Against a challenging fiscal backdrop, the results of the Spring Budget dominated media headlines this month. Although, not necessarily for the right reasons, as an overarching lack of funds and direction across a number of sectors cast a shadow over the government’s 2024 strategy.

Yet, irrespective of these challenges, Vapour’s quarter one renewals paint a picture of strength and resilience — particularly in the education sector, where internet investments shine. Explore our recent activity snapshot, to see which services are the most in-demand right now…

With a sextuple of three-year internet services deals re-signed, the aftersales team has been busy supporting a number of primary and secondary schools with their digital learning strategies.

In the Calderdale borough, Bolton Brow Primary, Christ Church Sowerby Bridge Primary, and Calder High School sought Vapour’s continued support. Meanwhile, we’ve also partnered with Horbury St Peter's & Clifton CE (VC) Primary and Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield and St Patrick's Catholic Voluntary Academy in Sheffield.

But it’s not just the education sector that’s tapping into our connectivity expertise. We’re also delighted to have seen renewals from the likes of Unipart rail, the UK’s leading railway product and technology specialist, as well as Stafford-based Dean’s Accountants. 

As the firm looks to boost the resilience of its software suite, renewing Veeam backup services with Vapour has proven to be the logical step for Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors. As a trusted partner of Veeam, we provide the assurance and expertise our customers require to navigate their digital environments with peace of mind, knowing that their data is in capable hands.

The continued trust placed in Vapour by long standing further speaks volumes about the quality and reliability of our toolkit. Ark-H Handling, one of our first-ever customers in 2013, has renewed its network connectivity, firewall, hosted server, and backup services for another 36 months. 

Committed to delivering exceptional solutions beyond our direct customers, we’re also proud to see Vapour partner Aeon Cloud Solutions renew Teams Voice for one of its customers, for another 24 months. This fully cloud-based solution won’t just curb call costs, but increase technical efficiencies and boost collaboration across the board.

Intrigued to learn more about the solutions explored here? Let’s talk. 

It’s no secret that the global tech sector is advancing at an astonishingly rapid pace – not least in relation to the now integral role of digital transformation in spearheading growth and success. But no matter the size or scope or your organisation – or how sophisticated your innovation strategy is – the only way to drive significant change is to leverage the power of people.

So, to champion some of the industry’s finest talent, and gain insight into the minds of individuals from across the tech space, we’re inviting friends and partners of the business to take part in our quickfire Q&A.

This month, Sharon Annat, data analyst at leading shredder manufacturer UNTHA UK, takes centre stage…

Tell us about your role at UNTHA UK and the part you play in the tech sector:

My role is all things data. With a powerful software engine, Microsoft Dynamics 365, bringing increasingly more agility and efficiency to our specialist shredding operations, it’s my job to make sense of the data behind it. By providing dashboards, reports, and visualisations, our department leads and directors can proactively monitor daily, monthly, and annual activity to make data-driven decisions. These actionable insights are a critical source for us to cleanse data, further streamline processes, and optimise performance. 

What innovation was the turning point for your organisation, to get it to where you are now?

In the first instance, the introduction of Dynamics 365 in 2016 — the platform that leveraged our digital transformation. We were ahead of our time for an organisation of our size, which saw us garner acclaim in Digital Enterprise’s Top 100 three years running, including special recognition as one of ten Leading Lights in 2022. Then, the integration of Power BI empowered us with increased structure and visibility to enhance business intelligence.

And where’s next for your business?

At UNTHA, we pride ourselves on continual improvement, and this applies to our digital platform too. Bringing our remaining segregated processes under the Dynamics umbrella will enable us to further develop and strengthen our data analysis through Power BI. 

Finish the sentence: The biggest misconception faced by the tech sector is…

There are a number. However, the industry is always changing.  In line with International Women’s Day, I’d say one is that tech roles are male dominated. While the statistics support this notion as a whole, there is a growing number of women in tech roles today — many in leadership positions, driving companies forward.  As a mum to a daughter embarking on her own career journey, these amazing role models are essential for the next generation of young women, who are just starting out and forging their path. 

What do you think will be the biggest tech trend over the next 12 months?

The development of the data-driven business is upon us. Organisations are realising the value in their business intelligence to propel their company forward securely and effectively.  

Of course, AI is likely to play a key role in the coming months and years. However, as a mature analyst, I hope we don’t eliminate the satisfaction we experience from manually developing data, and never overlook the results humans can achieve with the support of innovative tech.  Automation that aids what we do is a positive benefit, role replacement is not. 

What top tip would you give to an individual trying to excel in their tech career?

If you’re embarking on years of study, choose a topic as broad as you can to allow you to diversify. What suits you now, may not in the future, so it’s great to have the ability to dip into other areas of specialism or branch out. Once you’ve found your niche, learn as much as you can and stay up to date with developments.

And, if the role is data related, KNOW YOUR DATA. It’s imperative that you have an understanding of your organisation’s and/or customer’s data before embarking on any development work. You have to be able to identify any rogue raw intelligence that doesn't have a place in your analysis. It’s all in the prep!

The next purchase on your personal tech wish list is…?

I’m not a huge techie, although a new camera would be very nice. Outside of work, I love the simple things in life — the great outdoors and fresh air. I think it’s important we nurture that balance in our lives, not least in a world so focused on tech and ‘the next big thing’.

And what is the earliest memory you have of tech in your life?

I think it was an Amstrad GX400 video game console. It’s the one with the little green square, that you hit against a wall like a game of squash. I’m showing my age now!

What is one long standing piece of tech that you are shocked is still used today?

Crikey, fax machines. 

If you are without the internet for an hour, what would be the first activity you resort to, to pass the time?

I’d do what I do now, and read. The feel and smell of a physical book is something you can’t get from a digital version, and it’s an immersive experience that I love. I have a very well stocked bookshelf.

Want more where this came from? Read our Q&A with Richard May, CEO of virtualDCS.

Industrial shredding specialist UNTHA UK is no stranger to Vapour’s cloud toolkit, having long been a user of the TeamsLink solution for savvy Microsoft communication. But impressed with the quality of the collaboration to date, the growing business has returned to Vapour once again, to further strengthen its Microsoft estate.

The engineering firm has been independently recognised for its progressive use of technology, having been hailed as a ‘leading light’ in the Digital Enterprise Top 100 hit list for 2022. And UNTHA UK’s pioneering use of Microsoft Dynamics functionality throughout its entire business, is one of the main reasons for this prestigious accolade.

Because their existing Microsoft partner could no longer provide the organisation’s licences, UNTHA UK turned to Vapour for alternative provision. But instead of simply supplying the licences ‘as is’, the Vapour team conducted a thorough audit and optimisation exercise, ensuring the licence types were fit for purpose for individual colleagues’ existing and future requirements. Not only does this align to the collaboration and productivity goals of the growing business, but it helps protect UNTHA UK’s budget too. There was an evaluation of the current licences base being used and changed in line with the UNTHA UK business strategy.

Vapour’s senior sales support James Wood explains: “We’re very transparent, as a business, about our approach to providing the best possible service to customers. We openly call on the expertise of our partner network where required, and the UNTHA UK project represented a fantastic opportunity to bring in our peers at CloudCoCo for the licensing support. The relationship still sits with Vapour, so UNTHA UK has a single point of contact, but the customer benefits from the involvement of true specialists in their respective fields. This is when things start to get very exciting.”

With a visionary roadmap of upcoming activity still to unfold, conversations are now ongoing regarding UNTHA UK’s even more progressive use of Microsoft Dynamics moving forward, with key considerations around backup and automation already underway. 

At Vapour, we’re as known for our people as we are our toolkit. Experienced, dependable and undeniably human, they’ve played an integral role in driving the company’s success since 2013. And this month, we’re delighted to be celebrating two major milestones that pay perfect testament to that remarkable journey.

During their decade of service, Carol McGrotty, head of digital transformation and innovation, and James (Jimmy) Wood, senior sales support, have made their mark on colleagues, customers, and channel partners alike.

With over 20 years’ experience, Carol’s first foray into the tech and telecoms space was a chance secondment role with NTL (now Virgin Media). Making the leap to join Vapour in 2014, she spent seven years as our head of operations, before being promoted in 2021.

From managing the technical, field and administrative teams to defining the operating model to run TechOps and business support functions, she’s now referred to as the ‘lifeblood’ of the Vapour team by many; a true ‘dot-joiner’.

As well as spearheading major projects including Vapour’s own strategic rebrand — a visual overhaul, as well as a mechanism to reposition the brand in a crowded space — Carol has delivered insightful talks with the likes of Mills & Reeve and Channel Live, as well as penned pieces for publications including WeAreTechWomen and TechBlast. She’s therefore a true ambassador for women in tech.

Meanwhile, Jimmy has remained a critical component of our customer care team. Hyper-focused on combating the smoke and mirrors that cloud the tech space, he’s built a career around demystifying. Stripping away the jargon, he ensures our solutions are simple, effective and understandable — because you don’t have to be a techie to appreciate the value of streamlined technology.

With his knack for translating complex concepts into plain language, he empowers our customers to make informed decisions and fully embrace the advantages of our user-friendly toolkit. Long gone are the days of tech being intimidating or exclusive. Recently, we were also proud to see him awarded a distinction in his Team Leader / Supervisor (Level 3) qualification.

Jimmy’s expertise doesn't end there, though. Keeping a constant eye on emerging tech, he actively contributes to shaping the future direction of our products and services too. His commitment to staying ahead of the curve has led to the implementation of cutting-edge features and improvements within our toolkit, ensuring our clients benefit from the latest advancements, while keeping our own business fresh.

Commenting on the duo’s milestone, Vapour CEO Tim Mercer said: “Challenging the status quo and pushing for better has always been a key part of our DNA. But that doesn’t just ‘happen’. More importantly, it doesn’t occur overnight. It takes a team of talented people — with grit, empathy, and dependability — to keep the wheels in motion.

“The success of Vapour is not merely a result of cutting-edge technology but is deeply rooted in the people who breathe life into our organisation every day. The past decade has seen us evolve, adapt, and thrive in a dynamic industry, and we owe much of that success to individuals like Carol and Jimmy.”

Carol's strategic vision and Jimmy's relentless pursuit of simplicity have been instrumental in propelling Vapour to new heights. And as we strive for further innovation and customer-centricity, we’re excited to see what the next decade will bring for the team. 

Curious to meet the wider Vapour collective? Meet the faces behind the business.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making its mark. From virtual assistants to data analytics, biometric security features, fraud detection and medical diagnosis, its applications are vast and varied. And, as Tim Mercer explored in his recent thoughts on the ‘future CEO’, it won’t be long before it has earned a seat at the boardroom table too.

But what does the next phase of growth and innovation look like, until then? And with 2023 having ushered in a number of changes on a regulatory front, how might we expect the next 12 months to take shape? 

Rapid and somewhat unprecedented, AI progress has given rise to a number of concerns throughout the tech space. Can we really trust these burgeoning systems? How much does AI truly understand? And if you’re not concerned about sentience and security, you might be wondering whether the tech will have an adverse impact on your job long-term.

Those concerns may have even been fuelled by the emergence of Google Gemini more recently — reported to be the first AI model to outperform human experts on massive multitask language understanding (MMLU) and has outperformed ChatGPT’s free tool in widespread testing too.

Ongoing changes to AI regulation 

The reality is, the tool itself isn’t inherently bad. It’s about what we, as humans and handlers, choose to do with it that counts. Heard of Ross O’Lochlainn’s ‘IKE-AI effect’ theory? Similar to the ‘IKEA effect’, he predicted organisations would overestimate the value of ‘soul-less, average garbage’ content, just because they made it with AI. It’s a very different sector of course, but a trend that parallels the very fears we’re seeing in other spaces.

Nevertheless, prevailing concerns have caused such a ripple that countries across the globe have moved to regulate them more comprehensively. The European Union reached political agreement on the AI Act in December. Intended to ensure the safety of AI systems on the EU market and provide legal certainty for investments and innovation in AI, the Act will enforce harmonised rules for the development, market placement and use of AI systems in the EU, following a proportionate risk-based approach. 

Overseas, Canada implemented a voluntary code of conduct in October to govern how AI is developed within its borders. Companies that sign on to the code are agreeing to multiple principles to boost data transparency, address potential bias for accuracy, and more. And in China, regulations have long revealed a considerable interest in generative AI and protections against synthetically generated images, video, audio, and text. 

Is ongoing scepticism limiting AI’s potential?

We’re taking back control. But at what cost? There’s room to suggest this ‘hysteria hype’ could just be stifling competitive-edge and innovation.

Andrew Ng — Google Brain cofounder and Stanford professor, widely regarded as one of the pioneers of machine learning — recently weighed in on these concerns by way of experiment, in which he tried to coax ChatGPT into coming up with ways to exterminate humanity. In his newsletter, he shared how multiple prompts failed to trigger the ‘doomsday scenario’ so many are scared of. It’s a humorous example, but Ng isn’t the first AI luminary to doubt misconceptions either.

No matter your stance, or the regulatory backdrop, AI is here to stay. And these energy-intensive applications demand advanced hardware to power their workloads. Building data centres with greater power density therefore plays a key role in enabling transformation. But with increased capacity comes greater heat output. Of course, the liquid cooling solutions required to combat this represent a number of technical and environmental hurdles in itself. So, how can organisations keep pace? 

AI dependance is shifting data centre strategy

For firms utilising multiple AI tools, colocation services can be a holy grail this year. By renting rack space in specialised data centres, businesses leverage advanced cooling systems and expertise to manage high-power density workloads, as well as benefits such as physical security, redundancy, and 24/7 monitoring.

This, coupled with a hybrid cloud approach, facilitates seamless integration of multiple AI tools and technologies. Plus, it provides instantaneous compute resources closer to their end users while efficiently managing the escalating data volumes driven largely by AI dependence.

Even industries forced to hold their cards close to their chest — finance and healthcare, for example — are growing hungrier to embrace such approaches. If we’ve learnt anything in recent years though, it’s to avoid knee-jerk implementations at all costs. That’s unless spiralling budgets and mismatched workloads are what you’re aiming for this year (we doubt it). Learn more about what a successful cloud migration strategy looks like, to underpin any AI-related endeavours.

It’s uncertain, but it’s exciting — as long as we harness it the right way.

Did the cloud and colocation talk catch your interest? Talk to our experts to see how you can unlock the true potential of your infrastructure in 2024.

It’s no secret that the global tech sector is advancing at an astonishingly rapid pace – not least in relation to the now integral role of digital transformation in spearheading growth and success. But no matter the size or scope of your organisation – or how sophisticated your innovation strategy is – the only way to drive significant change is to leverage the power of people.

So, to champion some of the industry’s finest talent, and gain insight into the minds of individuals from across the tech space, we’re inviting friends and partners of the business to take part in our quickfire Q&A.

Up next, it’s Richard May, CEO of virtualDCS...

Tell us about your role at virtualDCS and the part you play in the tech sector.

virtualDCS is a Channel-first cloud service provider, enabling IT professionals to deliver holistic disaster recovery and infrastructure services.

As CEO, I spend much of my time working on designing new, innovative ways to deliver Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). These award-winning solutions are built on industry-leading software, such as Veeam, and our CloudCover suite ensures customers have access to market-leading services and stay ahead of the curve. 

What innovation was the turning point for your organisation, to get it to where you are now?

Our business has been built on innovation since its inception in 2008. However, one thing that sticks in my mind is Veeam Cloud Connect, which was introduced to the market in 2015. This enabled us to deliver backup and disaster recovery solutions as cost-effective, multi-tenanted services.

The constantly expanding CloudCover suite includes a range of backup, disaster recovery, and infrastructure services, all enhanced with our own interpretation of how they should be delivered. These include protection for services such as Microsoft 365, Azure AD, Kubernetes, and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

And where’s next for your business?

Now that we’ve established ourselves as Channel leaders in the backup and disaster recovery space, our core focus will be to retain this position, while continuing to build and grow alongside our partners, such as Vapour. This does not mean an end to innovation, however, as we will continue to release exciting new developments to the CloudCover services range. 

The biggest misconception faced by the tech sector is…

I still find it hard to believe that, despite organisations having a strong emphasis on backup, that restoration and recovery are still not a priority for many. 

If you have backed up 20TB of data off-site and have equipment to restore it too, this process will often take days, not hours. If you have had a ransomware attack, achieving a clean recovery can be a complex task and should not just be a ‘tick in a box’.

What do you think will be the biggest tech trend over the next 12 months?

AI will remain an area of growth in the next 12 months, as organisations scramble to work out how they can utilise it to grow and protect their business.

While many explore how to use AI for the greater good, at the same time, cyber-criminals will also be exploring how they can benefit from AI technology. I believe we’ll see more AI-driven cyber attacks over the next 12 months, meaning that backup and recovery as a defence mechanism will become more important than ever before.

What top tip would you give to an individual trying to excel in their tech career?

It sounds cliché, but think outside of the box. Information technology is a constantly evolving industry and you must evolve as much as it does. 

The next purchase on your personal tech wish list is…?

As my portfolio of Internet of Things (IoT) continually expands, as geeky as it might sound, my next purchase will be an internet-enabled Weather Station.

And what is the earliest memory you have of tech in your life?

I’ve always been surrounded by technology in one way or another. My first memory has to be playing Star Trek on a Mainframe in 1976, on my Uncle’s dial-up terminal during Christmas at Grandma’s. I was six and the fascination never left.

What is one longstanding piece of tech that you are shocked is still used today?

Honestly, one of the first things that comes to mind is Windows XP! It amazes me how organisations and institutions that rely on sensitive data — such as hospitals, transportation companies and even retail stores — still work with an outdated platform. This itself brings additional risk. 

If you are without the internet for an hour, what would be the first activity you resort to, to pass the time?

Definitely walking or playing fetch with the dogs. Or maybe dusting off a DVD!

Given the ever-changing make-up of the modern workplace — not to mention the advancing role of AI and other progressive technologies — the skills and mindset of an effective CEO could begin to look very different over the coming years. Tim Mercer, CEO at cloud tech firm, Vapour, offers his thoughts…

The role of a CEO has never been straightforward. In fact, individuals seeking a linear career path with no unexpected hurdles to overcome, need not apply. However, people who demonstrate adaptability, foresight, resilience, and a strong sense of leadership – even during the toughest periods of change – could have what it takes.  

But as we look ahead to the years to come, the qualities and strengths of an effective CEO look set to evolve further still – for some, beyond recognition. 

A thirst for data

Decision making plagues the time of senior executives worldwide. In fact, Raconteur’s survey of 1000 senior leaders reported that 40% of C-suites’ time is spent on decision making – a challenge compounded, no doubt, by the fact 44% claimed to be suffering from data overload. Interestingly, an overwhelming proportion – 85% – of the same respondents, said they believed they could generate 20% additional revenue if technology aided the decision making process. 

Look back in time a little, and a 2019 Deloitte study revealed that 67% of execs were uncomfortable acting on data from advanced analytical systems, perhaps because they have relied on experience and gut instinct for so long. So, is the tide now changing? 

AI is influencing so much of our personal lives after all, which suggests a growing willingness to trust it – even if many of us still are merely ‘dipping our toes in the water’. Maybe the time has come to embrace AI and complementary technologies such as machine learning – they don’t have to make every decision, but they could at least augment the CEO’s decision making process. 

This doesn’t mean going ‘cold turkey’ and throwing decades of human intelligence out of the window. We know full well that data is open to interpretation, for instance, and this is where intellect and experience will still play a critical part. But, whether CEOs like it or not, we will probably have to allow AI a seat at the boardroom table, in the not-so-distant future. In some organisations, this could even change the composition of the wider board, with vacancies opening up for chief data scientists and the like. 

Evolving leadership styles

With the advent of such roles, thought should also be given as to how this may affect leadership styles. Will different types of leaders emerge? And will there be new routes ‘to the top’ as a result?

In truth, the backstories of CEOs have probably become much more diverse in recent times anyway. Some figureheads are true entrepreneurs – constant innovators. There are those with a far more sales-focused or commercial skill-set. Philanthropists with unswervingly strong ethics. Leaders with a ‘win at all costs’ mentality, who want to grow business ‘kings’. Others with a ‘follower’ style, who are more content simply not to lose. 

This diversity should be championed and encouraged further, because for too long, the CEO demographic has been dominated by white males from a superior schooling background. This needs to change. Only 7% of FTSE Top 100 CEOs are women, for example, and not one of these is a woman of colour. 

So, what will the statistics look like over the next five years? And how will small to medium sized businesses continue to shake up society’s perception of what is and isn’t acceptable ‘at the top’? When it comes to opinions surrounding how organisations are run, the public’s voice is getting louder. While the role of a CEO is absolutely a position of power, that power should not be taken for granted, or abused. 

A cultivating culture

While only a subjective viewpoint, it is my opinion that the days of leaders acting boldly and without consequence – shaping companies to suit merely their own persona – are long gone. Such approaches certainly seem to come under fire more often, with a softer, more cultivating style becoming increasingly common – especially among new millennial leaders. The priority to nurture and empower, with empathy, is surely more important than a desire to dominate. 

Think about the way ‘undercover bosses’ really learn about how a company works. The process is so often eye-opening because it affords the opportunity for CEOs to understand and consult with the workforce. And in today’s ever-changing world, the support of a capable team, helping to steer an organisation and its CEO through the turbulence of the unexpected, has probably never been so important. 

The role of an advisor

Every business would undoubtedly benefit from a trusted advisor too – an external confidante who can mentor and support this consultative approach to leadership. Data suggests that the number of executive professional coaches worldwide increased by 54%  last year, which implies a growing reliance on such a role.

Why? Because being a CEO can be lonely. You may have a capable senior management team (SMT). A reliable and high-performing board. But find the right advisor – someone you can rely on who has perhaps been in the same position as you, and/or who could offer a different perspective – and this has the potential to be game-changing. Maybe the whole SMT could even benefit from a leadership coach.

This won’t be a comfortable process for many – it can almost feel like a psychiatrist-patient relationship, with the leader asked to bear their soul, without judgement, in the search of support. For some CEOs used to wearing a mask that cannot slip, it might prove difficult to open up. 

But we are all human after all. We want people to follow us, as leaders. And maybe, as the world of work changes around us, it is more inspiring to follow a leader who is authentic, and real, than someone we cannot connect with. 

In truth, every CEO is different, and that is probably why the business environment is so diverse, and exciting. Some will conduct the role in only the way they know how, while others will treat every day as a school day and continue to adapt. Completely new C-suite execs will come onto the scene too, with fresh ideas and their own approaches. But in a world where tech – not to mention society – presents new challenges and opportunities on almost a weekly basis, this medley is probably exactly what we need. 

It’s no secret that the global tech sector is advancing at an astonishingly rapid pace – not least in relation to the now integral role of digital transformation in spearheading growth and success. But no matter the size or scope or your organisation – or how sophisticated your innovation strategy is – the only way to drive significant change is to leverage the power of people.

So, to champion some of the industry’s finest talent, and gain insight into the minds of individuals from across the tech space, we’re inviting friends and partners of the business to take part in our quickfire Q&A.

Up next, it’s Ben Thomas, director Of sales and marketing at Flomatik...

Tell us about your role at Flomatik and the part you play in the tech sector:

As the director of sales and marketing, I oversee a number of pivotal aspects of our business within the UK. 

Since our inception in 2007, where we were established to support ntl: (now Virgin Media) in substantial network projects, we’ve evolved into a market-leading full-service design and engineering provider. More than just a design and survey house, we offer a comprehensive suite of fibre services, aiding the progress of alt-nets, communication service providers (CSPs), and network investors across the UK.

What innovation was the turning point for your organisation, to get it to where you are now?

A transformative moment for Flomatik was the introduction of the Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) solution, focusing on design and survey capabilities integrated into the BT network. Our in-house innovation utilising QGIS was another significant milestone. This empowered us to train our personnel and seamlessly integrate with the tool, resulting in a more efficient software stack that removes impediments to transactions.

And where’s next for your business?

Looking ahead, Flomatik’s circular economy approach is really gearing up for 2024, emphasising the recycling and re-use of redundant infrastructure. Rather than leaving equipment idle or disposing of it, we're dedicated to sustainable practices, aligning with the broader industry trend of environmental responsibility.

The biggest misconception faced by the telecoms sector is…

Consumers' understanding of their current broadband setup and usage. Many believe they are already on fibre so can be reluctant to change — which isn’t helped by the constant influx of jargon. Providing clear, accessible information and maintaining dialogue throughout every corner of the industry is therefore key to driving progress.

What do you think will be the biggest tech trend over the next 12 months?

I foresee significant strides in home technology, particularly in improving connectivity with WiFi 6/7 and turning unreliable infrastructure on its head. Simultaneously, a growing need for more efficient power utilisation for all devices will emerge, aligning with the broader sustainability focus, especially in the face of increased demand driven by electric vehicles (EVs) that need greater — and more sustainable — capacity from the grid.

What top tip would you give to an individual trying to excel in their tech/telecoms career?

The ability to understand and meet customer needs is paramount. It doesn't matter what tech you’re interested in, you need to focus on what customers want if they’re ever going to invest in it. Or, do what Apple did and create something that nobody knew they needed in the first place.

The next purchase on your personal tech wishlist is…?

An app that means I don’t need to maintain multiple passwords. It’s a simple one, but something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. 

And what is the earliest memory you have of tech in your life?

I vividly recall the Motorola battery phone — my first company phone that was, at the time, a cutting-edge device. Despite its novelty, the call charges were exorbitant, and looking back, it was nothing but a giant brick! It marks a memorable era in the evolution of mobile technology.

What is one longstanding piece of tech that you are shocked is still used today?

I’m amazed that the landline has survived. What’s more, I can’t believe some CSPs still charge for landline services! To me (and most people), they’re near enough redundant with the strides technology has taken in recent years. There are so many cheaper and more reliable options out there now.

If you are without the internet for an hour, what would be the first activity you resort to, to pass the time?

My go-to activity would be a run, but any exercise would suit me. Beyond being a good routine and great for physical health, the mental wellbeing benefits really stack up. Studies have even shown that resistance training can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in women.

Vapour CEO, Tim Mercer, recently responded to Ofcom's study into UK cloud services and subsequent referral to the Competition and Markets Authority, in an article published in Comms Dealer. If you missed the original, you can read the full piece here.

What's your reaction to this news?

The announcement first hit the headlines back in April 2023, and it’s now six months down the line that we’re learning everything is being formalised to the CMA. This latest development is just process without outcome, in my opinion. According to the Government website, the average CMA investigation takes 18 months, so nothing will change for some time. Whatever the outcome, it feels like very little will happen for at least three years, and by then, the hyperscalers’ share will probably have moved from 70-80%, to 80-90%. 

So, while I welcome this attention and any efforts to develop choice in the market — as well as the level of conversation finally being had on the topic — we’d be naïve to think there will be a quick or easy remedy. 

Does Ofcom have a strong case?

Yes and no. The Government predominantly uses AWS and Microsoft for its own cloud services. As part of this process, the CMA — a Government department — is therefore now investigating the Government’s own decisions to allow these two massive companies to dominate. I can’t help but worry that this will be a tricky narrative to manage. 

In your experience, is competition working well in the cloud space at the moment?

No, as smaller players cannot compete on price. Smaller cloud providers win and retain work based on service levels and the quality of support offered — providing an incredible level of technical expertise that clients can tap into, without the shackles of dealing with a much larger organisation. However, in a market dominated by price, it’s hard for them to stick their head above the parapet and be noticed. The voice of the hyperscalers — particularly these two brands — dominates the media, and the ‘go to’ route to market is therefore almost pre-determined in the eyes of organisations embarking on their cloud journey. There are lots of people in the cloud space communicating hard to open up the playing field, of course, but it isn’t easy. 

Should Ofcom's cloud market probe have happened before now?

In my opinion, yes – the state of competition in the market isn’t new.

And should Ofcom be doing more than handing off the case to the CMA?

It’s extremely difficult to answer this question without opening up a controversial conversation, but let’s consider where we currently find ourselves. 

The Ofcom website states: “Our duties come from Parliament. Our priority is to look after you, and we sometimes do this by promoting competition among companies we regulate.”  So, we have a Government-approved body, advising the Government, to investigate Government-supported companies… I’ll just leave that there. 

What follow-on action would you like Ofcom and the CMA to take?

I think there are people far more equipped than me, who can answer that question. 

How big an opportunity could this probe prove to be for the channel's cloud service providers?

We have to leverage the opportunity to empower the buyer with knowledge, especially around the hidden costs of cloud, including egress charges and the inability to move simply, for example. We always hear that it’s easier, more cost-effective, more secure, and better for the environment, to be in public cloud. However, in many instances this simply isn’t true. 

I am definitely a supporter of the public cloud in so many instances, but I also strongly believe that an organisation’s cloud requirements should be fully explored and understood before the right solution is proposed. And in lots of cases, alternative cloud providers, private or hybrid solutions, will represent a better fit.

Given (AWS) and Microsoft had a combined market share of 70-80% in 2022 – is Ofcom trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted?

I can’t help but worry that this is a paper exercise to try and show willing, without an outcome expected. The boundaries should have been set much earlier, and a colossal degree of change would now be required to shake up the market. However, conversation is getting louder, and it’s up to people like us to maintain it.  

It’s no secret the global tech sector is advancing at an astonishingly rapid pace – not least in relation to the now integral role of digital transformation in spearheading growth and success. But no matter the size or scope of your organisation – or how sophisticated your innovation strategy is – the only way to drive significant change is to leverage the power of people.

So, to champion some of the industry’s finest talent, and gain some insight into the minds of individuals from across the tech space, we’re inviting friends and partners of the business to take part in our quickfire Q&A.

Up next, it’s Andy McCaul, managing director of The Bigger Boat (TBB) and Scriba PR

Tell us about your role at TBB and the part you play in the tech sector.

I’m Andy, MD of The Bigger Boat and Scriba PR. Alongside my business partners, I look after the running and direction of both businesses.

TBB’s role in the tech sector is enabling clients to better communicate and market their products or services digitally. Sometimes this involves redesigning a new website; other times, it may entail helping clients to integrate systems so that lead generation activities sync with their internal systems. 

What innovation was the turning point for your organisation, to get it to where you are now?

I wouldn’t say there was one specific innovation that marked a turning point for us. Due to the nature of marketing, things constantly change, so you always have to innovate to deliver the best results for clients. Whether that’s on a creative or technical level, both are just as important.

More recently, we have invested in building headless websites — which involves decoupling the front-end interface (what people see) from the backend (everything that happens ‘behind the scenes’). This has opened the door to conversations with many different companies, but specifically in the tech sector, where clients may have complicated web projects with lots of integration.

And where’s next for your business?

We have just acquired Scriba PR, which is an exciting time for both businesses. The focus now is to add value to each agency’s clients by integrating our services more.

The biggest misconception faced by the tech sector is…

That artificial intelligence (AI) is everything! There are tons of brilliant and fascinating applications of AI, but not everything needs it.

With any tech development, you have to ask yourself the same questions: “Is it better?” and “Is it quicker?” Those two things do not always go hand in hand. An example of this is people gravitating towards ChatGPT for content production. It’s definitely quicker, but it’s not better. In some cases, it does you more harm than good. 

What do you think will be the biggest tech trend over the next 12 months?

Definitely AI. There are so many good places where it’s being used. Applications where large volumes of data can be analysed to make quick decisions, based on probability, work really well.

There are also less data-focused applications, such as Midjourney — an AI system that generates images from language. We’ve used this a lot at TBB to visualise concepts at the creative stage of a campaign. It is quicker and more impactful than anything we could do before. 

What top tip would you give to an individual trying to excel in their tech career?

Be passionate about learning and never be afraid to try something new. Tech changes all the time — if you think you know it all, you’re not learning or improving.

The next purchase on my personal tech wish list is…?

I feel like I have all the tech I need in my life right now, but that could change tomorrow. Who knows?

And what is your earliest memory of tech in your life?

Game Boy. As a young kid in the 90s, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. 

What is one long-standing piece of tech you are shocked is still used today?

The good old calculator. Even though we've moved on from physical calculators to using apps on our phones or computers, the basic principle remains unchanged. Calculators replaced the abacus long ago, and in terms of innovations, it's a remarkably enduring one.

If you were without the internet for an hour, what would be the first activity you’d resort to, to pass the time?

Without the internet… easy! I’ve got three kids, so there’s no shortage of activities. We’d probably be at the park or playing football. Or, if I’m lucky enough to have some child-free time, out for a run.

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