All things digital transformation with Brad Flook of Intoware | Leaders in STEM
We were recently joined by Brad Flook, Sales Director of Intoware, for an episode of our Leaders in STEM podcast. In this interview, Brad shares his valuable insight into what digital transformation means for manufacturing and discusses the remote management capabilities of Intoware's key product offering: WorkfloPlus.
To begin, do you mind sharing a bit about your background and how you came to work in STEM?
My background covers document management and software as a whole, and it has covered every aspect. I joined the working world in microfilm, which shows my age a little bit, but I was very lucky. The microfilm industry was obviously moving to document management, which was more focused around scanning. Document scanners had come out and the guy who owned the company at the time gave me the task of starting to convert our clients who had historically used microfilm to document scanning. This was long before the Cloud existed, so it was a lot of taking hard copy paper, digitizing it, and then obviously producing it on CD-ROM and, if you're old enough, CD-ROM jukeboxes. So that was a good introduction to the world; I spent nine years at that company, which is a local company based in Bristol called BMI.
Then, I joined a company called Hobbes Reprographics, which is predominantly a print company and reprographics company who deal mainly with architects, engineers, and construction companies. It was mainly focused around, at the time, the operational and technical side of their businesses. Over the almost-15 years I spent with Hobbes, I grew up through the company, took on regional roles, eventually joined the board. And in that time, in that 15 years, the company itself obviously went through an evolution because operational print and technical print was very popular coming at the back of the into the Noughties. But then came the digital age, then came Cloud computing, project collaboration systems, higher bandwidth on emails and naturally all of this shrank operational and technical print. Where we were predominantly a print company, we moved into things like document management and document scanning.
Which brings us to you joining Intoware. On that note, what does Intoware do?
So Intoware offers one product, really, and it's called WorkfloPlus; it's a digital workflow and task platform. What that gives people the ability to do is take a standard process and create it into a digital process or a digital workflow. It's very simple.
When you build and publish your workflows you can easily manage them on the control and management side of the software. So that would allow me to create workflows and distribute them across multiple teams, multiple individuals, as often as necessary. If you add a consistent element, like a health and safety check or a walkthrough, you could even set it up as a scheduled event. Once it's scheduled, the platform itself comes with app-ready technology as well. So that could be iOS, that could be Android, or it can be things like wearables - like headsets or head mounted tablets or real wear devices. It's flexible to what the user needs to get out of it.
And then the operator who's going to go onto the oil rig or shop floor and run this process can then follow along in easy steps, complete the process, and finish it all digitally. The real magic, as it's being done, is that it collects data. As the user is following those steps, WorkfloPlus picks up how long it takes, where they're doing it, what information they've collated or corrected, and it can also take things like photographs and videos to then add to the workflow and the task they've completed.
The real excellent bit for an operator is where you look at archaic processes. Now they go out and complete the task and then they have to go back and type up the report because WorkfloPlus is working in the background and it's taking all that data, it's building the report in real time as well. So as soon as they complete the workflow, that report can be sent off to whoever needs it. Or, it's just available for review straight away. So that's what WorkfloPlus does and that's Intoware’s main product.
Other than being a way of remote management, what other challenges does WorkfloPlus help solve?
The time saving and productivity gains are huge. Auditability is massive because everything is tracked so easily - at the moment a lot of businesses still use pen and paper, and two people can see the same thing and describe it different ways. WorkfloPlus makes it easier for everyone to stay on the same page. Other things that happen can include reports getting lost and the information is gone because it's a printout, the paper doesn't get processed, or it sits on someone's desk. Building reports in realtime prevents this. Also, because it's realtime, any manager can see what's being done and when.
That auditability, in compliance, in asset inspections, engineering work, et cetera, is massive because all that information is instantly available and is being reported. Because it's a smart platform as well, you can set actions off of according to what's being done. So if there's a problem, if you do a walkthrough or you do some sort of inspection and you can see any problem, you can instantly create a knock-on effect which could correct that problem. Then it instantly goes on to the next person and they're aware of the issue.
This sounds like kit that could help combat challenges like the skills gap.
Absolutely. Another big challenge for us as an industry at the moment are things like the the skills gap in manufacturing. Our customers are coming to us constantly and saying, "we've got these great engineers, these great people have been with the business 20, 25, 30 years and they've got such a wealth of knowledge. But naturally through attrition these people are now retiring." Valuable members are leaving, and they're leaving knowledge black holes. So, yes, the senior engineer, probably doesn't need to be told exactly how to do each step of their job by WorkfloPlus because they know their job very well. But the data they pick up from going through each step of their process is gold dust for the next generation. Because then you can then process those workflows, put them into a training environment, take all the business intelligence and analytics you've gained from the senior engineer and give the new recruits an almost real world environment to then perform these tasks in. So that's a massive plus for us.
Is it a particularly competitive marketplace? Does anyone do exactly what Intoware does?
Naturally, there are other business. I think we all have different ways of collecting data, there's different kinds of form-filling softwares out there where companies are given the ability to create and manage processes.
I think where WorkfloPlus sits above our competitors is user experience. One of the toughest things about what we do is the digital transformation and change management. You're asking people that do a job to change the way they do that job, which in itself can be challenging for businesses, that issue of getting a hold on the process and rolling it out to everyone. But because WorkfloPlus is user experience-focused, it's actually making peoples' lives easier.
Where we see a competitive market in some areas, we also see people challenging us with what they're already doing internally. They're asking: does this add more value? Does this make our lives easier? It's not what you'd class as a direct competitor, but something we have to show value against and because user experience, that instant reporting and things like that are actually making people's life easier. Using the app is as simple as using any other app. It is basically: press the button, follow the answers, follow the questions, and put in the information. Very simplistic. We see our products doing very well in the market because it's adopted and supported by the actual team on the coalface.
We've briefly discussed the skills shortage; is that something Intoware is finding it difficult to grapple with?
I think the skills shortage and compliance are two of the biggest things on our clients agenda at the moment. One is one where we really fit in with businesses, I think, what challenges them in our environment. I come back to those kinds of operational processes and what people are doing on shop floor or coalface out on the site, et cetera, because it's the ability to take the senior generation and pass it on to the people coming through. That's what we can give people. We can give them educated workflows.
I come back to the idea of critiquing things when we're at the proof of concept stage, critiquing them when we're doing a supported field trial -- not to stop the critiquing at all. WorkfloPlus comes for version control. So I look at some of our customers - they've created workflows for inspections or maintenance, and they're on version 16, 17, 18 - because they're seeing better ways of working constantly. Then they're taking all that information, all that data, all that process, and then passing it to someone who has come fresh into the business. And then instantly that person can do 90% of that procedure just following that workflow through. And again, the good thing about using WorkfloPlus is you can schedule it across teams and you can still have supervisors signing off at each stage.
So if I was that junior coming in and you're that senior engineer, and I get through 25% of the workflow, you may want to review that. Look at what I've done, sign it off, check everything's been done. And then, I go on to the next stage. But what we've also seen, and we've seen this with clients in the US, is what about saving time? What about saving the ability for senior engineers having to go to site, having to go to site to see every junior engineer's work? The workflow helps that massively.
But what happens when you really hit a hurdle and that hurdle is very hard to get over? Yes, you can see my workflow, but what we've also done, we've partnered with Remote Expert Solutions. So for your phone and tablet and for your headset, I can actually call you during the workflow. You can then see everything I can see. You can then help me and support me and take control. You can sign off the procedure live and see the workflow I'm doing. You could take turn, dictate on my camera, you can point things out to me. And again, you imagine that with the headsets I was talking about your hands free as well. See, the person at the other end of this call is seeing everything I'm doing, instructing me verbally through the tasks, and then I'm completing my workflow in conjunction with my senior person and tying it off. Businesses were seeing this where they couldn't send junior operators, junior engineers out to site without senior support. But you can't send senior engineers out to the North Sea at short notice, they'd be doing 14, 15, 16 trips a year.
So they've got their mentor sitting on their shoulder, in a virtual sense?
Absolutely. Again, other business use cases can evolve as well, like using local engineers. When you're a worldwide company, instead of flying people across the world or whatever, you can use local engineers to support the process and do it as a team. They can be following the workflow using the Remote Expert Solution to then support that procedure. Suddenly, not only are you saving time, but it's highly productive. Because if the Senior Engineer has to travel, then you have to wait for them to travel there and travel back. It's no different to this Zoom call. Everything gets moved back in regards to the diaries, everything moves back because of schedules, because you have to travel here, and you have to travel there. That adds 5 hours to the day. Suddenly everything's instant, everything's done quickly. And you're giving Junior engineers the same opportunity as a Senior Engineer: to complete tasks and learn. So it's a massive thing we see as a skill gap and it's ticking those boxes off massively for businesses at the moment because it's evolving them so quickly and evolving young people coming through just as fast.
You're in a very exciting digital world, but it's also a noisy world. Digital transformation, for instance, is a huge buzzword right now - what does that mean, fundamentally?
I think it's funny. I remember my first digital transformational project was taking an old school till in one of our old companies and moving it to a digital based till. It was less paper. You look at cafes or places now that don't accept cash; they just take switch payments of digital transformation, just collecting information on the paper, but then suddenly using an interactive PDF. That's digital transformation.
It is such a wide phrase, though. I think, for me, our customers and for Intoware as a whole at the moment, it's operationalizing it: where is the value in it, and what are you trying to achieve at the end? If you can understand that with businesses, because the businesses will come and say, "we want to do digital transformation," that's fine. What do you want to achieve, and what does success look like for this procedure? If you can understand those things with customers and you can operationalize it into a way that it works and it will add value to the business and you can see a step-by-step process to get there, I think that's what digital transformation means.
I think even with our product, where our product is consistent, the need changes consistently as we speak to those customers. What we have to do is sit down and really understand: what you want to do, how do you want to do it, and effectively, what is the end result? Which again, it sounds very simple, it's just three questions, but those questions create sub questions and sub answers and those sorts of things. But I think that's very important, and I think a lot of that and a lot of value we offer comes from that early engagement, that early conversation.
Talking about Intoware, you lead the charge in terms of sales and business development. How has the company gone about achieving growth?
I think Intoware has started off with a little bit of word for mouth, a little bit of marketing, a little bit of promoting its products on socials. But that's evolved over time. We've got a very strong marketing leader now who's joined the company, who joined the company a similar sort of time as I did. We're doing a lot more work in the socials, and we've created a lot of eBooks. Because, I suppose like anything we're talking about, over that time, there was the pandemic, coming through that as a business we've learned so much by working with our customers. We've begun to see how digital transformations affected things. To see the true results takes time in itself, as people use it more. As they get that business intelligence, they start to see the decisions they can make to go forward and make them a more efficient business.
Our marketing manager, Eleanor, has come in and she's done some great work with her team around digital eBooks, talking about Industry 4.0, talking about how digital transformation can affect people in the operational procedures. So we've grown that out. And like I said, as we've spoken to clients and we understand clients that we talk about how we engage with those customers, we're trying to engage with the right people. Everyone may like digital transformation, but there's people that are going to be in a certain position to really, I suppose, implement it. We want to speak to those people. So even from a sales point of view, we've evolved it from just marketing to then making sure that we're passing the right information over.
We've evolved the way we communicate, we've evolved the way we use socials. We've evolved the website recently as well. That's another great thing we've done. As a business itself, then, it's maturing based on the information that we're gathering back from our clients. I suppose every conversation we have, you do see consistencies, but you also just see these unique questions, these unique challenges that come up which really make you think how we can use our platform then to evolve the way we communicate it to the wider audience.
Then, looking back at the past 18 months, what have been your biggest challenges for business development?
I think the biggest challenge was for me personally, and for the business, is about communicating the value offering and helping people to understand that. I think that is one of the biggest things because you are talking about lots of moving parts and, I suppose, effectively what a business does. You look at the free aspects we sell into and its great senior management, but when you get down to the crux: you're changing what a business actually does.
So, communicating that to people and helping them see the benefits they'll gain from what they're doing, and then the added value from auditability, has been key. And just like everything: as businesses move, I think one of the biggest challenges is just getting that commitment to move forward with these projects. They're big projects, they take time and naturally, sometimes clients just want to put it off a little bit - that's always a challenge. I think it's a challenge that most salespeople who're listening would recognize anyway.
So: what's the five year plan?
I think our main plan is to evolve our current clients, I think that's a big part of it. We're hoping to "Land and Expand", it's amazing you can fit one use case, but if you can find multiple more use cases within a business where it will benefit them, and if they're already buying the licenses and they've got multiple users of said product, why wouldn't you? You can see more and more benefit. And for us, that's the durability. One thing we have been very successful at as well is extending the terms of contracts. I think most businesses have used it and seen that success. Where we were getting maybe twelve-month contracts, we're getting more consistent 36-month contracts, which is brilliant for a business of our size because it gives that durability, it gives us cash flow security.
For us it's finding the right partnerships now. Having the right marketing strategy, and making sure that you go back to, I suppose, sales basics where we look at the funnel and we've seen how many customers we've engaged with, where the success has been, and how that's developed throughout. We just need to make sure over the next couple of years we keep adding to the top so we get the right ones into the middle, and we can have these good conversations where they can see the value.
On a personal note, what do you get up to when you're not generating new business for Intoware?
I live in Bristol, and I've got a family, I've got two children. I've got a boy who's ten and a girl who's 16, so she's at college and the boy obviously is going into year six this year, which is great. So he'll be off to the big school next September. I'm a massive football fan. Well, I say football... I'm a Bristol Rovers fan, which has its own challenges. However, we'll have a good season this year, hopefully, in that. And I still play football as well. I still play football myself, so I keep that going to stay fit.
Finding Brad and Intoware:
Check out Intoware's website to learn more about WorkfloPlus and access their online materials: www.intoware.com
You can find Brad on LinkedIn.
Listen to Leaders in STEM on Spotify.