Posts in July

Book Review: Client Earth – Building an Ecological Civilisation

July 23rd, 2017   •   no comments   

 Client Earth are activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet: using environmental law to protect oceans, forests, and other habitats as well as all people. A new book which tells the successful story of Client Earth over the last decade since it was founded, was launched in May. Written by founder and CEO, James Thornton and his husband Martin Goodman, the book charts the journey of the non-profit environmental law group from inception to the present day.

 

Just before the recent election, and following a legal challenge by Client Earth, the UK government was ordered by the High Court to produce new improved plans to show how it is going to comply with legal limits of air pollution in the shortest time possible. This is but one of their successes in holding legislators to account.  But also a perfect example of their approach. So, as a Trustee of an environmental charity, you can imagine my sense of anticipation at its publication. And the book does indeed chart the rise of public interest environmental lawyers in the USA since the 1980s, and makes valuable points about NGOs and the law.

 

Cutting his teeth on the ‘Save the Bay’ campaign, focussed on eliminating the run off of agricultural pesticides and fertilisers in 1983, and moving on to the dumping of heavy metals and chemicals in watercourses by Bethlehem Steel in 1984, some of James Thornton’s early successes concentrated on pollution of rivers and seas. Since then his, and his team’s, work has widened in scope, and its geographical boundaries. In 2007 he moved to England, qualified in British law, and established his first European office. This was shortly followed by offices in Poland, Brussels, Africa, and most recently China. Where he is working with the government to draft law and train lawyers.

 

The American passages are perhaps the best in the book. But, at risk of being accused of a bad case of ‘not invented here’, the move to Europe comes with the bold assertion that environmental law didn’t exist in the UK until Client Earth’s arrival.

Thornton is absolutely right to say that environmentalists must create a new vision for their efforts. Presenting logical, but doom laden, arguments about the future of the Earth does not work for many citizens. Just as the referendum result in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US have both defied logical explanation so, Thornton and Goodman contend, we must correspondingly construct a new ‘brand’ for environmentalism based on hope. Along with this goes the acceptance that, having passed through the historical stages of agricultural then industrial civilisation, we are now entering a new epoch of ecological civilisation.

 

Personally, I largely agree with the authors’ assertion that enforcement of the law is one solution. I can also empathise with their view – based on my own experience – that some campaigning NGOs see their role as exposing problems. Not in fashioning the solutions. I am also firmly of the belief that it is naïve to believe that something – the ‘techno utopian card’ – will turn up to save us. So the thrust of the book is not at issue.

 

Where I have a problem is with the book’s style and execution. Alternating chapters between two different authors leads to a disjointed and repetitive reading experience. Thornton’s chapters are clear, concise, and brief. Goodman’s are rambling, plagued by extraneous quoted dialogue, and gushing in their admiration of Thornton.

 

Jonathan Porritt’s flyleaf endorsement may be correct in saying that ‘more important still are the vision, values, and gritty dedication of an amazing group of lawyers’, but I can’t escape the feeling that this book has something of the Hollywood movie about it. So, can our plucky heroes defeat the forces of evil?!

 

Published by Scribe Publications 2017 (www.scribepublications.co.uk) UK edition 978 1911 344 087  ©2017 M J Hoare

THINKTANK: Curtains for Cash?

July 23rd, 2017   •   no comments   

 

Is it All Over for Cash?

 

I make contactless payments just like anybody else, and it always alarms me to hear the person next in line decline their receipt. How on earth do they keep a tally of their spending, stop going overdrawn, and incurring bank charges? Maybe they are so spectacularly wealthy that it’s irrelevant, or they always run an overdraft, or maybe they just don’t care.

 

New figures from the British Retail Consortium suggest that, 10 years after their introduction in the UK, contactless payment cards have finally won over the British public. They now account for about a third of all card purchases, up from 10% as recently at October 2015. And, for the first time, notes and coins have been evicted from their position as the UK’s number one payment method.

 

Cards now account for more than half of all retail purchases, according to the BRC. And, in its latest annual payments survey, it claimed that debit, credit and charge cards had “firmly established their place as the dominant payment method in retail”, and were “increasingly displacing cash for lower-value payments”.

 

So, some adherents to the new doctrine are suggesting that this is the tipping point that signals the beginning of the end for cash? But wait. Cards have accounted for the majority of retail spending by value for years, but 2016 was the first year they also accounted for more than 50% of all transactions. It is also the first time that debit cards have overtaken cash. They now account for 42.6% of all transactions, putting them a fraction ahead of notes and coins, which fell almost five percentage points to 42.3%.

 

Contactless cards were introduced in the UK in 2007, and were slow to take off; a cautious public gradually accepting the technology in coffee shops and other low value outlets. The initial upper limit of £20 per transaction was increase in 2015 to £30. Subsequently, the technology has spread, and it is now possible to pay bus and tube fares, give charitable donations, and buy drinks at the bar with a flick of the wrist. So, much of the increased use must be down to the availability of the technology as to citizens rejection of cash.

 

Plus, customers’ psychological barriers have been gradually whittled away. Which is good news for shops! Handing over £20 in notes – and registering the diminishing cash in one’s wallet – is so much harder than flashing the plastic cash. So, if you subscribe to the theory that these cards make it too easy to spend money, one can imagine why retailers are keen to encourage the contactless revolution. Shops also have a vested interest in the demise of cash as it costs them money to transport and deposit it.

 

On the downside, the Bank of England last month suggested that the popularity of contactless cards was helping to fuel the rapid growth in consumer debt. Going overdrawn may also result in bank charges, further adding to that debt.

 

So could the UK end up going cash-free? Arguably we’ve been headed in that direction since the repeal on the Truck Acts – legislation that allowed workers to insist on payment in cash – in the 1980s. So it’s had a long gestation in the UK. Now Sweden is in the vanguard, and is expected to become the world’s first truly cashless society, with a study by Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology predicting that cash could be history there by 2030.

 

Notes and coins may be dirty and a nuisance to transport but, in their favour, they are tangible stores of value. Electronic cash – Swedish style – is just a call on the local bank that issued it. What happens when all record of this month’s pay, and your bank account, mysteriously disappear due to a computer error? Who underwrites your money? A note issued by the Bank of England – which is wholly owned by UK government – at least carries a promise to ‘pay the bearer’ the relevant value. So you have some chance of redress.

 

But never fear, Victoria Cleland, chief cashier and director of notes at the Bank of England, reckons the folding stuff and loose change will be around in the UK for some time yet. “Cash is very much alive and kicking,” she said in a recent speech. The value of Bank of England notes in circulation peaked in the run-up to Christmas 2016, reaching more than £70bn for the first time. So, no need to worry about that stash of notes under the mattress just yet. But maybe you should swap those old tenners for new ‘Jane Austen’ polymer notes!

Why CRM Projects Succeed or Fail?

July 10th, 2017   •   no comments   

At the back-end of 2009 I signed the go-ahead for a CRM system that was going to integrate all my association’s systems, including membership, training, and CPD. By early 2013, when I was ready to leave, we were staggering towards a final conclusion. The project wasn’t a failure, but it had gone over budget, and suffered delays along the way – and still hadn’t won the trust of one or two staff.

 

We thought we’d done all the right things. We’d used a consultant to define our requirements, bring suppliers to the table, and marshal the contestants in the resulting beauty parade. We’d even read – without really understanding – the inches thick specification documents that landed on our desks with a thud. But, despite all the planning, and spending over a hundred grand, nobody was overjoyed with the result.

 

Where had we gone wrong? I was about to find out as Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square ran through the key findings of their study CRM Projects: Why do they succeed or fail? And right from the start one narrative response struck a chord. As one CEO put it, “We resourced it as if we expected the project to be like painting and decorating…..It turned out to be like plumbing, wiring, and putting on a new roof.” If only I’d known!

 

Hart Square prides itself on its independent credentials and burning curiosity about what makes things work. So, in an effort to assist those who were “likely to be lumbered with installing a system”, and wanted to “avoid getting shouted at or fired”, Hart Square asked why, given that tech, vendors, and customers have all matured, is the failure rate still greater than in 2001? The simple answer may be that the level of ambition has increased. Organisations want to do more. But how do they avoid future errors?

First, Hart Square asked 200 online respondents to tell them about their business, staff, functional areas; what system and how much they paid; how did they prepare; what time, resources and staff did they employ; and did they use consultants to advise them? Then they asked, did they review processes before-hand, and success afterwards? Spend versus budget, time before adoption, benefits, lessons learned, and any regrets were added to the mix.

 

The results were interesting. Spending varied enormously from eleven percent spending in the £5-10,000 price range to twenty-one percent with budgets in excess of £250k: the majority, or twenty-five percent, spending between £80 and £150,000. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that it was important to spend the right amount of money for the desired results.

 

Forty percent of respondents rated their experience as a success, thirty-five percent as a failure, and twenty percent as a limited success. Asked if they would choose the same supplier again, forty-six percent said yes, whilst thirty-nine percent gave a negative response.

 

It was notable that the rate of churn has increased, with systems being replaced every three to four years, compared with a ten to twelve year time lag in the past. Partly due to the constant updating of software, the desire to achieve more, and increased capability. Whist ‘packaged systems’ are staging a fight back, the top selections – dependent on use – are, number one, MS Dynamics, two Salesforce, and three ThankQ.

 

In general, most projects took one to two years to complete, with some as long as eight years in the pipeline. However, six to twelve month over-runs were a common occurrence, based on the initial delivery date promised. Where failures occurred, some were down to no single cause, but the majority – thirty-one percent – were attributed to the recreation of already inadequate systems and processes existing within the business. Other causes included a lack of clarity about strategy in twenty-nine percent of cases; twenty-four percent who reckoned they had failed to bring people – staff and members – along with them on the journey because of poor take-up, inadequate training, or simple overload; and a relatively modest sixteen percent that failed due to poor or missing technology.

 

Where organisations were left asking, “Where did all the money go?” the answers were often, budget overspend, conflict, or just misunderstanding!

 

Of Hart Square’s five key recommendations, there are three ‘do’s’ and one categorical ‘don’t’: do start with yourself, including strategy, processes, budgets, and resources; get help, this is only going to happen once every five – ten years; invest in change, and bring others with you; and do select your partner like choosing a life-partner! Don’t, for whatever reason, focus on technology!

Allen Reid, Hart Square

Nick Rosewall, smartimpact

Co-sponsors of the event, smartimpact, were on hand – in the form of Nick Rosewall – to take on that penultimate point, selecting partners. Critical of the typical ‘arms-length’ selection process, he advised getting to know suppliers up front, and spending quality time together. Given that the relationship might last for years it is, in his view, critically important for there to be synergy between partners based on an empathetic relationship.

 

The expectations of members and activists have never been more complex or diverse.  They expect more channels and organisations presume they can achieve more integration. Overall, a dedicated project manager adds about twenty-five percent to the likelihood of success. But what about consultant use?   Can we assume that correlation indicates causation? You’ll have to read the report to get the answer to that question.  But, what’s for sure is that installing a CRM system is about change management: leaving the whole project to the IT department will lead to failure!

Written by

Michael Hoare

NetXtra Breakfast Club ‘MIND THE DIGITAL GAP’

July 10th, 2017   •   no comments   

Allen Reid, Hart Square

The phrase “Mind the Gap” was coined in about 1968 as an automated announcement, after it became impractical for drivers and station attendants to warn passengers verbally on London Underground. Now, minding the gap between customer expectations and our digital performance may not be as devastating as tumbling between a tube train and the platform, but it will have consequences never-the-less.

Simon Pardy, Hart Square

And so it was that Allen Reid, director of client projects, and Simon Pardy, a business consultant at Hart Square gave their early-rising NetXtra Breakfast Club audience a two-handed rendition of the pitfalls. Helping, along the way, to identify approaches to adopting contemporary technology. But first, over to Sarah, the cause of all this angst. Sarah is the average member, and doesn’t care about your departments. She isn’t interested in your data silos, and doesn’t much care about her membership body. She doesn’t like admin; won’t just go to the website; and does NOT want to call you.

You, on the other hand, want to talk to her! But she’s busy, and you’re bombarding her with impersonal email messages, texts, and Tweets – particularly when they’re mostly irrelevant to her – simply doesn’t cut it. In-fact they might drive a wedge between you. And pretending to be personal is even worse, as it exposes your lack of authenticity.

Welcome

Sarah has loads of choice, has apps coming out of her ears, and in these economically straightened times may choose not to invest in a membership body that views her simply as a statistic. So why not take a leaf out of the Mumsnet book, or even Coeliac UK, with its scrapbooks, recipes, restaurants, and advice on diagnosis?

To succeed, you need to understand your members’ needs and what’s driving them to you. How can you satisfy those needs? Great – maybe crowd sourced – content is good; self-service (for booking, buying, and profile updates) is a must; and, most of all, community. People talking on your site, exchanging news, jobs, and events, add to that feeling of highly personalised communications according Allen and Simon.

Rob Ilsley and Scott Cole

Next, in a break from tradition, Scott Cole of NetXtra interviewed Rob Ilsley of The Dispute Service (TDS) to extract some important nuggets from their decision to go for CRM. As a government regulated scheme provider that protects over £1 billion in tenant deposits TDS membership is something of a grudge purchase. But with their current systems having grown organically over a number of years, minor tweaks to any process would result in unforeseen chaos further down the line. It was time to act, sweeping away processes that weren’t user friendly and replacing them with a high degree of self service. But only after analysis of the tenant’s role as a customer. The result has been efficiency, cost savings, and a reduction in disputes.

Tom Bowden, Footprint Digital

Pay per click advertising (PPC), search engine optimisation (SEO), and conversion rate optimisation (CRO) are Tom Bowden’s game at Footprint Digital, and he had everyone on their feet to demonstrate the fact. Measure it – test it, is their mantra, and Tom demonstrated it. Although we may make assumptions about what looks great and is likely to engage our audience, with the benefit of A/B testing partnered with SEO/analytics reporting, we can actually put definable data behind decision making.

So, what did others think? I asked fellow delegate, Dan Nimmo, Communications Manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science, and he told me that,

“Having only started as the communications manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science in January, and with no prior experience in membership organisations, the Breakfast Clubs have provided me with a wealth of information and ideas of how to make improvements in our organisation. As well as the steps to overcome some of the problems I have had and can foresee in the future.

The June presentations were the second Breakfast Club that I have attended this year and I was pleased that on both occasions the content has been relevant to my role. I also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the presentations and meeting fellow communications professionals. The added bonus of a fresh cup of coffee and a bacon roll on arrival are also a much appreciated welcome to the day ahead.”

  1. Any stand-out moments?

“Yes, learning about some of the challenges other organisations have overcome and the different ways that they have done this is helpful when I come to plan our communication and engagement strategies. As I am currently looking at ways to improve the user experience of our digital membership platform, I found the ‘Mind the digital gap’ presentation especially rewarding. The idea of personalising the membership area for each member is something that I am going to look into further and the Coeliac example used was very appealing.”

  1. And did the round-table and interview sessions add to your enjoyment?

“I really enjoyed discussing some of the issues in the round table discussion. As someone that is new to my role, I discussed some of the issues that I have faced with the new ideas I am bringing to the role and changes I am beginning to implement. So it was really helpful to hear from other comms staff at my table, who discussed the problems that they have had to overcome in their organisations.”

  1. What will you be able to apply most immediately to your current role?

 “The last presentation on ‘Mind the SEO gap’ was informative and good fun. Although being one of only 3 in the room to pick the first correct answer was a source of pride, although I soon found my short-lived quiz success was over by the next question. The style of the presentation proved a great way to drive home the idea that A/B testing along with SEO/analytics can enable us to make better decisions in our marketing. Something that will come in especially handy to all membership communications teams as we all look to improve on our engagement and better ways to measure it. It also comes at a time when I have been investigating A/B testing to increase our level of open and click through rates in our digital communications to our members.”

  1. See you next time?

“The NetXtra Breakfast Clubs have given me a really useful insight into the membership sector. I am able to take away lots of new ideas for member engagement and it also allows me to network with fellow comms professionals. I look forward to the next event in September!”.

Written by Michael Hoare