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Forget software for customer service, remember ‘soft skills’

By Fleur Telford >>

DAY TO DAY tasks once reserved for finance professionals are being taken over by data feeds, bots, and good system integration.

As information technology (IT) continues to evolve, the rise of smart financial applications have given rise to tools that even the lesser skilled can access to improve their clients’ businesses.

What used to be outsourced to minimise cost can now be processed in-house, as technological advances have markedly reduced time-consuming data processing tasks. 

This saves resources, time and money of course, but the question that needs to be asked is: “What happens to the people?” – both within organisations and for the clients they serve, in this Brave New World.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can find a myriad of answers to a specific question but it’s not known for great conversation. AI is also low on empathy and inter-personal skills, despite what we see in the movies. 

So today, and certainly for the foreseeable future, no amount of tech supremacy can ask business owners how they feel, what they’re worried about, and where it is they would like their business to go.

When it comes to sharing our fears, woes, hopes and dreams, speaking to another human wins every time. In the professional world, people still matter.

Accountants are, as one of my colleagues wittily put it, “anxiety transfer agents”, interacting as no AI source ever could, giving comfort that help is at hand.

TECH JUST ANOTHER TOOL

Technology is merely a tool, and should be treated as such, and we should keep our focus on what is truly important: our client relationships. Clients will far prefer a meaningful chat about their business than a slew of reports emailed to them once a month.

The reassurance we bring to our clients by working with them personally can never be replicated by software. If new technology has given us more time, then we should invest those hours in our clients, broadening the way in which we assist them.

Tech should empower, not disempower, complement, not be subject to compliment.  It should make us consider why we entered professional services in the first place: the emphasis should be on service.

Sometimes, I think we forget this in the rush to implement the next shiny app that will relieve all of our bottom line woes (or so the hype would have us believe).

How does this impact the workplace of the future? I believe it means a reassessment of the values and attitudes we look for in the next generation of employees.

SOFT SKILLS MOST VITAL

We hear talk of ‘soft skills’, but these have never been more important than in these technological times. It is an age of the increasingly impersonal, so we need to be looking for graduates who are equipped with a much broader skill set than before.

Some professional service firms will only interview soon-to-be graduates if their marks fall within a Distinction or High Distinction average. But this doesn’t mean they are necessarily ‘people people’, capable of active listening, discernment and understanding a client’s concerns.

Our ‘next gen’ employees need to be able to hold conversations, tell a story, be able to explain complex scenarios in everyday language, and give practical guidance to clients on how to build their businesses.

If undergraduates are wondering how to get these skills, I would suggest actively seeking work in businesses during semester breaks, learning what it means to run a business, face a cash flow crisis, handle difficult staff members.  Undergraduates should seek mentors who have great interpersonal skills, sound experience, and who are willing to pass this on.

In this way, we can get back to the basics and listen to what our clients want for their business and for themselves.

Technology may provide answers, but we deliver solutions and deeper insights, while building rapport through great service delivery.

www.kmpg.com/au

*Fleur Telford is KPMG Enterprise director of technology. 

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Novius ushers in paradigm shift for architecture, engineering, construction

FOR PROESSIONALS in the architecture, engineering and construction sectors, an Australian IT innovator named Novius seems destined to change how projects are successfully managed and executed forever.

What Novius achieves sounds simple – providing a collaborative three-dimensional (3D) modelling environment in the ‘cloud’. However, achieving this in a way that enables all stakeholders to participate in real time, smoothly and effectively, has been the ‘holy grail’ for the interrelated industries Novius refers to as the ‘AEC’ sector.

Novius today may be a young and relatively small company, but the minds who created it are long on experience in both IT and AEC disciplines. They essentially created the Novius system to meet their own high standards for robust, flexible and efficient daily use. 

According to the company’s director of strategic development, Joshua Staggs, first among equals is Novius CEO Paul Listo, who he described as being “an innovative and accomplished IT professional who also has the rare practical experiential advantage of having worked as an architectural technician for many years”.

Mr Staggs said it was while trying to improve enterprise IT and design systems for more efficient multi-site use that Mr Listo discovered ‘the cloud’ as a solution. Properly enabled, the cloud could provide a work environment that would solve many of the day-to-day problems and inefficiencies of the way drawings were being created and communicated between architects, engineers and construction managers.

From his own ICT and business management background, Mr Staggs said he realised the potential of Mr Listo’s concepts immediately and decided to help form Novius to bring that potential capability to reality.

“I believe what Paul has created will soon make Novius the ‘go-to’ place for the AEC sector,” Mr Staggs said. “Paul and Novius are focussed on architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing primarily because the AEC market experiences lots of pain in this space.”

BORN FROM EXPERIENCE

Paul Listo knows about the ‘pain’ of getting the basics right on a daily basis from his years working as an architectural draftsman. He knows how fraught with difficulty the most basic thing – making sure all parties have the latest drawings to work from – can be in practice.

And he knows what happens, in terms of time and money lost, when things don’t all come together as they should. In fact, it was the reason he began to imagine an enterprise-grade system where everyone concerned could collaborate and contribute in real time, so the drawings being worked with were always the most up-to-date.

And then the ‘cloud’ came along.

“What separates us from others is that we are simultaneously a cloud service provider and a solutions provider in the one business,” Mr Listo said. “And this leads us towards our target industries of architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas …”

Listo’s inherent industry knowledge in shaping the Novius solution also plays out in the way the company collaborates with clients. Every negotiation begins with an assessment of real needs and an implicit ability to scale fast, up and down, to suit any project.

“The way we build and control our cloud and scale our cloud is based heavily on our solution expertise,” Mr Listo said. “When we implement that solution we are in a position to make guarantees about it working, because we know how we have constructed it and how we will continue to build it.”

Mr Listo began to understand the paradigm shift that the cloud could bring to AEC industries – provided all major enterprise software solutions could be made to work effectively on it – as he was building solutions to improve productivity for the architectural practice he worked for at the time, which partners closely with a Chinese architectural practice and operates a Cairns satellite branch office. These solutions included ways to improve collaboration between stakeholders.

“This was at a time when the infrastructure that would allow 3D software to be run in a data centre environment was very much in its infancy,” Mr Listo said. “Slash, not even existent yet.”

In the early stages he would implement solutions to provide partial collaboration to overcome that lack of available infrastructure to facilitate complete collaboration..

“The hardware got to the point where it was actually a viable option to pursue,” he said. “This has always been a very big passion project of mine. Having to collaborate with multiple stakeholders and having to work with people who were in remote areas, it was just not something this industry had ever been able to really achieve before, or do well.

“There is not a single business that I go and talk to that does not have at least one problem around that, operationally.”

WORLD FIRST?

Novius is one of the first companies in the world to provide a genuine ‘good-to-go’ cloud 3D collaboration solution in the AEC market.

While Novius has identified several potential competitors emerging in Europe, and large cloud providers such as Amazon and Google claim to offer solutions, none are as specifically tailored to the particular needs of the AEC market as the rapidly developing Australian company.

Novius brings to the table a comprehensive consultation with each approach, tailoring the solution to suit a particular company’s – or project’s – needs and requirements. 

Novius also has bragging rights, Mr Listo said, to a very useful capability: “We will make any CAD software work in this environment. Provided the licence agreements will enable us to do so, we will not discriminate in terms of what software you can run on the cloud.”

Novius has already received positive reports from its client users of AEC products in the cloud such as Autodesk products, Bluebeam Revu, Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft products and others. Much of that feedback continues to come through its major re-seller in Australia, A2K Technologies.

Novius is finding its reputation for understanding a company or project’s specific needs – and not only tailoring a technical solution but also training stakeholders in how to best utilise the new capability – is driving adoption fast.

“If you’ve got multiple stakeholders – say, an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer, an architect and a hydraulic engineer, all able to work in the same space and view the same information in real time, then absolutely yes – you will save time, drive productivity and therefore you will also decrease cost in the business,” Mr Listo said.

““A multi-site business is another one. Hypothetically speaking, I have a branch office of five staff, and they take on a reasonably sized project. They have won a big project because they come from a big firm but their primary workforce resides at their head office. This particular project may require  10 people to complete. They utilise the spare resourcing in head office to then meet the requirements of the job.

“Novius would, in that situation, definitely and dramatically improve the time in collaborating between the multi-site offices as well. It’s about having your branch office staff and your head office team working together as though they were sitting in the same office.

“For multi-site, multi-disciplinary projects, it is a big, big deal in terms of time saving.”

AVOIDING COSTLY MISTAKES

Saving time is one thing, but saving money is an increasing imperative in the AEC sector – and that often means preventing costly mistakes. Again, Novius is aiming to change the paradigm for the better, making the most of Mr Listo’s real-world experience.

“Based on my time when I worked in the industry, I would say that it is going to improve the relationship (between AEC stakeholders) and save time,” Mr Listo said.

“I witnessed first-hand problems where someone would make a change to a 3D model on a Monday, but because these 3D models are so large, importing the files together to join them into one takes a substantial amount of time. It was not efficient or economical to do that on a daily basis, so we did it on a weekly basis.

“The problem there was that, say, you put the models together on a Friday and then Monday morning someone goes and changes something, because they need to get their job done.” 

He gave a real example he saw in which the plan for air conditioning ductwork was being designed mid-week and, according to the 3D model assembled the previous week, that duct was positioned just above the ceiling height. However, unbeknown to the engineers, earlier in that same week someone decided, on the architectural side, to raise the ceiling in that area.

“So what happened was, at the same time they raised the ceiling in the 3D model, the mechanical engineer had designed a duct that was now sitting through the ceiling,” Mr Listo said.

“If everyone had access to the latest 3D model live, the engineer would have seen the fact that the ceiling had been raised, which would have raised an amicable conversation rather than having committed to the point of having done a whole set of drawings and details and things like that around these changes to then combine the models, meet to discuss them on Friday and have a long argument over whose change was more important.”

The Novius system could also be expected to reduce the incidence of building variations and make-good procedures.

“There are implications for onsite workers as well, especially in construction,” Mr Liston said. “If they are working on a regularly updated 3D model and they are able to view that on iPads, and other tablet devices, on site with regularly updated drawings … when they are logged into this system they know they are working on the most current model and drawings, so you know there is going to be fewer mistakes.

“A huge problem of what happens on site is that, say, an architect makes a series of revisions, and they send that to the project manager. They then send that to the sub-contractors, but the sub-contractors could build off an older revision because they have accidentally misplaced the recent drawings or accidentally picked up an older set of drawings.

“Over the early stages of construction, you have often got something like 10 revisions that have happened on site. Those drawings get reprinted every day. They get stuffed up because people are not always the most efficient when it comes to destroying old drawings or old documents. Someone picks up the wrong one or does the wrong thing and all of a sudden you have got a mistake,” Mr Listo said.

“If that mistake is as severe as a slab being poured in the wrong spot, or not long enough or too long, it can actually have implications that are measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars when it comes down to the building variation.

“Having people being able to work in a central location like Novius offers can make a massive difference to costs on a project of that scale. That’s a pretty big deal,” he said.

“This really highlights our competitive advantage.”

www.novius.com.au

 

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IT company ‘Davids’ beat telco goliaths Telstra and Vodafone

IT HAS BEEN called the ICT industry’s David and Goliath battle – and two Davids won again when Brisbane-based companies SuretyIT and Cloud Plus beat out Telstra and Vodafone at the inaugural CRN Impact Awards. 

The CRN Impact Awards were established to recognise IT providers for projects that delivered real benefits for customers. Cloud Plus and Surety IT were awarded for their partnership on an information and communication technology (ICT) solution contract for John Deere dealer Chesterfield Australia. 

In the end, the ability of the smaller companies to provide the highest quality bespoke solution won the day.

“Chesterfield had invested a lot of money in an IT solution that was not working for them,” SuretyIT co-owner and technology director Geoff Stewart said. “It has 16 remote offices in New South Wales and Queensland, many of which are in regional and rural areas.  Its staff spend a lot of time in paddocks and on farms and they need an agile IT environment.

“Chesterfield approached us to conduct an independent audit,” Mr Stewart said. “We identified a number of problems and we put a lot of time and energy into finding the right solutions in collaboration with Cloud Plus.  We looked at the impact that the IT problems were having on the end users and identified that this was leading to a lot of inefficiencies and frustrations. 

“Before we implemented the new solution it was taking their staff up to 30 minutes to print out invoices for customers, now it takes seven seconds.  That is a massive improvement to their customer service.”

Mr Stewart said since the new environment was deployed, Chesterfield had gained back about 15 percent of its workforce hours across 220 staff. 

Overall business productivity has improved “and Chesterfield's IT team no longer spend their time firefighting”.

Chesterfield general manager of business services Sue Owen said, “Since we started working with Surety IT, we have been able to make sure that the people who are at the front face of the business, out with the customers in paddocks, are connected to our servers and our network and have the information they need readily accessible. That is a massive step forward in how we operate.”

http://www.suretyit.com.au

 

CRN AWARDS 2017

Digital Transformation

Winner: Vibrato / CitiPower and Powercor. Highly commended: Mexia / Bendigo Health. Highly commended: Versent / Service NSW.

Workforce Empowerment

Winner: Comunet / Costa Group Holdings. Highly commended: Tquila ANZ / Tyrrells.

Property Inspections

Commended: Calibre One / Halkitis.

Trusted Systems

Winner: UXC Connect / Melbourne Water. Highly commended: Geek / Civil Contractors Federation SA.

Customer Experience

Winner: DiUS / REA Group.

Working Together

Winner: Cloud Plus and Surety IT / Chesterfield Australia. Highly commended: b2cloud and Vodafone Foundation / The Garvan Institute.

IP Product category

Winner: BryteFlow. Commended: NetCrypt.

Modernising Infrastructure - Enterprise

Winner: Kinetic IT / Department of Education WA. Commended: VoIP / Sydney Local Health Districts.

Modernising Infrastructure - Mid-range

Winner: Trident Computer Services / Vale Australia. Highly commended: base2Services / Tuned Global. Commended: Venn IT Solutions / Core Logic (RP Data).

Optimising Investments - Enterprise

Winner: Silverfern IT / Perth Mint. Commended: Professional Data Kinetics / Sureway

Employment & Training.

Optimising Investments (Mid-range)

Winner: OBT / Eureka Funds Management.

 

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Public accountants partner with myprosperity

FINANCIAL software company, myprosperity, has strategically partnered with The Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) to assist accountants to better service their clients.

The partnership, which joins one of the country’s oldest representative professional bodies with a relatively recent addition to the financial technology (fintech) scene, aims to help accountants implement technology into their practices to make them more efficient. 

Chris Ridd, CEO of myprosperity, described the partnership as “an exciting opportunity for accountants” as he saw a gap in the wealth advice space when it came to personal finance.

“In a digitally-driven financial market, myprosperity helps accountants thrive by providing up to date data, so they can get a real-time snapshot of their clients’ finances and provide informed advice. I think getting this data is something accountants struggle with and myprosperity is an elegant solution to this problem,” Mr Ridd said.

Mr Ridd said myprosperity automated data feeds from providers such as Class Super, Redbook, Yodlee, RP and the ASX to provide information about clients’ bank accounts, credit cards, home loans, real estate, insurances and superannuation.

The portal has functionality that is advantageous to accountants, including digital document signing, lead generation, uploading documents and receipts, and tagging tax items.

IPA CEO Andrew Conway said once he understood myprosperity’s capability, he recognised the potential the system had to transform the client/public accounting relationship.

“Having seen myprosperity in detail, I am convinced that this can power the transformation of the client/public accountant relationship,” Mr Conway said.

“The ability to provide real time, bespoke information to clients on their personal financial position will greatly assist informed decisions and a much deeper relationship between public accountants and their clients,” Mr Conway said.

www.publicaccountants.org.au

 

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