Posts By :

Simon Hollingworth

2018 – The Year of Data Visualisation (across every department)
2018 – The Year of Data Visualisation (across every department) 1024 432 Simon Hollingworth

Departments across companies of every size have been screaming out for better ways to visualise the data they have into real actionable insight. However, until today, the IT teams have struggled to help each line of business to deliver their own dashboards easily. Now with advanced, yet low-cost tools like Microsoft PowerBI it has never been easier to build interactive dashboards and finally deliver timely management information that is helping companies to deliver real-time insight for Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Operations and IT Management.

Making data more engaging, internally and externally.

At Software Solved, we are called upon by the smallest and the largest organisations to help them not only bring their data to life internally, but to also make this highly engaging data available via customer portals so their customers, resellers, partners and suppliers can build much closer and interactive relationships. It is based on this increasing demand, and the fact that these tools are becoming increasingly easy to use and cost are rapidly lowering that I predict that 2018 will be the year for Data Visualisation across every department.

In a recent survey that Software Solved undertook in the Insurance Industry, we found that 78 of insurance companies stated that sharing real-time data with customers and brokers was either Important or Very Important, and yet when asked how advanced these Insurers are today with delivering real-time data, only 22 felt they were Good or Very Good.

Increasingly, sharing real-time data internally across your Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Operations and IT, and externally with your customers, resellers and suppliers is becoming a huge competitive edge that I believe no business will be able to afford to ignore in 2018.

So, who should be looking into Data Visualisation in your company?

Head of Finance

Finance usually get good data from their accounts systems, but have lots of departments requesting data and PowerBI would be a great tool for them to make the departments have self-service (drawing on data from multiple systems / spreadsheets)

Head of Sales

No matter which CRM system you use, sales management very rarely have good dashboards showing leads, pipeline funnels, proposals sent, targets, performance and upsell/cross-sell opportunities. Therefore, PowerBI will be a great tool for you to overlay on Salesforce, Dynamics, Sugar or whatever the CRM or sales tools

Head of Marketing

Marketing would kill to be able to demonstrate the ROI from marketing campaigns and also to control sales and ensure all their wonderful leads are properly followed up and the results into pipeline can be tracked.

They also would kill to know which campaign, to which industry, hit with which target demographic, so that in future you can target your campaigns better and manage the marketing budget more effectively. Tools like Microsoft PowerBI are ideal for this.

Head of Operations

Tracking manufacturing, stock levels, spares and workshop activities involves so many different supply chain and operations systems. The ability to get visibility across all these processes and then to deliver increased operational efficiency and greater customer service, should make Data Visualisation a must for Operations team.

Head of IT

IT not only needs dashboards for themselves, to be able to track server up-times, system patches, security vulnerabilities and roster staff, but also are key influencers in delivering systems and dashboards for every other department. Therefore, Data Visualisation should become a key tool for IT teams in every industry.

Head of HR

Tracking employee sickness, holidays, training as well as issues and advancement is key to HR management and is an ideal opportunity for using Data Visualisation. Delivering dashboards of recruitment campaigns to each line manager as well as tracking the effectiveness of university undergrad recruitment programmes and apprenticeships will deliver increased efficiency and effectiveness to the HR function and can be delivered quickly and inexpensively with tools like Microsoft PowerBI.

If you’d like to know more about Data Visualisation, and PowerBI in particular, you can find out more by  talking to us today.

The Business Case for Regular System Audits
The Business Case for Regular System Audits 1024 682 Simon Hollingworth

We call them ‘healthchecks’. You might call them ‘system reviews’. But, whatever name they go by, system audits are rarely an easy sell with the director or the board. They can take a long time to complete, the associated costs may not have been budgeted for and they might divert resources from the delivery of other business projects.

Whilst that may sound pretty damning, the truth is that they actually provide value and competitive advantage, if you know how to leverage them. So, if you’re struggling to get sign-off, we’ve prepared the business case for regular system audits…

System audits improve cost efficiencies and return on investment

One of the major benefits of a system audit is that it can help you assess how those systems are performing. Whether it’s shelfware or a bespoke system, you need to ensure that you’re getting a return from your investment and the system is performing as it should be.

Whilst this could mean examining the underlying code, a system audit also takes how the system is being used into consideration, identifying solutions to improve efficiency and performance.

Many organisations will have business critical systems, yet fail to properly utilise them. In the case of legacy systems, many of your most senior employees may not know how a system functions, which can cause significant inefficiencies and is, in essence, a wasted investment and use of budget.

It’s important to remember that the person or team performing the audit need to be impartial, which is why businesses often engage a third party or external supplier. This ensures that there is no vested interest in the review, so you don’t end up with the developer of a system trying to gloss over it’s flaws and inefficiencies.

System audits can be required for valuable system accreditations

As data and information security becomes more important to clients and consumers, demonstrating the security capabilities through an accreditation or industry standard will become even more valuable for businesses.

Often, accredited certifications and regulatory frameworks will require evidence of regular and robust system audits. If your business wants to achieve or maintain ISO 27001 standards, you’ll need to have a system audit in place.

Not only will a system audit help you demonstrate that your business meets the necessary standards, it will also identify any problems and resolve them if there are gaps in your system security.

System audits ensure legal compliance with licensing agreements

A robust system audit will consider the terms of your software licensing and any compliance issues that you may not be aware of. It may not sound exciting but it could save your business tens of thousands of pounds.

If you’re a large business or enterprise using shelfware, eventually the publisher will come calling with a software audit request to ensure that you’re fulfilling the terms of your contract. They want to see if you’re using more software than you should be, which they are legally entitled to do.

The number of software audit requests are only going to increase as well, as publishers like Microsoft, IBM and Adobe respond to rising cloud integration, which makes the issue of licensing significantly more complex.

As software is moved to a cloud environment in your own data centre, you open yourself up to a number of licensing issues. For all of the benefits, it also makes it very easy for users to take on more services than they need and violate license agreements. In fact, because it is harder to track, simply moving to the cloud may alert a publisher that it’s high time for a software audit.

A system audit, however, catches this early and rectifies it by identifying if you are overbuying or underbuying, which is well worth doing, because…

System audits protect your business from penalties and outstanding fees

If you are found to be using more than your agreement indicates, you could be liable for penalties, retroactive charges and outstanding licence fees. By this point, it will be too late to revise your licence and someone will be in hot water for not having identified the problem sooner.

Of course, regular system audits can prevent this from ever happening, ensuring that you’re fully compliant with your licensing and terms of service. Not only that, they also minimise any business disruption software audit requests can have, by providing readily available usage data.

So, it’s pretty plain to see that in this case, the prevention (a regular system audit) is much, much better than the cure (paying a lot of money in penalties).

If your business needs support with an external system audit, or to discuss your business software needs, talk to us today, or call us on 0203 281 7342.

Software Solved are now officially a Xamarin Authorised Consulting Partner!
Software Solved are now officially a Xamarin Authorised Consulting Partner! 1024 682 Simon Hollingworth

Good news folks – we have just had the honour to be officially recognised as a Xamarin Authorised Consulting Partner. This is a great reward for our team who have been working extensively with Xamarin recently. They delivered a fantastic project for The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – read more about it and how we saved them £40,000 here.

Being able to work with Xamarin means Software Solved are even better placed than before to deliver a fantastic service for our clients. You can trust us to advise on when Xamarin is the perfect technology for your needs, and also trust us to deliver on time and on budget.

If you want to know why Xamarin is the perfect technology for Cross-Platform app development, then read our blog here.

If you want to talk to one of our experts about how Xamarin could help you with cross-platform app development, talk to us today.

Software Solved at the Tech Exeter Conference
Software Solved at the Tech Exeter Conference 958 491 Simon Hollingworth

On Friday the 8th September 2017 we sent a few lucky representatives of Software Solved to the Tech Exeter Conference. If you haven’t heard of Tech Exeter, here’s what you need to know:

  • Run by Kris Sum and Rob Glover – it is a focal point for all things ‘tech’ in Exeter.
  • They organise regular meetups for those who work, or are just interested in the tech industry.
  • Their meetups include lightning talks, a chance to network, and are a chance for community members to collaborate and connect, whilst also providing training and workshops.

They run an annual conference highlighting the most exciting tech trends, with the best regional and national speakers who are experts in the field. So it would have been remiss of us not to go!

Flying the Software Solved flag at the conference were Rudi, Jon, Dom, Duncan, Ash and our MD, Anthony. They spent the day soaking up tech knowledge like sponges and over the next couple of weeks they will be sharing what they’ve learnt right here on our blog.

You can look forward to blogs on the following topics over the next 2-3 weeks:

  • Turning developers into testers
  • The Internet of Things
  • Augmented Reality
  • Machine Learning

Without descending into hyperbole, these topics have the genuine potential to cause significant changes in the tech industry, and indeed, they already are to some degree. Our experts will be looking at what these changes may look like, how it will affect the industry, and what it means for other businesses.

Keep your eyes peeled, and look out for our tweets signalling there is a new one out!

If you want to find out more about Tech Exeter, click here.

Five Major Benefits of Data Visualisation for Charities and Non-Profits
Five Major Benefits of Data Visualisation for Charities and Non-Profits 1000 667 Simon Hollingworth

Huge amounts of data are being generated every minute of every day. In fact, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone. When you factor in the global proliferation of internet connected devices, this isn’t surprising. But, how do you extract the value from this data?

Data isn’t worth a great deal unless it can be interrogated, analysed and used for decision-making. And it’s worth even less if people don’t understand it.

Data visualisation, the presentation of information in a graphical or pictorial way, is a great method of making data easy to view and understand. Tools like Microsoft’s Power BI mean this is no longer an incredibly complex task – its quick and easy to set up, and start getting insights from your data.

The five major benefits for charities and non-profits are:

1) Increased transparency with stakeholders

Charities and non-profits must be transparent with donors, supporters, service recipients, and members of the public about how much they are spending on what and why. Presenting this information in a graphical way helps people understand the data quickly and easily.

2) Removing the complexity

People can digest images and graphs more easily than reading through rows and rows of numbers. If you are dealing with large and complex datasets, visualising this data makes it much easier for other people to understand, particularly if they are not subject matter experts.

3) Deeper insight

Data visualisation makes large and complex datasets easy to read. This means that you can identify trends, anomalies, and insights with ease. Comprehensive data visualization tools will enable you to drill down deeper into specific data segments as well. This allows you to glean more insight from your data and identify areas that need further interrogation.

4) Improved internal communication

No matter how hard you try to avoid silos, they often exist within organisations, especially those with several large departments. Sharing insights and information in a graphical way can be a great way of informing other departments what’s happening in the organisation. These can be presented as dashboards on intranets or internal applications, enabling self-service, and saving you even more time.

5) Improved organisational performance

When you are actively using insights from your data, you will be making better strategic decisions, thus improving the perception and performance of your organization, both with potential donators and volunteers, and your current team.

As a non-profit, you’re highly likely to be collecting your own data, whether it’s as simple as user behaviour on your website using Google Analytics, or more detailed information on how stakeholders are interacting with your applications or services. Are you confident that everyone within the organisation can understand the information? Is it being used to inform decision-making to improve the effectiveness of your organisation? If the answer to these questions is no, then talk to us today to see how data visualization could benefit you.

If you’re interested in a great visualisation on just how much data is generated every minute, then take a look at this infographic

Why Not-For-Profits Need to Ensure Applications are Cross-Platform
Why Not-For-Profits Need to Ensure Applications are Cross-Platform 1000 667 Simon Hollingworth

It takes considerable resource to build, test and launch an application – people, time and money. Most not-for-profits don’t have these resources in abundance. So if you’re going to build an application, why wouldn’t you launch an application that works across all devices and platforms; and even works when there is no internet access?

Keep your users happy and engaged

It’s a no-brainer. But you would be surprised how many applications are launched that give a poor user experience on one platform, but an amazing one on another. To reach your entire audience you need to ensure your application gives a consistent user experience regardless of whether it’s an Android, i-Phone or a Windows device. That’s what we mean when we talk about cross-platform.

As a charity or public-sector organisation, you will want your application to engage in a meaningful way with your target audience regardless of the device they are using. You need to be clear on the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘when’ of your application before any coding begins. A good development company will work with you to scope this out.

Offline connectivity

A really thorough development company will use technology that ensures your application not only works across platforms, but also works when users are ‘occasionally connected’. This means they may not be online 100{7465c2450dcd042996416963879c72771606ba211532680daeb6e67dd6282842} of the time. For example you may have a staff member or volunteer using the application in an area where there is no internet connection. Ensuring your application has offline and online functionality means no data will be lost when the application is used without connectivity, as the data can be synced later when the user has internet access.

To generate maximum return on your IT investment and to ensure you are giving your target audience a seamless user-experience, you need to ensure your application is truly cross-platform.

You can read about a recent cross-platform application we developed for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Or, if you’re ready to see how a cross-platform app could benefit your organisation, talk to us today.

Why Customer Portals are Key for the Insurance Industry
Why Customer Portals are Key for the Insurance Industry 150 150 Simon Hollingworth

Today’s customer has certain expectations about how they will interact with businesses and organisations. Naturally, this extends to the insurance industry – covering both commercial and domestic markets. This consumer expects to be able to get the information they need, whenever and wherever they want – and in a way that makes sense to them. This isn’t something particularly ground breaking, the importance of customer/user experience is well known – we’ve even blogged about it before – Could a poor user experience be damaging your business?

It may surprise you to learn then that certain industries, insurance amongst them, have been slow on the uptake with things like customer portals. The insurance industry is also one that could gain far more than others from implementing customer portals. Giving customers instant and easy access to contracts, schedules, T’s&C’s, and other useful information, such as their risk profile, makes their life easier, and also saves the insurers valuable time and money as well. In an industry where new business is hard to come by, and customer loyalty is a top priority, the importance of this is easy to see.

Carefree Customer Communication

Communication is key to any business, and it’s the least customers will expect. Plus points for the customer portal here then. With information centrally stored and easy to access, 24 hours a day, there can be no more confusion about who is sending what to whom, and if something has got lost in the post or a Junk mailbox.

It also means it is far easier for insurers to update documents and information, without having to resend everything to customers. Update the centrally stored file, and voila. The whole process just became simpler and far more efficient – not to mention the time and money savings to be had as well.

Tailor Made Customer Experience

We talked briefly about the importance of customer experience, and linked to our blog as well. Customer portals are an extremely simple way to improve this. Let me explain, the customer portal is an environment over which the insurer has complete control. I.e. they can decide how it looks and what messages are displayed to what customers. This will ring especially true for those of you in marketing – getting the right message to the right people is the biggest battle.

It also means insurers can adapt the portal to the feedback that they get from customers. Do they want more information on latest offerings? Or would they like more visibility on their risk profiles and how they can be improved? All of it is possible within a customer portal.

Happy Customers = Loyal Customers

Customers value businesses that give them the opportunity to interact the way they would like to. This means giving them easy access to any information they may need or may be relevant to them. If they have to fight against a poorly designed website, or have to phone a helpline to receive a simple document, the experience quickly becomes frustrating. Frustrated customers are far less likely to renew.

Many of these points are quite simple, and may seem obvious, but they are far too often overlooked. In an increasingly crowded industry, where customer loyalty is becoming more and more important, insurers cannot overlook the value to be gained from something as simple as a well-designed customer portal.

If you’d like to know more about our work in the Insurance industry – click here.

Alternatively, if you’d like a free consultation about implementing a customer portal for your business, talk to us today.

Why Xamarin is Perfect for Cross-Platform App Development
Why Xamarin is Perfect for Cross-Platform App Development 150 150 Simon Hollingworth

With mobile usage overtaking desktop in 2016, mobile apps aren’t going away anytime soon. What can be tricky though is deciding what platform to develop your app in. Android generally has a larger market share, but can you afford to alienate all your iOS users, or even Windows Phone users?

Cross-platform development is nothing new, but there aren’t a plethora of tools that allow you to do it well. This is where Xamarin comes in. Xamarin allows developers, using .NET and C# languages, to write shared code for apps so that they can work equally well on Android, iOS or Windows. The mantra of Xamarin is write-once-run-anywhere, which is what makes it a firm favourite with developers.

How does Xamarin actually help?

Xamarin allows developers to use .NET/C# languages, to develop across the three platforms we mentioned earlier. There are a number of benefits to this. Not least of all because instead of having to know 3 separate developer languages (Java for Android, Objective-C and Swift for iOS or C# for Windows Phone), they can stick with .NET and C#. This means that the quality of coding for your app is going to be much higher.

It also means significant savings in both manpower and money. The brilliant thing about Xamarin is that it allows developers to share the application logic between platforms. On average about 75{7465c2450dcd042996416963879c72771606ba211532680daeb6e67dd6282842} of the logic will be shared across the various platforms using Xamarin Native and up to 95{7465c2450dcd042996416963879c72771606ba211532680daeb6e67dd6282842} using Xamarin Forms. Writing fully native would mean having to write two or three separate versions of this – taking far more time, delaying the development cycle and inevitably driving the costs higher.

Why you should be choosing Xamarin

You may think that Xamarin must be a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none situation. But you’d be wrong. Xamarin stands apart from its competitors because of its ability to take advantage of the native features and functionality of the respective platforms; in fact, Xamarin Native provides direct wrappers for all the native APIs on the target platforms, which means you lose zero functionality.

User experience (UX) is central to making sure people use your app and enjoy it, and having apps that feel native is key to this. You can tell when an app has been poorly designed (we’ve all downloaded a few), but Xamarin doesn’t have that problem. By embracing the unique features of each platform the apps have their own distinct features, making them feel like true native apps.

It is not just design though. Xamarin apps have access to a comprehensive range of functionality from the underlying platform and device, including platform-specific capabilities like iBeacon and Android Fragments. Xamarin apps are also compiled for native performance, with platform-specific hardware acceleration. In addition to this there are many open source libraries available for Xamarin to allow developers to implement common App functionality such as offline storage, network connectivity, authentication to name but a few.

Xamarin really does allow you to have your cake and eat it. If you’re looking to develop a mobile application and want to appeal to users on all platforms there really is no better choice. Sharing upwards of 75{7465c2450dcd042996416963879c72771606ba211532680daeb6e67dd6282842} of the base code without compromising on native design and performance means you can have three almost-native apps for a shade of the development time and cost.

Click here if you’d like to know more about cross-platform app development.

Or for a free consultation, talk to us today. We’d love to hear from you.

Why Insurers Should Be Thinking About Business Intelligence
Why Insurers Should Be Thinking About Business Intelligence 150 150 Simon Hollingworth

When we think of Business Intelligence (BI) it is very easy to think of product focused business models. Dashboards and reports based on production figures, supply chains and sales numbers. But the benefits of BI are not limited to product-centric industries, the insurance industry is perfectly placed to gain huge advantages from implementing BI. After all, insurance companies are businesses like any other and at their core are seeking to reduce costs, increase revenue and boost profitability.

Becoming More Efficient With Business Intelligence

Using BI tools to get better insights and get ahead of competitors, can be critical in such a hotly contested industry. BI tools allow your staff to make better decisions, with the right data, driving efficiency improvements and therefore, boosting profitability.

If you think about it in terms of risk management – a concept central to the industry – the benefits are obvious. A Risk Management department that has access to up-to-date, detailed and accurate 360-degree risk profiles are far better placed to make better decisions regarding levels of risk.

It is also important to consider the value of BI in terms of regulation and compliance. Insurance has a significant level of regulation and compliance becomes much easier to monitor when you have the right tools for the job. Giving your staff the right data, in the right format at the right time means they can make decisions to keep you above board and in business.

Using Business Intelligence to Improve Customer Experience

Just as BI can make a real difference to how your company manages risk profiles, it can do the same for your clients. Customer portals are nothing new in the insurance industry, and the era of self-service is going nowhere. What insurance companies are not doing though, is allowing clients to access BI around their own risk profiles.

Putting yourself in the shoes of the user (good practice, by the way), it’s very easy to see just how useful this would be for clients. Being able to log into a client portal and see your risk profile, in real-time, means they are better placed to manage their own risk. This is good news for them, they’re at lower risk now, and great news for the insurance company as the chances of a pay-out are reduced significantly.

In an industry so hotly contested, improving customer experience and inspiring brand loyalty can be the difference you need, and BI could be the answer.

If you’d like to know more about how BI could improve your business, talk to us today. We’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to know more about our Business Intelligence services, click here.

How GDPR Can Drive Your Digital Transformation Plans
How GDPR Can Drive Your Digital Transformation Plans 150 150 Simon Hollingworth

By now you know that GDPR is coming in less than 12 months, and with it the eye-watering fines for those organisations found to be in breach of it. If not, our blog ‘What is GDPR?’ should help.

Let’s start off by saying GDPR is non-negotiable. It will impact organisations of every shape and size as every organisation uses data to a lesser or greater extent. When organisations can embrace GDPR, and what’s required to ready themselves, rather than fear it, they can use GDPR to their advantage.

How does GDPR link to Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is the process of an organisation embracing new technology to make itself and its processes more efficient. It will not be news to any of you that plans and initiatives run far better when they have a goal or target in mind. Here’s the crux: use the upcoming GDPR regulation as an organisational objective, and tie your digital transformation directly to that.

If you’d like to know more, read our blog ‘What is a Digital Transformation?’

Let’s go into a bit more detail. There are several talking points in GDPR (we won’t go into them all here), one of which is data availability. I.e. a customer or user can request to see what data your organisation holds on them. All organisations have a duty to provide this. The thought of having to collate data about one individual that could potentially exist across four or five disparate systems is probably nightmare inducing. Here’s where Digital Transformation comes in. A robust digital strategy will include plans for system integration and getting a single-view of data. An organisation who has well integrated systems that communicate readily, and has eradicated data siloes is far better placed to deal with these requests – as a result of their Digital Transformation work.

Why GDPR should drive your Digital Transformation

GDPR is, quite naturally, a scary proposition for many, and for others, a boring tick-box exercise. It doesn’t have to be either. Instead try to think of it as an opportunity to get ahead of the game, and ahead of your competitors. The right blend of technology and improvements in business processes is critical to regulatory (GDPR) and Digital Transformation success.

Fully automated and transparent processes will help you improve data availability, integrity and security – all of which are central to being GDPR compliant. Using that objective (becoming GDPR compliant) as a catalyst to update old and clunky systems or processes will give your organisation the upper-hand over competitors at the same time as improving your user and customer experience – win-wins all round.

GDPR is definitely coming, and the punitive fines will definitely be eye-watering – but it doesn’t have to be scary. Think of it as a golden opportunity to kickstart those Digital Transformation plans that have taken a back burner.

If you’re ready to use GDPR as a catalyst for your Digital Transformation plans, talk to us today.