The seven biggest hybrid-working challenges, and how to fix them

The phrase “new normal” is a misnomer, given the state of flux in the business world. Few organizations have been able to normalize operations; who can say they’ve nailed their hybrid working strategy with a straight face?

As Kate Thrumble, executive director of talent at marketing company R/GA London, said: “We are all on a – to use an overused word – ‘journey’ with the post-pandemic way of working. No one has cracked it yet. Even those with the best intentions will have to wait a year or two to understand the impact of today’s decisions.”

However, by matching the right technology solutions with the most pressing hybrid-working challenges, organizations will reach their end destination quicker: a happy, productive, engaged and empowered workforce.

So what exactly are the seven most significant business challenges and the best tech, tools and processes to solve them and speed up progress?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in May 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

Navigating the messy business of pets in the workplace – at home and in the office

Never work with children or animals, warns the old show-biz adage. So what happens if you acquired a pet during the pandemic — as millions of households did — and need to tend to your newish pooch or pussycat either at home while on videoconferencing calls or in the company workplace? 

When things go wrong, it can be highly amusing for everyone apart from the embarrassed owner and possibly their boss, especially if there is a mess to clean up. For instance, New York-based HR professional Harriet – a pseudonym WorkLife agreed to – recently suffered a “disgusting” experience while on a virtual call with her team. 

“In the background of the shot, I noticed my dog, Rooster, starting to poo,” she said. “I immediately pushed my camera up, so he was out of sight, put myself on mute, and used my best poker face. Within seconds he had defecated all over the room – something to do with eating a discarded takeaway-food wrapper the day before.”

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

‘Vulnerability can be your fortress’: How to move away from a command-and-control management approach

The events of the last two years have necessitated the acceleration of a multitude of work-related trends, but the erosion of the command-and-control leadership is arguably the most significant.

A decade ago, “The How Report,” published by LRN, surveyed 16,000 employees in 17 countries and concluded that 97% adhered to a command-and-control model. Four years later, in 2016, the figure in a follow-up survey was 92%. So what is the percentage likely to be in 2022, post-pandemic?

While there is not currently a definitive answer to that puzzler, plenty of other studies indicate a significant shift away from command-and-control leadership.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in March 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Remote and hybrid working highlights the widening gulf between work-life conditions of senior and junior employees

How has the pandemic been for you and your career? The answer to this question will likely depend on your work status, the industry in which you operate and your level of seniority. The increasingly discussed “work-life balance” has long tipped heavily in favor of senior executives. However, alarming new research indicates that the gulf between the chiefs and the warriors has widened considerably in the last two years.

Almost two-thirds of 700 executives across seven industries and six countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., reported an improvement in their work-life balance since the onset of the pandemic, according to Economist Impact’s recent Work-Life Balance Barometer. But 41% of 4,000 employees, at manager level or below, said it’s worsened.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in February 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Unpacking which harmful work practices the pandemic exposed, and which are — hopefully — banished for good

It’s crass to argue “the pandemic has been good for humanity.” It has, though, effectively taken an X-ray of society and highlighted where sickness lies. And, most agree, much remedial work is required to restore total health.

Whether acute areas are treated — or, indeed, treatable — is a matter for incumbent politicians and business leaders. In this article, we turned to the latter cohort to reflect on what harmful work practices were exposed by the coronavirus crisis and how they’ve evolved as a result, for the better.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in February 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Enriching and empowering: realising the potential of data-enabled public services

Out of necessity, public bodies dialled up their digital services during the pandemic, but now is a pivotal moment to consider how to achieve a joined-up, secure, frictionless citizen experience

When considering the rapid and radical shift to digital services in the public sector during the coronavirus crisis, Ernest Hemingway’s line from The Sun Also Rises of bankruptcy happening “gradually, then suddenly” comes to mind. In this case, though, the prognosis is somewhat more optimistic.

The hurried but necessary jump into the digital era has enabled people to be empowered and enriched by data-driven public services. Now the leap has been made, the direction of travel is clear. However, there is still work to be done before achieving a connected, frictionless digital experience that benefits the state and its citizens.

“Data-driven, smart digital technologies have provided crucial support to public bodies through the pandemic, but they’ve also allowed our under-pressure services to become smarter and more responsive to our needs as citizens,” says Steve Thorn, executive director at Civica, whose software helps sustain and enhance public services around the world.

“For some public services, the digital journey was already well underway, and the pandemic catalysed this journey. For others, such as our schools, the pandemic required a more fundamental change, with face-to-face teaching giving way to online classrooms.”

Thorn singles out the track and trace applications and vaccination certificates as “prime examples of the power of data-driven, smart technologies to deliver better outcomes for citizens,” and says that more outstanding capabilities are within reach. But, he warns, the government must take its next steps carefully. 

“Public bodies across Britain and the rest of the world already sit on rich seams of data, which are growing by the day as our society becomes more digitised,” he says. “Raw data is, though, of little value. Data must be collected, managed, used and shared effectively if it is to deliver any real benefits.”

Standards, skills and sharing

To better navigate the route ahead, with the ultimate goal of providing a connected, frictionless customer experience to citizens, Civica works with the public sector on what it calls the three ‘Ss’ – namely standards, skills and sharing. 

Thorn says: “Any public body, be it a parish council or Whitehall department, must ensure that it has robust standards in place for managing data, the right people with the right skills to use that data and finally, processes in place to share data safely and effectively, so it is it is delivering the best outcomes for the greater number of people.”

Andrew Hood, chief executive of Edinburgh-based analytics consultancy Lynchpin, agrees that now is a good time for the public sector to reflect on the good and the bad digital offerings throughout the coronavirus crisis. He sees great potential in Internet of Things (IoT) technology but similarly urges caution. “The pandemic has surfaced a lot of the practical opportunities and threats around data sharing and IoT in obvious terms when viewed through the lens of things like contact tracing apps and digital vaccine passports,” Hood says.

For some public services, the digital journey was already well underway, and the pandemic catalysed this journey. For others, such as our schools, the pandemic required a more fundamental change, with face-to-face teaching giving way to online classrooms

He points to the different strategies taken by the UK’s four nations in terms of deploying open source versus proprietary solutions. “There is potentially much to learn from what has worked well and less well when considering other similar applications outside of the pandemic,” he says.

“Whether to centralise or decentralise how data is shared across millions of devices became a very key consideration for contact-tracing apps. How [do we] achieve enough sharing to enable the outcome of alerting those that had been nearby others without creating Minority Report-style databases of the movements of the entire population?”

The software robot revolution 

For David Burrows, public sector industries leader at UiPath, a robotic process automation dollar unicorn, the benefits of the public sector doubling down on automation and IoT technologies to create a more streamlined physical service for citizens – for example, with smart roads, touch-fre metering and much more – are compelling. 

Further, with the UK effectively gaining data sovereignty post-Brexit, the government is perfectly positioned to speed ahead of other European nations if all key stakeholders use the exact strategy roadmap and collaborate.

But to improve citizens’ experiences and public services, alike, and to make use of better infrastructure, it comes back to managing data. “Automation is one tool being used by UK government to achieve the frictionless digital experience needed to improve public services and more effectively serve citizens,” says Burrows. “As software robots can handle huge volumes of data more quickly and efficiently than humans can, it can significantly streamline back-office activity and reduce the risk of administrative bottlenecks.”

He points to the recent work UiPath has done with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ National Licencing and Permitting Service for water abstraction – taking water from an underground or surface source, such as a river, stream or canal. “Once the team has made the technical expert decision on whether a licence should be issued or rejected, there is significant administration to be done to inform the applicant and to update internal and external consultees and the IT system,” says Burrows.

Now, software robots can handle this admin work, cutting the non-decision-making admin down from 65 minutes per transaction to just shy of seven minutes. “The result,” he says, “is that citizens can have their licenses in a fraction of the time, all while public servants can concentrate on more valuable work.”

Looking further ahead, Burrows adds: “With some 22% of government infrastructure decision makers recently telling Forrester that their departments will implement RPA in some shape or form by the end of this year, there is no doubt that automation will continue to play a significant role in government customer strategy.”

Also scanning the horizon and hoping for more joined-up public services and tools that will enrich the lives of citizens, is Thorn. “The pandemic has provided many great examples of how digital technologies can solve individual challenges – be that supporting homeschooling or allowing GPs to interact with patients at a distance. But digital transformation is more than solutions to individual problems.”

Offering a final word of advice, he adds: “Digital transformation is a wider journey towards a future where our public services are ultimately better able to anticipate and respond to our changing needs as citizens and as a society.”

And, as encouraging as the progress that has been made in the last two years especially has been, we are at a pivotal moment. As such, the potential of connected public services is likely to be realised gradually, not suddenly – and that’s no bad thing.

This article, sponsored by Vonage, was first published on Raconteur in December 2021

Leading for the future: how has the pandemic changed those in charge?

In a world where change is the only constant, leaders must be authentic, tech-savvy and human. They have to prepare for the next crisis by empowering employees so their businesses are more agile and resilient

Be honest, how has the coronavirus pandemic changed you?

For most of us, it is only now – more than 18 months after the pandemic hit and as some semblance of normality returns – that we finally have the headspace to reflect properly on this question, answer it truthfully and inspect the mental scars, having been in survival mode for so very long.

Spare a thought, then, for business leaders who, alongside any personal struggles, have been forced to steer their organisations out of choppy waters while faced with cascades of disruption.

The list includes supply chain problems, geopolitical issues, increased pressure to recruit and retain top talent in the so-called ‘great resignation’ age, and the need to engage with a range of stakeholders to facilitate an accelerated digital transformation. They don’t teach this stuff at business school and many will have felt out of their depth, understandably.

The torrents of chaos have eroded everyone to a degree. And businesses and laggard leaders who have not kept up with the waves of change have, alas, been swept away. The response to Covid-19 necessitated the locking down of people, but paradoxically it opened minds. As a result, in the post-pandemic wash-up, the world looks and feels different. 

For instance, videoconferencing technology’s rapid advancement or adoption has enabled businesses to communicate to colleagues and customers, and somehow brought people closer together. Moreover, there is something thrillingly democratising about everyone having the same-size square box on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, whether a chief executive or a 21-year old, fresh out of university.

New normal: mindset change required

Cybersecurity and global warming have leapfrogged other concerns for boards and consumers alike. In the afterglow of COP26, ‘ESG strategy’ has become a business buzzword, while actions and transparency speak louder than words. And as many are focused on the environment and governance, is the social element the squeezed middle?

As we tiptoe hopefully out of the worst of the coronavirus crisis, leaders have many important questions to answer. How will hybrid working actually work? What business models need evolving or binning? And, most fundamentally, in a world of constant change, how can greater agility and resilience be achieved?

“The US military phrase VUCA – an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – captures the world in which we now operate,” says Alan Patefield-Smith, chief information officer of insurers Admiral Group. “Everyone has their favourite worry.”

Paul Szumilewicz, programme director for retail in continental Europe at HSBC, bristles at the concept of ‘resilience.’ He says: “What I’ve seen in the last few years, especially during the pandemic, is that ‘resilience’ is overrated. Too often, we have unrealistic expectations of people and particularly leaders.”

Szumilewicz argues that admitting “we don’t know the answer, but we are working on it” shows strength. “There is a positive shift in leaders to accept that being vulnerable makes us more real, more relatable,” he says.

Citing a 2017 Harvard Business Review paper, he continues: “The single biggest factor that triggers oxytocin [a hormone that plays a role in social bonding] in the brain at work is when a leader, manager or colleague shows vulnerability. Resilience is sometimes not as powerful as we think. Being honest about that can have an even more powerful impact.”

Invest in technology but don’t forget people

Simon Finch, supply chain director at Harrods, concedes that “there was a lot of scrambling around to make things work” when the coronavirus crisis and, more recently, Brexit fallout exposed operational weaknesses. He posits that businesses were “obsessed with making supply chains as lean as possible” before Covid, moving items around quickly, with minimal stock and expense. 

“Coronavirus completely screwed up that approach,” says Finch. “From now on, the supply chain must be more about agility, to cope with volatility and uncertainty, and less about being lean. However, that agility has to be fully supported by technology and data insights.” 

Technology alone, though, is not enough. If leaders fail to invest in their people, and that includes themselves, then the much-maligned skills gap will gape even wider. Consider the World Economic Forum estimates that technology will subsume 85m human jobs and 97m new roles will be created in just the next four years. As man, woman and machine work together, leaders should become less robotic and more human.

Indeed, according to Wayne Clarke, founding partner of the Global Growth Institute: “The most essential leadership trait of the 21st century, without a doubt, is empathy. The leaders with the most emotional intelligence will stand out. To better engage staff and improve the employee experience, the most critical question to ask is ‘How do you feel?’”

So go on, be honest.

This article was first published by Raconteur as part of a long-scroll project sponsored by Oliver Wight in November 2021

Why Covid is no longer an excuse for poor customer service

Businesses can no longer blame the pandemic for suboptimal service, but those that boosted their digital offering are well placed to thrive

Almost 18 months after the UK enforced its first Covid-19 lockdown, some organisations are still using the disruption of the pandemic as an excuse for providing a poor customer experience. 

People were initially more accepting of the suboptimal delivery of even basic services, be it unanswered telephone calls, infuriating delays for goods, or missing out on vital medical appointments. We were collectively numbed by the trauma of the pandemic. Clapping on our doorsteps, we diligently believed that “we’re all in this together”.

Granted, the crisis will leave ugly scars on businesses large and small. It’s evident now, though, with a sense of normality returning – in part thanks to the administration of approximately 90 million vaccinations – that consumers have had enough. They are quick to admonish companies they suspect are taking advantage of the situation and readily call out below-average customer experience. 

This cuts both ways. Recent research from verified reviews platform Feefo indicates consumers are now 29% more likely to leave feedback – good or bad – than before the pandemic.

The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index – a huge cross-sector measurement of customer service in the UK, with 10,000 consumers rating a total of 45,000 customer experiences – in July found that almost a quarter of respondents (24%) believe that some organisations have used Covid-19 as an excuse for poor service. Specifically, companies that fail to communicate with transparency and authenticity – if at all – are more likely to spur the ire of consumers.

Doubling down on tech

“It has been well documented that businesses are facing ongoing issues with stock, supply chain and staff,” says Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service, which publishes the UKCSI twice a year. “The issue is how the organisation manages the overall experience and communication, helping the customer to navigate the problem, indicating when to expect delivery, offering alternatives and being honest and explicit upfront.”

Moreover, customers expect considerably better experiences compared to pre-pandemic times. Those organisations that continue to blame Covid for poor customer experience risk damaging their reputations irreparably, while ceding market share to progressive competitors who have seized the opportunity to transform and upgrade their offering by investing in technology solutions.

“The past 18 months have exposed businesses’ strengths and weaknesses,” says Causon. “Those that have fared well have embraced new technologies, been proactive with their advice and support, reached out and considered the implications for their customers.” 

Brands that have succeeded during the pandemic and attracted and retained consumer loyalty have “involved the customer in the design and delivery” of new products or services and provided greater “channel choice”, she notes.

This chimes with Celine Maher, vice president of UK and Ireland for customer service software company Zendesk, whose recent research found roughly half of UK consumers will switch retailers after just one bad experience. For multiple disappointments the number rockets to 80%.

“Brands need to be able to meet their customers where they are by ensuring they are putting their needs first,” she says. One option is to take an omnichannel approach to customer experience, Maher adds. “This helps businesses to have meaningful conversations with customers on whichever channel they feel most comfortable with, without needing to monitor across several platforms.”

However, “providing a fast and friendly service is no longer enough”, Maher warns. “In such a period of uncertainty, customers are seeking proactivity and empathy from businesses.”

A hybrid world

Benjamin Braun, chief marketing officer in Europe for electronics giant Samsung, agrees that quick-thinking brands have used the coronavirus crisis to reevaluate their purpose and customer experience offering. They realised an ecommerce presence was imperative to survive, and used customer data to build more personalised experiences and generate loyalty. 

“Almost overnight, a company website was more than just a shop window – it became their only open shop,” Braun says. 

With this shift came an increased need for a better online experience, he adds.

“Customers expected and demanded support at every step of the online shopping journey to replace the traditional in-person shopping support. The rise of omnichannel has been phenomenal and a real mark of success for many brands.”

Brands need to be able to meet their customers where they are by ensuring they are putting their needs first

Conversely, “even the most beloved brand can lose favour if their digital experience isn’t up to scratch”, says Paul Robson, president of international at Adobe. We’re entering a new era in experience, he adds, where digital is the new battleground.

“Suddenly, we went from a world with digital to a digital-first world, and those brands that took the opportunity to invest in the tools that help them build deeper direct relationships with their customers will emerge from the pandemic far stronger than those that didn’t.”

As we venture into this new epoch, which Braun calls “a hybrid world”, he believes that customisation will only get stronger. 

“As consumers return to the high street, they crave an integrated experience that merges the physical and digital domains. As a result, consumers expect a tailored service in-store while continuing to utilise new online services.”

Doubling down on tech and investing in artificial intelligence is necessary for organisations that seek to thrive in the coming months and years, says Braun. “The way brands can embrace customer needs is to put these first continuously,” he advises. “Each shop, online or in-store, must put customer experience at the heart of its service. Data and insights must be leveraged to better tailor every customer experience.”

The prospect of a digital-physical customer experience offering is certainly thrilling for consumers. Brands have no excuse – including blaming the coronavirus crisis – not to invest in technology and engage with customers, wherever they are.

Box: Raising the bar for in-person customer experience

Could improved in-person customer experiences be the key to generating – or rebuilding – consumer loyalty for brands? 

After 18 months of takeaways and luxury home-restaurant kits, for instance, will people still be likely to spend their money at a high-street chain? Or are they going to splash the cash in upmarket restaurants, where the experience feels more special? Time – and data – will tell.

Away from the restaurant industry, though, there’s no time to test and tweak; with the high street back open, and already under severe pressure from the ecommerce boom, businesses have been forced to evolve. Sachin Jangam, partner for retail at Infosys Consulting, says that just-walk-out stores like Amazon Go – the first outside the US opened in Ealing, west London, in March – are a “natural progression of the changes we have already seen in retail”.

Tom Burch, managing director of immersive experience studio Pixel Artworks, notes that Lego charges $15 for a unique, interactive 20-minute experience at its flagship New York store. This so-called “retailtainment” is groundbreaking.

“That Lego can charge for this experience is proof of the shift in market demand,” says Burch. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing such experiences coming to major UK city centres. Stores will begin to better delineate between what digital can do and what only stores can deliver.” 

Physical retail will continue to shift towards fully immersive brand playgrounds, says Burch.

“Retail stores might even have no physical stock, but engage their customers with creative and unique augmented reality opportunities, with purchases delivered to your door,” he adds. “Ultimately, successful retailers understand that consumers want a shopping experience from stores, not just to buy stuff.”

This article first appeared in Raconteur’s Customer Experience and Loyalty report, published in September

Five ways to better manage supply chain disruption

The fallout from the pandemic exposed deep-rooted issues and a worrying lack of visibility, but these practical insights will help in case of future crises 

1. Don’t focus on cost alone

The countless stock delays and shortages over the past 18 months caused by a lack of preparedness and agility for the coronavirus-induced disruption have, for the first time in decades, called into question the running of lean supply chains designed to boost efficiencies and profits. They have laid bare a fragile and complex system that “has ultimately morphed into an investment plan focused on quick fixes and last-minute saves”, according to Patrick Van Hull, industry thought leader at Kinaxis, a global supply chain management company. 

Malcolm Harrison, group chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, agrees that many had seemingly dialled-up risk in the hunt for greater financial rewards. “Ensuring resilience and achieving value have always been the overarching objectives for procurement and supply professionals,” he says. “Focusing on cost alone is a risky strategy for any organisation. We’ve had decades of strong, lean and sometimes single-sourced supply chains working so efficiently that we hardly noticed them.”

The pandemic, he says, has encouraged supply chain managers to renew their focus on multi-supply strategies, local sourcing and best value in the supply chain, including working with competitors.

2. Invest in technology

Dirk Holbach, chief supply chain officer of laundry and home care at Henkel, says it was a tremendous advantage that his organisation was already far along its digital transformation journey before the pandemic. “The real-time visibility along our supply chain, which is a result of deploying Industry 4.0 technologies, allowed us to focus on the right challenges and to make the best decisions,” he says.

Van Hull points out that companies invested in digital transformation pre-pandemic were financially outperforming industry averages and surged further ahead of rivals over the past 18 months. “These types of results present a significant opportunity for supply chains, which historically have struggled with translating operational capabilities and digital transformation into financial success,” he says. 

3. Develop supplier relationships

While investment in technology is vital to increase supply chain resilience, old-fashioned human-to-human talking to solve problems is just as important when disruption inevitably strikes. Developing and nurturing supplier relationships accumulates mutual trust that can be cashed in when required, whether that buys favourable prices, shorter lead times or extra stock.

And, as the idiom suggests, a problem shared is a problem halved. “Embrace collaborative supply chain risk management,” urges Dr Alireza Shokri, associate professor in operations and supply chain management at Northumbria University. “Invest time in a collaborative culture, build trust and use these relationships to strengthen prevention and mitigation strategies.”

Shelley Harris, commercial director of IPP, which pools and provides pallets and boxes across Europe, agrees. “Our partner relationships are key, helping us to face new challenges as well as to work as efficiently and productively as possible,” she says.

The strength of its supplier relationships has allowed IPP to continue to fulfil its customer deliveries, despite the challenges the wider industry is facing, notably driver shortages. “We’re stronger because of long-standing relationships – we’ve seen a minimal impact on our operation and resulting service to our customers,” she says.

4. Improve transparency

The number-one way to manage disruption, according to Harrison, is a deep understanding of your supply chain and a focus on transparency. While this requires the right technology, as businesses have had to operate more efficiently in the digital space with more automation, it starts with understanding the different tiers of the supply chain. 

“Transparency across all tiers of the supply chain is a challenge,” he acknowledges, “but that visibility contributes to value in that it [helps to] remove fraud and corrupt practices and [helps businesses] look for signs of modern slavery among their suppliers.” 

Harrison stresses it is important to understand the robustness of different suppliers – and their suppliers. Transparency allows a business to identify potential problems, for example if a component is sourced from a single country or location and to track shipments.

This chimes with Van Hull’s thoughts. “Increased transparency is highly desirable for supply chains to sense disruptions as they are happening and respond immediately,” he says. “That is even more useful when it can be tied to financial outcomes, such as reduced inventory and cash buffers, improved capacity utilisation and lower cost resolution of demand-supply mismatches.”

5. Get the training right

Holbach believes training is imperative to maximise the potential of technology solutions. Empowering local teams and using their expert knowledge will strengthen the supply chain. They will flag potential issues early, giving the network a better idea of where to go for help with routing or stock if required. 

“We’ve had to react with agility during the pandemic and that was only possible by trusting our teams worldwide,” says Holbach. “It created the freedom to act fast, find the best solutions and keep our customers and consumers supplied with essential products.”

He believes a progressive approach to training starts from the top of an organisation. “As leaders, you should never stop learning,” he says. “To prepare for the unknown, you have to have the right mindset when confronted with new and difficult situations.”

Harrison echoes this insight, saying that supply chain professionals need to be equipped with the right skills and commercial judgement, which can only be achieved through training and development. This means being up to date, qualified, informed and skilled.

“What this pandemic has shown is that you need to invest in both technology and people to ensure supply chains are resilient, then we will manage better through the next global shock,” he says.

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Supply Chain Resilience report in September 2021

How National Lottery players helped prepare Hege Riise’s football team for Tokyo

GB women’s football team leader David Faulkner explains how funds from The National Lottery paid for acclimatisation equipment to help Team GB cope with Japan’s 35° heat

Team GB women’s football team will make history on Wednesday July 21 by playing its first competitive overseas match, against Chile in Sapporo. The only other occasion a British women’s team has played at the Games was at London 2012, when Hope Powell’s side suffered a 2-0 defeat to Canada at the quarter-final stage. 

David Faulkner, Team Leader of GB women’s football, says that Hege Riise’s squad is primed and feeling optimistic about a medal-winning run. But he stresses that adequate preparation would have been impossible without National Lottery support. 

“Bringing together a GB women’s football team for the first time has been a long time in the making,” says Faulkner from the Yokohama camp. He was awarded an MBE for services to sport in the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this year, and says National Lottery support means “the team is in the best place possible to compete against the world’s best as Great Britain, which is in itself unique”.

“The team arrived in Japan with a high level of confidence after completing a demanding schedule at Loughborough University, while evolving the team culture as part of ‘One Team GB’ – much like the British and Irish Lions.”

Before flying to the Japanese capital on July 7, the women underwent a gruelling three-week training camp. With temperatures in Japan expected to reach 35°C and humidity hitting 95%, the team used an acclimatisation chamber at Loughborough University, thanks to Lottery funding.

The chamber is a cross between a sauna and steam room, and the players were forced to exercise daily on Wattbikes with the temperature turned up, replicating the hot and humid environment expected. The physical and mental demands of the acclimatisation sessions should pay off when the competition kicks off, says Faulkner.

“There is no question that without The National Lottery’s support we would not be in a position to have the dedicated accommodation, food, gym, and an acclimation area and training pitch,” Faulkner says. “We cannot thank those that play The National Lottery enough for the funds that have provided the team with the best preparation possible for the Tokyo Games.

“Not only did it provide a high-performance environment for such intense preparation, we were also able to make it Covid-safe with our protocols and testing. We are extremely grateful for the support that has enabled us to set up such a unique performance environment where every additional percentage gained will have such an impact with delivery in Japan.”

On the extra costs required due to coronavirus precautions, the 58-year old continues: “Covid places many more demands on players and staff, such as testing every day in game time, wearing masks and social distancing at all times. However, the funding has ensured there remains a performance focus across the elements of technical, tactical, physical and psychologically.”

Nigel Railton, Chief Executive of The National Lottery operator, acknowledges the role of those who play The National Lottery in helping Team GB’s Olympians and Paralympians this summer. “Every day, National Lottery players make a huge difference to communities across the UK. Their support has a real impact on a sport and in boosting the chances in Tokyo.”

Former hockey full-back Faulkner, who earned 225 international caps, captaining both England and Great Britain, knows what it takes to achieve, having won at Seoul 1988. “To win a medal you must ensure you reach the semi-finals,” he says. 

Following the first Group E match against Chile, Riise’s side takes on hosts Japan on Saturday July 24 and Canada next Tuesday July 27.

“The players and staff are highly motivated, relishing the challenge ahead and ensuring every element of performance that can make a difference to delivery on match day is covered,” says Faulkner. “A podium finish would be a fantastic achievement for this group – but they have the energy, depth and talent to finish at the peak.”

Whatever happens, Faulkner is thankful for The National Lottery funding, which has been supporting Team GB since 1998 – two years after the Atlanta Games when Great Britain won only one big prize.

“Quite simply, the funding has provided the opportunity for more athletes across more sports to be the best they possibly can be at the pinnacle level of sport,” adds Faulkner. “At the same time, the investment has helped develop a performance system that is the envy of other sporting nations, which has resulted in consistent medal-winning performances at every Games since 1996. This, in turn, continues to inspire the next generation of Olympians, which is the true legacy of the funding.”

This article, sponsored by Camelot, first appeared in The Telegraph in July 2021

Absolute beginners: startup tips for first-time founders

Starting a business is challenging enough even in normal times, but at least there is plenty of expert advice on offer for the UK’s new wave of novice entrepreneurs

Ironically, no one knows who invented the adage “necessity is the mother of invention”. This ancient proverb has rarely been more relevant in the business world, given the pandemic’s seismic impact on enterprises of all sizes.

The coronavirus crisis has caused widespread job losses and limited the career prospects of millions of people. This has led many to start their own enterprises. In the 12 months to March 2021, more than 810,000 businesses were incorporated in the UK, 22% up on the preceding year’s total, according to Companies House. In Q4 2020 alone, 221,000 companies were established – the highest quarterly figure in a decade. 

Britons have been running an entrepreneurial, startup culture for centuries – it’s what we do very well

Starting a business from scratch is no mean feat even when there isn’t a pandemic. Fortunately, several successful entrepreneurs, acknowledging the help they received when they started, are willing to share their insights with first-time founders. One such high-flyer is Markus Villig. 

As a secondary-school student in 2013, the Estonian had used a £4,300 loan from his parents and brother to start the business that would become pioneering transport company Bolt. Five years later, he became the youngest CEO of a European ‘unicorn’, a privately owned startup valued at $1bn. 

Give people what they need – even if they don’t know it yet

Villig’s original plan had been to provide a digital platform for cab users in his home city of Tallinn. The teenager hadn’t passed his driving test (he still doesn’t have a licence) and was frustrated by the capital’s disorganised taxi facilities. 

Today, Bolt is worth over £2bn and has 1.5 million drivers in 40 countries. But it wasn’t an immediate success, partly because Villig had trouble persuading people to adopt his pioneering technology. 

“There was a resistance from drivers to joining, as they didn’t understand how easy it was,” he recalls. “To combat this, I took to the streets myself, approaching drivers at taxi stands to pitch the idea and show them the simplicity of the technology and how it could benefit them.”

Villig stresses the importance of clear, concise communication in marketing, adding: “Don’t expect people to love your idea as much as you do from the get-go. I was faced with a tough market when I started Bolt, so I had to go out of my way to show that our common enemy was the private car. Once I began using this as my key message, we began getting taxi drivers on board.”

He continues: “It’s easy to overthink things. What I have found is that we humans like things to be simple. The simpler your business targets are, the better. At Bolt, we do our best to boil ours down to a few sentences.”

Start with a business plan to evaluate strengths and weaknesses

Erica Wolfe-Murray, the author of a guide for new entrepreneurs called Simple Tips, Smart Ideas, echoes Villig’s advice. 

“If you have a new idea for a product or service, don’t expect everyone to understand it automatically. They won’t,” she says. “If you’re thinking about launching a business, ask yourself: ‘Why now?’ If you can’t answer that, or your response is just flannel, rethink everything. I’ve seen so many startups that were little or no different from other companies. It saddens me, because they can take a huge amount of effort to launch yet will often fail quite quickly.”

Another common – and often fatal – error that new entrepreneurs commit is to make the pursuit of financial success their main reason for starting a business, Wolfe-Murray suggests. 

Don’t expect people to love your idea as much as you do from the get-go

“So many companies focus on their offering and the money before they focus on their unique experience, possible trends and different ways of approaching markets,” she says. “To start with, I always look at devising a business plan without involving money. The internal aspects of the company inform its strengths and weaknesses, while the external factors present opportunities and threats. This simple divide can often be overlooked, yet it is crucial to any business plan.”

Wolfe-Murray adds that the process of evaluating weaknesses and what outside help might be needed to address the latter requires a key entrepreneurial skill: resourcefulness. 

“Don’t underestimate the value of what and whom you know,” she explains. “You can analyse and harness these elements to launch an original, smart business in ways you may not have originally thought. Why copy others when your own assets give rise to a much richer offering?”

The financial hard yards – external help needed?

Wolfe-Murray warns that poor financial management is the “biggest pitfall” for new entrepreneurs. “It can take most companies up to three years before they get going, but that relies on regular customers and decent cash flow,” she says. “Yet founders take their eyes off the ball because there is so much else to do apart from looking after cash flow. I often ask founders who manages the money in their households. If it’s not them, they may not be used to doing the financial hard yards.”

Hannah Bernard, head of Barclays Business Banking, agrees. She would encourage any new entrepreneur to keep money from their business separate from the funds in their personal account. This will make it more straightforward to track the company’s cash flow and keep on top of supplier payments.

Ask yourself: ‘Why now?’ If you can’t answer this, or your response is just flannel, rethink everything

“This will help you to build up a business credit history, which could make it easier to access a loan – should you need it – as your venture starts growing,” she says, stressing the need to keep a scrupulous record of all revenues and expenses.

Bernard believes that most entrepreneurs will never be able to master every aspect of running a business, so they “should not be afraid to seek external help. A good place to start is online, where there are lots of free resources. The Barclays business hub, for instance, has tips on aspects ranging from writing a business plan to building a team.”

Wolfe-Murray offers a final word of encouragement to those pondering whether or not to start a new venture. “Britons have been running an entrepreneurial, startup culture for centuries – it’s what we do very well. Small companies are the bedrock of our economy. They enable inventive people to do things that intrigue and fulfil them,” she says. “If you have a hankering to start your own business, just do it.”

This article first appeared in Raconteur’s Supporting SMEs report, published in June 2021

Understanding the ‘next normal’ for businesses

Which trends accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic are here to stay? Exploring some of the businesses set to thrive in the digital era

The coronavirus pandemic has fired a starting gun for the acceleration of various trends and necessitated distant business plans to be hurriedly activated. E-commerce companies, automated software services, health-tech businesses, videoconferencing, communications platforms, and other organisations facilitating remote working are among the big winners.

But which innovations embraced en masse since March 2020 are here to stay? Conversely what will prove to be a lockdown-induced fad? Have we had our fill of virtual drinks, online quizzes and expensive cook-it-yourself restaurant kits?

Moneypenny, the leading outsourced communications provider will explore some of the business lessons from 2020 and beyond looking at organisations and companies that have thrived and, moreover, look set to succeed in the long term.

Online events platform Hopin, for example, has brought work colleagues together remotely with tools for virtual talks and networking. ZoomMicrosoft TeamsSlack and Workplace by Facebook, plus many similar videoconferencing and digital collaboration tools providers have also triumphed.

And as businesses start to re-open their workplaces, it will be fascinating to glean insights from the likes of Vpod, provider of next-level visitor management systems. Moneypenny recently collaborated with London-based Vpod to offer businesses dedicated video front-of-house and concierge support for the first time. Moneypenny’s video-based support will be added to Vpod’s Vgreet product: a virtual reception that offers a contactless check in and reduces visitor management costs.

Meeting rising customer expectations

While it may be unclear what the “next normal” will look and feel like exactly, we can start to make a decent, educated guess: because the direction of travel is clear. There is little doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has catapulted businesses into the digital era, but comfort, convenience and communication will all play even greater roles than before.

To adapt, progressive leaders seek more technology-driven solutions and are now more open-minded about outsourcing certain aspects, including communications, to better meet ever-rising customer demand. We can thank leading organisations like Amazon for that, raising the level of expectation to have things delivered by a simple couple of clicks on a device as soon as is humanly – or even robotically – possible.

Certainly, the retail landscape has evolved, and e-commerce has boomed.

In the United Kingdom, the latest Office for National Statistics figures, published in late January, highlight that online sales surged by 46 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Looking deeper at the data, online food sales enjoyed the most significant uptick given the context offered by months of lockdown, growing by 79.3 per cent.

As a December ONS report noted: “The 2008 recession had a smaller impact than the COVID-19 pandemic on individual industries and the economy … Services such as hospitality – including pubs, restaurants and hotels – recorded almost no output in April and May, but industries such as information and communication, where staff could largely work from home, saw little change compared with February.”

Collaborating and sharing expert insights in the digital era

Accommodation and foodservice activities were 90 per cent smaller than a year earlier, according to the ONS. Will these industries recover, albeit in evolved forms, because of the vaccine roll out?

It’s clear that to keep up with customer and client expectations, technology solutions are no longer a “nice to have” – as perhaps they were 12 months ago – but business-critical.

Forward-thinking decision-makers have shifted their mindset. They realise that much in the same way servers and data have migrated to the cloud, collaboration with trusted partners and utilising the services of skilled experts and technology services in the outsourcing world makes best business sense on several levels.

The mass move to remote working has changed the way we interact with one another, and the rise of videoconferencing and walking meetings, and so on, have paved the way for businesses to engage both employees and customers in different and exciting ways.

For businesses determined to grow in the digital era, it is vital to invest in new forms of communication – but could nuance and the human touch be lost? Building trust – with customers, staff, and other stakeholders – is still imperative.

This article first appeared on Moneypenny’s blog channel in March 2021

Why occupational health is now a top priority

Ethics aside, supporting the physical and mental health of employees creates a win-win scenario in the post-pandemic workplace, but there are challenges to providing better support

The coronavirus crisis has squeezed the life out of so much we previously took for granted, at home and at work. Things have changed, irreversibly. Many people express both a heightened appreciation of life and respect for mortality. But how does this translate to occupational health? 

As organisations begin to coax their employees back to the workplace, the expectation that employers should support the mental and physical health of staff, particularly in a workplace setting, has been dialled up in the past year. 

To instil confidence in employees that a return to work is safe, many companies provide COVID-19 rapid lateral flow tests, promise better ventilation, rigorous cleaning programmes and gallons of hand sanitiser. But is it enough? Should businesses take more accountability for their workers’ health?

According to employee benefits provider Unum’s Value of Help study, published in December, 86 per cent of UK employers have changed their approach to staff health and wellbeing because of the coronavirus situation. 

Moreover, 95 per cent of the 350 employers surveyed revealed the pandemic has “impacted their need to make employees feel more protected”, says Glenn Thompson, chief distribution officer at Unum UK. “Whether it is from individuals, communities or organisations, 2020 has brought the value of help and support to the front of all our minds,” he adds.

Dr Robin Hart, co-founder of Companion, which offers mental health support tools, is pleased organisations are showing a greater willingness to look after staff. “A lack of focus in this area historically has seen an increase in lost revenue and diminished productivity,” he says. “Attitudes have had to change in a very reactive way due to the pandemic. In reality, it’s accelerated a process which would have played out anyway, eventually.”

Win-win scenario

Besides, supporting staff health and wellbeing creates a win-win scenario. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) data shows that in the 12 months to March 2020, when the first lockdown came into force, approximately 828,000 workers, the equivalent of 2,440 per 100,000 people, were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This absenteeism resulted in an estimated 17.9 million working days lost. In the previous year, the cost of workplace injury and ill health was calculated by HSE at £16.2 billion.

“Nobody’s health should be worse at the end of a shift than it was at the start,” says Dr Craig Jackson, professor of occupational health psychology at Birmingham City University. “If it is poorer, then there is something morally, ethically and legally wrong in that workplace.”

He believes there is a newfound respect for occupational health departments. “The excellent, proactive work undertaken by many professionals in preparing COVID-secure workplaces – assessing staff return to workplaces, COVID screening, testing, tracking and tracing – will lead to people realising occupational health is not just somewhere to go to when you are ill and unable to work,” he says.

Jackson acknowledges “supporting staff better than before does involve additional time and costs”, but argues such spending is a good investment. This is backed by research from Deloitte, published last year, that estimates for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, they gain £5 back in business value.

“Not only is there a strong moral case for employers to look after staff health, but it makes good business sense, too,” agrees Oliver Harrison, chief executive of Koa Health, provider of mental health programmes. “Healthy workplaces attract the best talent. They also avoid the negative impact of illness on productivity, measured in staff turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism.”

Wellbeing challenges

From a legal standpoint, organisations have a statutory obligation to protect their staff from physical and mental harm. However, Elena Cooper, employment consultant at Discreet Law, reports that “a large number of employees are taking advantage of what they perceive to be their employer’s duties around mental health”.

She asks: “We know a caring and supportive employer is a good employer, but where do you draw the line between being a profit-making entity and a nanny state?” With the prospect of businesses having to afford time off to long-COVID sufferers in the coming months, if not years, it’s a pertinent question.

Ethical and legal debates aside, organisations face other pressing challenges to improve staff wellbeing. “One of the greatest barriers is ensuring healthcare support tends to the needs of all who work within a company,” says Bob Andrews, chief executive of private medical cover provider Benenden Health. 

“There is often a disconnect between what employees want to see from a health and wellbeing programme and what businesses offer. Also employees are not the same and therefore a one-size-fits-all approach is outdated and ineffective.” He advises using a range of tools, including mental health apps, as well as low-cost human management.

Luke Bullen, chief executive in the UK and Ireland at Gympass, which seeks to improve wellbeing through exercise classes, spots another issue. “One of the major challenges for a post-pandemic workforce is going to be the hybrid workplace,” he says. “How do employees ensure their wellbeing strategy works just as well for those working at their tables as though working in the office?” Empowering staff to “tailor the wellbeing offering” is critical, he suggests. 

Spurred by events of the last 12 months, occupational health will surge in importance in the coming years. “By 2025 I expect it to be available anywhere, anytime, thanks to digital advancement,” predicts Paul Shawcross, clinical lead of occupational health services at physiotherapy provider Connect Health. His company employs an artificial intelligence-chatbot as a method of referral that “triages the patient to the right support for them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

Whether it is bot therapists, wellbeing apps or human professionals, employers need to prioritise occupational health in the post-pandemic workplace. Support, of any kind, is what staff truly want and need right now.

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Future of Healthcare report in March 2021

Time to reboot and drive meaningful change

For the future of humanity, society must grasp this opportunity to evolve, rethink broken systems, remove corrosive business cultures, and right deep inequalities

While it is distressing and lamentable that the chaos spread by the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed the life out of countless businesses across the gamut of industry and restricted liberties we all previously took for granted, I am optimistic that society will be reborn for the better. The darkest days will prove the catalyst to drive meaningful change for a brighter future, I sincerely hope.

Despite – or perhaps because of – being locked down, minds have been set free. Concepts that were considered radical at the start of 2020, such as universal basic income, have gained tremendous momentum. It has been liberating to discuss how to solve some of humanity’s most significant challenges, together. But the time for talking is over: we now need to act on the promises to improve life for more people and repair the planet.

The events of 2020 have exposed that society is gravely poorly, traditional systems are broken, and inequality in all its forms is growing. If the COVID-19 fallout has accelerated various trends and catapulted businesses into the digital era, now we need to reboot the world.

“The coronavirus pandemic has taken an X-ray of society and shown us where we are sick,” an Australia-based chief executive told me recently. “It’s also like a time machine and has taken us forward to where problems that were latent are now acute, whether that’s the glaring reality that to be successful businesses need to be as good at generating clicks as they are at bricks, or deep-rooted social inequality.”

It was galling to learn, via an Oxfam report published at the end of January, that the world’s ten wealthiest people according to Forbes – all men, bar one (Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton) – have seen their fortunes grow by $540 billion since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic took hold. 

However, I sense there is a genuine groundswell to rebalance inequality, in all its forms. It won’t happen overnight, but there will be an inexorable and seismic shift to the point where it is no longer morally acceptable to turn a blind eye to, for instance, racism and gender disparity. The same goes for environmental issues.

One of the few pleasing long-term consequences of the pandemic is the proof of concept of collectivism: if we act together, we can achieve remarkable things. Millennials and younger generations weaned on social media have always considered themselves part of a global community. If we can apply that drive and discipline to matters like the environment, sustainability and equality, we can deliver colossal change.

We must begin thinking beyond ourselves, where we live, to create the sort of future that we all need. Whatever happens, if we go back to how things used to be and forget the tragedy – as with happened after the September 11 attacks – would be a huge failure. As a society, we must grasp this unique opportunity to take stock, look at what’s worked and what hasn’t, and move forward to address some of the most expansive cracks.

How lockdown has affected my working experience

As I’ve typed from home as a freelance journalist since 2014, there were no sweeping changes required when lockdown was enforced, fortunately. However, one key difference was that my family members were suddenly also around, and in particular my young son required homeschooling (and entertaining). Over the last year, it has been fascinating to chronicle the significant changes society has undergone so far. I have found, though, that not relying on the black and white of email and speaking to clients and contacts – thus allowing the time and space for nuance and being, well, more human – has greatly benefited both parties and strengthened bonds.

This article was first published in Beyond the bylines report by Farrer Kane in March 2021

Fighting fraud in times of crisis

Cybercrime is always distressing for those affected, but when the resultant losses come from the public purse, it must be taken even more seriously

Coronavirus has coursed through every facet of our lives, and society and business have already paid a colossal price to restrict its flow. We will be counting the cost for years, if not decades. And while people have become almost anaesthetised to the enormous, unprecedented sums of support money administered by the government, it was still painful to learn, in October, that taxpayers could face losing up to £26 billion on COVID-19 loans, according to an alarming National Audit Office report.

Given the likely scale of abuse, it raises the question of how authorities should go about eliminating public sector fraud? Could artificial intelligence (AI) fraud detection be the answer?

Admittedly, the rapid deployment of financial-aid schemes, when the public sector was also dealing with a fundamental shift in service delivery, created opportunities for both abuse and risk of systematic error. Fraudsters have taken advantage of the coronavirus chaos. But their nefariousness is not limited to the public sector.

Ryan Olson, vice president of threat intelligence at American multinational cybersecurity organisation Palo Alto Networks, says COVID-19 triggered “the cybercrime gold rush of 2020”.

Indeed, the latest crime figures published at the end of October by the Office for National Statistics show that, in the 12 months to June, there were approximately 11.5 million offences in England and Wales. Some 51 per cent of them were made up of 4.3 million incidents of fraud and 1.6 million cybercrime events, a year-on-year jump of 65 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

Cybercrime gold rush – counting the cost

Jim Gee, national head of forensic services at Crowe UK, a leading audit, tax, advisory and risk firm, says: “Even more worryingly, while the figures are for a 12-month period, a comparison with the previous quarterly figures shows this increase has occurred in the April-to-June period of 2020, the three months after the COVID-19 health and economic crisis hit. The size of the increase needed in a single quarter to result in a 65 per cent increase over the whole 12 months could mean actual increases of up to four times this percentage.”

In terms of eliminating public sector fraud, Mike Hampson, managing director at consultancy Bishopsgate Financial, fears an expensive game of catch-up. “Examples of misuse have increased over the last few months,” he says. “These include fraudulent support-loan claims and creative scams such as criminals taking out bounce-back loans in the name of car dealerships, in an attempt to buy high-end sports cars.”

AI fraud detection and machine-learning algorithms should be put in the driving seat to pump the brakes on iniquitous activity, he argues. “AI can certainly assist in carrying out basic checks and flagging the most likely fraud cases for a human to review,” Hampson adds.

John Whittingdale, media and data minister, concedes that the government “needs to adapt and respond better”, but says AI and machine-learning are now deemed critical to eliminating public sector fraud. “As technology advances, it can be used for ill, but at the same time we can adapt new technology to meet that threat,” he says. “AI has a very important part to play.”

Teaming up with technology leaders

Technology is already vital in eliminating public sector fraud at the highest level. In March, the Cabinet Office rolled out Spotlight, the government grants automated due-diligence tool built on a Salesforce platform. Ivana Gordon, head of the government grants management function COVID-19 response at the Cabinet Office, says Spotlight “speeds up initial checks by processing thousands of applications in minutes, replacing manual analysis that, typically, can take at least two hours per application”. The tool draws on open datasets from Companies House, the Charity Commission and 360Giving, plus government databases that are not available to the public.

“Spotlight has proven robust and reliable,” says Gordon, “supporting hundreds of local authorities and departments to administer COVID-19 funds quickly and efficiently. To date Spotlight has identified around 2 per cent of payment irregularities, enabling grant awards to be investigated and payments halted to those who are not eligible.”

We need to watch how the technology fits into the whole process. AI doesn’t get things right 100 per cent of the time

She adds that Spotlight is one of a suite of countermeasure tools, including AI fraud detection, developed with technology companies, and trialled and implemented across the public sector to help detect and prevent abuse and error.

Besides, critics shouldn’t be too hard on the public sector, argues David Shrier, adviser to the European Parliament in the Centre for AI, because it was “understandably dealing with higher priorities, like human life, which may have distracted somewhat from cybercrime prevention”. He believes that were it not for the continued investment in the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the cost of fraudulent activity would have been significantly higher.

Work to be done to prevent fraud

Greg Day, vice president and chief security officer, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Palo Alto Networks, who sits on Europol’s cybersecurity advisory board, agrees. Day points to the success of the government’s Cyber Essentials digital toolkit. He thinks, however, that the NCSC must “further specialise, tailor its support and advice, and strengthen its role as a bridge into information both from the government, but also trusted third parties, because cyber is such an evolving space”.

The public sector has much more to do in combating cybercrime and fraud prevention on three fronts, says Peter Yapp, who was deputy director of incident management at the NCSC up to last November. It must encourage more reporting, make life difficult for criminals by upping investment in AI fraud detection and reallocate investigative resources from physical to online crime, he says.

Yapp, who now leads law firm Schillings’ cyber and information security team, says a good example of an initiative that has reduced opportunity for UK public sector fraud is the NCSC’s Mail Check, which monitors 11,417 domains classed as public sector. “This is used to set up and maintain good domain-based message authentication, reporting and conformance (DMARC), making email spoofing much harder,” he says. Organisations that deploy DMARC can ensure criminals do not successfully use their email addresses as part of their campaigns.”

While such guidance is welcome, there are potential problems with embracing tech to solve the challenge of eliminating public sector fraud, warns Dr Jeni Tennison, vice president and chief strategy adviser at the Open Data Institute. If unchecked, AI fraud detection could be blocking people and businesses that are applying for loans in good faith, or worse, she says.

“We need to watch out how the technology and AI fit into the whole process,” says Tennison. “As we have seen this year, with the Ofqual exam farrago, AI doesn’t get things right 100 per cent of the time. If you assume it is perfect, then when it doesn’t work, it will have a very negative impact on the people who are wrongly accused or badly affected to the extent they, and others, are fearful of using public sector services.”

There are certainly risks with blindly following any technology, concurs Nick McQuire, senior vice president and head of enterprise research at CCS Insight. But the public sector simply must arm itself with AI or the cost to the taxpayer will be, ultimately, even more significant. “Given the scale of the security challenge, particularly for cash-strapped public sector organisations that lack the resources and skills to keep up with the current threat environment, AI, warts and all, is going to become a crucial tool in driving automation into this environment to help their security teams cope.”

This article was originally published in Raconteur’s Public Sector Technology report in December 2020