The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Have You Got A Minute?

By Tracy Barlow, Director at 24/7 Uptime Ltd

Have you ever considered what a minute of your company’s time is worth?  And what system downtime can cost?  How many times have you heard “the system is on go-slow today”?

Many organisations simply react to system failures.  When an IT failure occurs systems go down, operations stop and IT staff need to react with speed.  This downtime can have a huge impact on sales, critical operations, employee productivity and customer satisfaction levels.  Business critical systems must be available 24/7 – especially in today’s ‘always on’ world.

We worked with one of our clients to determine the financial loss to their business if their most critical IT systems suffered downtime.  At peak periods, they could lose £2,000 per minute if customers couldn’t access their services.  Clearly, this was something they wanted to address with some urgency.

Imagine you are the IT or operations manager of a food manufacturing company – keeping your production lines up and running is absolutely critical, particularly if you receive same day ordering from your customers.  If there is a problem with your IT systems then you’re not only losing money and time but there are limited shelf-life raw materials to contend with as well as frustrated customers without deliveries.  And that’s something Mr Supermarket Chain will not tolerate.

But the impact of system downtime isn’t just financial of course.  If you run a hospital department, for example, then round the clock system availability and fast patient information flow are vital to minimising queues and waiting times.  If you’re involved in education then you need fast access to the school’s administration system which provides pupil attendance records, lesson structures and parent contact information.

In these and other examples, the cost of downtime can be counted.  Increasingly organisations don’t just undertake downtime risk assessments but they make decisions to avoid it. 

Do you know what your business critical systems are?  From email to electronic records, factory floors to trading floors, 999 call centres to emergency rooms, more and more organisations are looking to prevent system downtime, eliminate data loss and reduce operational costs. 

There’s no need to compromise and accept ‘good enough’ system availability these days.  Even businesses with limited IT resources can benefit.  Proactive, prevention-based software systems are very affordable and ensure continuous business operation.  And that’s got to be more cost effective than reacting to system failures.

So put yourself in your customer’s shoes when they can’t access your service, receive deliveries or talk to your business.  You might be experiencing real system problems but, as customers, they don’t really care.  And if this continues to happen, how long do you think they’ll remain your customers?   

Tracy Barlow, 24/7 Uptime Ltd
24/7 Uptime are the UK’s leading experts in Stratus / Marathon everRun high availability software.  Tel: 0161 366 8499

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chamber Blog: Brand. New.

By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

It would have been quite difficult not to have noticed that the Chamber has got a new look these days.

Last Friday saw the “On” switch being flicked with our website as one of the largest pieces of the jigsaw of what has been a substantial piece of work.

But is it actually more than the equivalent of a fresh lick of paint and why have we done it – surely there’s more important stuff to be doing?

Well, yes it is substantially more than a “lick of paint”. For the first time in a number of years the core services that we offer as a Chamber are now owned and delivered solely by the Chamber. The joint venture with Manchester Solutions ended last year and we’ve been working hard to put the groundwork in to strengthen the work that we do and focus fully on our members.

So, number one priority was to create our own distinct stand-alone brand as the Greater Manchester Chamber and reaffirm our position as the leading business representative organisation in Greater Manchester.

To support this we looked at how we could make more obvious the fact that we are an accredited member of British Chambers of Commerce. There is strength in this for our members as, in addition to being part of a UK wide network of 53 other accredited Chambers, there are also increasingly strong overseas links and networks too, all primed to help you create more business. 

There are some crucial messages behind this around better services and a strong network but how could we communicate this simply and easily?

In the same way that we hope our members use our services to help them, as members of BCC we can tap into their expertise and support. So, we decided to use the established BCC logo but give it our own distinct local feel. We are first and foremost here for business locally but to ignore the wider picture would be both foolish and wrong. As we roll this out and increase people’s informed awareness of what we do then the more it gets understood that we are a professional, accredited Chamber part of a UK and international network – and our members can access this.

Finally how do we connect all this to business? Up to now all this is just window dressing – very well designed but what does it mean in reality? We need to start to focus on making sure that the value of the investment of a membership fee is obvious. Joining the Chamber should be the easiest business decision that anyone ever makes. We haven’t been as clear with that message as we should have been.

All that changes – starting now.

Connect, Communicate, Create is the supporting message.  The final and crucial part of our rebrand.  It describes not just what we can do for our members but, internally, what we should have in our minds at all times about how we can make our brand real.

This isn’t the end though. There are lots of other pieces of work going on at the Chamber as part of what is a major overhaul above and beyond the rebrand.

We will make sure that we communicate these to you, to help you connect better and create new opportunities for business. Surely that’s what it’s all about?

Friday, 12 April 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Applying Autotune to your website

By Mike Flynn, Chief Executive of Fast Web Media

In 2009, Jay-Z rapped about the ‘Death of Autotune’. While controversy about this pitch-correction technology continues in the music world, a different type of autotune is growing in importance in the online world.  That’s the ability of your business website to auto-detect and adapt to the device and browser that it’s being viewed on. 

Growth of mobile internet

For businesses, there is no hiding from the fact that mobile and tablet-based internet browsing is rapidly growing universally. In the UK, mobile browsing accounts for nearly 20% of all website hits, according to Ofcom’s 2012 communications report. The same report revealed that the number of smartphone searches is doubling every two months, and over 40% of smartphone users say their phone is more important for accessing the internet than any other device.

With predictions of ongoing growth and power of mobile-based consumers, businesses from all sectors can no longer afford to ignore the impact of mobile users on their sales. Online marketing strategies need to consider the various viewing platforms and devices if they are to capture their full audience.

Unresponsive websites

With the importance of mobile device usage for internet browsing, comes the demand for a quality viewing experience. It’s one thing attracting customers to your website; it’s another keeping them at your site.

How many times have you viewed a website on your mobile or tablet, only to find you can’t see the content or access any features?

Surprisingly it’s the big names and brands that are falling foul of creating websites that are responsive to their audiences’ devices. Without naming and shaming, you’d be shocked to see how many of the top 20 global companies have still not adapted their websites to provide the best viewing experience, despite the fact there is an ever-growing mobile customer base.

So, a restricted marketing budget is not necessarily to blame for poor website planning and fulfilment. It’s not just smaller businesses that are missing a trick to further drive online sales.

Unresponsive websites that only provide a standard viewing platform irrespective of the device being used to access it, will become increasingly detrimental to businesses’ bottom lines as the demand for a quality viewing experience rises.

Multiple sites

Many businesses have recognised the surge in mobile internet searching and the demand from smartphone and tablet users. And, they have responded to this by developing different versions of their sites to cater for the various devices and browsers.

However, this is a large and largely unnecessary expense. For each version, there will be a separate design cost, but also there is a duplication of content management efforts. Producing multiple versions of the same website is a reactive measure to meet current demand and will only create ongoing expense.

What happens when a new platform becomes available, such as web TV? Each new version of the website is effectively like building a new site in terms of cost and design, and therefore an expensive online marketing strategy for your business.

Equally, duplication of website content can cause a confusing experience for the user. For example, if a link is tweeted from a mobile, a PC/laptop user would be taken to the mobile version of the site when viewing that link. The content duplication is also bad for search.

There is a way to create cutting-edge marketing that captures your mobile audience without breaking the budget.

Responsive websites

Surely it’s far better to design your website from the ground up, so that it’s responsive to the device and browser, to provide an optimal viewing experience?

The fact more and more businesses are aware of the impact of mobile browsing, is a huge step forward in conquering new sales streams. Now they need to find a way to ensure their sites adapt to the settings of whichever device the browser is viewing from, and retain them.

A responsive website can be viewed in different formats to give the best experience depending what device the browser is using. Responsive technology follows Google’s guidelines about building one site with one set of code for all devices.

This ultimately is far more cost-effective and responsive to user demand as well as being future proof to adapt to changing trends and new platforms, such as web TV.

Although responsive websites require more time in their initial stages of development, it does mean less work in the long run and a more cost-effective solution. Any updates need to be made just once rather than multiple times – there is afterall, just one website now.

Responsive email

Reading emails is reported to be one of the main activities of smartphone owners, with 36% of emails read on mobile phones.

Businesses, therefore need to consider how their marketing emails will be viewed when planning online marketing strategies, it’s not just about website performance.

Responsive technology can be brought to emails to ensure content adapts to the viewer’s device and those opening your emails on a mobile device can comfortably read it.


Autotuned websites are part of a new web-building philosophy – instead of trying to detect the viewer’s platform and deliver content accordingly; a responsive website simply adjusts to the available screen size and uses the features available to it. This future proofs a site. As platforms evolve, the user will continue to see the best possible view of the site, as your site will be constantly auto-tuning to your entire audience.

About Mike Flynn, CEO, Fast Web Media

Mike Flynn is CEO of Fast Web Media, a digital marketing agency specialising in search marketing, technical development, social media and mobile.  It works with Carling, Premier League, Bravissimo, BBC and many other leading brands. 

Mike led a management buy-out of Fast Web Media from Microsoft in 2009, and it is now the only company, globally, offering search marketing services that were previously part of a major global search engine (technology now owned and used by Microsoft’s Bing and Sharepoint).

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Chamber Blog: When the talking stops

By Chris Fletcher - Director of Policy and Communications, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

A very interesting and wide ranging discussion took place at last week’s Chamber Council meeting centred around some of the announcements made in last month's Budget and their impact on business.

The first issue for discussion was the Help to Buy scheme designed to get the housing market moving by assisting buyers and, potentially, the construction sector by generating demand for new build.

At the time of the budget these proposals received a lukewarm response which was mirrored on Friday. Whilst domestic finance to assist homebuyers may well be eased through the measures (not without risk to the taxpayer it must be said) this will count for little unless the harsh credit environment that the construction firms find themselves operating in are eased. There can be all the demand in the world, but if firms are financially incapable to respond then there will be very little progress.

Of course this may prove a masterstroke by the Chancellor, only time will tell and certainly we will be keeping a close eye on what impact this has on the construction sector which, despite several attempts at resuscitation, is still in need of critical help.

Could the answer to these funding issues come through another one of the announcements in the Budget – the Business Bank?

Probably not to be honest. In a  number of meetings when this and other schemes have been discussed you sense people's gaze wandering as they try and join the dots across the plethora of initiatives and schemes launched by government to help business access finance. Friday's meeting was no different.

With mixed messages still being received from all sectors about credit conditions it was felt that existing schemes should be focused on and made to work correctly rather than add into what is becoming an alphabet soup of funds and loan schemes that in reality seem to be making very little difference.

The final talking point was business rates and responding to the Chancellor once again ignoring increasing calls to look at the impact these have on a number of businesses.

Whilst from comments in the room this is not seen as a major issue by all businesses it was felt that the process that sits behind the mechanism needs changing. It is a  blunt instrument that could, with some thought, be used in a creative way to help address many of the problems that members are raising on a daily basis especially with regard to local development.

Chamber members voted that some form of phase-in mechanism should be used to assist with new and start up businesses to offset the immediate impact of business rates. This though it has to be said should be seen as a starting point. What was clear from Friday is that this like a number of other issues could and should be looked at in more detail to make sure that where possible and on the say so of business, changes are made to make sure that things work as they should do.

At any one time we are always armed with any number of issues that members have told us about. Our Council meetings and local forums are where we refine and define what we need to do to act on these.

This isn’t about talking shops, it’s about what you want us to do when the talking stops.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Friday Guest Blog: New and Expectant Mothers in the Workplace.

By Gary Sullivan, Chartered Health and Safety Practitioner and Regional Health and Safety Manager at Citation plc

When a female worker becomes pregnant it is often a very happy time and a cause for celebration, however, many women worry that they cannot say anything for fear that it may cause problems at work especially in small businesses where staffing levels are low.

In today’s society women constitute a large percentage of the workforce in many industrialised countries, and as a result, addressing pregnancy-related health issues in the workplace is an important factor in order to protect the expectant mother and the unborn baby. Pregnancy should not be equated with ill health and should be regarded as a part of everyday life.

Ideally workers should advise their employer as soon as they are able to when they know that they are pregnant. Legally a female employee must give her employer three pieces of information. Firstly, she must tell her employer that she is pregnant prior to or during the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). She must then notify her employer of the EWC date, and she must give the date on which she intends to start her maternity leave. This must be given in writing if the employer requests it. Where necessary the company can also ask to see the form MAT B1. The employee can only change the date on which she intends to start her maternity leave by giving 28 days notice before the new intended start date. Again this must be in writing, if requested.

Once the employee has advised her employer of the pregnancy they must acknowledge the notification of maternity leave within 28 days. Employers are under a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and there are special duties that apply in respect of new or expectant mothers in the workplace, therefore it is important that the employer and the employee work together to deal with any issues, with a full and open communication.

Being pregnant does not prevent anyone from working or developing their career and every year around 350,000 women continue to work during their pregnancy and over 69% of them return to work after giving birth. In many workplaces there are conditions that are deemed safe under normal circumstances, but may not be so during pregnancy. For example:-

Lifting and carrying of heavy loads.

Standing or sitting for long periods of time.

Exposure to infectious diseases.

Work related stress.

Workstation and posture.

Excessively noisy workplaces.

Therefore the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations places a legal duty on all employers to assess the health and safety risks that their employees are exposed to. Once the risks have been assessed, as an employer it is your responsibility to implement any necessary control measures to either control, eliminate or reduce the identified risks. When compiling the assessment it will be important to take into account any medical advice that has been provided by the individual’s GP or midwife.

As the risk assessment is being conducted it is crucial to pay particular attention to the health and safety risks that may affect the new or expectant mother and the baby. If any risks are identified then the new and expectant mother is entitled to a change in working conditions in order that the risk be significantly reduced. However if the risks cannot be removed then you have to ensure that the new or expectant mother is not exposed by offering suitable alternative work if there is any. (The term 'new and expectant mothers' covers women who are pregnant, have given birth in the last six months or are breastfeeding.)

Unfortunately, if there is no other suitable alternative work you must place the new or expectant mother on "maternity suspension" and pay her normal wage or salary throughout the suspension. The only exception is where you have offered suitable alternative work and it has been unreasonably refused. For expectant mothers, maternity suspension can last, if necessary, up to the fourth week before the expected week of childbirth, at which time the ordinary maternity leave period begins.

When compiling the risk assessment, consideration should be given to additional rest breaks, as a new or expectant mother is more likely to need to go to the toilet more frequently, also it will be important for the pregnant worker to drink plenty of fluids both while they are pregnant and when breastfeeding.

As the pregnancy progresses you should constantly monitor and review the assessment to take into account possible risks at various stages of the pregnancy. If as a result of your specific risk assessment, stress has been identified as a possible risk then you should, where possible, remove the risk, or alternatively change the individuals working conditions or hours. As an example, this can extend to hours of work being adjusted in order to reduce the likelihood of having to travel during rush hour.

It is important to remember that an employee can return to work even though she is still breastfeeding. However, it is important that the individual gives written notification ideally prior to the return date in order for a suitable assessment to be completed. As an employer you are required to provide a place for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to rest. The Health and Safety Executive ‘recommends’ (but it is not a legal requirement) that a private healthy and safe environment be provided for nursing mothers to express and store milk. (Please note: the toilet is not deemed suitable.)

Further advice and guidance on employees requirements in relation to New and Expectant Mothers can be obtained from Citation Plc. We offer a fixed price health and safety and employment law consultancy service in order to help our clients comply with legislation.

If you require any assistance or advice regarding health and safety or employment law compliance, please contact Citation on 0845 844 1111 or visit