In the latest 'Meet the Shortlisters' of 2021 series, CRN catches up with Keith Ali (pictured), Group managing director of Creative ITC, to chat through the company's triumphs and challenges over the past year and what it means to be shortlisted for two awards
What would you say is your company's proudest achievement over the past year?
Given the immense pressures on the NHS over the past couple of years, I'm particularly proud that the whole Creative ITC team rallied around in order to provide our unique, medical-grade VDI solution to enable radiologists to perform vital diagnoses from home.
As the pandemic threatened to halt essential services, we went above and beyond to deliver game-changing technology solutions to ensure vital healthcare services and infrastructure projects could continue. This was unprecedented, given the huge technological challenge of getting clinical imaging applications to work effectively away from hospital sites. Our efforts meant that critical diagnoses and patient treatments were uninterrupted.
We've always prided ourselves on exceeding client expectations, but as one of our national treasures, supporting the NHS really stands out for me.
What have been some of the main challenges of 2021 and how have you overcome them? How have your own people/teams helped with that?
The volatility of the industry and continued economic uncertainty have been major challenges faced by businesses the world over. For companies like Creative, delays to clients' budget decisions obviously have a knock-on effect to our own business planning. It's difficult for anyone to plan for the unknown.
Amidst this uncertainty, the one thing we could do was to create our own certainty for Creative. Our people are our greatest asset and our first step was to make sure the whole Creative team knew they had job security and our ongoing support. We maintained regular company-wide communication with everyone to keep everyone informed.
Like many businesses, our people come from a wide variety of backgrounds and personal circumstances. We made sure we supported everyone facing lockdown challenges - like working parents juggling home schooling - both by utilising the government's furlough scheme and also by providing everyone with flexible hours and working conditions.
On a practical level, we introduced an allowance for everyone to buy any equipment they needed to facilitate working from home. Managers also had regular one-to-ones with their team members to discuss wellbeing and we held regular online team video meetings to make sure we maintained as much team interaction as possible. To boost team spirit, we also sent out comfort and wellbeing packs to all staff, and we hosted an online Christmas party with a quiz, and home-delivered cocktails (non-alcoholic versions where required) and snacks for everyone.
How have you managed to stay close to your customers during the pandemic?
When lockdown first hit the UK, we made the decision that all customer calls would be on video to maintain as much personal interaction as possible. With everyone sat at computers all day, it's very easy to slip into back-to-back work-only discussions and neglect the kind of social conversations you normally enjoy face to face. We made sure we maintained that personal interaction by hosting customer events on Teams, such as wine tasting or enjoying a chat over a G&T together.
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been that any stigma around working from home has disappeared. It's become completely acceptable to acknowledge that we're all juggling work with personal lives. Interruptions from family and pets appearing unexpectedly on screen are no longer taboo. Conversations on maintaining work-life balance and wellbeing are now commonplace - and we're all more relaxed as a result.
What does it mean to be recognised for the shortlist/an award?
Thanks to the phenomenal efforts of whole team, our clients' businesses have been able to survive and thrive amidst the challenges of the past 18 months. I'm so proud that their achievements are being showcased on a national stage in these awards.
For a growing business like Creative, it's very rewarding for us to be named alongside some of the huge, more well-known players in the industry. Being shortlisted shows we have the skills and abilities to succeed at the highest level - David has the right to rub shoulders with these Goliaths.
What has been your firm's biggest takeaway from the past two years?
The saying ‘together we're stronger' has proven to be absolutely true and putting our people first is at the heart of everything. We've always been proud of our team but the past couple of years has really brought home the importance of staff welfare, mental health and motivation. If you have a strong team all working together and pulling in the same direction, everything else falls into place.
How do you think the industry has changed since last year and what lessons do you think it has learned?
The past year has seen a huge shift in mindset. Lockdown has accelerated widespread, end-to-end reliance on technology in a way we've not experienced before. Technology is no longer seen as a necessary tool, something that has enabled people to work from home; it's emerged as a critical element for all business operations, an essential enabler across different industries, business functions and individuals.
What do you see as the main opportunities for your firm in the coming year?
There's a clear opportunity to capitalise on the new view of technology as an essential element for future business growth and success. But, there's no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all solution. We're in a consumption-driven market and dictating technology platforms simply won't cut it. We need the skills and agility to deliver what customers need, how and when they want it. We'll be building on our successful track record of providing exceptional managed services with tailored, scalable solutions that enable our clients to transition from today's A to tomorrow's B. It'll be our continued dedication to exceeding client expectations that will see Creative go from strength to strength.