What I think about Accredit UK and how it changed my business

A year ago last January, Netlink IT were visited in our small offices by two Gentleman who had come to spend the day quizzing us and asking us to provide evidence to them of various claims we made about how good we were. They were from an organisation called Accredit UK, and they were going to assess Netlink IT in how we ran every aspect of our business, from the techy geek stuff our clients primarily paid us for, to how we dealt with back-office work such as finance and HR.

The day was very very long and tiring, and consisted of the assessors working through each of around a hundred different areas of business – asking us how we conducted Market Research, generated and qualified sales leads, gathered requirements from prospects, put together proposals, worded contracts, undertook projects, managed acceptance and handover, dealt with suppliers and sub-contractors, managed credit control, made sure we billed and were paid in a timely fashion, dealt with customer satisfaction, defined Service Level Agreements, managed our Helpdesk, dealt with complaints, handled corrective action, created job descriptions, recruited staff, staff development, measured our growth, what our business plan looked like, encouraged personal goal alignment against business goals, dealt with staff discipline, dismissals, health and safety, shared knowledge internally, dealt with confidentiality, financial management, business continuity and disaster planning, innovation, research & development and operational agility.

All of that was before they even began asking us how we did any of the techy geeky stuff…

Every time we gave an answer to the assessors, they asked us to verify this answer by producing evidence of how we’d delivered this in the past twelve months. That meant our Office Manager, who had only been with us for around a month, digging out all manner of paperwork.

It also meant our trusted sub-contractors being quizzed on how we dealt with them and their own processes and procedures.

As exhausted as us at the end of the day, the Assessors left promising us a decision once they’d presented their evidence to the Assessment Board, but with the comment that they’d never seen the level of organisation that we had demonstrated at a company as small as ours.

Early into February, we received a letter from Accredit UK to say congratulations, that we’d passed our Network Design & Implementation accreditation. We were chuffed! The letter also include a plan of improvements that we should consider for the next twelve months, just so we didn’t rest on our laurels.

***

Rewind a year to 2007 and after being inspired by some wonderful speakers at a Microsoft sponsored Small Business Symposium in Manchester, I’d realised I no longer wanted to simply provide break/fix IT Support to people, selling my time for money and running myself ragged, that this new idea known as “Managed Services” was the way forwards for me. So I duly researched the idea and converted to the MSP model – and then realised that the key to being a successful MSP is by keeping costs low and being efficient. That meant being organised. Little did I know at the time, but that actually meant processes and procedures.

I then read Michael Gerber’s book, “The E-Myth Revisited”, and like many who have read it, it changed my professional life. I realised I no longer wanted to own a job, I wanted to own a business. If you’ve not read this book yet, I encourage you to go do so immediately – no really, immediately! Don’t worry, this article will be waiting here when you get back!

So I’d embraced Managed Services. I’d realised the value of processes and procedures. Now it was just a case of putting said processes and procedures together.

Naturally, as a Technician I started on the bits I knew best and felt most comfortable with – the geeky bits. Pretty soon I’d written some basic processes on how to manage many of the troubleshooting aspects of the business – Helpdesk, Remote Access, etc.

Then I realised there was much more to running a business than the geeky stuff. I started trying to work out how best to deal with invoicing, credit control, document manager, and all that “boring” stuff. This wasn’t quite as easy as I thought. Surely somebody had already done all this and produced a manual that I could follow?

I went searching for this imaginary business owners manual. I checked out the ISO 9001 standard, but frankly it seemed awfully expensive, and I’ll be honest, didn’t tell me how to do anything as much as tell me what I wasn’t doing already.

Then, via our local IT user group, AMITPRO, I heard about a pilot programme for a new IT Business standard that was being developed. I got some more details, and signed up to the Accredit UK pilot programme for Network Design & Installation.

What Accredit meant to me initially was a massive, and I do mean massive, white folder with reams and reams and reams of processes and questions within it.

With the enthusiasm of a drugged sloth, I promptly put said folder on my bookshelf and concentrated on more exciting things – like implementing a CRM package (I went with Results CRM) and taking on sub-contractors to do the technical work I’d already turned into processes.

Six weeks or so later, I came back to my earlier conclusion that this running a business lark isn’t very easy at all, and I needed help. Time to dust off that Accredit folder and start trying to work through it.

At this stage there were two main things that got me started and kept me going. One – my brother Paul, who also runs a Technology Company, was also undertaking an Accredit pilot program, albeit it the Software Development track. Secondly, the business consultant that Accredit assigned to me, a fabulous chap by the name of Eric Witham. Between brotherly sharing of ideas, and Eric’s patient guidance on helping me understand what I should be working towards, I slowly made progress.

It was just as well I’d taken on an Office Manager and was working with a couple of trusted sub-contractors at that point, because once I got into the swing of researching best practice and creating processes for all aspects of the business, I didn’t have much time for doing techy stuff – and what’s more I didn’t miss it either!

I’d estimate it took six months of some very long hours and hard work, juggling the day to day running of the business with learning how to run a business and documenting it before we were reasonably confident we were ready to be assessed for the Accredit standard. At the beginning of the process there was the old Technician in me who kept whispering that it didn’t matter how a job got done, as long as it got done. Clients stuff got broken, I fixed it, they paid me – surely that was enough? As I progressed through the process, I realised this wasn’t true, and that actually, once things were documented and processes in place, for one thing I didn’t have to do the work myself – I could delegate it to others like an actual business owner – and secondly, with a documented process and checks in place, the work would be done properly every time rather than re-inventing the wheel again and again.

***

So why have I written all of the above? Well, over the past twelve months Accredit UK as an organisation have raised their profile within the industry substantially. They have brought those programmes I participated in out of pilot and made them standards. They’ve also added a lot of other standards. In turn that has meant more IT Business Owners approaching Accredit about their standards and wanting to know more. In turn again, that has meant people asking me what my experiences with the Accredit standard have been and what difference it made to me as a business owner.

Rather than repeat my answer each and every time, and perhaps give a slightly different answer every time, I thought I’d write this blog.

You might say I’ve written a process around giving my answer to what my thoughts on Accredit UK are. 🙂

***

Make no mistake about it, Accredit is hard work and requires an large investment of both time and finances for any SMB. But if you’re currently a very small business, perhaps even a one man band, and if you’re truly interested in growing your business then I’d strongly recommend investigating Accredit and working hard at gaining the standard.

I understand we were one of around twenty Microsoft Small Business Specialists and Registered Partners who took part in the Accredit UK Network Design & Implementation pilot program in 2008. We were one of the only ones who engaged with the programme and saw it through to a successful conclusion. Some dropped out, some gave up, many said (and I don’t believe them) they didn’t see the value in it. I’m not saying this to boast, but to highlight that there are a lot of smaller businesses out there who are very comfortable with being technicians, or who are good at what they do, but who won’t step outside their comfort zones to do the things necessary to grow a sustainable business.

If I could wave a magic wand, I’d make passing an the Accredit standard a part of the Microsoft Small Business Specialist qualification (or the Small Business Competency that replaces it). Knowing SBS and Windows isn’t enough, becoming an expert of all aspects of Small Business and becoming a true Trusted Advisor is where the future specialists in SMB are heading.

You might disagree – but I’m not alone in seeing a divide in the SMB Community in 2010 where you’ve got two sets of business owner, those that see the wealth of help that is out there available to them (including business coaches, methodologies and standards), choose to pay for good advice and are serious about growing their businesses, and those that know they need help, but choose to stay within their comfort zone, citing cost or lack of time as the reason to stay where they are with their lifestyle business. Neither way is right or wrong, but I’d prefer people to be honest about which camp they are in rather than pretending they want to grow but citing reasons why they can’t.

***

I’ve rambled a little, so back to Accredit UK. I’ll try to answer the other common queries I get for my opinion. If I’ve got anything wrong here, I apologise – this is just my understanding and opinions only!

  • As a standard, what is it? Part-funded by the National Computer Centre and Advantage West-Midlands, it’s aimed at helping purchasers of IT choose wisely. For suppliers, it’s probably best summed up as a set of Best Practices for all areas of business – Administration, Finance, Project Management, Research and Development, as well as Technical areas such as Service Delivery.
  • Who is it open to? The Pilot programme in 2008 was just for companies within the West Midlands (as it was funded by Advantage West Midlands) but now it’s UK-wide.
  • How does it help me?It gives prescriptive advice on implementing change within your business and thought provoking questions on what benefits those changes will bring, along with some solid reasons on why your business will be better off for change.
  • In my opinion, it also provides an excellent external measurement of your application of processes, and sets annual goals for further improvement.
  • What do you get for your money?As well as the actual documentation, you get access to a Business Consultant to help you implement change, as well as ongoing support. We’ve also found Accredit UK to be very good at helping us from a PR perspective – we’ve done quite a lot of co-branded PR which has helped raise our profile.
  • Cost-wise, it’s not cheap, but neither is it expensive when compared to Investors in People, ISO 9001, Microsoft Gold Partner status or any one of a number of other accreditations or standards. I’m not sure how much Business Consultants cost these days, but I’m guessing a couple of days of one of them is probably comparable to the cost of Accredit, and that’s without the Accredit manuals, support and everything else.
  • Have you picked up business directly as a result of Accredit? No – we’ve not had any enquiries from prospective clients, and this is something that Accredit can improve upon by generating leads within the market of buyers who care about quality, and passing them on to Accredit UK members. I suspect that the standard will become well known in the Public Sector first, as many standards such as ISO 9001, COBIT and ITILare, but that will eventually trickle down to the Commercial space. If you’re looking at Accredit for a shiny new logo on your web-site or business card though, go grab a vendor instead – this isn’t for you.
  • I’ve already got excellent processes in place, why bother?When I was an MCSE, I got frustrated with other techies saying “I could pass that, but I can’t be bothered with the exam”. I’m a fan of measuring myself against external independent quality bars – I think it helps you to be honest with yourself. However, if you’re comfortable with self-assessing, Accredit isn’t for you – but please don’t tell me it’s pointless. By that logic, all exams or quality marks are pointless.
  • You seem quite passionate about this, why? As long as I’ve been a part of this industry, levels of professionalism within IT have generally been piss poor. Anybody who can play Xbox is considered “A Computer Whizz”. They are the Cowboys who spoil it for us all. Even those companies that are great at providing technical support can have problems like not invoicing on time, reacting to problems rather than being pro-active, and undertaking projects that are never profitable. I think any standard that helps Technicians think more like actual business owners is fantastic, and personally, I want a company that presents itself clearly as a professional organisation from top to bottom. Being professional, such as setting acceptable levels of ethics and standards, and dealing with clients professionally, engenders professional behaviour from your clients and prospective clients.

There are other questions I get, like ROI (Return on Investment) and similar. That’s where I could do with some help. Just like undertaking PR in the media, or Social Networking strategies, I’ve never been able to work out the ROI on measuring Professionalism.

***

So there you have it. I don’t work for Accredit UK, I don’t get paid by Accredit UK, and I hope I’ve been honest and open in what I’ve written above and exactly why I’m a fan after the positive effect it’s had on my own business.

I’m happy to answer any questions, on-line or off, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below.

And for those keeping track, 4Mation IT, my brothers company, who specialise in Database Development, also passed the standard leading to some PR that made Ma Tubb very proud indeed. 🙂

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Advertisements

1 Response to “What I think about Accredit UK and how it changed my business”


  1. 1 Nick January 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Very interesting read Ric, you\’ve made me even more sure we made the right decision to go with Accredit, I can\’t wait to receive our large white folder!Nick


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Archives

Tubblog on Twitter

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

LinkedIn

Enter your email address to subscribe to Tubblog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other followers

Microsoft Small Business Specialist Logo
Computer Weekly Blog Awards 2010 Logo
MSP Mentor 250 Logo
SMB 150 List Logo
International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners Logo
MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

%d bloggers like this: