Meet the Early Adopters

Technology in the workplace: meet the early adopters

When we think of technology we tend to consider things that have only come to fruition over the last few years, such as VR, robotics and artificial intelligence, yet technology has been making a difference to the way we communicate and work really ever since the first computer was created, and even more so since the World Wide Web became publicly available in 1991. 

By Suzanne Whetton

Here at VIA, we were one of the first businesses to specialise in unified communications, helping firms to bring together all of their communication platforms into one efficient cloud-based system for voice calls, instant messaging, email and video conferencing.

We know we’re helping to change the way that companies work; we’re keeping colleagues connected - whether they work in the office, at home, or in a different country - which in turn boosts all-round productivity levels. This is what technology is all about, transforming the way we think and do things. This made us think there must be many other businesses out there that have paved the way by becoming an early adopter of different technologies.

Speaking to other businesses across the UK, it became clear that many were also technological trailblazers. We wanted to share some of their stories with you and find out how important it is for them to stay on top of emerging trends and where they see technology taking us in 5-10 years time. Meet the early adopters - as told in their own words:

The businesses:

  • Amanda Swales, director and strategic partnership specialist at SimpleTax, which provides self-assessment tax return software and assists with personal tax returns.

  • Simon Hoe, global head of digital and eCommerce at Cruise1st, a company which specialises in Mediterranean, Caribbean and worldwide cruise holiday.

  • Mark Lawton, business development director at cloud experts, IT professionals and trusted advisors Risc IT Solution.

  • Stuart McClure, CMO and co-founder of, a retail sales aggregator which collates over 1.5m discounted products from 900 retailers.

  • Peter Noble, director of music entertainment PR agency Noble PR.

  • Dani Attard, founder of Comgem, a B2B Ecommerce solutions provider.

Q: What new and emerging technology/technologies have you adopted?

It was clear from speaking to every business that they wanted to adopt new technology to improve productivity and customer service, and to stay ahead of the competition. Some companies created the technology themselves, while others say it as a smart investment for the future.

Amanda from SimpleTax saw an opportunity to provide something new to the market, in the wake of the Government’s Making Tax Digital initiative. She says: “With the Government’s vision to revolutionise the tax system the future of tax return will move from completing in arrears to completing in real time.

“We provide the first software that completes and submits a tax return from any device, the application runs in the cloud and is accessible through any internet browser. Apps are available in both the Apple and Google stores, meaning you can record income/expense on the move, or even fully complete your tax return on your phone.” 

Bhavin at Central Vision Opticians has been working with revolutionary technology that monitors children’s eye movements in order to detect those who are poor readers. “I use it to identify and help children who are struggling to read to improve their ability to learn and therefore impact their lives for the future”. His practice has also adopted new contact lenses that help children with myopia (short sight) by slowing down the rate of change in eyesight.

Simon at Cruise1st has adopted a chatbot which handles customer enquiries through machine learning technology - a hot topic at the moment. It enables his customers to find a destination, cruise line and deal that they’re interested in. He says that the always-on nature of the programme means that customers can get help around the clock, with the chatbot able to handle hundreds of queries and conversations simultaneously. And he’s already seeing a positive impact on his investment - “Since implementing the chatbot, customers have arrived at the call centre with greater purchase intent - which is why we embraced the technology. We’ve since had an eight-fold increase in lead capture, 3% revenue growth and nearly 50% increase in profit per basket.

“Virtual reality is also something we’ve invested in as part of our physical sales efforts at our
store in Manchester, and we hope to look into this further and implement new VR elements
across the website.”

Mark at Risc IT Solutions has invested in VIA’s hosted Skype for Business platform. “Our phone system was ageing, and we needed more flexibility in our work environment,” he says. Now the company can communicate more effectively, both internally and externally, through its instant messaging, phone and video call capabilities. It also means that staff are no longer tied down to their desk, or office, facilitating flexible working.

Q: Why did you decide to adopt this technology and how does it make you stand out?

We mentioned the introduction of the World Wide Web earlier - well we’ve been able to track down a company that claims it was among the first to create a website. Peter from Noble PR explains how it enabled his company to stand out from the crowd: “It was back in 1995 when we created our first website for the business, mainly for displaying our press releases and for marketing purposes. It was a radical move. Most people did not have access to the internet, and of those who did, it was via dial-up connection which was very slow and unstable. Press releases were mainly distributed either by fax or via the post. Either way was slow.

“I could see that the internet would help solve this problem although my staff really did think I'd gone nuts! They didn't know if the internet would be adopted by the mainstream so, to them, it seemed a luxury to have a website.”

Fast forward to focus on more modern technology - like Simon, Stuart at is utilising AI machine learning. “We use AI to classify the 1.5m products we receive daily, merchandise and tag them which will then be filtered to the right section of our site. It also allows us to promote relevant products to our users as they browse our site, using information from their behaviour to show relevant items and alert them to the products they will like.

“It would take a team of four human merchandisers 10,000 hours of non-stop work to produce the same results our AI system produces within a day.”  

Dani at Comgem is also using robotics - but in a way, you might not expect. Always looking for ways to improve the company’s productivity, she’s invested in a robotic lawn mower called Kev! She says: “It’s all about managing our time more effectively. Using the robotic lawn mower allows us to have meetings with customers in the garden as well as enjoy the garden space with our team. This is always a real talking point with customers and potential staff members alike.

“Kev is just one example of new technology we’ve adopted. We’ve also implemented automation as part of our business to manage customer communications, support bots to answer common customer support questions and we are in the process of implementing chatbots on our website to manage customer chats.”

Cloud technology is another growing trend that’s become more than just a ‘buzzword’ over the last few years. Jack at Kilco Software & Support is making the most of Platform-as-a-Service offerings from cloud providers. Jack decided to implement this technology because it lets the company focus on delivering solutions to customers and less time managing supporting infrastructure. “The rapid growth of cloud service offerings has really been a game changer in bringing SME IT solution providers back into the market and become more credible suppliers to large businesses,” he comments.

Q: How important do you think it is to stay on top of emerging trends? How do you do this?

We gave businesses three choices for this question - not important, somewhat important or very important. Six of the eight we’re showcasing here replied ‘very important’.

A number of businesses cited social media as the top way to keep up-to-date with emerging, new and popular trends. Amanda at SimpleTax says: “As a keen techy, I’m always reading about emerging technology on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keeping current allows us to research and implement new technology where necessary”.

Jack at Kilco Software & Support adds: “Increasingly we look to business and social networking sites. I think modern technology companies recognise the amount of time people now spend networking online and reading articles on sites like LinkedIn rather than attending conferences and events.”

Others look to specific tech news sites, like Mark from Risc IT Solutions and Dani from Comgem. “We tend to review technology publications as well as attend key exhibitions which focus on emerging technologies and trends. It’s important to know what’s available and how they can help businesses improve productivity and ultimately save money,” comments Dani.

Answers to this question also included engaging with new start-ups and professionals in the field and working with a handful of trusted third-party specialists.

Q: Is there anything you’re keeping an eye on, in relation to emerging tech?

When it comes to new and emerging technologies, most businesses revealed they’re keeping an eye on advancements in AI, machine learning and VR. Simon at Cruise1st says: “Having seen the effectiveness of our new chatbot system, machine learning is something we’re keen to explore further and adapt to other areas of the business, such as the payment portal and post-booking phase.”

Mark at Risc IT Solutions says he’s looking forward to seeing the continued proliferation of new SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, where users sign up to a subscription in order to use a software, as opposed to purchasing it outright. “SaaS is making it easier for users to adopt emerging products and services or switch between suppliers.

“As part of this, data loss prevention technologies and modern security solutions (either agent-based or with firewall integration) prevent businesses from losing their data. Having it held on one of these new SaaS services, or simply allowing IT to keep up to date with what their users are utilising, helps businesses grow,” he adds.

Anyone who works in digital marketing or tech will be familiar with the ongoing Google and Facebook algorithm changes, which alters what people see in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and their news feeds.

Peter at Noble PR is keen to keep up-to-date with this - “I’m always interested in what’s happening with social media as Facebook has now become one of our main distribution channels, so when they change their algorithm and the way news is displayed, that does impact on our work.”

Q: Where do you see technology taking us in 5-10 years time? What do you think will be the next big thing?

There doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by without advancements in AI, robotics and VR hitting the headlines. Naturally, the companies we interviewed were excited to see how this will develop over the next 5-10 years. Peter adds: “I think more businesses will be using AI in their day to day and that robotics will replace many jobs now done by humans. I think driverless cars will be ubiquitous and it will not be uncommon to go into fast food restaurants where all the food is cooked by a robot and payment will be done without any human interaction.”

Amanda at SimpleTax couldn’t agree more - “I believe the self-driving car will become a norm within 10 years.

“As for interaction with the HMRC, I believe that customers will communicate via intelligent bots, rather than directly speaking to someone. You can already see this in its current infancy with over 170,000 HMRC customers using a range of digital tools to communicate, including webchats, Tweets, Facebook posts and the messenger bot.”

Dani at Comgem is also interested in robots and how they will continue to change the way we work. “There will be an increasing use of robots within the business world,” she says. “We are already seeing this with warehouses trialing drones to get products from a to b.”

Stuart at adds: “An important area for technology within retail is delivery, and how to make it faster and cheaper. Within warehousing, there’s a lot of interesting tech around robotic warehousing and automated systems for picking and packing that speeds things up considerably. There’s also a lot of activity happening with drone delivery - quite a futuristic thought, but I would not be surprised if we see drones buzzing around with deliveries all over the place at some point in the future - perhaps tracking a user’s phone to deliver it to them in person wherever they are!

“Payments is an area constantly being innovated by tech and I think this will continue, too. Things like retina, facial recognition or DNA payments are all very interesting. And we are already seeing checkout free stores - a trend that will likely continue.”

Jack at Kilco Software and Support and Mark at Risc IT Solutions are particularly interested in the rise of cloud technology, which has already made a positive impact to the ways businesses operate and how employees communicate with one another whether they’re in the same office or halfway across the world. Jack says: “I think technology is making the traditional office-based workforce a thing of the past for some industries. As the need for on-premise infrastructure reduces and the number of cloud-based services increases I think many people will begin to work from non-office locations such as their home. This will bring huge social and leisure time benefits by taking the morning and evening commutes away allowing us to move from a 9-5 driven world to an ‘any time, anywhere’ approach. I think the next big step on that journey is augmented and virtual reality”.

Mark gives his opinion the future of ‘the cloud’ - “Cloud solutions such as Office 365 and Azure have transformed the level of functionality and security available to smaller businesses – that was out of reach of most that didn’t have the economies of scale that large enterprises could leverage. I can only see this growing and I see that the majority of customers, large and small, will have all of their services running in the cloud.”


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