Surviving The Perfect Storm

Building on Early Signs of Recovery

We live in challenging times

In over forty years as a management consultant and subsequently, a CEO, I have never known such troubled times. Covid… Ukraine… the cost-of-living crisis… climate change… recession…inflation…national strikes…all impacting simultaneously. These are the most confused and threatening challenges ever faced by business leaders. It’s enough to make every company batten down their hatches and run to the hills. But… what do smart companies do in a crisis? They innovate and, in many cases, turn a crisis into an opportunity. So that’s why we created a special series of talks looking at how we might deal with some of the underlying issues which we are about to face, in an innovative way. 

Before we started putting this series together we ran a poll on LinkedIn and also asked our clients “what worried them the most?” This is the list they came up with (in no particular order):

  • Bridging the digital skills gap
  • Selling (even) during a crisis
  • Cutting costs
  • Hanging onto your customers
  • Dealing with climate change.

We dedicated one episode to each issue and asked leading experts to share their ideas as to how the issue might be dealt with in an innovative way. What I am going to do now is summarise those ideas, episode by episode.

Bridging the digital skills gap

80% of all advertised jobs in the UK require digital skills which are clearly in short supply. Jokingly I’ve suggested to a few people that if you can spell digital you can get a digital job or move to a higher paid job elsewhere. Indeed, I know of places where entire digital teams have been headhunted from one firm to another! So clearly there is an issue but there are three distinct things people can do to address this, the first of which is widen the pool, the second of which is to upskill people with (innate) digital skills and the last, to use No and Low Code tools to both offload some work to non-experts and also to drastically speed up development.

Find innate digital skills

Our first speaker was Lt Gen (Rtd) Rupert Jones from WithYouWithMe (WYWM). They have developed a tool which allows you to identify people with innate digital skills whom you would otherwise overlook. 

As one such example of the application of this tool we can turn to a regiment of the British Army tasked with intelligence gathering – the Royal Lancers. Historically they would record the intelligence gathered into pretty static systems – such as a spreadsheet – with little or no analytical capabilities. WYWM then ran their tool across the regiment and found a dozen or so soldiers with innate data analysis skills. These soldiers were then put through an intensive training course. These (re)skilled soldiers are now helping better capture and analyse gathered intelligence so it can be more usefully and rapidly applied in the field.

Once you’ve identified such people you can then use eLearning software to help them gain the necessary digital skills


Our second speaker was Andrew Holmes from Skillsoft, the leading provider of eLearning systems in the world (if I recall some 36m people around the world use their library of learning materials to upgrade their skills). I often equate Skillsoft to Netflix. Instead of providing access to a huge library of films, Skillsoft provide access to a huge library of training courses delivered in a variety of ways.

A big user of Skillsoft is the IT department of the MOD, which numbers some 3000 people. They have created a Digital Academy for the specific purpose of upgrading the digital skills of their own staff but staff more generally within the MOD (which employs some 300,000 people in total). Skillsoft is an essential part of the Digital Academy who recently surveyed their users of Skillsoft. The result was a 90% customer satisfaction score. In my entire career I’ve never seen that level of satisfaction applied to anything!

Once you’ve grown the pool and upskilled your staff, the next ‘trick’ is to give them access to no and low code tools to help them deliver digital solutions far more quickly.

Use no/low code tools

These have come on hand over in recent months and being seriously considered as a very effective means of speeding up app development.

Jenny Grinblo of Future Workshops described how their tool (App Rail) allows non experts to develop native mobile apps in one tenth of the time and Nick Harmer of Vantiq described how their platform can be used to speed up the development of complex edge-based apps 

One nurse, with no digital/mobile skills whatsoever was able to develop a mobile app using App Rail in a matter of days! This essential app is now available to all 16,000 employees of her trust. Had the nurse asked her IT department to develop this app she might have to wait for years!

Vantiq told about how one of their world-famous customers spent many months building a system that would monitor and report back on the status of a car battery. The trouble was, it could only support 100 concurrent battery users (cars) when it needed to support hundreds of thousands. They rebuilt this system using Vantiq in a fraction of the time taken to build the original system and are now convinced it will be able to scale, as necessary.

Selling (even) during a crisis

In times of recession people and companies buy less; it’s a known fact. So how do you ensure that you win your fair share of a smaller pie? You work smarter rather than harder!

For too long selling has been seen as a magical art that only the most gifted can excel at. Yes we’ve all put in CRM systems at considerable cost but what have they actually delivered to date apart from sales efficiency?

It turns out that if you apply AI and behavioural science to the data held within these CRM systems you can increase win rates by 20%, average deal size by 19% and take forecast accuracy over 95%

Andy McDonald of cloudapps described how their Revenue Intelligence Platform achieves this by:

  • Tracking and promoting the right sales behaviours, at the right time
  • Delivering guided selling and data-driven coaching
  • Using all the data available to construct highly accurate sales forecasts.

Cloudapps have a very simple yet powerful way of proving their platform works. They ask a prospect to pass them 90% of their historical sales data, with the client holding back the remaining 10%. Cloudapps then build a predictive model from the data they’ve been sent and then apply this predictive model to the 10% of the data held back by the prospect. Their model typically predicts to the remaining 10% with over a 95% accuracy!

Cutting costs

When times get tough companies look to reduce costs, often by cutting heads and/or shutting channels. But this invariably leads to a reduction in service levels

You’ve all been using RPA tools to automate many of the basic tasks – the low hanging fruit if you like – but serving customers can be quite a complex process sometimes involving life and death decisions. AI has now advanced to the level where you can capture complex rules and decisions and combine these with the expertise of humans to carry out complex processes accurately and consistently, 24×7 (whilst explaining the basis of every decision)

James Duez of Rainbird told how his company’s tool had helped:

  • A very large medical insurer in the USA drastically reduce the time and effort involved in assessing medical claims
  • Binder Hamlyn, a leading accounting firm, reduce the time it took to answer a complex tax question from circa 5 hours of a partner’s time to a few seconds

We can literally take this technology almost everywhere (and if you are not convinced of the power of AI, check out ChatGPT!).

Hanging onto your customers

During tough times you need to make sure you hang onto your customers. You might have invested thousands acquiring and serving them but you can lose them in a blink of an eye if just even one thing goes wrong.

I had a particularly bad experience during covid. I ordered a brand new printer from PC World who I have used countless times in the past. The printer arrived bang on time but the feeder for the scanner would just not work. I sent countless emails requested a replacement and a total on TEN hours waiting on the phone before I could get someone to talk to me. Needless to say, I won’t be buying anything from PC World again!

So what you should be doing right now?:

  • Try to anticipate your customers’ needs and problems before they cause them and you, everlasting problems
  • Keep providing them with great service, and
  • Provide them with the tools they need to self-serve, 24×7.

Wolfgang Emmerich of Zuhlke explained how they were helping First Direct (already regarded as best in class for customer service) analyse the data they held to anticipate customer needs so they could then proactively offer to help them and how in time First Direct might actually do the banking for their customers!

One such way that First Direct used this data was to identify people who were really worried about the state of their finances (during covid). First Direct reached out to each such person in a very sensitive way, offering to help, which was gratefully received!

Doug Ayres of Filament described how AI driven chatbots like their EBM tool can now be used to routinely answer more complex queries and, if necessary, hand a customer off to a call centre agent with context data. In the case of HSBC USA, such a tool reduced customer handling times by 50% and cut handling costs by 90%! Increasingly such bots are being used to meet the needs of internal customers too

Dealing with climate change

Our very last episode dealt with the life of our planet. There has been a concern that with all that’s going on, this might have to take a back burner (indeed in the UK we’ve just granted a licence for the opening of a new coal mine!)

Inflation will drop as will fuel prices but we know that the temperature of our atmosphere won’t drop without a planet wide effort. Now we’ve probably all taken the easy steps on our NetZero journeys but what do you do after that? You must get even more creative and dare I say it, innovative

Our first expert speaker was Richard Poole of magnetic who help companies design a better future. Historically they have been involved in the design of new products and services but at least half of their work is now helping companies work towards NetZero. Richard cited a number of ways they were helping people do this including Legal & General who are now proactively investing in companies creating products that will help reduce emissions

Next up was Simon Hill of Wazoku whose mission is to “change the world, one idea at a time”. Their technology and services are being used by large energy companies like Enel to tap into the brainpower of their entire workforce as well as an external crowd of hundreds of thousands! They are getting amazing new ideas at a speed and (low) cost they would not have dreamt of

Our last speaker was Mike Moran of microshare who are able to extract data from sensors of all types to allow companies to monitor and reduce energy usage and emissions, quickly. Mike told how one of their clients was growing its headcount but by using microshare’s technology they were able to accommodate a substantial increase in the number of staff whilst reducing their emissions by 900kg/sq. metre!

In summary..

I’ve covered a huge amount of ground in just a few pages so let me leave you with one thought and one offer:

  • Don’t batten down the hatches and hope for the best – Innovate and Grow; Hesitate and you will Shrink!
  • Please contact me ( ) if you want to explore any avenue in more detail.
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