Office Dress…whatever you fancy!

It is National Telephonists Day! NTD_March_10th_lr_copyright_Gill_Aspel_(058_of_211)

What I hear you say…another bland excuse for a PR company to create a story…well no actually.  At ComXo we provide some of the largest companies on the planet with Virtual Personable Assistants (VPA), available 24 hours a day and able to support, enable and facilitate our clients workforce’s.

Dealing with globe trotting executives requests and requirements around the clock requires a very special type of person.  A ComXo VPA has access to a company’s full suite of business services, FAQ’s and help desk capability.  They are quite literally plugged into the global capability of an organisation.  That means that a telephone call could be anything from the CEO needing support to book an executive car to a corporate customer wanting to do business.

The next call could be a clients most important call all year, the difference between winning an account or loosing it.  Every call could be a million pound call so being alert, engaged and capable is essential.

At ComXo this is driven by the combination of exceptional people, brilliant home grown technology and culture.  Culture is what National Telephonist Day is all about.  The opportunity to spoil our VPA’s, to serve them as they serve their customers to let them know how important each one is as they deliver their exceptional service call after call.

So what do we do…dress up of course!

dress up

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A new year…a new me?

new yearAs I embark on the first week of the new year I am, like everyone, filled with the good intentions of resolutions.  I am minded however of how many of last years good intentions were so woefully kept including doing a regular blog post…the last one I contributed in May!

resolutions

So here we are again.  There are however some things in my life that I do mange to do every day that have quite literally transformed my life.  The power of routine is immensely powerful and simple to achieve if you can schedule it to occur during parts of the day you have control over…for me this is first thing in the morning and last thing at night….before and after the one other activity which I always observe…sleep.

Over the past 12 years I have changed my habits and enriched my life by simply creating an hour and a half in the morning (by getting up earlier) and just recently capturing 30 mins before I go to bed (by watching less TV). tv

 

It began by me taking my then dog Bear for a 40 minute walk rather than a 10 minute walk.  I live near a park and the walk is beautiful anyway.

Come on 'old boy'! The Bear...almost 15 and still going

Come on ‘old boy’! The Bear…almost 15 and still going

But the real benefit of this has just been made clear to me as my beloved other half, Vicky got me a fit bit for Christmas…a fit bit for her fat bit…or that is how it felt on Christmas morning after a month of business and social revelry. xmas

But to my surprise, though I was at least a stone over my normal weight, my general heart health showed as excellent with a resting beat of 59 (excellent for a man of my age according to the Fitbit app).

But here is the point, 7 years ago Vicky and I started a family and I haven’t done any aerobic exercise since then.  So my relatively good state of health is put down to…simply going for a 40 min walk every day before the rest of the house is awake….simples!

View on the way up....

View on the way up….

But over the years I have squeezed other routines into my morning quiet time which I observe every week day come what may (I over indulge and sleep in at the weekend like everyone).

In 2012 I started to do the plank for 2 minutes before my shower, in 2013 I started doing 10 minutes of sun salutations everyday so I would remain nimble for the skiing I love so much, in 2014 I started listening to audio books on my walk , in 2015 I bought a small electronic upright piano and began doing 20 minutes of piano each day and in 2017 I bought a skipping rope and now do 100 skips.

None of these little pockets of time make me break even the slightest of sweats but I feel on top of my health and feel each day I improve just a little.

So what will I add to my routine this year…. write a blog post at least once a month…. lets see!

 

 

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AI yore thyme is hear!

Workplace of the futureMy company ComXo is at the forefront of helping companies create the workplace of the future .  We do this by centralising and consolidating 3 key functions of business support services (navigating the organisation, reserving services, escalating help requests) and creating clever channels to access them.

More and more we are asked about the bogeyman of the moment “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) so here is what I have learnt so far.robot

AI is real and it will change your life from here on in.  Whilst our grandfathers might  remember the first commercial plane flight and our fathers the first personal computer we will bore our kids about the first time we experienced AI.

AI is a learning algorithm that gets incrementally better at a task the more feedback it has regarding the outcome’s proximity to perfection.  This can be brilliantly demonstrated on a repetitive task where a large amount of data needs to be mined and analysed.  scribe

In the past this sort of work was the preserve of an articled clerk or more recently an off-shore service centre and in truth these jobs will be replaced as sure as the scribe was replaced by the printing press and the printing press replaced by the laser printer.

But I marvel at the furore being whipped up by an imaginative press about the breath of jobs that will disappear.  Perhaps formula based jobs such as actuaries or insurance risk managers will feel the heat but anything that requires judgement, interpretation or the slightest understanding of a human is for now beyond the horizon.Jobs joke

ComXo is busy experimenting and integrating AI in as many areas we can apply it to and the experience is interesting, frustrating and funny.

Our most recent experiment involves an app our R&D team created to allow me to create a to-do list every morning whilst walking the dog on the beautiful Long Walk in Windsor.

View on the way up....

Just an excuse to get a picture in of this amazing place…see the other photos on this blog if you like it

I requested the app be voice activated, record my voice, transcribe my memo to text and email me the text and the voice file to my desktop such that when i get into the office my list for day lies before me….simples!

memo

Here are a couple of choice transcriptions using the most well known voice to text AI engines available.

“get hold of Mark Fitch and chase up the customs and excise” came through as

“I’ll get back in touch with fish on a substance in Texas”

“print out the Guardian top 300 list and get in touch with facilities managers” came through as

“I print out the Guardians 360 getting in touch with a Dirty Sanchez.” .

Who says the robots have no sense of humour!

 

The reality is that when the app is used in the quiet controlled confines of the office it works pretty well but when it has to manage any other environment it gets it wrong 95% of the time.

This is the most basic of AI interface needing no appreciation of nuance, context, humour, irony, sarcasm or ire.  Emotion is uniquely human and it powers core behaviour way before logic gets a look in.  As happened with automated voice response menus in the 90’s and outsourced Indian call centres of the last 10 years customers get very funny when being interacted with by someone or something they cannot develop rapport with.

So if your job has anything to do with end user human service where rapport, trust or explanation is needed…I reckon you are safe for now!Team Pic

 

 

 

 

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Business Process Transformation


outsourcingBusiness Process Outsourcing…your time has been!

Business Process Outsourcing has been the watchword for headcount and overhead cost cutting for a decade.  But times are changing quickly and old school thinking at certain outsource companies mean a miss match with the expectations of the more forward thinking corporate boards.

time for change

Six key fundamental influences are creating a landscape that will change the way business is conducted and the traditional working practices we have taken for granted for the last 30 years.

drivers

 

Over the past 20 years many of these drivers have been independently addressed with solutions that tackled them as a particular problem.  However this has left many business processes as a hodge podge of partially adopted systems and technologies, siloed information, inconsistent working practices, work arounds, single points of failure and bottle necks.

confusion

This creates friction in processes that cause inefficiencies.  The old style of outsourcing took a process as it stood and transferred the same number of FTE (full time equivalent) to a cheaper labour location and thereby cut costs.  What has often failed to evolve is the process its self since the outsourcer is rewarded on FTE’s.  Anything that cuts head count is not in its interest and such a commercial model is typically devoid of innovation and service agility.

transformation

Business Process Transformation looks holistically at the process outcomes that need to be achieved rather than the current process.  With an understanding of new capabilities  both in technology and working practice, services can be consolidated and centralised and provided as a composite self serve and/or managed service.

The cost benefits are considerable even when re-shoring services to increase the customer experience and savings of 30 % + are not unusual with payback timescales of under a year.

“I am presenting a series of breakfast briefings in the City of London over the next 12 months.  If you are interested in topics such as Outsourcing, Artificial Intelligence, Business Continuity Planning and more email the ComXo team at wearehere@comxo.com

 

 

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21st Century Account Management Program for an Outsource Service Provider


legalComXo provide outsourced managed business services to almost half of the UK’s top 100 law firms.  Because of this I spend much of my time speaking and presenting to managing partners of legal and other global professional service firms.  As an outsource service provider I am obsessed by what makes for a successful partnership and what drives real value.

themes

Over the last year some key themes have come up time and again and seem to define the near future of outsourcing.  These key words include: Collaboration, innovation, globalisation, new ways of working and specialist insight.

Traditionally outsource contracts involved procurement taking an internally provided service and have it delivered by 3rd party contractor.  The value add being cost efficiencies and service improvements inherent in a specialist provider.

I think this dynamic is changing.  The future of the legal sector is becoming much more difficult to predict.  Technology and its possible impact to disrupt at a profound level is creating a sense of anxiety at a strategic level.

lawyer

ComXo recently sponsored The Lawyers Business Leadership Summit and I spoke to 14 C suite leaders of separate major law firms.  Each one wanted to know what clarity and insight I could give them into how my services would evolve. How new technologies and new working practices would enable a diverse generational workforce be productive in an increasingly changing workplace.

At ComXo account management is a key deliverable of our service.  Many of our customers use us as a collaborative managed service technology partner to deliver new solutions.  So after the summit I pulled together a team to creatively come up with a new ‘account management programme’ for our customers that would drive insight and service evolution as a key deliverable of our contracts.

Here is a share of our process

process

The idea is to deliver a joined up approach of collecting market intelligence, driving discussion around hot issues, creating white papers and thought leadership, delivering content back to customers, engaging key stake holders with insight at breakfast briefings and driving their agenda around the services we provide with a road-map based approach.

The process driven by the account manager is set around a key client execution road map that defines key strategic needs annually and then drives the agenda around the service innovation across the year.  In practice this might deliver a single key innovation every year but one tied into the strategic deliverable set by the company.  The idea is that this process inherently delivers customers opportunities to Collaborate, innovate and evolve around a key outsource service.

Here is a view of the front side of our programme.

 

 

account-plan

 

Back of our process sheet

accoutn-plan-2

Case study

3 years ago our SWOT questionnaire identified security and online fraud as a hot topic.  Research was done around security on voice conferences, VoIP and hacking into private conversations (see report 2013). This was then shared in round tables and fed into the development road-map for Multivoice our professional services specific conference solution.   Delivering a key innovation roll out for later that year.

Whos on the line

 

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What I learnt about the legal work-space of the future from the Lawyer Leadership Summit….

lawyer-summitLast week we sponsored The Lawyer Business Leadership Summit in the City of London and over 2 days I participated, chaired and observed discussions about the future of the  Legal industry.

I spoke at length to Managing Partners, COO’s, CTO’s Directors of Strategy and Innovation from some of the largest Law Firms in the world. What I came away with is further evidence to my previous blogs that the sector is in rapid flux.  What is more fascinating is the amount of factors a managing partner has to grasp to create a meaningful medium term strategy for their firm.

Here is an insight into one facet the sector is grappling with.

Office Space…Open Plan, cubicle, coffee lounge or home office?

So Google has a slide in its head quarters…is that relevant to lawyers? How many more times will I have to listen to West Coast US tech firms extolling the virtues of funky playpens because Generation Z are now joining the workforce.google

Tech firms are left brain places full of techies writing software.  Tech firms build their businesses on clients trusting code and logic to process tasks.  They are  all about replicating human functionality without the need to deal with human emotion….robots nor techies for that matter are well known for their empathy and communication skills.geek

Law Firms on the other hand are right brain places.  They build their businesses on the clients trusting in them to sort out complex emotional problems.  They are all about human emotion, relationships, integrity.  Insight rather than information.smiley

If one is right brain and the other left brain should their workplaces have anything in common at all?

If I came away with anything from the conversations I had with more than 10 managing partners of top 50 firms is that human relationships remain the foundation of the client firm dynamic.  This is no better demonstrated by the fact that business follows lateral team hires.

A firms work space needs to be one that creates an environment that forges, nurtures and develops relationships.  I think the future work space will move towards a campus based approach mimicking that of a university with different zones being used dependent on the function being performed.

So a lawyer might drop into the canteen coffee zone for a breakfast project team huddle, moving on to a meeting room suite for client presentation or video conference, following that an auditorium briefing on a new development in legislation or a talk from an industry expert, then a drop in to the library to get some thinking and stand alone emails done and following that a project group meeting in a collaborative or creative zone and finally a client dinner in an entertainment zone.workspace

At any point the lawyer would be supported by a range of self service or human support services giving instant access to video and voice conference calls, meeting room booking, ground and travel management, IT or Facilities help desk or business concierge.  All services accessible seamlessly by phone, instant message, kiosk or app.

This campus facility might also be available to customers to educate or work on collaborative projects.

This approach would un-tether the fee earner from the desk top and deliver a true agile work space based on functions important to customer engagement rather than one designed around onsite business functions which would happen in regional, near shore or even giga economy centres.

I think the successful firm of the future will be defined by its brand not its lawyers.  It will be a firm that provides an unrivalled environment for creative, collaborative problem solving not just a desk for a fee earners.

 

 

 

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What on earth is agile working?

AgileNext month on the 16th of June I will be chairing a panel discussion at Legal Support Network’s conference on Transformation in the Legal Sector.  One of the topics I will be challenging my panel of industry experts on is the topic of ‘Agile’ working.  This is a particularly popular word in the legal world and the reasons for adopting it seem to differ depending on the angle you view it from.  So from my research so far here and with a bit of tongue in cheek is how different people in a law firm perceive it:

The HR director

For the HR director Agile working is about attracting generation y and millennials to their firm.  It is all about work life balance and ‘work when you want to’ culture.  The agile worker dips into his work when he wants and (can you see the image…) probably is multi tasking at the same time, he/she is a legal entrepreneur unconstrained by the confines of corporate concrete they are ipaded up, tweets as he goes and eats sushi for lunch.agile worker

The Facilities Director

For the Facilities director agile working is about saving serious money.  If we only provide 80% of the work stations we need and everybody is forced hot desk we save 20% of the floor space and this goes straight to the bottom line.  Agile working is about leveraging the mobile revolution which means you can work from anywhere and keep billing long after the lights of the office are off.

work late

The IT Director

For the IT director agile working is about rolling out loads of new toys to the business.  New communication systems, Bring Your Own Device policies, cloud services and plenty of apps.  Everybody in the business knows none of these will be adopted especially by the senior cohort but spending vast amounts on capital IT investment is what everybody else is doing so it must be right and after all its great fun.

confused

Opps Director

The Opps director is desperate for agile working to work, he’s outsourced business services to the Philippines, outsourced due diligence to India,  outsourced IT to Poland and now would like to outsource lawyering too…apparently robots can do much of the work now so who needs humans?  robot

In short agile working means different things to different people in the business, but it is all about capitalising on efficiencies that are now available due to technological change.  The ability to work securely from a remote location with tip of your fingers 24/7 access to the full suite of business services you may require increases a firms ability to serve a customer quickly and that drives business!

My business ComXo  facilitates the adoption of these new working practices and the technologies that underpin them.  Our 2 key capabilities are :

  • We ensure, as your business becomes more global and complex, your clients experience of getting hold of your key people remains easy and a pleasure.

 

  • We stop your fee earners becoming hampered by new processes and technology adoption by making access to key on demand business services easy. This enables fee earners to spend more time being a lawyer and less grappling with administrative tasks.

Agile working takes on many guises and has been around longer than you might imagine.  As with anything the business that are adopting all types of ‘agile’ practices steadily as part of an evolution into the future are seeing more benefit than those who think an ‘agile’ revolution will be the answer to all their woes.

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Cyber Security

Cyber SecurityScams are getting more sophisticated and the risk of loosing large amounts of money to the swindlers should worry us all.

My company ComXo provides outsourced business services to top firms in the legal sector.  Almost 50%of the top 100 UK firms trust us with some part of their operation.  Data and communication security therefore is something we think a lot about.  Recently our company went through the process of attaining Cyber Security Plus accreditation and whilst we were with the consultants we asked them what the most dangerous scams currently out there are.

I thought I would share one of them with you and tell you what can be done about it.

The scam targets both law firms and house buyers/sellers.  By intercepting email correspondence or more lately by spoofing telephone number caller identities, bogus instruction are given to either the law firm or the house seller to transfer funds into a fraudulent account.

Fraud

This is an article about the scam I found on line (Fraud story).

This scam can literally destroy a family’s entire wealth and prospects in a single transaction.  It is so devastating because it is hard to say where the fault lies.  Each party was prudent and followed what they thought were legitimate instructions.

fraudster

It is not without question that this sort of fraud could be a risk in the business world where transaction amounts could be significantly higher.  What is clear is that both cyber security and communication security is essential.  The question must be asked…is who you think you are talking to actually who you are talking to?

As technology has become smarter so have criminals found ways to outsmart us by using it.  The huge  sums that can be had in a single transaction mean that serious and well resourced organised crime syndicates are involved.  We all know about the spam emails that purport to be from ourselves, a few years ago I discovered that apparently according to everyone in my contacts list I was a major distributor of cheap Viagra.  My account had been hacked.

But did you know that it is relatively simple to spoof an originating telephone number?  This would mean that a lawyer could mistakenly think they were talking to their client who’s number was in their mobile or outlook address book when in fact they were talking to a fraudster.

Did you also know that gaining access to a conference call is also pretty simple and our research suggests that security breaches are a common occurrence.

This might mean a complete compromise of client confidentiality with far reaching consequences for both client and advisor.

ComXo work closely with our customers to identify and overcome such security risks.  Our super secure conferencing service and real-time number validation capability are powerful weapons in the arsenal of cyber defence.  Our customers rely on us to advise them where the risks are in their communications pathways and build services to minimise them.

Whos on the line

A typical piece of research was our “Who is on the line” white paper in which we uncovered some horrendous security breaches in major firms.  This research paved the way for our super secure conferencing service which now is the backbone of  many of our clients requirements.   Down load here… Who’s on the line.

What Cyber Security Plus has taught us is that no amount of security will make you impervious to 21st century fraud.  However there are services and tools you can use to make you less of a target.  The lesson learnt by those who have been caught is wait for them to walk through the front door…lock it and alarm it!

 

 

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The 21st century client experience

20 grosvenorYesterday I was fortunate to be invited to 20 Grosvenor Street the new client meeting facility of KPMG.  My host was Greg Mace of Rapport the front of house outsource company owned by Compass Group and employed by many of the City’s top corporations to deliver the 5 star experience at reception.

20 Grosvenor Street sets a new standard in client experience.  When walking in you are greeted, signed in and navigated via the coat check and personally delivered to your destination.  I arrived slightly early and took the opportunity to have my concierge Charles show me the full extent of the facility.

Spread over 5 floors no expense has been spared in the fit out of the facility with meeting rooms of every size, break out areas, informal meeting space, private booths and lounge areas all equipped with the latest technologies but wrapped up in the relaxed surroundings of a modern media members club.

In fact as I was to learn it is indeed a members club but one you cannot join for membership is by invitation only and reserved for KPMG’s platinum clients.  As a member you are able to use the facilities for entertaining your own customers or holding meetings, as well no doubt, for KPMG business requirements.  The layout felt designed to encourage the sort of casual  coincidental ‘bump in to’ moment that might eventually lead to a mega deal.

I was being treated to lunch and not just in the sumptuous dining room but at the chefs table right in the kitchen.  The single sided long bench table gave an extraordinary view into the kitchen where Michael the chef and his team of extraordinary talent created their magic.

This is corporate fine dining as you have never experienced it and our 6 course feast was as good as any west end Michelin starred eatery I have been to.  Greg told me that the kitchen team were made up of some of the best chefs in the country temped by the business hours (Monday to Friday only) and the great pay.  Even the pastry chef of the Manoir De Quatre Season had moved  (his deconstructed tiramisu panna cotta was a lent busting marvel).

With well over 100 staff manning the facility and 3 full kitchens the investment by KPMG is remarkable and testament to their commitment to a client centric culture.

Providing managed business services to the professional service sector in the city of London I have seen the operations of most of the major global business HQ’s and experienced their customer experience.  However this experience was on a new par and may just give us a glimpse of where the professional service firm of the 21st century is heading.

Myself and Greg mace from Rapport with Credit Suisse

Myself and Greg mace from Rapport with Credit Suisse

 

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Feeding the soul

End of month meetingEvery last Friday of the month the entire team at my business ComXo gather for our Town Hall meeting. Here we share our triumphs for the previous month and explain what can be expected for the weeks to come. The event has always been accompanied by a free lunch organised and sometimes cooked by one of the departments within the business. The atmosphere is always relaxed as it is the one day every month where professional dress is not required and you can turn up wearing whatever you wish.

‘Last Friday’ as it is referred to has been running for 14 years and gives the departments within a 24 hour operation the opportunity to tell the entire business their successes and enable the free flow of communication.  Within a business that runs around the clock we have had to think up some innovative ways of trying to get everyone involved.  Lately we have been using video conferencing to reach out to the Comxo team.  The offer is this we will organise for you to be hooked into the video link via our on demand managed service and if you join we will send a pizza to your home so you can have a free lunch too.

Team up dates

Team up dates

We encourage every member of a team to take it in turns to stand up and give the update for the department.  It is a fact that the number one fear is the fear public speaking so a safe and forgiving audience helps all of us confront our fear and practice our oratory.

The final wrap up of the day is the monthly prize for Hero of the month.  When you join the business you have to adopt a superhero alter ego and throughout the month any acts of heroism are recognised and put up on a board in the canteen.  The act that is deemed the greatest for the month is rewarded with a voucher and a box of Cadbury heros.

Hero of the month

Hero of the month

This brings me to my insight for this week.  A month or so ago I awarded the monthly hero to one of our out of hours telephonists who’s act has inspired us all.  Seeing the left over food from our Last Friday event he boxed it up and took it to the homeless shelter in Slough who welcomed it warmly.

Bilal the selfless hero

Bilal the selfless hero

This selfless act of thought on behalf of others less fortunate than ourselves reflects the ComXo value Politeness.  As I have written about many times before here my business ComXo is built on 4 values Politeness, Professionalism, Proficiency and Personality.  When we speak about politeness we not only talk about it being the foundation of any switchboard call we take but moreover it is about respect for those around you, the environment and the community.  In this case a little thought meant what we couldn’t manage ended up with those who are finding it difficutl to manage.

 

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