2016 – The Year Ahead
If 2016 is anything like as busy as 2015 then we’re in for a challenging but hugely rewarding twelve months! Last year was the first full year of operation under our new Critiqom company name and we set ourselves a very high precedent.
Increasing capacity, engaging with the industry
The company continues to grow year-on-year and to ensure this trend continues we invested over £1m in 2015 in new print equipment. This technology will help us handle increased capacity, both from net new business and from developing the role we play for our existing customers.
We were delighted to be appointed as a Crown Commercial Services supplier on the Postal Goods and Services Framework Agreement (RM1063) which relates directly to the provision of off-site hybrid mail solutions. Being a preferred supplier on this framework can significantly reduce the complexity of contracting with local authorities and other public sector bodies, and we are already seeing work arriving as a result.
Critiqom’s close working relationship with industry bodies continues. We are a SOLACE business partner and speak regularly at events to influence debate and promote public sector excellence. We also continued our partnership with The Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation (IRRV) and produced a joint white paper outlining the development of e-solutions for business rates. The paper was presented to The Treasury in September.
Throughout September Critiqom hosted six Postal Summit events up and down the UK with over 100 delegates attending. The interactive events brought specialists in postal savings, hybrid mail technology and public sector procurement frameworks together with users from the NHS, local government, consumer finance, legal and pensions industries. Although cost savings were top of the agenda, topics also included driving better response rates, FCA compliance, increasing process control and improving customer service. The seminars provided the perfect opportunity to discuss how organisations can transition to the most cost-effective mail tariffs through a coordinated outbound communication strategy.
The business also made its commitment to the Scottish Business Pledge – a Government initiative to promote modern business practices and to embrace the principles of fairness, equality, opportunity and innovation. We pay all employees the Living Wage (as defined by the Living Wage Foundation), we have no employees on zero hours contracts and we are proud to have a broadly gender balanced workforce.
Given such an impressive track record in 2015 perhaps it should have come as less of a surprise that we were finalists in the Scottish Business Awards. We were incredibly honoured to have been recognised in this fashion and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation night in November, with guest speaker none other than George Clooney.
The road ahead
George Osborne’s Spending Review again outlined the cost-cutting challenge facing Local Authorities. There are immediate quick wins for forward-thinking authorities, and we have written a white paper outlining how to find and eliminate the burdened or hidden costs that are affecting efficiency and engagement. Our conversations with authorities across the UK centre on how cutting costs in order to maximise efficiencies should not be to the detriment of greater innovation.
With that in mind, our goal is to be a trusted partner to our customers. We are continually looking to provide innovative solutions that enable our customers to gain greater efficiencies around business process, optimising postal spend and ensuring best response and service by the most relevant channel.
Our Hybrid Mail offering is a prime example. This is not a new concept but one that in the last year has truly taken off within public and private sector organisations. Hybrid Mail enables users to generate communications using their preferred desktop application and existing business systems. However, rather than sending these documents to print on office printers, document data is transferred via an intuitive web portal to print and mail at our production facility. Our solution IQ PostMe is already showing tangible savings for our customers both in terms of efficiency and postal discounts.
Another example is around Royal Mail’s planned withdrawal of CBC (Customer Barcode) and the introduction of Mailmark. We have worked closely with Royal Mail to prepare our in-house print and mail technology to integrate with the systems that enable these changes. As a result, we are offering our customers a packaged four-week transfer service to migrate organisations from CBC to Mailmark quickly and without risk of service interruption.
It is important that our customers understand how Mailmark works. There are postal discounts available, but you also need to be aware of the cost that could be attracted if address data falls below the Royal Mail required standard. Our mission is to ensure that our customers do not attract surcharges, so for a limited period – to the end of March 2016 – we are delighted to be able to offer our Data Improvement Service free of charge as part of the Mailmark migration. This service uses industry standard software to give our customers the ability to truly understand any data issues and highlights changes required to improve the quality of address data. By fixing these issues our customers are able to enjoy greater savings. Transition to Mailmark is not yet mandatory but the business case for change is compelling.
2016 is an important year for the electorate – and for those involved in the administrative and logistical side of the UK’s democratic process. English local government elections, Scottish Parliament Election, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and London Assembly take place in May, at the same time as voting for the new Mayor of London and PCC elections. We expect to play a major role in helping authorities to communicate and engage with the electorate and our expertise in the field is outlined in another freely available white paper which questions many of the systems and strategies that are currently used to manage the electoral process.
Interesting conversations around channel shift continue, both in terms of electoral processing and broader citizen communications. We continue to influence thinking and promote debate.
Indeed, we will continue to seek speaking opportunities at all major industry events. These occasions are a great way to put our experience and expertise forward to key stakeholders. Some of the events we’ll be attending in 2016 include:
21st January, London – SOLACE Annual Elections Conference, Presentation ‘Achieving voter engagement with diminishing resources’
10th February, London – Debt Industry Roundtable, hosted by Critiqom and chaired by Stephen Kiely, Editor of CCRi
28th February – 2nd March, Blackpool – AEA Annual Conference – Stand 9
8th March, Manchester Central – Procurex Live, North – Stand 50, presentation in Efficiency & Savings Training Zone – 15:00pm – 15:30pm
20th April, London Olympia – Procurex Live, South – Stand 42, Presentation in Efficiency & Savings Training Zone – 13:10pm – 13:40pm 18th – 19th October, Telford – IRRV Annual Conference – Stand 25B – book to have demo IQ PostMe hybrid mail
The debt market remains a key focus for us. At present, the market is operating under the regulatory gaze of the Financial Conduct Authority, meaning compliance strategies are being reviewed and renewed. We are helping debt collection agencies ensure that their postal communications remain the most effective way of engaging consumers and are driving a desired response whilst also gaining postage efficiencies against this strict regulatory backdrop.
Critiqom have teamed up with the Credit Services Association (CSA), the voice of the UK debt collection industry to agree a new postal discount scheme for members. In a statement issued by the Royal Mail, a spokesman confirmed that talks were now well advanced: “Royal Mail is keen to support all sectors and is developing a long-term incentive scheme that will reward clients for real year-on-year mail growth with potential postal discounts in the region of 15 percent. The CSA and CSA member Critiqom have already met with Royal Mail to discuss how the incentive could be applied to assist the debt (collections) market and work on this is progressing.” The incentive scheme aims to deliver significant annual savings for those organisations taking part and further announcements will be made shortly.
We continue to see tremendous synergy between our service offering and other markets we work in, including, Central Government, Healthcare, Energy and Housing Associations. All rely on a significant volume of communications to citizens and customers and all are operating against tight budgetary control whilst attempting to deliver compliant and dynamic messaging.
We are working hard to ensure we provide a consultative service to all customers, helping to increase efficiency and drive down cost (don’t just take our word for it, check out our case studies), whilst also helping drive debate within the industry. We look forward to a successful 2016, building on many of the initiatives that we set in motion last year. Do, please, get in touch if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss your own critical communication plans for this year and beyond.