Thursday, 27 October 2011

Time to hand back the watch?

Last night I went to see Southside Johnny and the Astbury Jukes. The venue was dire and the performer well past his prime, it made me wonder who tells performers when they ought to hand up their microphones? You would suspect falling audiences and record sales but obviously despite being in a 5th rate venue Johnny isn’t getting the message.

So what you wonder has this got to do with consultancy? Well, it made me wonder who tells a consultant it is time to hand the watch back? If our clients aren’t happy with what we do then they don’t renew a contract – quite telling and something to make us think. But when that happens do we think well I must brush up on my skills or think about diversifying? Probably not to start off with but we should as consultants not just offer up our tried and tested expertise but also learn to embrace new methods of working that will continue to excite and captivate both existing clients and help us to reach out to a wider audience.

As consultants we can gather this sort of information anecdotally from our trusted network but I feel we should take some time out occasionally to add to our knowledge and to perhaps network with new people, some of whom having never met us before (like me last night with Johnny) won’t be afraid to show us where our ways of working could do with a little revision.

So for me the best event in the calendar is the Skillfair conference as it brings together at least 50 and often more consultants both as delegates and speakers with a fabulous array of topics which I would otherwise have to look far and wide over many days to cover.

Unlike Johnny who has lost a potential fan and the respect of a long term admirer I will be observing what my audience is saying to me.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Five weeks till Skillfair Conference!

Now that the main UK political party conferences are out of the way, the UK’s media and press will no doubt turn its full attention onto our own Skillfair annual conference.  It’s now only FIVE WEEKS to conference.

This is possibly the most important opportunity you will get this year to learn more about  how to network, influence,  market, and deliver your consultancy and advice. We have a really unmissable line-up and the peer-networking will,  as usual, be a core feature of the information-packed full-day’s programme.

We are keeping the familiar format of short talks in the morning followed by Open Space where you get a chance to steer the direction of the subjects covered and  after lunch, the elective workshops sessions will take place.

Many delegates in the past have said things like “I wish I could have attended ALL the afternoon workshops” and while we can’t quite manage that, this year we are running TWO afternoon workshops with some being run in both slots so there should be more flexibility to see more of what’s most important to you in developing your own business.

This week we feature Stuart Blake who will be presenting a workshop entitled: Impress with your CV/Business Profile

 Stuart Blake founded and manages Plan Your Career and Regardez Consulting. His team has over 85 years combined experience in the global staffing marketplace. They specialise in a full suite of CV writing, career planning and coaching services for individuals at any stage of their career, and in all industry sectors. With their expertise and guidance, individuals can maximise their full potential through effectively marketing their skills and experience.

Stuart began his career in 1986 at Robert Walters Associates, the leading financial recruitment business. He then became UK Managing Director of Harrison Willis, a multi-disciplined multi- site recruiter and later, Managing Director of Greatfleet (Fleet Search and Selection).

Whilst many of Stuart’s clients are individuals, he has also worked extensively with the Armed Forces and within the Public Sector. Described by former employers as “a great motivator and manager” with the ability to “inspire and encourage” people in their careers, Stuart’s session will be key to helping consultants impress their prospective clients.

See the entire timetable and speaker list here : Skillfair Conference 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Business Intelligence? or Business Intuition?

How do you make your business decisions? Facts or intuition...
How do you measure performance? Actionable metrics or gut feel...
Do I have good business intelligence? What is it?

If you Google ‘Business Intelligence’ the top search Wikipedia offers this insight:
“Business intelligence (BI) mainly refers to computer-based techniques used in identifying, extracting, and analyzing business data ... BI uses technologies, processes, and applications to analyze mostly internal, structured data and business processes. Business intelligence aims to support better business decision-making...” But even this explanation is out of date as external and unstructured data are falling within the scope.

In simple terms business intelligence encapsulates the interaction and collaboration of data, technology, processes and people to give a competitive edge ...and every business is at a different stage in their BI strategic evolution. There are significant benefits from getting this right and threats for poorly executed or zero strategy. Assessing the four key ingredients in turn:

The volumes of data available to companies are expanding at rates never seen before. The traditional internal sources are being augmented by large volumes of external and unstructured data from web and social media sources and data coming from the adoption of new technologies such as RFID and smart sensors. The key challenge is how these rich data assets can be translated into business value.

The technology landscape is moving rapidly with virtualisation, cloud computing, the Web 2.0 technologies (social networks, wikis and blogs) and software capable of analysing huge data sets at a transactional level. The growth in mobile devices is driving the way in which data is consumed by the customer and is increasing the need for companies to provide Mobile BI. These technology changes have made BI, once the reserve of large companies, accessible to all. But technology is just an enabler in this journey.

Getting your business processes aligned to your business model and operating as efficiently as possible has always been a critical success factor. The advances in both data and technology are challenging some of the traditional business models and processes. Customers are becoming more demanding and the speeds at which decisions need to be made are shortening.

It is the role of people that ensures whether these three factors can be harnessed successfully. These people include all stakeholders in a business...including shareholders, management, staff, customers and suppliers. The organisational agility of SME’s put them in a strong position to take advantage of an increased focus on their BI strategy.

UKITA can help with guidance on how to assess the options and implementation of successful business intelligence and data strategies. If you would like more information, email - As Sherlock Holmes said “Give me data dear Watson!! I can then make an informed deduction!”

Thanks to Peter Dean  - - from Business Intelliegence and Strategy for the use of this piece.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ten years and 30,000 consultants

This week saw us reach a significant milestone.

On Tuesday, the  30,000th consultant signed up for their 3 month guest consultant account. That's an awful lot of people through our virtual doors in our more than 10 years of operation.

That doesn't mean that we have 30,000 consultants as current members of course.

Not all guest account holders go on to become full paying members and not all full members stay with us for the rest of their natural lives (shocking but true)

The actual numbers at any time are in the 'ball park' of 1,000 full members, 1,000 on guest accounts and a further 10,000 ex-members, ex-guests, registered clients and people who have simply asked to be kept informed.  So we have around 12,000 people on our weekly email contact list and getting this newsletter.

That's quite a large community divided across corporate, engineering & technology, IT consultants and small business advisers. It's a fantastic targeted audience for members to post projects and offers to and for companies to advertise to in the weekly newsletter.

A reminder of how Skillfair works:

Every day we scan over 1,100 websites and other sources, then our UK-based analysts - led by Cath -  select and tag the best with the skills needed for the project or tender. Overnight, our system compares these with the skill-set you have entered and drops your personalised listing into your inbox around 8 am each morning. That's a lot of legwork and expert sifting being done for less than 3 pounds a week.

Members can also search for consultants with particular skills to bring in on their projects and can put their own projects and offers into the system. We also take some commercial advertising as long as it is appropriate for our audience. We also have arrangement with some public and private sector organisations to enable them to post their projects straight into Skillfair which means that many of the projects don't appear elsewhere.

People can also speak to the membership helpline which is looked after by Angela and she helps members to get the most out of the system, optimise their profiles and she gets to know the people who phone or email her regularly.  When clients put tenders and projects directly into our system, Angela gets in touch to make sure the client is genuine and at the end of the project contact period - she gets back in touch with them to find out how it went for them.

Skillfair isn't just a computerised conveyor belt then. There are real people at the heart of it who are constantly working on members behalf, looking for ways to improve the services and listening to your comments about how you would like to see things improved.

If you know anyone who ought to be getting the benefit of Skillfair, please forward this message along to them and tell them to consider signing up for a guest account to try us out.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Chips off the old blocks?

So. Will they just rebuild the 9 big sandcastles that got kicked over as a series of smaller but similar sandcastles?

What am I on about?  Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) of course - I shouldn't care about them, but I seem to.

The bee in my bonnet is the risk of un-thought-through obsession with so-called high growth companies.

Which comes first - the public-sector assistance or the growth?

The NESTA report  (read it here) provides figures about the often-quoted 'vital 6%' of businesses that give rise to 54% of the new jobs as providing evidence that we should be helping these companies more or less to the exclusion of all others.  I won't treat you to my broken record about how if all the silent majority of businesses with modest growth ambitions merely employed one or two extra people then it would have a massively greater uplift effect in GVA and employment than a few poster-boy projects that get in to the regional business press being photographed with some well-known local politician in the frame. I also won't rehearse the joke about the computer firm that was so successful it had to move to SMALLER premises. It was mildly amusing in the 70s when I first heard it,  the point that in the modern digital economy, growth often means a bigger server, not hiring  extra people.

Where is the research that shows the long-term prognosis for these high growth companies?  Well, here for a start ! Click to read  A Fast Track Decade

It's a short enough read for a dullard like me and makes its points succinctly. It makes the point that a sizeable number (one in five) of high growth companies aren't around a few years later - although where's the control statistic for non high growth companies over the same period? It also provides an interesting comparison between the  characteristics that make for high growth in good times (timing, strength of management) compared to what's correlated to high growth in difficult times which is differentiation through niches and innovation.

A number of other interesting points are made in the document but my real plea is that someone does some new thinking and maybe some research about whether the NESTA 6% figure still holds true, holds true across all  industry sectors and the longevity of the jobs apparently created.

In the meantime, I fear that the LEP boards may simply pick up the clothes left behind by the RDAs and cut them down to match the  new slim-line funding sources and end up doing a pale imitation of the perhaps imperfectly-targeted schemes that the RDAs were so fond of.

How about some new thinking and new research anyone?