We asked Gary Dunsmore, Projects Director at Compass Plus, to answer some questions on how Compass Plus are managing projects remotely through the global pandemic. Gary covers everything from interrupted zoom calls to projects going live during these strange times.
Q: How are you remotely supporting clients through these times?
A: I’m home based anyway so I’m practicing the art of managing clients and project resources remotely. However, the pandemic has added an extra dimension to this which is current resources of all types are also working from home, some for the first time. The distractions of child care, furloughed family members, pets, having somewhere to sit quietly etc. plus, the added addition of using new technology has presented lots of hurdles and challenges for clients and us alike.
But it’s helped. We’ve had these calls before; we’ve had them before the lockdown. It’s just introducing more people into that environment. For some clients we have what I call a more ‘stand-up’ meeting first thing every morning. This has sort of turned into a five-minute social at the start just to check in with everyone and ensure that everyone is ok. There are kids in the background, there are dogs barking so we have a new soundtrack for these calls. But I think once people are comfortable and less nervous about the noise in the background, and that other people actually find it quite amusing, the meetings are productive as ever. In fact, when I first started recording this my dog started barking, so you just go again.
These meetings have proved to help us with the BAU (business as usual), to carry on as normal, I think it is just that added piece of ensuring that people are ok, reaching out to those that maybe are struggling with the technology or struggling at home, and as partnership with our customers, we look to help there where we can.
Q: How are Compass Plus providing support through each part of the project?
A: I think the key thing here is to reaffirm and reassure our customers that even though our head office is shut in sunny Nottingham, the technology that we have today allows us to essentially be business as usual. And that’s essentially where we are and what we do. We are offering additional video and voice conferences for some of the trickier phases of projects like discovery scoping phase. Where you would typically sit in a room with a whiteboard and thrash out with the client and the projects, we are using technology which comes into its own here. We can share whiteboards, share screens, share documents, so you can still complete what is to me one of the most vital stages of any project.
For the more mature projects we have, we’ve got our company ticketing system to track issues, questions and queries. So again, the customers are used to using that, and business as usual there as well.
During the lockdown period, funnily enough, we have even had a project go live. A new card issuer on our processing platform, it is obviously a very soft pilot going live at the moment given that most of Europe is still in some form of lockdown, but it does show that we can continue to deliver to our customers during what is one of the strangest periods I have ever experienced in my career which goes back way too many years now.
Q: Are you missing the travel and face-to-face interactions with customers?
A: I have always been a firm believer of ensuring you meet your customers who are an active project particularly, face to face as often as required. This could be fortnightly for some customers, could be monthly, quarterly, sometimes its even annually, but it is important to have that face to face. It builds the relationship and it also allows you to take the time out and socialise, which is an important part of any working relationship. I’ve lost count over the years of useful info I have picked up over a cup of coffee or a beer. Our annual user group, TXUG, is a good example of this catching up with people in a slightly different environment, a bit more relaxed, and having a good in-depth chat about business in general. So, yes, whilst I do miss the travel and the face to face meetings, video conferencing is the next best thing and in this current period, as I have said before, it has allowed us to be as close as possible to business as usual, as can be.
Q: With the lack of travel, have you found that you have a freer schedule?
A: I’m not sure I have a freer schedule. I am spending a lot more time on conference calls because we don’t necessarily turn a conference call down. If someone wants to talk, we will talk, and most customers have my mobile number and are comfortable calling me should they need to. This doesn’t happen very often but they can. I think making that extra effort to make sure that you are still fully engaged with the customer, I don’t think really frees up your schedule as such. It changes your schedule, meetings can be at different times of the day, sometimes in the evening depending on the time difference, sometimes early morning. But, your extended day to cover this may be interspersed with a longer lunch break or you know that sort of thing. It has been an interesting time, quite a challenging time, but I think certainly for us at Compass Plus, we have shown through delivering and continuing working and supporting the projects and products we have out there, that we can do this through a pandemic, and if you can do it through a pandemic you can do it through anything, I would say.