The owner-manager at digital agency i3 Adrian Bradley talks about understanding the pain points of running a business, and finding a balance between strategy and technology.
What are your current responsibilities at i3?
I’m an owner-manager and I also have certain key clients I’ve been working with for many years so I also have an account-management role. I also oversee the sales function and the internal operations team – making sure the mental healthcheck of the company is good. I also do some of the marketing – I would be the figurehead and I would be involved in networking and promoting ourselves. It’s a broad range.
I would do consulting with clients so I need to keep abreast of technology and advise them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s really a varied role and no two days are the same.
So you have an IT team that delivers services internally?
There’s a team. I come from a design background and I did a master’s in computing and information systems, but the space I’m more comfortable in is looking at the strategy. I have a technical manager that oversees the technical development in the company.
I’m not involved in the nitty-gritty of coding, but I would be aware of the technologies and how they can be used to benefit the business. My latest reading and research has been more around the app world.
How big a part of your work is taken up with technology: either understanding with it, or working with it?
I would say because I’m owner-manager and we do a lot of tenders for high-level contracts, I would say it has to be 50/50. I couldn’t write a tender if I didn’t know the technology. Sometimes I have to research that what the client is asking for can actually be done. Some wants and needs may not be realistic. So I believe it’s a 50/50 role of management, strategy and consulting work.
Because I run my own business, I can put myself in the shoes of a business owner. I’m not just a consultant that sits in an office and doesn’t live in the real world of business. I understand the pain points that organisations are going through. I think it helps to have that mindset and perspective.
It’s understanding the needs and wants, understanding the customer. Some of our customers are in the public sector – they have a need that needs to be fulfilled which might be a process that allows citizens to interact with a public service more easily. I approach it more from the end user point of view, and the company objectives, and what’s the right technology fit. We’ve come through five very tough years, so delivering solutions that are efficient and aware of budgets is a big thing now: you have to be aware of the return on investment.
You founded i3, so do you think that experience has given you a better understanding of what’s needed to manage and grow an organisation compared to someone who might come into a senior role purely from a technology perspective?
Definitely, I would have to say. You will never learn how to deal with certain situations or cope with certain scenarios from a textbook. Actually living the experiences and working through those is where you really get your benefit, and helps shape you as an individual.
If you make a mistake, that’s human, but if you learn from it you can do things better the next time. People tend to be more open and candid with you because they don’t feel you’re a hot consultant, they know you’re in the trenches as a business owner. There’s an affiliation.
Will i3 as a company be spending more on technology this year than last year, or less, or is your budget about the same?
No, we’ve actually started spending already this year. We’re actually growing our data centre, refreshing and putting in new kit. We’re expanding our virtual environment in our hosting facility. We’re putting in new monitoring software, and putting in a more integrated communications system internally.
We’re now looking at making all our systems more integrated and holistic. We upgraded our accounting system around two years ago. We’ve been dabbling with different CRM and sales tools and we feel we have the right one now, and we still have information that lies in our CRM system that isn’t tied to our accounting system yet.
At the end of the day, we’re still a small business. We have held back [from spending] but this year we are going to invest more in the main business and the infrastructure.
What are some of the big milestones you’re planning for 2014?
Upgrading the data centre and getting expansion facilities that will free some good machines that we can reuse for general business management, development and test servers. That’s going to allow us to redeploy and reuse some assets. We’ll tie our sales side to our financial and management side so it’s one item in the system for each client and not multiple entries. It all comes in tandem.
What business benefits that will bring?
It will make our lives easier in the business. We’re putting in a new account management retention strategy and it will let us know what’s happening in real-time across our accounts and it will allow us to see any opportunities that we could be educating the customers about, and how it could be beneficial to a business.
So it’s about helping you grow and expand?
We’ll have all the nuts and bolts put together and tightened up so we have a very good solid platform. We will have more streamlined efficiencies internally, and better account management, and that’s something we’ve been striving on. There’s a lot of planning that goes in, and we’ve spent about a year on this.
I don’t believe it’s been two years of holding back, but we’ve been focused on clients so you don’t always work on our own internal stuff. We now have a project plan and realistic milestones to deliver against. We’re going to treat ourselves almost like a client and have a dedicated project manager assigned to it.
Given that you’re in a very technology-heavy sector anyway, are you seeing or working with new technologies that you think will become mainstream very soon?
Funnily enough, we moved into the augmented-reality space last year. Up to then, we saw it as a gimmick, but with Google Glass and others moving into augmented reality, we actually bid and won a project this time last year, and we built a full augmented-reality platform that combines tourism, local economy, special offers, news and deals of the day. It lets people find where the business is, it shows all attractions and activities in that region, and you can view the data floating on the screen. It’s a more interactive way of delivering info to the end user.
And we just won an AR platform for a biodiversity organisation to educate people about what’s in the world around them. We see that augmented reality is starting to be a big opportunity. People now understand it more, and it can give a very immersive experience.
Is there a technology out there that’s overrated or hyped too much? We hear a lot about cloud, for example …
It’s horses for courses. I wouldn’t say cloud is overrated but I’d say it’s misunderstood. We had a client that wanted to move to the cloud. They wanted to move to Amazon and within three weeks [of doing so] they wanted to pull the pin. They were used to having a fixed price for hardware, services and so on, so it was a big surprise to them when they saw that the price for a cloud service expands based on usage. So, they just reversed back out. We did advise them [beforehand] there was no need to do it and the move was unwarranted at that time.
I would tend to say, personally, social media as a platform, whether it be Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat: seems to have a lifespan and a cycle. I think people will get much more into private social networks and there’s so much noise now that people are starting to switch off from a lot of these channels. I think people are getting more frustrated and I think there will be a shift away from that.
You’re on Twitter: is that purely a social medium for you or do you find it’s useful for your business – and if so, in what way?
Twitter is more useful for me at a personal level. We’ve been looking at how to use social media tactically but you need people to be champions for it. For me, I find Twitter very good for information grazing, I follow some of the thought leaders, at night time maybe for 20-30 minutes, I’ll clip through it, see what’s interesting and if I like it, I’ll read the article.
I would put a lot of effort into LinkedIn and my contacts on that, and trying to keep up with that. I find it more interesting for me at a personal and a business level.