16th February 2018
When I first started Nine23 I was advised to get ISO 9001 as soon as possible as it is much easier to do when you start and are small. In other words, getting the certificate early on would be easier and you might need it for a tender in the future.
Completely the wrong reason for getting ISO accreditation but that’s what we did. It’s not to difficult to put process in place for things that did not exist. We had a filing cabinet that an auditor could ask to see any document and all are processes were in a document/folder that would be rolled out each year and inspected.
As is the way with the life of an SME that we had the rollercoaster ride, in two years we had pushed revenue to over a million and had grown the headcount to 25, we had found a US investor and then the wheels came off.. Not all at once but the actions of certain individuals had consequences that’s for sure. Anyway, that’s another story..
So by the end of year 3 we needed to act and so began our “re-structure”. The purpose was to firstly survive and then to repair what was broken or not working for us. In doing so we reviewed everything we did or thought we did ! We produced a lessons learnt document as part of are ongoing strategy and was gently reminded by our American chairman that it is not what you have learned but much more importantly what you have done about those lessons.
16th January 2018
SME CFO LESSONS LEARNED: 4 of 4 – PEOPLE
There are very few real entrepreneurs – real entrepreneurs are a special kind of person: a strange mix of dreamer, realist, OCD psycho, stubbornness and persistence.
Being highly intelligent does not make you an entrepreneur – but you will probably think you can be one.
There are very few people who can sell – sales is a special skill.
An SME founder / CEO must be able to sell – or find someone who can.
The saying goes that customers are always right. Not so. Customers are always wrong. Customers don’t know what they want, and when they think they know what they want, they are always wrong – especially in IT.
Investors are irrational. Investors are always seeking a huge return for zero risk. As they say in the finance sector, “The value of your investments can fall as well as rise”.
As per the Key Learnings of an SME CFO, investments will always take longer than you hope / expect / plan, and investors will sometimes lie to your face.
Be careful out there : )
9th January 2018
SME CFO LESSONS LEARNED: 3 of 4 – CASH MANAGEMENT
Business is simple – if money coming in is more than money going out then you are probably doing ok BUT the only thing you can control is money going out. Plan it carefully and understand your costs in depth.
A good CFO cannot save a bad company. A good CFO can make a company hold its breath but sooner or later someone has to sell something.
The owner / founder needs to understand that just because there is cash in the bank doesn’t mean it is all theirs to take out – sometimes it belongs to other people.
HMRC are your friend, treat them well – communicate your troubles and be brutally honest, they will understand and try to help if they can.
You do not need your accountants to do an R&D tax credit claim – it is quite straightforward – and most SMEs, especially in IT, need them to survive.
Without a CFO or at least a CFO function, a lone SME CEO will get into trouble with VAT. It is the hardest thing to do cash management for.
The cliches are true so remember them 4: Time (literally) is money – especially in SMEs. This flows from Key Learning 1: everything will take longer than you think. While customers and investors are faffing around trying to make decisions, your SME will bleed cash – you need to plan for this.
18th December 2017
SME CFO LESSONS LEARNED: 2 of 4 – GENERAL MANAGEMENT
The cliches are true so remember them 1: revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is king – especially in SMEs
The cliches are true so remember them 2: hope is not a strategy – especially in SMEs
The cliches are true so remember them 3: hope for the best, plan for the worst – especially in SMEs (3a: the worst will be worse than you think – especially in SMEs)
Planning is critical but in hindsight most planning is a waste of time
Marketing is critical but in hindsight most marketing is a waste of money – it’s just hard to figure out what is money well spent ahead of time.
A lot of management in hindsight is the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Even with an SME you are piloting an oil tanker. Plan ahead, well ahead. If you have to make cuts, cut early and cut deep. Do everything faster!
FOCUS !!! – it is easy to say but almost impossible to do. In an SME there is a lot to do and no-one else to do it ! In an SME time is your most precious resource.
Growing a company is harder than shrinking it.
*** SMEs IN IT “SPECIALS” ***
If you build it, they won’t necessarily come.
In IT development, less (developers) is more.
5th December 2017
Lesson learned: ISO9001 QMS – Pointless if not used
What we did about it.
Re-defined all business process to meet the business requirements not the ISO 9001 requirements.
All staff must understand how we operate.
One area we looked at in the very early days was to get ourselves the ISO 9001 certificate. The reason was simple at the start – it will be easier to do at the start and it will be a good certificate to have ! Not the best reasons at all and once we had gained the accreditation each year we went through the motions of re-gaining our certificate. We had a great filing cabinet system!
It wasn’t till we had to re-structure the company that we decided to flip our accreditation and actually decide what we wanted from the ISO9001 system and not the other way around.
This was a key moment in that we now re-focused on what we actually do and how we operate. This then enabled us to build our own system and gave the whole company a clear structure from which to build on. We still build on our process but now have a system that clearly works for us not just get us a certificate..
28th November 2017
The Key Learnings of an SME CFO
1. Everything will take longer than you think
2. People will lie to your face
Often these two are connected.
Generally, people will not know they are lying – “the order will be signed off tomorrow”, “the payment will be approved Friday and in your bank next week”, “we want to move quickly on this”, “the decision will be made next month”, “the funding is available now”, “the contract has been signed”, “we can deliver that in two weeks”, “we like to help small businesses” – but the reality will show they were lying.
How do you manage this?
In short, good planning. In finance, be aware of the risks and critical timings of your cash position. In operations and delivery, be aware of the risks and critical timings of your own customers’ requirements and your own contractual responsibilities. In staffing, make sales compensation and support staff numbers dependent on closures and cash flow. And tie all these three together.
NB: Sometimes people will deliberately lie to you – in some companies this is called “sales”. It is hard to manage for this but the clichés are true so remember them: don’t get mad, get even. But don’t burn bridges – you will see these people again.
21st November 2017
Lesson learned: Partnerships can fail/work
What we did about it.
Do not waste time – qualify better using internal process
We have had both experiences here, good and bad. It is also aligned with the reality that you need to build relationships in business.
Sounds obvious, of course, but partnerships are based on relationships and the more effort you put into these the more you should gain from them.
The key, i believe, is that by having a well defined process in place you will be able to understand the value that any partnership could create. The key word is “could” and the sooner you work out if there is a value the less time you will waste.
I could name some of the very large organisations we have dealt with in the past and how much wasted effort and the amount of meetings that have absolutely had no value.
Qualify quickly as they will suck your time from you..
14th November 2017
Lesson learned: Time – it always takes longer
What we did about it
Plan accordingly !
This is one lesson that we all should be saying “of course it does” but even though we knew it we still got it wrong. If your time appreciation is not very good the impact is far reaching and can be costly.
It does not matter if it is software development or project timeline or securing a sale you have to build in contingency as it will take longer, much longer than you think. Coupled with time is communication buts that’s another lesson..
9th November 2017
Ok, like it or not, passwords are a fact of life and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. One of the most common complaints from end-users is “why do I have to keep changing my password?!”
It’s a cry we hear commonly and is always a source of negativity for any system.
2nd November 2017
Lesson learned: Communication with clients – Must be built on from sales activity and MUST happen
What we did about it.
Ensure key communication is in place with the client
Another, sounds so obvious lesson learned ! Of course you will communicate with your client, right…
During the sales phase you will find that you are very keen to get the job and will have your best sales patter off to a tee. You will be doing everything possible to win, you should be, but once the deal is won you as a business can not afford to stop the communication. In fact, i would suggest that you must start to really build on the sales and build the relationship with your clients as soon as possible.
This is what you know need to do, build a relationship as you will hit rocky patches and it will be put to the test. The ability to communicate is critical going forward and it will needed by both sides for one reason or another. You should never ever ignore your client, but you must be honest when things are not going to plan as it is the relationship that will see you through.
25th October 2017
Lesson learned: Delivery – Keep current clients first and foremost
What we did about it.
More focused direction
Have a responsible management leader
When we first started Nine23 i would always suggest the answer is “Yes, we do that” when talking to potential clients. No matter, of course, what the requirements were.
Having a responsible leader is one key requirement for keeping the clients happy. One point of contact and someone that is accountable sounds so simple but is an absolute must if you want to keep your clients.
They must have a contact that can answer their questions and at the same time push back when something is not achievable/contracted.
I could write a whole article about focus (I may do yet) and stress the importance of being focused. Be it delivering a project or going after a market sector in fact in any facet of the organisation the ability to be razor focused is key to success. Without the focus and a leader to drive that focus it will simply end up costing you more later… trust me !
18th October 2017
Lesson learned: Project Costs – Not controlled or understood
What we did about it.
Removed ineffective staff
Ensure correct staff recruited in future
Stronger management of accounting process
There are a lot of people that can say they have project management qualifications and have the certificates to show they have been on a course or two. There are also people that have experience of delivering on projects to go with the qualifications. But the ultimate owner of the project is the business that is being paid to deliver something.
We thought we had a good structure in place and the right team but the reality was that we did not and we paid dearly for the wrong people being in place. Overrun on time, project costs not fully known or understood and worst of all dispute with the customer. These failings were very much the management teams issue not just the staff members.
We did sort our projects out in the end but we really did learn the importance of the costs as these are the reason you are either profitable or not.
When it comes to Project Management you can have all the qualifications in your team but the reality is you have to deliver and you must know what your costs are from day 1. It is all in the detail…
17th October 2017
Mi3 Security https://www.mi3security.com, the leader in machine learning based application security analysis and intelligence, and Nine23 http://www.nine23.co.uk, a UK-based Mobile Technology provider, announced today an MSSP agreement that sees Nine23 integrate the multi-tenant Mi3 Security RECON Platform into their managed services offering for the United Kingdom. The agreement provides a new level of application analysis and security capabilities for Nine23’s government and enterprise customers.
11th October 2017
Lesson learned: Cash – Service revenue, reduce outgoings
What we did about it.
Reduced all outgoings to minimum to become cash flow neutral and be breakeven with service revenue alone
It sounds so simple to say reduce outgoings and have long term service revenue ! But we really didn’t have a good hold on our costs early on and the fact was that we spent way too much on costs that we really didn’t need too. Be very ruthless when it comes to every single cost that goes out of your business bank account, you will be surprised what you amass and what can be saved.
The best solution if it is in your model is to gain the long term service revenue which is the lifeblood of any business. It also makes the planning process much easier and stops the peaks and troughs of project revenue.
The sooner you can get to a cash flow neutral potion using service revenue alone the much stronger your business will be and will allow you the stability from which to grow.
4th October 2017
Following on from our “What we do” posts i thought i would continue with a series of posts on what are our “Lessons learned”.
Whilst it is a cliche to say founding and then running a business is a journey it is however very true. That journey for myself has had a number of twists and turns and i have definitely learned a lot through those times. However, it is not all about learning lessons it is in my view making sure you don’t make the same mistakes again. I am sure we will make mistakes again in our journey but it is vital that we do not make the same mistake twice.
The aim of these short notes each week is to highlight what we capture in our annual strategy document and hopefully pass on some hard won lessons to others. We are not perfect in any way and i am very happy to discuss further if anyone would like to discuss any of my points.
Comments always welcome and if anyone has any questions please feel free to get in touch.
26th September 2017
So we decided 14 weeks ago (how time flies) that we would publish a short note about what services Nine23 offer. We have been on the Digital Market Place – G Cloud framework from the start and firmly believe it has been a key to our success to date and we currently have 14 services listed, hence the 14 weeks.
Below is a link to all Nine23 EMM services in one place on the Digital Marketplace – G Cloud.
If you want to discuss in more detail or hear more about how we have deployed these services to our current clients then please do drop me a note.
Looking forward to our next series on LinkedIn articles – I will be be publishing a series of lessons learned in setting up, growth, re-structuring and growing again – Nine23.
20th September 2017
An enterprise mobility management platform accreditable to OFFICIAL SENSITIVE ready to onboard mobile, tablet, and laptop devices from any operating system including iOS, Android, and Windows. Encompassing the entire management and audit requirements from MDM, App Store, Content Management and hosting, to performance and SIEM reporting tools.
13th September 2017
Secure private hosting area up to OFFICIAL SENSITIVE, for application servers that need to be accessible to government networks and internet-side users alike. Includes performance management and usage statistics, alongside backup and resiliency options, that scale to security and end user volume requirements.
6th September 2017
Mobile Threat Defence (MTD)
Provides real time mobile threat detection on phones, tablets and other mobile devices, as well as the networks they are on, and analyses apps for malicious activity pre-release and during use. Multiplatform protection and analysis tool for unified endpoint management.
30th August 2017
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) – DUO
Provide additional authentication to confirm user identification before allowing access to applications and services. Can be provided through tokens or mobile device integration to allow seamless user experience. Integrate with other cloud services, as part of enterprise apps, or add to unified endpoint management solutions.
23rd August 2017
Cloud Information Assurance Advisory
Specialist advice for remote access and mobility cloud solutions to achieve accreditation at OFFICIAL, including SENSITIVE caveat. Undertaken by CCP IA Archtiect Lead with track record of accredited RMADS in government ministries.
16th August 2017
Mobility Advisory Services
Support to organisations undergoing digital transfromation and transitioning to mobile working or updating existing mobility deployments. Experienced mobility engineers provide deployment and configuration advice of EMM systems deployed locally, as SaaS, or hosted in secure datacentres.
9th August 2017
EMM Configuration Services
MDM software, including Airwatch, setup and configuration to NCSC guidelines by certified AirWatch Enterprise Mobility Experts / VMWare Mobility Management Technical Solution Professionals, and VMWare Certified Professionals.
2nd August 2017
Cloud Deployment Services
Setup and configuration of cloud, remote access and mobility solutions. These may encompass boundary configuration, filtering software and gateways, MDM software setup, or compliance in line with NCSC guidelines.
26th July 2017
Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) – Airwatch / Workspace ONE
Mobility management provided as a service using VMWare/Airwatch MDM software. Deployed on-prem, from VMWare/Airwatch cloud, or your own private cloud, and managed as a service for you to admister devices from a single console, or have the service fully managed for you. Full range of licences and support models provided.
19th July 2017
Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM)
Mobility management incorporating multiple EMM technologies providing holistic endpoint management platform. Deployed on-prem, from public cloud, or secure private cloud, and managed as a service for you to administer devices from a single console, or have the service fully managed for you. Flexible range of licence and support models provided.
12th July 2017
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – DACS
Learning management and hosting system enabling front line training of OFFICIAL (inc SENSITIVE) material. Content can be in standard multi-media formats or as individual executables providing training apps within the VLE. Can connect with existing HR systems and LMS, via internet or government network connections. We will be posting further information in due course about this service in our case study of how we delivered the Digital Media Investigation (DMI) training solution across all UK Police forces.
5th July 2017
Cloud Strategy Advisory
Specialist support provided to the planning stage of mobility and remote access cloud projects, and annual tech refresh or information assurance renewals. This service supports Nine23 solutions or provides an impartial advisory to ongoing projects and programmes.
28th June 2017
Secure Government Gateway
A gateway service up to OFFICIAL SENSITIVE providing secure connection to government networks from any device or service. Mobile and laptop devices, or hosted applications and services, can connect with government services and networks, such as PSN, PNN and N3, over standard internet connections.
21st June 2017
Secure Private Cloud
Private hosting area in our secure UK hosting platform accessible to government networks and internet connected organisations using secure remote access solutions incorporating virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI) or virtual private networks (VPN). Includes performance management and usage statistics, alongside backup and resiliency options, that scale dynamically to requirements.