This week we found out that Virtue Technologies has made it through to the final round of the BIBAs 2015. We have been shortlisted for the award of ‘Best Use of IT’ and Virtue Technologies’ Managing Director, Phil Lawson, has been shortlisted for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’.
Run by the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, the BIBAs is the ‘the one they all want to win’. That’s because businesses that win a BIBA get much more than just a trophy. The meticulous approach of the judging process, the BIBAs Winners’ Academy and the national profile of the event means those entrepreneurs that take part in the BIBAs take their minds and business to another level.
We all have our fingers crossed here at Virtue Technologies for when the winners are announced later this year. Here is our story we shared with the BIBAs which has gotten us so far in the competition.
Following the 2010 general election, the change of government brought huge changes to Virtue Technologies’ customers, focusing on the education sector we looked these changes and responded quickly in a way that a only small business can. Using a combination of ICT and internet technology, we created our Private Cloud solution. This is a direct response to Schools becoming part of multi academy trusts and needing the ability work seamlessly and securely across multiple Schools in different areas. We provided high speed connectivity solutions to every site in the trust, we then used a combination of routing and server technology to create each trust a private cloud for all their sites.
We located equipment within our own data centre of the core of the network, within this data centre we provided a virtual server solution designed specifically for the needs of education. There the trust hosts for example a financial package, centralised learning portal or internet security solution. To take it to another level we then created a seamless single sign on experience presenting on-site apps, private cloud apps and public cloud apps such as Microsoft Office 365, Google apps.To a user, this gives a completely seamless experience with one user name and password on any device mobile or fixed and at any work or home location. It allows the Academy trust to use a hybrid environment storing data locally, in a private cloud or in a public cloud. Critically this gives them the flexibility to choose where there data is meeting regulatory guidelines or the accessibility of the public cloud services.
We feel our position as an innovative and flexible small business has made us able to respond to the needs of the changing education system. We competed against huge PLC’s such as Virgin Media, BT and RM PLC for this contract and none them innovated quickly enough and could not offer a cost effective solution to the customer. We have done this and have a relationship with this customer and many other similar ones that are long term, high value and profitable, but most importantly, meet the customer’s needs.
The basis of our highly successful private cloud solution is a high quality internet delivery network. As the initial demand for cloud based services started we made a strategic decision that to provide cloud services we need to control and manage the end to end delivery of the internet to our customers. Traditionally the local authority provided the solution which was inflexible, wrapped in red tape and not meeting the needs of a modern Academy. We provided a solution fit for purpose and meeting the needs of the Schools which was hugely successful, gaining Virtue new customers. At the same time the education sector was starting to invest heavily in mobile devices, iPad’s, kindles etc. This created huge challenges for anyone providing internet to Schools. First priority to keep children safe online, but these devices need to be flexible and work very differently from a standard PC or laptop. The Schools were demanding the security to be relaxed but this put Children as risk.
We embarked and a large R & D project and developed an offering that allows the APP based learning an iPad offers to be allowed but at the same time putting security in place to protect children. This was ground breaking for our customers who had previously been restricted by outdated internet solutions provided red tape laden local authorities. Our solution has revolutionised things for the local IT support teams but most importantly revolutionised the learning experience for the children.
This development then created a second challenge for our business, the freedom given and huge increase in number of devices and sent internet usage through the roof. Being limited by the infrastructure available to us in the local area we can only provide a certain size of internet at a price within budget of the academy. We had to be clever and we completed a 2nd R & D project to analyse what each user was doing with this new way of learning, what Apps they were using and what was using all the internet bandwidth. Once understood we were able to complete some innovative designs to prioritise certain APPs and internet usage over others. For example we can prioritise a student taking an online exam to ensure it is seamless whilst restricting guest users accessing YouTube. We were able to allow YouTube but only for education based videos. We could allow social media but block the games within them, and stop people updating their iPhones at the same time.
The overall innovation is a constant work in progress responding to the changing needs of our users and internet landscape. It is a balancing act to give the user a high speed, flexible but crucially secure experience.
As an IT company it is critical we follow technical trends but we are also very clear that it is very easy to jump around from new product to new product. We live in a world of information, so getting information on trends is easy. We believe the key is to be able to sift through them and apply them to our business and most importantly to the niche sector we work in.
Consumerisation of IT is a huge challenge, home based technologies are being pushed into enterprises by users. This is both exciting and challenging, some of the technology such as Apple’s new watch or Google glass offer wonderful learning opportunities for children, but they also create us technology integration challenges.
Our strategy is to take a step back from the technology and look at need, it is about engaging with our customers to help them to understand before investing. We hold regular strategy meetings with our customers and we run customer events showcasing new technology. We help our customers with a 3-year plan and new technology is slotted into this to ensure it is thought about before purchasing. Once we see new technology that there is a clear need for, we invest in it. We train, develop and design within our business to have solutions ready for market.
For our business we believe innovation in IT is not about that one magic invention that changes the world, it is about how we put together lots of small innovations to create a solution that meets both our customers and our business needs. Innovation in IT is the most important part of this but we also feel innovation in financing, training and customer engagement is critical.
We firmly believe our cloud and internet solution meets all these needs and is a wonderful example of the use of IT.
Winners of the BIBAs will be announced at the BIBAs Ceremony, Blackpool Tower Ballroom on September 11th 2015