Application performance, Borne, and consolidations… it’s been such a busy quarter for Vapour boss Tim Mercer, he could probably get through an A-Z of musings! But here are his highlights from the last three months…

Well, it’s the quarter when the world usually slows to a different pace because of the summer holidays, but with face-to-face contact resuming and the final Covid restrictions being lifted, there’s been a different energy in the business environment over the last three months.

We’ve had more ‘real life’ interaction with customers, and each other, since the start of July, and our charity golf day provided a fantastic opportunity to get together in a different setting, and catch up while raising a few pounds for Borne - £6385 to be precise!

I headed to Technology Live earlier this week too, and was pleased to see such a buzz about the place. Because of course, as CEO of a tech firm, I welcome the use of applications and platforms to help us do business, but you still can’t beat in-person dialogue, for certain types of interaction, such as this.

I sat on a panel which debated the topic of collaboration and diversification - two themes which have been core to Vapour’s evolution over the years.

There are different trains of thought on this topic, of course, which goes some way to explaining the sheer amount of ongoing M&A activity in the space right now. I don’t think this will slow any time soon, either. Many organisations are encountering challenges because they haven’t ‘kept up’, so their customer base alone presents an attractive opportunity for other firms. There are also pioneering innovators who are extremely hot right now, and the value of some of the deals being done reflects just how critical their engineering is to the future of workplace tech.

In terms of tech capabilities, generally, we’re seeing an increasing amount of interest at board level, surrounding what cloud products and services can now do. Where senior decision makers maybe wouldn’t have given tech procurement such a great degree of thought previously - beyond the size of the investment perhaps - they now want to be far more involved in the conversation. I think this reflects the fact that perceptions have changed, and people realise just how much of an enabler tech is (not to mention just how catastrophic a security flaw could be if remote working put sensitive data at risk, for instance!)

The customer experience (CX) is dominating strategic agendas - particularly in crowded industries - and the benefits that tech can leverage, could prove a key differential in this respect, for many businesses.

In terms of the tech that’s proving hot for Vapour, of course we’re still providing services like circuits and helping customers with some simple backup needs. But demand is also growing for solutions such as TeamsLink, which better leverages the communications capabilities of Microsoft users; SD-WAN which gives network control back to IT teams regardless of employee location; and application performance management which helps show organisations the true root cause of their bandwidth issues.

Such technologies - and the findings that often emerge from the projects that these solutions influence - aren’t just driving ICT related change. They’re being used to overhaul how entire business processes are managed - even how organisations are run. This is the power of the cloud, and it’s great to see minds being opened up on a broader scale, as to the role it plays in company resilience, as well as connectedness and compliance.

There’s a definite shift in the market towards true cloud players who understand this narrative - who come at a problem with a desire to fix it, not simply push a specific piece of kit. There’s an apparent desire to consolidate the number of suppliers that businesses rely on too - a trend which will no doubt continue, especially when the providers can grow to feel like an extension of organisations’ own teams.

In terms of the team dynamic within organisations, this quarter has continued to prove an interesting one. I spoke to Prolific North recently - about what I’ve learnt throughout my career, not just the last 18 months - and one of the points we explored was the level of understanding in the workplace.

I think, as a society, we have become more open and empathic towards other people, especially regarding mental health and wellbeing. I think sadly it was secondary for many businesses previously - with some organisations merely paying lip service to it. Now, ignorance or carelessness on the subject will not be tolerated, which is important. 

I elaborated on the fact that employees generally have more of a voice too - they’re no longer comfortable with being dictated to. This should make organisations better, more authentic employers, who live and die by their values, rather than simply posting them on their website because they sound good.

The challenge is to establish an approach that suits all - and values that ring true to those concerned - as people are individuals and no two companies are the same. There cannot be a linear top down or bottom-up approach either - the respect must be shared in all directions.

Let’s see what the next quarter brings…

We’re already well into Q4 of 2020, which shows just how busy things are at Vapour HQ. But what’s been going on behind the scenes over the last three months, and as we prepare for the final weeks of the year, where will our attention lie? Tim, it’s over to you…

The start of July feels like a lifetime ago, so reflecting on what has happened over the past three months, is actually not an easy task.

We’ve always been a fast-paced business, but due to the events of 2020, we’ve ramped things up even further. In fact, it feels like we’ve crammed 12 months of work into three, so it’s unsurprising that everything feels a bit of a blur.

Going ‘back to school’

Myself, our head of ops and compliance Carol, and our sales manager Alec Stephens, successfully completed our scale up programme in association with Barclays Bank and Cambridge Judge Business School last month, and I think it has played a big part in giving us such a great deal of energy, over the last quarter.

We’ve got big plans as an organisation, and I truly believe that Covid-19 has not derailed these. In fact, if anything, it’s brought the future into sharper focus. As a team, we’ve talked more than ever before; we’ve been sharper on the organisation and delivery of huge tech projects we’ve wanted to get over the line; and we’ve been clearer on not just where we want to be, but how we want to get there.

Going ‘back to school’ to formulate our thinking, was fairly daunting, not least because of the volume of work we had to undertake (and we don’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly!) But I’m incredibly proud of the plan we have compiled and the feedback from the course tutors. Now all eyes are on us implementing it, into 2021 and beyond.

Welcoming new faces and new fixtures in the calendar

There are a couple of new faces at Vapour HQ since my last post, with the appointment of James Hartley and Tim Stableford, and boy have these chaps made an entrance! We’ve another colleague due to arrive in mid-November too, plus talks are already underway about some potentially exciting hires for 2021. Just you wait and see…

This boost to our capacity – and hunger for our cloud tech knowledge – has seen us launch a new series of virtual events. We began our Webinar Wednesday initiative in September, and feedback to date has been really positive.

Focusing more on the sharing of insight as opposed to selling our solutions, the sessions have seen us cover everything from our cloud subscription service for Avaya, through to an effective remote working tech stack and 10 steps to building a disaster recovery strategy. I’m particularly excited about welcoming Tom Davies, CEO of Robiquity, to the mic, for our 4 November slot. There’s still time to sign up for this free event, if you’d like to learn how robotic process automation (RPA) could benefit your business in 2021.

Between the Eyes podcast goes live

I’ve gone live with a new podcast series too – Between the Eyes. We’re now on season two in fact, with the first episodes having proven a massive hit, taking us up 200 places in the entrepreneur chart, to position 30 in only a couple of weeks!

Designed to encourage straight-talking conversation that I think is so often lacking from modern debate – not least in the tech sector – the show covers the stories of real people who have overcome adversity, achieved great things and/or made some pretty tricky decisions along the way. If you haven’t heard what all the fuss is about, I’d love you to have a listen. We cover everything from leadership to lacrosse, and futurology to foundation for men!

Doing our bit

Elsewhere, we talk a lot about being a principled company that truly cares about people – a commitment that admittedly feels a little trite in the business space nowadays. But we know it’s an authentic part of who we are, and I think there are some wonderful examples of that passion, in action, in this last quarter.

For example:

These are just some of the things that matter to our colleagues, so they’re now permanent fixtures in everyday Vapour life.

Exciting projects

Oh, and then there’s everything we’re working on for clients, which is last but absolutely by no means least. Away from all things Covid-19, we’re working on some really cool projects for clients in the automotive, construction and healthcare sectors at the moment, and we’re particularly excited to reveal details of a comms automation project with machine agents and NLP at its heart – watch this space!

With so much packed into July to September, many of us are getting ready for a recharge, but there are just nine weeks of 2020 remaining and some exciting opportunities left to grasp, so we’re aiming to go out on a high.

We’ve just launched our A-Z of Workplace Technologies in 2021 – a phenomenal piece of work which isn’t just a testament to the efforts of the Vapour team, but the many partners and friends of the business who are each genuine experts in their own fields. I think this has the potential to be a real must-read for so many organisations next year.

Nobody has a crystal ball, but given the rate at which a number of companies have undergone digital transformation this year, I think we’re going to see further great changes afoot in 2021. The adoption of video in only a matter of months is what many technologists expected to see over three to five years, for example, so it’s a very interesting time to be in this space, as we look ahead to the next quarter and beyond.

When it is time for that recharge, I will relish the opportunity to reboot over Christmas with the family – especially the two little people for whom it’s all about. Oh, and I’ve an expedition to Spitsbergen to prepare for, on the fringe of the Arctic Ocean. But more about that next time…

There’s a lot to do before the year is out. Stay safe everyone

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