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4 Reasons your Business needs a Project Management Software

No matter the size or scale of your company, it is likely that you will have numerous projects in the pipeline. It often involves teams of people working simultaneously on tasks that are difficult to keep track of without proper organisation. In this case, Project Management software can be crucial in helping a company improve organisation, coherence and reduce waste.

Below, we discuss some of the main ways that your business will benefit from implementing a Project Management Software.

Improved organisation. Project Management software creates a filing system, which offers a comprehensive view of a project and any details about it. Although project planning is quite straightforward, the challenges arise when it comes to managing several projects at once. Rather than wasting time searching through files for notes, documentation and deadlines, everything can be kept in project management software.

Cost-effective. Time is money in the world of business, but the nature of a project management software and its features can help cut down costs on things such as training and employee wages. The self-contained nature of a project management software can serve as a training tool for a business. Because of this simple integrated feature, it saves on the costs of hiring a trainer for new employees. It can also help cut down on the number of mistakes being made, which will in turn save money.

Team Workflow. Collaboration is at the heart of project management software. While it may be more difficult to regulate on a larger scale project, coherence of and interdependence between team members is always necessary in projects of any size. A project management software allows the team leader to keep track of which tasks are being completed, and by who. This seamless workflow improves efficiency in both the short term and the long term, by creating cohesion between teams and team members.

Forecasting and Budgeting. While these are both fundamental skills expected of every team leader or project manager, a project management system is equipped to allow for more effective cost forecasting and budgeting. At the same time as keeping track of current costs and budgets, it will be full of data from past projects which will help to set more accurate budgets and forecast more effectively.

The Robots are Coming…but are they after our jobs?

Despite the field of artificial intelligence not yet having provided us with essential tea-making robots or machines to make our beds, it is undoubtedly becoming a bigger part of our lives. The rise in its’ capabilities puts it on a level of sophistication that now makes it essential to the running of many businesses.

Although true AI has not yet arrived, automation represents the human/machine clash and employment debate that genuine AI will inevitably bring. In recent years, AI/automation has taken center stage in discussions surrounding the evolution of the workplace, namely the question of job security and human obsolescence.

Research states that, as a result of the effect AI has had on the labour market, over 30% of all UK jobs could be in jeopardy by the early 2030’s.

However, this debate is far from new, with employment worries being at the forefront of past technological revolutions. Through each one, it was found that more jobs were created than destroyed. The hope is, that the same can be said for automation.

Here, I run down two of the opposing views about AI’s impact on the workplace.

As a general consensus, robots that think in the same way as humans are far from being a reality, which seemingly gives humans the upper hand. However, with many industries which require a generally lower skill level, such as sale, wholesale, manufacturing and HR, it becomes more likely that AI will simply replace workers in these jobs.

Another issue presented here is that the jobs at stake tend to be those of a lower wage. With these at risk of becoming automated, it could boost the pay gap between less educated and more educated workers, leading to a period of economic inequality.

The worst part is, it’s already happening. We have already seen instances where jobs have been automated in order to increase efficiency and cut costs, with, it has to be said, varying degrees of success. Hasn’t it become obvious that machines are just far superior to humans at checking if an item is correctly placed in the bagging area…

However, if we are to rely on the patterns that have emerged from past technological changes, it is fair to say that we aren’t in for an employment apocalypse, just a shift in the nature of work that is on offer.

This mindset offers the possibility that AI will actually augment or create more jobs in industries including Communications and IT, Professional Services and Media & Entertainment.

Typically, these industries require more creative or ‘human’ skills, such as computing, architecture and engineering, which are harder for AI to replace. With AI developing cognitive processes, allowing them to complete routine tasks, workers will be free to focus on the more rewarding and interesting parts of their jobs, helping them to become more efficient and productive.

If this positive outlook about AI is right in the long run, it may lead to a total re-evaluation of schools’ teaching methods. Children just starting school may eventually move into jobs which don’t even exist yet, which, to appease the pessimists, will possibly offset the loss of jobs in other sectors

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, until we have more knowledge about the future of AI, it is difficult to predict the extent to which it will redefine the workplace. Similar to past revolutions, the rise of AI is merely a generational hurdle that we need to overcome. It is a multi-faceted issue in terms of changing the way we live and work, to accommodate a world in which, AI and automation plays a huge role.

Although both sides of this debate are backed up by facts, figures and technical experts, only time will answer the burning question: Is AI here to work with us, or against us?

What does software look like & how does it work?

We often get asked what software looks like and how it works. I must have tried to explain it one hundred different ways but I often feel like I leave the person who asked feeling more confused than when they asked me. The below is my latest attempt!

Here I have tried to break up the 3 main layers that go into making a piece of software, these elements are all present in some form in any piece of software.  I’ve also tried to link it with a simplistic example, note the typical languages/ frameworks that are used in each stage and attempted to describe how software works with integration.

The below is a very basic overview; I hope any of this helps and that’s its understandable. Remember if you have a software project you would like to discuss please get in touch.

Document mgmt. series: The dream of a paperless office

Personally I hate clutter and mess – I am a bit of a neat freak as my friends will attest. I especially can’t stand clutter on desks, I think that the in/out paper trays that frequent so many office desks are just a huge waste of money and space – I’ve never seen a document that is put into one of those trays ever be taken out of it and used or filed anywhere else.

One of my colleagues is legendary for the state of her desk – There is piles of paper, files, letters and notes everywhere to the point where you cannot actually see any desk. She once went on holiday so a colleague and I took the opportunity to empty all the rubbish off her desk – we kept anything that was 2 years old or less and we still filled 3 bin bags! Most companies dream of the paperless office but situations like this make it seem like it is impossible to achieve. So why do people still cling onto paper? there are lots of reasons: –

  • Old processes/ ways of doing things – Processes are less resistant to change than people are, as such the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality still exists even when the processes and technology have moved beyond that old way. Historically everything was done on paper and neatly filed away, the issue regarding change means that some won’t move beyond this.
  • Fear of losing an important document – Tangibly having a document on your desk or in your office somewhere can be a tremendous security blanket to some, some documents are obviously really important and the fear of losing it could have real consequences. Obviously such documents should be kept securely in, for example a safe but that still doesn’t mean you can’t have a digital copy for day to day use. This in fact means the original document is actually safer.
  • Historically some processes would only deal with paper copies – This has now been largely phased out as technology has improved but previously a lot of processes simply couldn’t be performed digitally. This meant you had no choice but to use paper copies. A company I used to work for got randomly inspected by HMRC a fair few years ago, at the time we stored all of our invoices digitally on our accounts system which was neatly split by customers/ suppliers and into relevant months and years – the auditor simply refused to engage with the system and insisted we printed out all the invoices, a waste of our time and money, thankfully digital copies are now (largely) accepted for scenarios such as this.
  • Some people are just like keeping stuff and don’t like to throw things away – Just like my colleague above. They know where everything is within the organised chaos and they have a system for finding and dealing with the important documents. The problem is that only they know what this system is and it’s only in their heads, so anyone else hasn’t got a chance of finding that important document.

So how can you combat this?

  • Use Online drives – such as OneDrive or Google Drive. These allow you share documents with colleagues.
  • Digital signatures – use software that allows documents to be signed digitally, Adobe Reader has this function built into it using the excellent Fill & Sign feature. This means documents do not have to be printed out, signed and sent back, cutting down on time, printing costs and the mundanity of rescanning documents so they can be emailed back to the sender.
  • Buy a document management system – A fully functional document management system will allow you to fully control your business documentation with your colleagues and your clients. It allows you to store documents centrally, you can grant permissions to the correct audience and you can use permissions to prevent the editing and printing of documents.
  • Online banking – Many are moving to online banking for the ease of access and convenience. Going Online also gives you the option of requesting paperless statements. With many you can also set up alerts to notify you when a new document is available
  • Phase out old tech that relies on paper – I’m looking at you, people who still have fax machines!

Document mgmt. series: Why use a document management system instead of emails

Why use a document management system instead of emails? This is the biggest rebuttal we hear when we tell people about document management systems. Emails are amazing; one of the greatest innovations in communication, providing a versatile system that allows you to have virtual conversations and ensures you have a written record of what has been said, they are simple and easy to use and very accessible. So why you should use a document management system and not email to send documents? There are several reasons, here are some of them: –

  • A document management system will centralise your data – This means that the document is located on a system where multiple people can access it, if you use emails for this then if the people who sent and received the document are not available you have to wait for them to become available if you want to view this document.
  • The document can get “lost” in the email trail – We use email as a communication tool, to provide updates to each other and send message updates, if we also push a document into the middle of this we run the risk of either to document or the message losing some of its gravitas. Using different systems for messaging and document management ensures we maintain focus.
  • Version control issues – Emailing a document means that you have to have to specify who your audience is going to be and sending a document over email to multiple people can lead to version control issues, especially if you have asked for comments or updates because as soon as all of the people you have emailed the document to open it, there will essentially be multiple versions of the document. Using a document management system eliminates this and ensures that documents to be collaborated on are centralised and version controlled.
  • Duplication – A big issue is resistance to change, people are simply used to using email. So even if you have a system in place some people will still use emails to send documents. This means that you are effectively using multiple systems to deal with one issue and is likely to mean that duplicated documents are in use, this can then cause issues relating to version control as described above.
  • Compliance – We will cover this in greater depth in a future post but with GDPR utilising a document management system over emails for sending documents will help you with compliance.
  • The biggest reason to not use emails for document management is that it’s not what emails should be used for! Emails are there to give and receive direct, timely, detailed information that ensures there is a record of the communication. However the average employer still receives 6 attachments per day.

We use emails a lot in our working lives with a 2015 study showing the average employee receives 122 emails per day and sends out 40. It’s estimated that we spend 30% of working week dealing with emails that equates to around 2.5 hours per day. We need to find effective ways of dealing with the information we receive and send and using a document management system is a way of achieving this. If your sole reason for composing an email is attach a document to it, then you would be much better served using a document management system.

Room Booking

When it comes to booking a room I know a lot of people will be like me and assume it’s got something to do with a holiday or an event…No just me? I don’t know if it’s just good marketing from Roombooking.com or Trivago but my mind just immediately thinks of them two. But of course in true BBC fashion other hotel booking provides are available.

Anyway, let’s put our working or business hat on. Booking a room is usually done for a meeting or an event, right? And this is more often than not done by contacting the receptionist (if you’re lucky enough to work with a receptionist) and asking them to check if said room is available. To which they will need to check their diary and relay the information back to you, who will then need to see if the time and date available is suitable for you and the person your meeting with. To then find out it isn’t and the process starts again taking up precious time we could be spending doing other important tasks like….making….doing….erm…..you get what I mean. Surely there’s a better way?

Yes, of course there is. Just wing it and walk into your own meeting room and hope that no one comes in whist you’re meeting with your very important client. And if someone does walk in simply say, “Oh I thought I’d booked it?” or the classic “It must have been double booked.” I’m sure that will look professional in front of Jeff Bezos when he comes to chat about your company. Imagine not doing business with Bezos because someone walked in half way through your meeting asking you to get out, all because the room wasn’t correctly booked.

Ok, maybe Jeff Bezos was a little optimistic. But I’m sure you’re getting the picture now. The reason we’ve chosen to highlight Room Booking in this blog is because we (Red Robot) use to be like many others and wing it! And it got to the point that all the companies in our business hub were getting frustrated and in fact losing business. So being the cool guys that we are, we decided to create a solution. Thus our Room Booking Software was born. I know…catchy name right!

We developed this software with the purpose to help ourselves run that bit smoother and save time. We have since decided that because it’s worked so well for us that we would like to help other business centres and offices run as smooth as we do. Also, after receiving feedback from business centres who are already implementing it, we are currently working on adapting the software to be a marketing tool for external bookings for those of you who hire out your lovely rooms. Pretty cool right!

If you would like to find out more information on our Room Booking Software then don’t be shy. Get in touch…

Document mgmt. series: why should I have one in my business?

This is the first article we are writing in a mini-series all about document management, how it can help your business and the tips you can use to help you integrate this system into your business. First up is the biggest question of all – why do I need a document management system?

Right out of the gate; we have developed a document management system that we are looking to sell (why else do you think we’re writing these articles? J) The reason I mention this is because when I am visiting a current or potential client and I tell them about our document management solution I often get a response like “Why do I need one of those? – we just email and that works fine” in response to using emails to manage and send documents – we have a whole article on that coming soon. The reasons you would have a document management system are plentiful, including: –

Improved collaboration – A document management system enables multiple people to view the same document at the same time, features such as comments and workflow enable groups to do things with the document quickly, efficiently and concurrently. This means that the process for approval / authorisation of documents is expedited.

Better security – Document management systems offer added layers of security; in the first place only registered users can access the system. You can also go one step further by configuring your document management system so that access requests need to be approved by an administrator and you can also set the parameters for passwords. Secondly, keeping documents on a document management system makes it a lot more difficult for documents to be read/ used/ amended or deleted by users who are not authorised to do so as permissions can be set on an individual level so each user will only be able to view and perform actions on documents that they have been authorised to do so.  

Improved version control – Using a document management systems ensures that you are working on the most up to date version of a document. Many document management systems have a versioning process built into them and some even allow you to view and (if necessary) access previous versions of that document. If you rely on emails or paper copies then you are always running the risk that you are not using the most current version of the document. Also as there is only one document on the system you can be sure that everyone is working on the same document.

Easier to search through data – Most document management systems will have an integrated search facility built into them enabling you to enter key words. You can also run searches based on defined parameters or filters such as a “From” and “To” date allowing you to hone in on the documents you want to find. With paper based storage, searching for documents is extremely tricky, even if you have labelled storage boxes/ files correctly you still have a lot of searching to do and you always run the risk of someone filing something in the wrong place meaning a document is not where it’s supposed to be. Having a document management system eliminates this and means searching for documents is a quick and painless process.

Saving space and money – Physical storage costs can be extremely high, when you consider the associated costs for paper, a storage box/ file of some sort, folders and inserts and of course the cost of physically storing documents. If you use space on your business premises, it means you have less office space limiting your aspirations for growth. If you store your files off site there are warehousing costs to pay for and of course if you need to retrieve any documents you have to travel to go and get them. In comparison storing documents digitally takes up very little physical storage space and you of course eliminate the costs associated with physically storing documents. There is of course a cost associated to storing documents digitally but this should be much less than the costs for storing the same data physically.

These are just some of the primary reasons that you should consider a document management system, please let us know if you want more advice on a document management system and the type of solutions we could provide. 

Document Management System

GDPR an abbreviation that is enough to make businesses and their workers go into meltdown. What is it? What does it mean? Can I still do this? HELP!!! Trust me, we feel you on that one. The implication of GDPR is rapidly chaining the way in which businesses need to store sensitive and confidential data.

“So does it fit into regulations if we copy all the information onto new paper using invisible ink, lock them away in a safe and change the 1000 digit password every week?” Well I’m no expert in this but yes I’m sure it would. However, why would you? Surely there’s a simpler and easier solution? Well yes there is. And it’s in for form of a Document Management System.

Our document management system is specifically designed website that often serves as a single point of access for information via a secure log in process. Therefore, this can be an answer to a lot of problems in business especially when it comes to…yes it’s that abbreviation again GDPR.

What else are the benefits of a document management system? Well as it’s accessible via unique log in’s for customers and staff which improves security, it also makes all data easy to find as its all in one place. So even that customer or staff member who perhaps isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed can easily find what they are looking for. Additionally, adding this to your website will in return drive more people/traffic towards the site which can only be a positive factor. Furthermore, my personal favourite benefit of a web portal is the reduction of them big grey, metal filing cabinets, which are a real eyesore. And let’s not forget that we live in a day and age where we want to have information at our finger tips (usually to solve an argument) and we have Google, Amazon and Social Media platforms to thank for that. So with a database management system if your customers want to check a specific document at 1am on a Saturday morning, because that’s the cool thing to do, then they are more than capable of doing so.

So without going into to any more detail about GDPR, because I mean, let’s face it, it’s a pretty dull subject that no one is really an “expert” in. Our solution here at Red Robot Systems is utilising a document management system, as they’re a great solution to a lot of businesses problems regarding data collection and customer interaction. And we have our very own Doc Man System!! How cool is that! No? It’s cooler than GDPR though…Right?  Anyway, having that added layer of security via a login is always reassuring…providing we just ignore all the news regarding Facebook that is.

 

Why get a customer portal

A customer portal is becoming a must-have tool for customer & service orientated organisations. Typically these portals are accessed via the organisations main website. They are accessed via a login and password meaning A) The organisation can control who has access to the portal and B) The customer is assured by an extra layer of security.

Customer portals cater to today’s lifestyle – on the go and accessible anywhere and at anytime; our personal technology has generated an expectation that we should be able to get information and process transactions instantaneously – Customer Portals make this happen. It is also a fundamental element of customer self-service which is also coming more and more prevalent and popular; a recent survey indicated that around 70% of people want to solve product or service issues on their own without having to rely on an agent. Around 90% of UK customers expect businesses to have an online self-service portal. It means your systems and processes are the central cogs of your business, not people. It also creates a system where your customers are doing the work they used to require you to do, freeing up your time to do other tasks.

Customers expect to see features like getting a quote, raise a support ticket, knowledge base and see my previous orders. A portal should also give customers the opportunity to quickly and easily update their contact details.

We’ve highlighted some of the reasons they are popular in the below infographic. Creating portals is what we have the most experience in; see our case studies for Stratus Technologies & Pink Penguin for examples. We love the challenge of building them, so if you are thinking of getting a customer portal to improve your business, we’d love to hear about it.

What is Blockchain and Bitcoin

Blockchain and Bitcoin are two words that are used increasingly in today’s lexicon, its everywhere and has become increasingly newsworthy with the recent fluctuations of Bitcoin – on Christmas day, 1 bitcoin was worth $13,975, today (2nd February 2018) 1 bitcoin is worth $8,150 it’s a very volatile market and there is differing opinion on whether it will be the next oil or gold or whether it will become the next .com type bubble to burst.

In this article we will briefly describe what they are and try to use a metaphor to explain how they work. The first thing to say is that Bitcoin is an example of Blockchain, that is to say it utilises the processes through which Blockchain works and uses it as a digital currency, in fact Blockchain was essentially created to power Bitcoin, other potential future uses of Blockchain include anything around sorting records, data or events so for example our medical records.

What is Blockchain?

It is essentially a continuously growing list (or block) of records. These records are linked together and secured via cryptography. Each record has a link to the next block on the chain. Blockchain is decentralised meaning it’s not stored in one location or controlled by any one person/ company. As such when any data is recorded it is recorded across lots of computers in the network. This makes it very difficult to modify records once data has been recorded; to retrospectively alter any data would mean you would have to alter it on every computer in the network which is next to impossible.

What is Bitcoin

Bitcoin is an example of how Blockchain technology & processes can be used; Bitcoin is a digital currency (or cryptocurrency) which is made up of a sort of token (like a virtual IOU) and the network upon which all the transactions are recorded. Bitcoin enables payments to be sent by users without having to go through a “middleman” like a bank or a payment gateway like PayPal. It was created in 2009 by an unknown person who using the alias of Satoshi Nakamoto. His aim was to do for currency what the internet did for news, liberate it and make it free and open for everyone without any controlling parties governing it. Its anonymity and lack of a controlling central authority has made it attractive for the use of criminal activity, it was the payment method requested as a ransom after numerous NHS systems were hacked in the UK in late 2017.

Unlike regular currencies Bitcoin only has a finite supply, whereas in the real world governments can choose to print extra currency or withdraw it to manipulate its value this cannot happen with Bitcoin. There will only be 21 million Bitcoins ever made available. The Blockchain ensures that only a few trickle out every 10 minutes, the amount diminishes as time goes on. This is partly why it’s so popular, there is heavy demand and supply will be limited, pushing its value up.

What is mining

Every 10 minutes the Blockchain adds all the transactions in that 10 minute period to the end of the block they are heavily encrypted. Bitcoin mining involves the processes taken to validate the transactions within this 10 minute window and add them to the Blockchain ledger of public transactions. Mining is a very complicated and difficult process requiring the miner to solve complex mathematical equations that are part of the bitcoin program and then including the answer in the Blockchain.

It’s a very intensive process with multiple parties competing against each other to be the first to solve the equation. As a reward for doing this the quickest, the successful miner gets some bitcoins which are included within the block of transactions released, hence the term mining, you are mining the Bitcoins out of the block of transactions. The number of Bitcoins included in a block reduces slowly over time, at the time of writing the reward for successfully mining a block is 12.5 Bitcoins (approx. £150,000). The process of mining requires a lot of computing power, so expensive kit is needed to do it well and it is very energy intensive so your electricity bill is going to astronomical.

Bitcoin as a metaphor

The best metaphor that I came across that attempts to explain how Bitcoin works was to imagine a bunch of safes all securely welded together, all the safes have unbreakable, bulletproof yet see through glass doors enabling anyone to see how much money is stored in it. All the safes have a one way slot in them enabling people to post money into them (but not retrieve any money). All the safes have a unique reference number on them allowing people to identify them. Anyone can put money into any one of these safes should they wish to do so. If you have a bitcoin account you are given one of the empty safes along with the combination to open the safe, if you want someone to send you money all you need to do is tell them which reference number your safe has. Using your combination allows you to open the safe and withdraw the money. If you lose or forget your combination you are up the creek without a paddle – there is no way of accessing the money without that combination. The safes are publicly available which means that anyone can look at them and anyone can see what transactions have been put into what safe but they will not be able to determine either your identity or the identity of the person who paid you. It is very easy to transfer money because A) there is no regulatory steps you need to go through to put money (or withdraw it) from one of these safes so there is no scrutinisation or interference from any government and B) it doesn’t need any middlemen so banks are not involved in the process.  

Disclaimer: Red Robot Systems have nothing to do with Blockchain or Bitcoin – we are not involved with it in any way, shape or form. We’re only interested in it because we are nerds and it concerns software and coding!