably! Maybe… Who knows? Who gets to decide anyway?
What am I on about? Well, I’m evangelical about ensuring my businesses educate our customers on all matters IT, so you can actually REDUCE your reliance on your IT company. Logically that means in time they won’t have to spend as much money with my businesses, or they may even be able to drop us completely and do it (IT – geddit?) themselves. Would you like to know how to reduce your reliance on your IT company? Well, keep on reading…..
So let’s consider:
We’re providing FREE education on all matters IT to our clients (and everyone if you follow us on social media or this blog)
That FREE education reduces client dependence on us
Reduced client dependence means reduced fees for my companies
In the extreme you may feel that you don’t need us at all!
Simply put, we’re providing free education which may result in reduced income for us.
Yeah, that’s crazy.
Do you think?
Or maybe there’s something else going on? If so, what?
Confidence and trust, that’s what.
We’re confident that by educating our customers and their staff in computing and IT matters we will increase trust. And if we increase trust, they’ll continue their partnership with us.
Let’s face it, there are too many companies in IT who give the industry a bad name. We conducted a market survey last year, and the number one issue that came out was ‘Trust’. People rely on their IT provider to provide them with IT solutions appropriate to their business. Too often those people don’t understand what is being offered and can be left with an uneasy feeling of paying for something they don’t need.
That is absolutely not what any of my businesses are about. The last thing I want is for our customers to feel that way. We want – we need – you to feel assured with your IT solutions. The only way we can do that is through education and trust.
That’s why if you follow us on social media (Facebook,Twitter,LinkedIn) you will see, at least weekly, tips on all matters IT.
That’s why this year we implemented our ‘IT Roadshows’ – we visit all our contracted customers and present to every member of their staff. What we do, why we do it, computer usage tips, cyber security tips. Free.
That’s why all our staff are instructed to communicate in plain English – to explain any matter IT in a way that the recipient understands. No bamboozlement.
And that’s why all our staff sign-up to our cultural values. You can read them all here.
Crazy? If doing what is right for our customers is crazy, then fine, guilty as charged!
I was asked at a networking meeting recently for recommendations on best practice for backing up a laptop. It was in the context of an individual who has sensitive data on their laptop, and what follows were my recommendations. It’s worth noting that these recommendations apply as much to SMEs as they do to an individual.
We recommend a belt and brace approach. A local backup and a cloud backup. This applies to single-PC/laptop users and companies with servers and networks alike. Local backups protect you from internet accessibility failures (they do happen!) and cloud backup protects you from local failures, and is also an invaluable defence against Ransomware.
Cloud storage is NOT Cloud backup. A professional cloud backup system has end-to-end encryption and provides for a complete system restore. Files in Cloud storage are fully susceptible to ransomware. Find out more here: https://neovault.net/
Anyone who has access to company systems -whether an employee or not, whether local or remote – should be subject to the same IT and security policies as locally-based employees. If you don’t have any IT policies in place, strongly recommend that you do so.
Anti-virus and anti-spam software should be professional, ie paid, versions
Mobile devices carrying personal data – client, employee, supplier etc – are a GDPR risk and need to fall under the company IT policy umbrella
A recent interview conducted by Andrew Gray of Truth Legal, with our Group Managing Director Guy Phoenix. Guy talks about his business background and provided recommendations to anyone looking to start their own business.