Ringside: Interview with Alan Smillie

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Alan Smillie Ringside

We’ve expanded the Ringside series to draw insights from business leaders beyond our walls. In partnering with others to help create the future of work, we’re curious to uncover a broader perspective on business communications.

In this episode we listen to Alan Smillie, Managing Director of Softworx. Alan is married with three children and two dogs. He enjoys being active by playing football and golf. Besides that, any spare time Alan finds is spent chauffeuring the kids.

Alan, what’s your role and what are the challenges and opportunities?

Like all businesses, Softworx is having to adapt day-to-day operations during lockdown. As Managing Director it is my responsibility to ensure we have the appropriate infrastructure in place to maintain the highest levels of client engagement. As UCaaS is a primary focus in our portfolio, we are finding that many of our clients are looking to bring forward technology renewals due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having a collaboration platform that fits with your business continuity aspirations has become a priority for a lot of organisations.

In what ways has business communications changed over your career?

I am old enough to remember business life before mobiles, when you would drop in to the office a couple of times a week to pick up messages. In today’s world if you haven’t returned a call within four hours people think you have been abducted by aliens. Video has become a major part of our client and staff communications due to current circumstances. It is my belief that a considerably higher percentage of our client meetings will be delivered over video in the future, which will improve health & safety, increase productivity and have a positive environmental impact.

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What kind of challenges (or interesting solutions) are you hearing from partners and clients?

Almost all of our clients have found a way of cobbling together a workable short-term fix due the speed in which we entered lockdown. This included staff using home PCs and personal mobiles to allow them to minimise operational impact. Moving forward, companies are now a lot more focussed on their business continuity planning and shaping a flexible environment to allow more hotdesking and working from home.

Where do you think the workforce, and business communications, will be this time next year?

Feedback from our clients is concerned with a greater focus on flexible working. I think many organisations have realised that, with the correct tools, many more staff members can improve productivity and reduce cost to the business by working more from home. Initially government guidance will mandate that staffing patterns are staggered to accommodate a safer working environment, however moving forward many organisations will realise they don’t need an expensive city centre office to accommodate every member of staff. One of the larger insurance companies we deal with procured 600+ laptops when they went into lockdown to allow home-working, and is now looking at collaboration options to underpin this.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a business wishing to improve its communication?

COVID-19 is a stark reminder that none of us know what is round the corner. For me it’s about building as much flexibility as possible into your business continuity planning. If we have another major business interruption or pandemic it is vital that staff can remain fully operational regardless of location. By deploying the appropriate collaboration platform, companies can still deliver a good customer experience without compromising security when asking staff to use personal devices.

As we continue to prepare for the cautious return to the office, we thank Alan for his insights and wish him success in serving his customers. Look out for more episodes in this series of Ringside. If you’d like to appear in the series and share your thoughts on the future of business communications, please get in touch.

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Originally published Jun 10, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023

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