Experts from the world of technology and digital innovation gave a fascinating insight into current and future trends at Somerset Chamber’s Digital Trends and Innovation event held at Strode College on Wednesday, 2 October.
Guest speakers included representatives from Strode College, ultra-fast broadband provider Truespeed, law firm Clerksroom and demand economics specialists Kaiasm.
The audience was told about digital training, the use of chatbots in business, the urgent need for quality fibre broadband in Somerset and the science behind effective digital marketing.
Jez Allman, Sales Director, at Truespeed also revealed the results of the Chamber’s broadband survey which was sponsored by the Keynsham-based company.
He said Somerset had the second worst internet infrastructure in England and was second only to Wales when it came to slow connection speeds across the whole of the UK.
“There are huge levels of latency and buffering in Somerset and the county is way below the UK broadband connection averages, which means Somerset’s businesses are at a huge disadvantage to even their neighbouring competitors,” Mr Allman said.
He said the Chamber and Truespeed survey found that 30% of sole traders were experiencing daily drop-outs in their connections, while one in two of companies employing between 151 and 300 employees had weekly drop-outs.
“It’s not a level playing field and it’s putting Somerset’s businesses way behind the rest of the UK,” he said.
It’s estimated that the UK, on average, loses 40 minutes of productivity each day due to buffering – the equivalent of 21 wasted business days each year.
Mr Allman said it was crucial businesses were able to offer their employees the flexibility to work from home, something 92% of all millennial job seekers said was vital when it came to applying for work.
Steve Johnston, Founder and Head of Client Services at Kaiasm, said his focus was helping businesses better meet the needs of their customers and said the first rule companies had to remember was that every customer they cared about started their buying journey online.
He said today’s marketplace was very much a case of demand leading supply rather than supply and demand and Kaiasm’s role was to ensure businesses knew what their customers wanted.
He gave an example from the DIY sector where consumers had used 25,000 different terms when searching online for a new lawnmower.
“We identify the marketplace, collect the data about how shoppers arrive at their site and turn it into useful insights,” Mr Johnston said.
He said good website content was key but had to be based on good data to enable the sales goals to be met – and often exceeded.
Stephen Ward, Managing Director, of Clerksroom, explained how the use of technology had transformed his business in the shape of a virtual reality assistant called Billy Bot, Clerksroom’s trainee robot junior clerk.
Complete with his own LinkedIn and social media accounts, Billy Bot was now the first point of contact for clients: “Every new enquiry is taken by Billy. He creates new cases and searches diaries while the conversation is still going on.
“He’ll offer availability, agree fees and send out written terms and confirm bookings with barristers – we’re not involved at all.”
Mr Ward said people connecting with Billy could be pointed towards anything from free legal advice to a specialist solicitor anywhere in the world.
“Billy can search 1.6 billion options instantly and carry out 167 actions instantaneously. He’s saving us 200 work hours every month,” Mr Ward said.
He added: “I used to get a lot of stick about Billy not being able to make the coffee even though he was a junior clerk. . . well, people coming into our office can now ask Billy for a coffee after we wrote that into an app and bought a smart coffee machine!”
Strode College’s David Byford, Director of Employer Engagement and Andrew Watson, Digital Apprenticeships Coordinator said the college was helping to ensure school leavers, adult learners and graduates had the correct skills for employers in the digital and technology sectors.
Mr Watson said the college’s apprenticeship programme had been extended to cover a wider range of disciplines, including digital marketing, infrastructure technicians and network engineers.
Mr Byford said it had been employer-led and the college was proud to consistently be in the top 10% of colleges nationally and to be rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.