Education key to digital economy

Published on 22-03-2018 03:34PM

Education is the key to kickstarting the digital economy.

Kurt Beaumont Jones Managing Director Vigo IT

Tell us a little about your background.

I am the owner and Managing Director of Vigo IT solutions and I have been since we started the company 10 years ago. Prior to that I worked at companies like Hewlett-Packard and Scottish Power but it’s always been on the IT side of things, right throughout my career.

What services do you offer at Vigo IT?

Essentially we deliver a complete package of IT and telecoms services. We cover everything from installation, sales, maintenance, support, hosting, security and more. I think the difference between Vigo and other IT companies is that we concentrate very much on the customer service side of things. So we are sort of a customer service company who concentrate on our client’s IT needs. We have rolling contracts with our clients which means we assume responsibility for maintenance and support of their IT systems and increasingly telecoms is becoming a branch of IT and we have moved into that area also.

If we are able to install a server and network we can also install a telephone system and it all started from customer requests for assistance with their telecoms services. Our clients know the quality of our work and they trust us to provide the right advice and so it has been a natural progression for us to take that on. We also do a lot with GDPR in the run up to the new legislation coming into effect in May. I am a qualified GDPR practitioner and we have two other members of staff who are qualified practitioners as well, so we have a whole department looking after data protection.

Who is a typical customer for Vigo IT?

Our customers are only typical in respect of their location. We are a company that concentrates very strongly on a local business model and that's because of the way we work with our support contracts.  We have large companies and small companies on our books and once they have a contract with us we will visit them as many times as they need in a month. Our clients are based mainly in Liverpool and Wirral although we occasionally travel to Chester and even as far as Wrexham.

In such a fast changing industry how do you keep up with the latest technological developments?

Well I probably don't do as much of that personally anymore as I am less hands on now and my role is mainly looking after the business and keeping my staff and clients happy. It's up to my staff to keep abreast of changes and in many respects we keep each other up-to-date and we all have our own specialisms and areas of expertise that we share. In many respects IT is a hobby and a passion for my staff, as well as a job. I am very lucky in that respect that they are driven to keep abreast of the latest developments and that is something you need if you want keep totally up-to-date with things.

You were always a big advocate of apprenticeships. Is that still the case?

Yes we have an apprentice working with us at the moment and I am quite proud of the fact that all of my previous apprentices who managed to last more than a couple of weeks are still working with me now. Tom was my first apprentice and he's now our Operations Manager, Mike was our second apprentice and he is our helpdesk manager, Carl is senior helpdesk and Dan is our technical lead and he came here when he was 15 for work experience. So again I have been lucky to be able to identify highly motivated people with the right raw materials and develop them and keep them happy and engaged and they drive the company forward for me and they do a great job because my clients are happy and I am happy and ultimately my job is just to keep them happy.

So is that something you have just learned to do over time? 

I actually did it in my previous role where I had 20 staff under me servicing some 3000 end users. So those man management skills are something I've brought into the company and it's something I really enjoy. It is my passion in putting a team together and getting the most out of them that has worked so well for Vigo. It really frustrates me when I see a company that has demodulated staff. Employment is very much a two way street. It's not a case of “I give you a job so you should be grateful and do what I say”. For me it's a question of I give you a job and I appreciate you and look after you and in return I expect you to work for me to the best of your ability. It’s a Symbiotic relationship where I look after you and I want you to look after me. It’s about creating a mutually respectful environment and some of that comes down to pensions and healthcare and remuneration but also the way you treat people on a personal level and the opportunities they have...

What is your USP?

It’s the friendly nature of our service. That may sound clichéd but we try very hard to engender a friendly, jokey and casual relationship with our clients while also providing a top quality service. It’s that mutually respectful relationship married to a very professional service. I am very aware that we are not a commodity; we are a service and I want my clients to be happy with that service because it’s not purely based on price and I want our customers to enjoy working with us.

How do you view the threat levels to individuals and businesses from cybercrime and what can we do to mitigate it?

Historically, individuals were never the target really. A computer virus would be picked up almost by accident and could harm the individual’s computer but the threat was quite low. The big change of late has been the arrival of the crypto viruses which will encrypt everything on the machine and then the victim will be held to ransom to get their data back. That has become big business and money continues to drive it so every business is at risk and it’s a growing problem. The best way to mitigate is education for your staff to ensure that everyone is aware of the threats. Individuals within the company are generally the weak link and technological solutions on their own are never the complete solution on their own. It’s about education for staff and owners so they know what to look out for and how best to protect themselves. That leads on to data protection because personal data is becoming a very valuable commodity and individuals need to be aware of what they are putting out there on social media and try and not reveal too much about themselves.

From a business perspective we have 3 GDPR practitioners at Vigo IT who can cover the new data protection regulations which come into effect on 20th May. There has been a lot of news about it and many clients have asked us to look into it for them thinking it’s purely an IT issue. It isn’t restricted to IT though and perhaps only 30% of it relates to IT. The other 70% of regulations relate to processes, procedures and policies, so we can carry out a gap analysis and an audit of a client’s current working practices and will then produce an action plan to bring their systems up to date to comply with the new regulations. We also have experience as an ISO 9001 auditor so that ties together in terms of the way our audits are carried out.

Has the Brexit process had any affect on business and do you see it as a threat or an opportunity?

We haven’t noticed any impact on our business to date. We don’t import or export anything so we’re not affected in that way and I don’t envisage it having a direct effect on us going forward, unless the process harms the viability of my clients’ businesses.

How long have you been a Chamber member and what do you feel are the benefits?

We have been members for almost 7 years and a Strategic Partner for a little under 12 months. We have always benefited from our membership because we have been willing to take advantage of the many events the Chamber host over the year. Our membership has allowed us to access a great network of local businesses and we have made the most of that opportunity by getting involved in as many member activities and speaking to as many other members as possible. I view my relationship with the Chamber like I do all of my clients and work hard to build that strong and trusting relationship and it has been one of my key marketing tools over the years.

In business event

Vigo IT is the largest independent IT Company in Wirral so I was pleased to take part in the digital In Business event. We are there to discuss the digital economy and Steve Rotherham’s plans for improved digital infrastructure for the region. There is a difference of opinion about the topic as some feel there is sufficient capacity while others would say there isn’t. I am of the opinion that there is plenty of capacity available if you can afford to obtain it. We have a small data centre in our office with a massive 100Mb fibre line going up and down and we have a fully air conditioned room where we host client servers with great speed and security but that data line comes at a cost. I also believe that building additional capacity into the infrastructure isn’t enough to kick-start a boom in digital economy on its own. What we need to be doing alongside that is investing more into education, with specialist digital colleges while also working to reduce the cost of those fast digital links to make it widely available which will do more to stimulate usage and encourage growth.

What are the best and worst aspects of your work?

For me the best aspect of my job is being in charge and being able to guide the business in the direction I want it to go. I am never in that frustrating position where I have an idea but my boss turns around and says “No we’re not going to do that” and I am left there thinking “That was a great idea. Why are we not doing it? Having the final say on things and being able to make those decisions is why we are all running businesses I think. I honestly can’t think of anything remotely negative to say about my work. I enjoy every aspect of it and I think a large part of that is working with people who are good at what they do because that takes the pressure off and makes my job easier than it could be otherwise.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Well as a tech guy I am tempted to joke about not wanting to upset the time paradox by meeting my younger self but joking aside I am not sure there would be any specific advice worth giving. We have all made mistakes in our careers but everything you do in life brings you to where you are today, so I’m not sure I would want to lose any of that experience really.

A friend told me once that most people are just winging it. He thought that those people who seem like they are so together and in control of what they are doing are just better at winging it than others. They have the same skill levels as you or I but they are winging it in a more confident manner than we are. I suppose there is some truth in that so maybe my advice would be to have more confidence in yourself.

What do you do when you are not in work?

I read a lot and play football and my guilty pleasure is that I am still a bit of a gamer even though I am getting older and I should know better. I am also a registered FA certified coach. I thought at one stage I might set up a football academy but that seems like a long way off now but you never know.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I am just focussed on continuing to grow the business really. The growth has accelerated in recent years and it would be good to keep that going. We have been around for 10 years now and in another 10 we may get up to 100 employees although I may be retired by then. It was always my ambition to be retired at 50 and I am 44 now, so we’ll see how that goes but it’s still a possibility even though I am really enjoying my work more then ever.