data resource planning

Accurate Data Is Key to Good Resource Planning

How Good is the Data Being Fed to Your Resource Management Software?

Every company needs effective resource management. But even the best software is only as good as the data it relies on.

Resource management is key to every business, whether it is a legal firm booking out its top lawyers by the hour and making optimum use of its paralegals; a supermarket having the right number of tills open at the right time; a restaurant allocating tables for Christmas dinner; or a car factory having the right number of engines to slot into next week’s production schedule.

In years gone by, the allocation and management of resources was fraught with inaccuracy, guesswork and waste. Yet today, every good business has state of the art resource management software that removes the guesswork, automates the process and optimises resource allocation to maximise revenue and minimise costs, right? Well, not necessarily.

We have all heard of the phrase “garbage in, garbage out,” and any IT system is only as good as the data it has to work with. It is certainly true that the right system can provide a genuine competitive edge through all the factors we mentioned above, but only if the data is accurate and credible.

Let’s take a look at three metrics you need to consider when assessing just how good your project management data really is. We call them the three Cs.

Consistent

It is essential that the data you are using in relation to the project and resources is consistent across all the schedules. In other words, there must be agreed metrics and timescales in place across the board, and every project manager must be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Look at it this way – if two projects include the same piece of work but have completely different plans for its completion, the overall picture will make no sense whatsoever.

An effective way of ensuring consistency is to create templates that include the tasks, skills and jobs that are likely to be involved, along with standardised work patterns. That way, everyone can see what is expected.

Complete

However good your resource management software is, it does not have psychic powers. If there is data missing, the outputs are certain to be inaccurate. Make sure routine, ad hoc and departmental work is all logged in the system, as well as the formal projects.

Current

Data decays at a faster rate than you would believe possible. Unless everyone is committed to processing timesheet data regularly, the output from your resource management system will consistently be working on yesterday’s news.

As well as keeping the system constantly updated, Project Managers must also ensure they progress their plans according to the agreed deadlines. Any changes in scope need to automatically trigger a re-evaluation of the entire project.

Keeping the guesswork out

Pay attention to the Three Cs and your resource planning software can deliver all the benefits and competitive advantages that we mentioned earlier and more. Ignore them, however, and your business will be plunged back into the 20th century world of inspired guesswork.

tax accounts

Accounts Advice for Web Start Ups

Always Remember the Numbers

There are a million things to think about when starting a new web venture. Remember to take care of the basics to ensure success.

Despite the tough financial times we are living in at present, there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. In some ways, the increased spirit of free enterprise has even been helped along by the economic downturn that started around nine years ago.

As major businesses struggled, many individuals felt there was nothing to lose in going it alone and were prompted to take a step that they might have thought twice about in better economic times.

Today, small business experts Linda Carr Accountants see no indication of the trend slowing down. The technological age means almost anyone can start their own business, and those who operate predominantly online have minimal startup costs and therefore very low barriers to entry.

The great juggling act

Of course, starting a business is one thing, making a success of it is something else. According to an oft-quoted statistic, some 85 percent of new businesses fold within the first 18 months.

Anyone who takes the plunge will be working tirelessly to ensure their company falls into the 15 percent that go on to succeed, and that means keeping a lot of balls in the air. Managing the day to day operation, developing new business, gathering customer feedback, steering the medium and long term strategy, ensuring the marketing is effective and on brand – these are just a few of the topics that will be keeping the business owner busy all day and wakeful all night.

It is easy to take your eye off the most important ball of all. In the end, a business is there to make money, and if there is a problem with the accounts, it could spell disaster and an early bath.

Accounts advice

It is essential for any business to keep a close eye on the finances, but particularly so for a start up. The vast majority of new business failures are brought about by a problem with the cash flow rather than any deficiency in the overall business model.

You therefore need a skilled accountant onboard from the word go. To try and fulfil this role yourself is a false economy that will more often than not end in disaster.

For a small business, that does not necessarily mean hiring – even larger businesses often outsource the accounting function these days, so it generally makes sense to use the services of a local accounting firm.

Relationship building

You cannot keep secrets from your doctor, and similarly, your business needs to be completely open with your accountant. Relationship building is important, and they will be able to help you grow the business into one that is healthy, viable and efficient.

There are a number of different accounting methods that can be used, and these depend on various factors. It is far easier to start out on the right foot than to try and change horses midstream, which is another reason it is so important to have good financial advice from the get go.

With this in place, you have the freedom to focus on those other aspects of business development and strategy building to drive your business forward.

building the web

3 Ways To Drive More Website Leads

Use Web Design To Give Your Site Conversions A Boost

If you’re looking to get more out of the daily traffic that lands on your site, then take a look at your design layout and content to drive more leads.

Search engine optimisation and social media have become the foundation of any company’s approach to gaining a strong digital presence online. When used effectively, both can help a website acquire thousands or even millions of visitors. However, such traffic is arguably useless if you are unable to capture the attention of these users and convert them into leads or sales for your organisation. An effective web design can help you do just that. Here are some essentials to consider when trying to drive more website leads.

Call To Action (CTA)

Each page of your website should have a goal for your end user to meet. Are you trying to get site visitors to commit to a sale? Request a callback? Submit their contact details in return for a free download? Whatever your marketing goal is, be sure that it is obvious to your visitors. Include obvious CTA buttons that are easy to locate and offer clear guidance.

Clean Layout

Gone are the days of using fancy Flash features which slow down and irritate your users. Instead, site visitors want to obtain information rapidly. With this in mind, ensure that your layout is uncluttered and menus are intuitive and easy to navigate. Users should be able to find the info they’re looking for, ideally within 2 clicks. An award winning web design agency is essential for advising you on how to choose an effective layout for your business.

Compelling Copy

An attractive web design can only take you so far, the content of your site also speaks volumes about the professionalism and knowledge of your organisation. Pay attention to the headlines you use, which should aim to grab the attention of your audience. A copywriter will be able to assist you in putting across your message and establishing yourself as an authority within your industry. You might also want to include testimonials and positive client reviews which will help to solidify your reputation.

Whether you’re putting together a brand-new website, or are revamping the appearance and set-up of an existing one, always have your marketing goals in mind and remember the needs of the user when they’re visiting your site.

ROAD FREIGHT

Independent Road Freight Industry is Booming

Ti’s 2016 Report Examines the Dynamics of the Road Freight Sector

The latest report from Transport Intelligence shows that the freight industry is going from strength to strength.

Transport Intelligence has recently published its long-awaited 2016 European Road Freight Transport Report.

The report is invaluable to anyone involved in the road freight transport industry. It includes research on the dynamics of the road freight sector as well as the economic drivers within the industry.

It also provides a raft of country and sector specific data, forecasts and analysis.

Transport Intelligence

This UK-based organisation was established in 2002 and ever since, it has been providing high quality market research services to the global logistics sector. Its client list tells its own story, having acted as an advisor to the UN, European Commission, World Economic Forum and World Bank.

The 2016 European Road Freight Transport Report was created by a team of experts, led by Thomas Cullen, a respected writer and analyst who has been studying the global logistics sector for more than 15 years.

About the report

The report gives a broad overview of the European road freight market structure, examining the economic drivers and the effects of such factors as driver wages, freight rates, new fuel technologies and other technological advances throughout the supply chain.

It goes on to examine market data to give transport and logistics profiles of a variety of European countries and insights as to how the various economies have performed throughout the year.

The report analyses the different markets in terms of size, and examines growth rates, providing forecasts as to which countries are likely to see the greatest growth over the coming years.

It also provides insights regarding the key origins and destinations of inbound and outbound road freight for each country.

Key market findings

David Buckby is an economist within Ti, and on introducing the report he observes that in both 2015 and 2016, the European road freight market has seen steady growth, at a better level than that seen in previous years.

Looking broadly at the market, the report quickly identifies that it is extremely fragmented, with the top 10 players accounting for just 10% of the market.

When it comes to different geographies, Central Europe has clearly emerged as a key location for manufacturing. It is, however, inextricably entwined with markets and supply chains based in Western Europe. This pushes up the demand for international road freight. As well as central and western Europe, we are seeing more shipping routes Lithuania and Latvia appear, as the greater European market expands.

Unsurprisingly, fuel costs have the biggest impact on road freight pricing, and so it is natural that the report gives full attention to the potential for alternative fuels to transform the industry.

New technology

The subject of alternative fuels has seen major government investment the world over, but its use is far from straightforward. For example, bioethanol has been heralded as the ideal fuel alternative as it can be used in existing diesel engines. However, if it is used above a certain percentage by volume, it can cause premature wear to engine components, negating any cost saving.

Manufacturers are investing more and more every year into battery technology.  The report predicts that in just five years we will see even the largest trucks being powered by electricity.

The report also looks at other, even more advanced, technologies, such as self-driving vehicles and drones. While they might seem like science fiction today, the level of investment suggests that they will be realities before we know it.

Full report

This is just a flavour of the in depth analysis available in the full report, which is available directly from Ti.

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris Slams Deceptive Food Labelling

Understanding The Complexities Of Wording On Your Food Packaging

Chuck Norris has recently turned his attention to a matter that concerns all consumers – deciphering the truth behind the language of food labelling.

In the US, a shocking 130 billion pounds in weight of food gets thrown away each year. In a survey conducted by SSRS, it was discovered that 70% of people discard food because it is past its expiry date. Furthermore, this percentage of consumers consigned their expired produce to the garbage because they believed that eating it beyond the specified date would result in them becoming unwell.

The Purpose Of Expiration Dates

However, in a recent blog post, Chuck Norris explains that this is not the case. Foods don’t expire as such, instead they begin to lose their freshness and flavour after a certain period of time has elapsed. Therefore, brands choose to put expiration dates on their food labels in order to preserve the reputation of the produce and to ensure that consumers come back for more. Foods may certainly taste unpleasant after they’ve ‘gone off’, but it would be extremely unlikely that they could put a person’s health at risk.

Banning Expiration Dates

The laws regarding food labelling in the US are somewhat confusing. Some states have laws that insist on expiry dates being placed on meat and milk products. However, this isn’t officially required by federal law. Therefore, various authorities in the US food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are calling upon companies to scrap this labelling method and instead use phrases such as ‘Best if used by’ or simply, ‘Use by’.

These suggested labels are similar to those used in the UK. Our Food Standards Agency explains that the ‘Best before date’ refers to the quality of the food, meaning that its freshness and texture should be preserved up until this date. In comparison, a ‘Use by’ date in the UK, is not a suggestion but a safety precaution. You can also freeze food up until the ‘Use by’ date, which acts as a pause button when safely storing produce to be eaten at a later date.

Natural Foods

The use of language on food labels is also being scrutinised on both sides of the pond, particularly when it comes to the issue of supposedly ‘natural’ foods. What constitutes a natural product? Is it actually completely free from preservatives? The US Food and Drug Administration states that it does not object to “the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”  However, as the authority fails to formally identify the term, this means that it is not affected by law and can be found on food labels which haven’t officially had their produce verified.  In the UK, a two-year report carried out by the Food Advisory Committee found that 75% of consumers found food labels which used wording such as natural, pure, traditional, authentic and even farmhouse, to be misleading.

With this information in mind, people will likely be even more confused than before. As well as checking their food labels, consumers may start having to conduct their own Internet research to find out exactly what is going into their shopping trolleys each week!

Robot carer

Robots May Provide Cheaper Care, But Without the Human Touch

There is Still Room for Live in Care Despite Advances in Technology

The news that robots will soon be able to care for the elderly was met with excitement – but there’s only so much they can do.

Rarely a day goes by without the way we provide care for the infirm and elderly being in the news. With an ageing population and a shortage of social care, there are worries that we’re heading for a real crisis and simply won’t be able to cope. So it’s only natural that we’re looking for solutions – even turning to robotics. A recent article predicted that in just a few years we will be relying on robots to care for the elderly. Would they really be able to care for people in the same way as a human would though, or are there some things that a robot just can’t do?

Advances in robotics

The news that we could soon deploy robots to look after the elderly came at a press conference in Tokyo. The head of the Toyota Research Institute, one of the world’s leading authorities on robotic development, announced that they were building models that could help to care for older people. The robots would be able to carry out a variety of tasks, and would be able to safely handle people that are very frail. It’s worth mentioning that there have been no demonstrations of these robots in action yet, but Toyota are known for their cutting edge technology. If they’re talking about their work this confidently to journalists, it can’t be too long until we get a glimpse of these machines.

The personal touch

For all of their sophistication and delicacy though, can a robot care for a person in the same way that a carer would? Toyota insist that they’re building robots that can think as well as carry out tasks – similar to an autonomous car. While it’s clear that robots would be a massive help with manual tasks such as lifting someone in and out of the bath or helping them to prepare food, they simply cannot provide the personal touch that professionals from live in care agencies can. Robots cannot detect subtle changes in emotion or show empathy and understanding. To put it simply, they aren’t capable of understanding human behaviour yet. They also cannot provide conversation and companionship, which is something that many older people really need, especially if they are isolated.

The best of both worlds

So where do we go from here? It’s clear that there’s an appetite for robots that can help around the home. After all, we’re now buying things like robotic vacuum cleaners that seemed unimaginable a couple of decades ago. That’s where robots can be a real help to the elderly – assisting them with everyday tasks so that they can live in their own homes for longer. Providing hands on, empathic care? That might be some way off yet. Combining the care that humans can give and the assistance that robots can give with manual tasks could be a good option for the future. Like we said though, we’re a way off of that yet.

Live in care is still the best option

We’re not yet at the stage where robots are regular presences in the home, so elderly people still struggle with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, cleaning and just keeping themselves and their homes in good condition. If you’ve got a relative who is struggling to keep on top of things, then a live in carer may be an option. While they don’t have robot assistants just yet, they’re the best way for elderly people to maintain their independence for as long as possible.

Airport transfers

Business Trip Planning Without a PA?

How to effectively organise a smooth running business trip yourself

In business, time is money, so arranging a business trip that makes the most of time spent away from base needs careful planning and foresight. If you don’t have the services of a dedicated PA, then there are effective ways to plan and organise a trip without it taking too much time. There’s also outside help you can draw on if required.

Even a one day business trip out of the office attending meetings or functions in another city would require some organising. For example, a trip from Edinburgh to London might involve flight bookings, car hire or being met by a dedicated driver – so you’d need the services of a suitable London chauffeur car hire company, and maybe a hotel reservation if it’s a late finish.

Itinerary

A basic foundation for planning the trip, it’s important to map out activities during the time away.

What meetings or events are planned and whereabouts they’re taking place are the two basics to establish. This will influence what travel arrangements are required such as flights, airport transfers and possible onward travel and the return arrangements.

Where to book accommodation (obviously within easy reach of meeting venues and so forth) is a key consideration as are hotel facilities. For example, will you be hosting a meeting with a contact or client? If so, maybe you’ll need a hotel with basic conference facilities. Good wi-fi or even an Ethernet connection might be required if receiving or sending large documents during your stay.

Communications

Very important of course; along with hotel wi-fi and maybe Ethernet, what about mobile phone? Maybe your existing contract requires amending or changing to use it abroad without racking up excessive fees.

Travel planning

You’ll likely have to book at least some of the following; flights, car hire, train, airport transfer and perhaps a chauffeur driven car if you need flexible transportation while you’re away.

Make a list of your travel needs by ‘tracking’ your movements from initial travel to the city or country concerned and your movements thereafter.

Check times – once you’ve booked flights, keep tabs on the latest information as flight and check in times can vary between booking and the day of travel. Don’t risk missing a flight, being left stranded, or having to wait for long periods in an airport to board a flight that was previously put back several hours.

Airport lounge or hotel – you may be heading for your first meeting soon after landing, so access to an airport lounge or nearby hotel even if staying for a mere few hours could be worthwhile to ensure you’re rested and fresh after a flight.

Refundable tickets – purchase refundable tickets if possible as your plans may alter. Perhaps a meeting is rescheduled or you find you need to be there a day earlier than planned? Planning ahead like this will save money on abandoned travel purchases.

Regulations in countries being visited

Ensure you know the rules and regulations for where you’re headed. Do you need a visa or inoculations? Could certain customs trip you up? For example, in countries with strict alcohol laws you could be held up at the airport in Dubai for something as innocent as bringing in a box of chocolate liqueurs, so check what can and can’t be brought in through customs.

Weather

Find out what the weather will typically be like when you travel. For example, New York in the summer can be very warm yet for a business trip in December or January it can be extremely cold with snow and ice common.

Balancing practicalities with appropriate business attire is obviously important, but don’t be stuck with the wrong clothing for the conditions.

Documents and insurance

It may seem obvious, but check your passport hasn’t expired – easily done with current ten year passports if you haven’t travelled abroad for a while. Are you insured? Your company may have a blanket travel insurance policy, but check carefully.

A good travel insurance policy will cover everything from unexpected medical bills, cancellations, lost baggage and more.

Checklists

Making lists under various headings is a basic yet effective way to ensure you think of everything and don’t leave something out. Lists under the following headings are worth making:

  • Documentation – visa, passport, inoculation certificates (if applicable)
  • Travel – what flights and other transportation is required? Identify and book accordingly
  • Clothing and equipment – need to buy anything? Maybe lighter business wear if going to an especially warm country. Require a travel bag for the laptop or new tablet?
  • Business materials – itemise everything required such as reports, briefings and presentation files (for example Powerpoint). What backup materials such as memory sticks and hard drives are required? Mobile Internet such as a dongle?

A helping hand

If you prefer or don’t know if you’ll have time for the above ‘DIY’ approach, there are travel management companies (TMCs) who can take some or all of the planning off you.

They’re particularly adept at organising travel and hotel bookings based on your requirements, and some can save you money as they’ll know how to secure the best prices. Usually an account handler or manager is assigned to you and they’ll put together a suitable travel and accommodation package. They mostly charge for their services by adding their fees to the booking costs.

You can choose from larger TMCs to smaller, specialist types. A good starting point is with the GTMC, a membership body for the travel management industry; their member companies account for some 80% of managed travel booked in the UK.

bed and breakfast

How To Start a Bed and Breakfast Business

There are lots of things to consider if you’re thinking about starting a bed and breakfast business; sadly, there’s a lot more to it than cooking a few English breakfasts and changing the bed sheets! It can involve a multitude of things, including finding planning permission, pricing, staff and suppliers. But if you have the right people skills and determination, it could be the career for you. Continue reading