To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them some questions.

This week we have Mike Henson from Ideal. Mike leads Ideal into an exciting new phase of its growth. Business-minded and commercially astute with a track record of P&L success, Mike has a reputation for delivering financial results, building profitable growth, executing transformational change and achieving outstanding service and programme delivery.

When did COVID-19 affect your business and was it immediate or gradual?

We provide managed IT services and solutions, covering enterprise networks, security, collaboration and platforms (including cloud and data centre) for over 100 organisations. Given the nature of our business, we already had a well-established business continuity plan and a team which had been meeting monthly, which we then stepped up to twice weekly as we needed to closely monitor events. Things were changing fast, so this was crucial particularly for our work in the construction sector on high-profile projects, where we often need to go on site to install network equipment, for example at Battersea Power Station. These preparations and our readiness were key for us and we moved into a two-team remote working model a week before the government announced the wider lockdown. The cutover was instant, but based on careful planning and testing, everyone in the organisation adapted quickly to the new tools and ways of working.

How did you communicate this impact with your team and clients?

Our Account Directors were in constant dialogue with our customers, several of whom were asking about our approach in the context of their own business continuity planning. We also published a statement on our website which we updated as the situation evolved. Internally, we communicated through team briefings backed up by regular email updates and underpinned by written policy.

What decisions have you had to take in respect of your business?

Our first and perhaps most important decision was to focus on helping our customers rather than selling – some customers needed immediate support, and others needed to work through how the lockdown was affecting their business before they could start to think about how their technology would need to evolve. We have quite a broad range of customers, and except for construction where sites had to close, most of our customers had to quickly pivot to supporting their teams with remote working. Internally, we had to place a higher emphasis on supporting our teams to use the collaboration tools such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams where, because of our general familiarity with the technology, we took to like ducks to water!

Have you accessed or will you be accessing any of the Government support schemes and grants?

We have made limited use of the furlough scheme where projects were placed on hold or to support staff in specific circumstances. We were very conscious to respect the spirit of the scheme and where appropriate our engineers kept in touch and studied for new qualifications while away from the business.

Do you think the Government support goes far enough?

We don’t have a particularly strong view on this. For Ideal the support so far has been appropriate and sufficient but we appreciate that a lot of businesses, particularly in hard hit sectors, absolutely need significant government support to survive, but equally we understand that any more support provided now will have to be paid for down the line.

What effect will this pandemic have your business in the long term?

Short term, our people have done an amazing job. From the outset there has been great uncertainty on the social and economic impact of the pandemic and lockdown. I am delighted that our business performance has stayed on track with no noticeable impact on our order book over the last quarter – that’s down to the hard work of the whole team and our loyal, longstanding relationships with our customers. The decision to focus our sales and marketing efforts on helping all our customers has undoubtedly paid dividends and reflects our values to always do the right thing. Longer term we need to respect the continuing uncertainty and ensure that our business can respond to the likely ups and downs at a macro level rather than expect rigid forecasts to play out as planned. Working practices wise, we will put safety first and only reoccupy our offices when we feel safe and comfortable to do so, even then I am sure we will adopt many of the positive aspects of our current distributed working methods. From a customer viewpoint, some of the new service propositions that we had in planning have had to be accelerated to reflect how remote working is causing customers to think differently about their requirements with respect to networks, security and the cloud.

Do you have a crisis management plan now in place?

We viewed this as controlled business continuity rather than crisis management. Clearly we cut through issues and made decisions fast but never out of control or in a panic. We certainly learned that you need to be in a position to help when your customers have their own crisis. We are lucky in that we operate in quite a supportive eco-system within the IT channel, so there was a definite sense of we are all in this together and the sense of collaboration was massively reassuring.

What decisions are being made now for when you are able to get back up and running?

We are having detailed discussions about how we will need to change to work in an office environment post Covid-19, and what changes we will want to make in terms of culture and ways of working. We’ll maintain the two-team model, so we won’t immediately have all staff back into the office at the same time. We are also surveying our teams to establish their personal situations and will take account of that as we build our ‘Week Zero’ return to CityView plan. When that plan will be implemented is another matter, but we will have it ready to go when we need it.

How do you think the business landscape will change in Brighton?

I’m pretty confident about Brighton – there’s a level of creativity, community and vibrancy that we have as a City that gives me confidence we will get through this. Brighton remains a destination and whilst some people will be concerned about using public transport to get to the City, judging by recent pictures we may be more concerned about too many rather than too few visitors.

What tips can you give other businesses currently going through the crisis?

Keep your teams informed, look after your customers, work together and plan – don’t panic.

Author: Mike Henson, Managing Director @ Ideal 

Date Published: 13 July 2020