Last week I was on the panel of a discussion at the Real Deals UK Mid-Market Private Equity conference. The topic of the day was “Digitalisation: will it be a benefit or a risk in the future?” As the founder of a fast-paced and innovative HR technology company, Reward Gateway, you can imagine I’m pretty much all for a future that involves as much helpful technology as possible. We run a near paperless office because it’s so much faster and it means we can work seamlessly across 7 global offices and their corresponding time zones. It allows us to minimise our impact on the environment and make sure all of our data is stored in a secure cloud rather than laying around on desks.
Also on the panel was Charlie Cannell, who provides leadership in digital technology to Inflexion Private Equity’s portfolio. It was great to share the panel with Reward Gateway’s previous investor and, as you might expect, Charlie was pro-digitalisation too. He made the point that we’re rapidly running out of physical infrastructure and technology is helping to fulfill the demands that have outstripped buildings and offices.
With work being kept in cloud storage, it’s easier for us to be flexible with our hours and the places where we conduct our jobs. It’s also much easier and more cost effective to improve your cloud-based working compared to building more office space as those products are widely available.
I know a lot of people worry about cloud storage and ask “does it bring with it security issues?” But with robust security systems in place then what you store in your cloud should be entirely safe – certainly safer than many on-premises installation where someone could literally walk out of the office with the data on a PC. We’ve been working with cloud storage for years at Reward Gateway, it’s fundamentally sound as long as you understand security and have the right expertise on-hand. We store all of our data at The Bunker, an ultra-secure hosting environment within former Ministry of Defence / US Command and Control locations in the UK. Keeping your company’s and, importantly, your client’s data in this way is much more secure than on hard drives in the office – physical assets that someone could easily steal.
Nicholas Neveling, chair of the panel, then asked me if I would have set up Reward Gateway, the employee engagement company pre-digitisation. I founded Reward Gateway as a tech business to deliberately disrupt the employee benefits marketplace. Before us, the whole industry was operated on paper and with large field sales forces. But we used our technology to offer employers a completely bespoke platform that works with their challenges to achieve their goals–a much more cohesive, digital solution.
Uber is now the biggest taxi company in the world, without owning a single taxi.Overnight we turned our competitors biggest asset, tried and tested paper methods with a huge readership, into their biggest weakness, complex information in an outdated format being read in frustration. The same happened to Addison Lee. For years it looked like their fleet of cars was their biggest asset and dominated the taxi market, but then came Uber. Overnight having that fleet of cars is now Addison Lee’s biggest weakness. Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world right now and they don’t own a single taxi.
Any talk on the digital landscape inevitably falls to a discussion on social media. Nicholas singled me out on this, in particular around how to use social media to build a brand. Personally, I think it’s a relief that magazines are dying. You can’t track their success or see the intricacies of a person’s interaction with it. Marketing through social media gives you huge amounts of data for you to play with. The real trick is understanding it.
Even the most experienced social media marketers are reactive, and that’s largely down to the fact no one has cracked it as a proven science yet. You’re not going to find something today that will work in three years’ time. I certainly don’t have a complete understanding of how the Reward Gateway brand should evolve with social media but what I do know is that our clients are using it – so we need to be there!
Even on Snapchat. It’s an app that lets you share photos and videos with your friends, but they disappear after a set number of seconds. It’s a social media platform that is way beyond me but it’s now used by 100 million active users, of which 65% are uploading pictures and videos every day. In three years time it has the potential to become the go-to social network, and if potential clients are using Snapchat then we have to be able to reach them on the social platform of their choice.
The same is true when communicating with employees. You have to reach out to them in the medium that they want. Our comms at Reward Gateway pass through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, even our own in-house news broadcast. We also use more traditional comms channels, such as email. In this way, we have a much greater chance of ensuring our communications are engaged with as our people can digest company news in their own way. We don’t have our comms on Snapchat yet, though, but that’s something I’m going to look into.
In terms of work, I think digitalisation is changing things for the better. Flexible working is now one of the most sought after working conditions and every business in the country can easily use cloud storage to put this into place. Access to health and wellbeing products in and out of the workplace will improve too. People want to know that their employers are looking after them and using technology to provide everything they need, all in one place is going to be a game changer. Personally, I’m really excited for our digital future.