Change is always inevitable but the pace of change and innovation is continuing to accelerate and businesses have to be ready to adapt to new environments.
That was the key message from four presentations delivered at Mersey Maritime’s Face-2-Face networking event, held on Tuesday 6th April 2021. RSM, Expleo Group, Micro-Epsilon and IODM all offered insights into the expertise and technology available to help manage change.
Mersey Maritime chief executive, Chris Shirling-Rooke, told members attending the webinar that the range of speakers at the event once again demonstrated “the diverse ecosystem that we have in the maritime sector”.
Paul Dowell, director of consulting at global audit, tax and consulting specialist RSM, was the first to address those present. He said that as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic it was clear many businesses would have to change their operating models.
“Changing your operating model is a difficult process,” he acknowledged. “But it is easier than the alternative than trying to keep going with the old operating model. We all need to move on.”
He added that RSM’s approach was to “solve problems” but not “rush to solutions”. Talking about one project where RSM helped London Underground to deliver new signalling, he explained: “We get to the bottom of problems… we look at those problems from the source.”
Paul then handed over to his RSM colleague, Darren Griffin, who talked about how companies large and small could benefit from the R&D tax credit regime offered by HMRC. He said: “If you are developing new products, processes or services then you may be able to make a qualifying claim up to two years from the end of the accounting period.”
He pointed out that R&D isn’t always just about new technology. One recent client, he said, was a salmon farm that undertook new feeding trials for the fish. It was able to make a successful £2m claim.
“We have a 10-strong team in the North West which covers a number of areas of expertise. HMRC are examining claims more closely these days so it is important to seek proper advice. R&D has been around for 20 years but HMRC is now undertaking a consultation which will lead to changes to the system.”
Expleo Group is a global engineering consultancy which works with companies across multiple sectors in 26 countries. Its clients include Airbus, Ford, Siemens, BAE and Boeing.
Jonathan Taylor, the company’s vice president of marine, told the webinar its focus is on helping its clients “future-proof” their businesses. He said: “We are not a manufacturer. We get involved at the CAD (computer-aided design) stage of new product development and manage the interface between the design phase and getting that into the manufacturing process.”
Expleo, he said, had been operating in the maritime sector for 30 years and offered “results-driven end-to-end support for time-critical projects”. He added its three key aims were to help clients keep pace with innovation, manage skills shortages and create a more diverse workforce, and help adapt to a greener and more sustainable future.
“It is about applying the right technology for your business,” said Jonathan. “That is not just about implementing the latest technology but also applying that technology in the correct way.”
“Today, sensors are all around us and, most of the time, we are not even aware they are there,” said Chris Jones, managing director of Wirral-based Micro-Epsilon which provides sensor technology to a myriad of businesses and sectors.
They supply sensors to be installed in manufacturing plants to ensure quality of production, in the engines and suspension systems of cars (including in Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One car at Mercedes) and to help keep McDonalds’ chips crispy and golden.
Chris added: “We operate across all manufacturing sectors and we are most prominent in the advanced manufacturing sectors. We are helping people to develop their next generation of machines.”
Micro-Epsilon is also active in the maritime sector and Chris explained: “Real-time feedback of how a machine is performing is critical. Large ships are like small cities and our systems offer that information quickly.”
Chris also talked about how the company’s sensor technology was being used for real-time monitoring of vessels docking at ports. They can offer instant information on the ship’s distance and approach speed.
“We also have multiple sensors installed in offshore wind turbines,” he said. “They have quite a lot of moving machinery inside that is operating in an extreme environment. Our sensors will constantly monitor what is happening.”
Micro-Epsilon has facilities within its Birkenhead base that allow clients to test technologies and processes. Chris added: “More automation is coming and we can help you get ready.”
Graham Smith, head of business development at IODM, said that when we talk about digital transformation and automation, people often assume the discussion is around the future. But he explained that automation is “old news” and has been around for a long time.
“We used to set a timer to record a programme on a VHS recorder and now we use our Sky Q boxes to do the same thing,” he said. “Look at sat-navs or the technology we use to control the heating in our homes.”
IODM is an Australian stock-market quoted business that is now expanding across the UK. It offers automated technology to streamline the chasing of invoices, an issue which costs UK companies billions of pounds a year.
Graham explained: “At any given time there will be £50bn in late invoice payments owed to SMEs in the UK and it takes 56m hours each year to chase those invoices. It is not just a problem for short-term cashflow, it is actually threatening the survival of businesses.”
He added that IODM’s automated technology will sit inside any accounting package and offers to transform the efficiency of invoice-chasing and significantly improve a customer’s cashflow.
For the maritime sector, Chris said, digitalisation was crucial to its future. In some cases, he said, centuries-old processes were still being used. He added: “Business process automation is about using technology to execute recurring tasks and processes.
“Of course, full digital transformation can be overwhelming. Breaking that down and transforming processes one at a time is a good way of achieving that.”