Walk in your customers shoes

When Tina Whitley joined NEC Software Solutions in 2016, she had no idea how much the landscape would change with a global pandemic and she would be spending a Friday night wearing a bulletproof vest.

Tina spoke with GS-insight about becoming CEO and her belief that supply partners need to walk in their customers’ shoes to be able to both understand and effectively solve their challenges.

Seeing is understanding

Spending time with customers to see their normal working conditions, pain points and the way that a software solutions business can help support them is something I’m passionate about. It’s why I jumped at the chance to pull on a bullet proof vest and join two police officers on a night shift.

On what was described as a ‘quiet night’, I joined the immediate response team and witnessed three domestic abuse call outs, a road rage event, a report of someone being drunk and disorderly and a suspected kidnapping.

Despite being a little intimidated by the evening’s events, there was so much value from shadowing the police officers. It’s taking the time to experience a day in the life of our customers that will help us give them the answers to the problems they face.

I could really see the importance of putting critical information into the hands of officers on the frontline, so they have real-time reliable intelligence at their fingertips.  Whether that’s being alerted of any potential dangers or to have the ability to update case files without having to return to the station.

Spending time with the officers made it clear that they want technology that helps them provide seamless data integration to and from the station, so they can do what they really want to do, which is support the public and make our streets safer. 

Understanding the pain points

It’s not just the safety sector that our software and services support. We’re an organisation with a history of developing innovative software solutions primarily for the public sector, with a focus on putting vital information in clear and concise formats into the hands of those that need it.

Whether that’s giving police officers the critical intelligence they need to improve decision making, helping healthcare to reduce patient waiting times and cope with increased demand, providing the NHS with technology to screen babies for hearing loss or enabling housing providers to manage homes more effectively.

To do this, it’s essential that when recruiting our people, we find the right person for the job.  People who see the world from the customer’s perspective rather than what they have on paper or where they’ve come from. 

I think it’s pretty special that many of our employees have been health screeners, benefits officers, have worked in housing, probation and for the emergency services.  It means we are determined to understand the real pain points for our customers and are passionate about wanting to solve them.

However, it’s important to welcome the next generation too. We have improved access to both apprenticeships and graduates at NEC as we’re determined to create more opportunities for young people. This has to be a priority. If we want to be a business that is pushing the boundaries of technology solutions and thinking across the world, we need young talent unencumbered by thoughts of what went before, who can challenge our old ways of working. 

Investment

Complementing our people strategy is our desire to provide our customers with the very latest in technologically innovative solutions, all designed to make a difference, whilst sustainably growing our business. This year we have experienced double digit growth. 

Since we were acquired by the NEC Group in 2018, over £90 million has been invested in developing the tools that will help our customers meet both current and future challenges.

Under the NEC Brand, which is a global entity, we are on a great journey to offer the most innovative technology for health, housing, police and local government across the UK and internationally.

Furthermore, through both investment and support by NEC we have been able to accelerate our acquisition plans to increase our portfolio of ground-breaking tools and services.

In 2018, we acquired i2N, specialist software for justice, probation, and prisons, APD Communications, control room software and in 2019 we acquired the eye screening business of EMIS Group.

In 2019 we also acquired Snook, the design studio that worked with telecoms firms to zero-rate access to online government services and created an algorithm to increase the uptake of free school meals. Then at the end of 2020, we acquired Charter Systems, the covert management business, with another acquisition (in June 2021) of Vantage Health, a ground-breaking pathway triage service operating in primary, secondary and acute services within NHS trusts.

More recently, we announced an intention to acquire Capita’s Secure Solutions and Services business, a leading provider of software and solutions to the emergency services and justice sectors. The deal is expected to complete at the end of this year, subject to consents and approvals.

Our acquisition strategy is always to find companies with a similar ethos and drive for making a difference to customers in the core sectors we operate in. This is essential in ensuring both that there is a smooth transition and that we add real value as the businesses become part of the NEC Software Solutions culture.

Making a difference

There’s no doubt the pandemic really highlighted the importance of having both innovative technology, an agile disposition and close relationships with customers. The fact that we have these meant we were able to help our customers predict and rapidly respond to sudden changes.

As an example, when the government announced that many organisations wouldn’t have to pay business rates for a year.  We were very proactive and gave our local authority customers a way to immediately suspend planned direct debit payments. This step ensured that businesses were not unnecessarily out-of-pocket to avoid further stress and interim cash flow problems.

In addition, we recognised that local authorities needed a simple way to collect data to be able to pay their allocation of the £3 billion worth of business cash grants the government awarded to help businesses through the crisis. As a result, we created a new online access to enable local authorities to do this.

Other software enhancements ensured free school meal payments were made to families struggling with additional costs following school closures and ensuring that people on restricted budgets received the additional financial assistance they were entitled to.

When the self-isolation payments scheme launched in September 2020, local authorities found themselves needing a solution to be able to quickly make payments to those who would face hardship if they were required to self-isolate.

Within four weeks, we had created and implemented new software programs enabling local authorities to manage and administer the payments as well as delivering a service to support local authorities needing additional capacity.

These enhancements were critical as any delays in support and benefits could result in a significant impact on the more vulnerable people in the community.

Enabling people to do more for themselves

During this time, the demand for digital services quickly increased. Our teams were focused on helping social housing landlords implement new IT systems to give their residents the ability to do more for themselves online.

One project we’re especially proud of was for Colchester Borough Homes, the housing subsidiary of Colchester.  The implementation had to be managed remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions however working in close partnership the housing management system was live in just under a year.

Normally, transformations like this would take in excess of 18 months to implement.

This new system enables housing staff working remotely to be able to update tenancy records from any device along with the ability to analyse data such as the geographical location and condition of properties at the touch of a button.  It is essential to help them make informed decisions on when and where to target resources.

In such challenging times, our people showed their motivation to go above and beyond to get things done. I think this was an incredible achievement and shows the power of what can be achieved when you have a clear understanding of your customer and their goals. We have three key values that form the basis of our culture, Inspiring, Innovative and Involved and this is a great example of how these elements can help to generate real improvements.

The future

Our drive to spend time with our customers and the challenges they face is at the heart of everything we do.  By doing this we can develop the best technological solutions and services to help them overcome them and to change lives for the better. Fortunately, getting to know your customer doesn’t always require body armour.