The Value of Simplify

“The height of sophistication is simplicity”
Clare Boothe Luce

simple

Whilst HFX has many values, our core value is SIMPLIFY. We believe this core value drives change and provides tangible benefits to all our customers. We apply this approach to all that we do and place our customers at the heart of the process.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
 Steve Jobs

By applying this value to software development, our team have created a powerful workforce management solution that reduces customer configuration time by over 80%. The result is that OUR customers pay significantly less for implementation, and due to faster implementation times, realise savings much quicker than with other providers.

The benefits don’t end there; because we design our solutions for customers and not for ourselves, we empower customers to take complete ownership of the system including the ability to manage the rules themselves. This not only reduces costs but enables customers to adapt the solution as they change and grow.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Hans Hofmann

Our approach to simplification also applies to our user interface. Where most software companies provide a single interface for managers and employees, we focus on providing the right user interface for each cohort (Role Based UI Design). Whilst managers are often IT literate and require a powerful user interface to carry out their daily tasks, there is a clear advantage in providing a simplified interface for everyone else.

By providing a user interface that is intuitive and simple, our customers significantly reduce training costs whilst ensuring that there is high user adoption and fewer user errors. Our Employee Self Service UI Design is based on the principles and ease of use that Cash Machines provide; No-one ever needed training on how to use a cash machine and this is also true of ours.

The benefits of simplification go further still. By simplifying the user interface, support calls reduce dramatically. For HFX, this means we have more time to devote to our customers who contact us for more complex queries; this is why we regularly receive 100% AWESOME customer ratings on our Customer Services.

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”
 Martin H. Fischer

Our approach to integration with other software solutions including HR, Payroll and ERP takes a similar approach. HFX provides RapiD interface configuration that does all the heavy lifting, translation and transformation enabling third party integration to be achieved effortlessly. By handling the complex processes within the application, we simplify the integration to third parties and even enable our customers to leverage the API so that they can integrate directly.

“Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”
 Edward R. Tufte

We have also applied our core value to other aspects of our business including the approach to Marketing. Our new website (www.hfx.co.uk) embodies our core value and mission. We designed the website with our audience in mind rather than being slaves to google search ranking algorithms.

We removed all the clutter and present the key information we think our potential customers want to know. There are no cookies, no pop-up ads, no annoying call-outs and no information overload. We want our customers to view the information they want quickly whilst having a fun and positive experience at the same time.

What my kids taught me about Productivity

What my kids taught me about productivity

Firstly, I confess I made a mistake; we needed to write letters to just under half our customer base (650) before Christmas. This was part of our commitment to inform customers of new developments within our group.

We chose a letter (snail-mail) as these days email is more likely to hit the spam than get into the hands of the people you want to reach. My mistake was haste; Had I taken the time, I would have saved about 10-20% of the cost (about £60) by using a 3rd party.

However, I decided to do the mail merge and post in-house and was faced with the task of folding 650 letters and putting them into envelopes. My solution was to invite my children (I have 4 ranging from 8 to 13) to complete this task rather than burden my colleagues.

I calculated that it would take about 5 seconds per envelope and offered my children 5p per item. I was at first sceptical that at such young age they would grasp the potential prize (£32.50) if they completed whole project.

Initially I invited my youngest daughter Arabelle and her older brother Blake to the challenge. Enthusiastically they got to task immediately and within 5 minutes my oldest son joined the party.

Arabelle, independently came to the revelation that it was more efficient to fold all the letters first and then put them into the envelopes after, rather than switch tasks for each letter. She is only 8 years old yet came up with a way to optimise the task and improve her productivity.

Zach and Blake took this further by copying the idea and teaming up together (they agreed to share the rewards equally). They recognised the benefit of collaborating.

Halfway through my other son Jed turned up (he would normally spurn such an opportunity) but was inspired by the enthusiasm of his brothers and sister. He immediately joined the team. Arabelle being generous of heart agreed to team up with him and share the rewards even though she had already done a large amount of the work. She determined that she would fold whilst Jed would put in the envelope (another smart move) thereby focusing each on a specific task.

Naturally given it was now a competition and a limited number of opportunities (650), there was a pressure to cut corners and so I introduced a quality control process; The address needed to be fully visible in the window of the envelope. If it failed that test, then the envelope (and reward) would be handed to the other team for rework. From that point on quality control was embedded in the team and any queries were flagged up to me immediately (I took on the role of Quality Control Officer).

I was literally taken back by how quickly a group of kids could organise themselves, collaborate, optimise their activities and improve productivity without any direction.

With UK productivity still anaemic, there are some powerful lessons we can all learn from this;

  1. If you want productivity improvements, ask those who are doing the task – they know far more than you.
  2. Create a culture that encourages rather than frustrates the innate potential in people to improve efficiency.
  3. Improvements in productivity can be achieved very quickly if there is focus and incentives.
  4. Ensure quality control is embedded in the process not simply at the end.
  5. Measure and track the entire process to ensure continuous learning.
  6. Never underestimate the contribution of women in the workplace; my youngest daughter came up with the majority of productivity improvements. It is no surprise that the Mckinsey report identified that organisations with 30% or more female executives, are on average 15% more profitable (For more info watch our COO, Nicola Smart interviewed by the Telegraph Business Reporter)

For those interested in statistics

Arabelle and Jed achieved 259 with a failure rate of 0.77% (e.g. 2 that failed QC)

Zach and Blake achieved 311 with a failure rate of 1.93% (e.g. 6 that failed QC)

The failure rate was significantly below the industry average for manual processes.

Finally, the reason for the discrepancy (570 completed vs 650 letters) was down to management failure (me) to provide enough envelopes (I guess the final lesson here is to always invest in planning)

To find out more about hfx visit our main website or contact us

Hfx re-invents the website

hfx welcome to our website2

In 2017, hfx realised that it needed a new website, one which reflected our values, our innovation and our commitment to delivering solutions for the New World of Work.

Nicola Smart (COO, hfx) recalls “Early on we decided that the website should provide visitors with a positive and immersive experience that provided clear and concise information. Too many websites bombard and overwhelm you with pointless information and noise”.

12 months later and hfx releases a completely new design of website, different in almost every respect to traditional websites;

  • No annoying banners asking you to accept cookies. We decided early on that we wouldn’t be “stalking” our visitors and therefore have no need for tracking cookies. If visitors want to contact us, they know where we are.
  • No visitor badgering or callouts to nag the visitor into contacting us. We believe you either want to contact us or you don’t. No amount of badgering is going to make you change your mind – indeed in some cases the annoyance of callouts is enough to make you leave.
  • No bombarding you with information you didn’t ask for. Your time is precious, so we simplify and summarise information into key points. If you need more information you have the option to download a pdf or visit our microsite (www.hfxworkforce.com)
  • No email grabbing. We don’t require your email before you can download documents. The only time we will ask for your email is if you want to contact us via our contact form.
  • No Scroll to Infinity. So many websites insist on the “long scroll” – which is intended to take the visitor on a journey ending up with a call to action. The journey, of course, is predefined and makes to many assumptions about the visitor. Users often end up getting lost, frustrated or confused by having to scroll through the irrelevant to find the relevant. There is a need to simplify and we have achieved that eliminating almost all scrolling.

Naturally, when you buck the trend and go against the rules of website design, it’s never going to be easy.

There are no templates or previous designs to base yours on and you are battling preconceived ideas of how a marketing website should be designed. It had to be conceived and built from the ground up.

A new menu structure and navigation system was designed, redesigned and after that several more times to accommodate the vision we had for the website.

There are also trade-offs to be made; Google search and SEO friendly http://www.hfx.co.uk is not. Nor is it particularly mobile friendly. We also accepted that for many the new site would be like “marmite”; visitors would either love it or hate it, but at least it wouldn’t be another bland corporate design.

Let us know what you think of hfx.co.uk

Introducing A New Integration Paradigm

black and white blank challenge connect

Einstein stated that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” and for hfx this has become a mantra and even our core values are expressed by one word: simplify.

We follow this principle both in terms of our processes, methodology and vigorously within our cloud solution design and development.  The first challenge we tackled with Time and Attendance was the complexity of reflecting real world work rules within a simple and easy configuration that end users could quickly master and enable them to take complete ownership of the solution. The result was amazing; implementation time reduced from 9 months to 1 month enabling the customer to achieve accelerated ROI and significantly reduced costs of configuration and implementation.

This success gave us confidence to tackle the next challenge which was more nuanced but no less radical; solving the thorny issue of integration using Application Programming Interfaces.  As a group of seasoned developers with over 30 years’ experience of integration (and a combined list of over 250 interfaces developed under our belt) we looked at the fundamental issues with integration. We recognised that the issue had little to do with coding ability, language but everything to with mindset.

At a high level we recognise three key mindsets that pervaded all interface development characterised “The Solicitor Mindset”, “Pedantic Officialdom” and “S.E.P or Someone Else’s Problem” – Our analysis revealed all 3 mindsets in all 3rd party integrations we had ever seen and worked with historically. Each requires a little explanation to see how they manifest;

The Solicitors Mindset:

If you have ever had dealings with a solicitor (whether when buying/selling a house, Non-Disclosure Agreement etc) you will instantly recognise the legalise, Latin and jargon that seems to confuse rather than clearly communicate its purpose. Any attempt to simplify the text is met with a firm response by the solicitor that “Its not meant for you but for another solicitor”. This is a lazy excuse to avoid clarity and simplicity by relying on someone else with 7 years legal training to decipher text that could and should have been presented in a way that a lay person could understand. This same mindset influences the development of API’s with the argument being that the P stands for programming so there is no need to simplify the API as its not meant for anyone other than another programmer.

Pedantic Officialdom:

We’ve all had this when asked to fill out a form to change some information. Often you must enter the very same information they already hold and then when you hand it in you are told you’ve used the wrong form (often they have different forms to register new information versus amend existing information). When you fill in the correct form (which is almost identical to the other form) you are then told you must use blank ink rather than the blue or that your signature isn’t fully in the box provided (which is often too small) – I could go on, but you get the point. This very same approach is often applied to Application Interfaces. As with Pedantic Officialdom the whole purpose isn’t to make life easy for the consumer (or 3rd party) but a lazy approach to make it easier for the recipient.

Someone Else’s Problem:

Incapsulating and extending on both the previous mindsets is the overarching view that it is someone else’s problem to decipher and to comply with these pedantic and overly cumbersome rules. This approach to integration enables API’s to be created very quickly but the consequence is that they are dumb, brittle and difficult to work with and significantly increases the effort by the third party.

 A New Paradigm:

Overcoming these issues isn’t a question of technology, coding skills or even language, its harder than that because it requires a paradigm shift in thinking about the whole approach to integration.

However, as with all challenges we were confident with the right approach we could completely turn integration on its head to simplify work for 3rd parties and especially to our customers.

The first design principle we applied was that the API shouldn’t be developed for another developer, it should be developed so that a competent IT professional or implementer could consume the interface.  This principle ensures that we don’t make assumptions about who will be consuming the interface and a good test to ensure that the interface is a simple as possible (but no simpler).

The second design principle is that the API should be intelligent and not pedantic in terms of the calls into the API (for instance demanding a different call to add information versus amending information or refusing data based on lazy or pedantic rules).  If the new data requires the creation of associated or dependent information the API can automatically create this on the fly rather than simply failing. This simplifies the work for 3rd parties whilst reducing both manual entry and lazy rejection of data.

The third design principle was that the API should be easy to configure, so that if requirements change (e.g. some information previously sent IS no longer required) the API can ignore the data without the need for changes by the 3rd party. This ensures that the interface is flexible, and our solution can adapt to changes in data without the need for either the 3rd party or the interface to change. It builds in flexibility.

These 3 guiding principles enable a paradigm shift and focus all the intelligent development work within our solution making it simple to integrate from a 3rd party perspective. It turns integration on its head by making “integration our problem” rather than “Some Else’s Problem” and this changes the mindset with the result that issues are tackled and eliminated from the get go.

This approach rapidly increases integration time, reduces the need for testing and 3rd party development work. It also means that with a simplified approach to web services we can easily integrate legacy/on-premise third party products even if they are csv based using our rapid scripts that convert these into web service calls.

The Future of HR

man with steel artificial arm sitting in front of white table

In a future where many jobs will be lost to automation the question arises as to both the future of the workforce and the need for traditional departments such as HR.

The reality though is that whilst automation will encroach further and further into the workplace removing swathes of jobs and assisting with others, AI for all its hype, has its limits.

To understand where the watermark rests is not quite so simple, but there are guiding principles. Machines are capable of processing huge amounts of data instantly and identifying patterns, trends and correlations. This provides enormous benefit to decision makers who can leverage this data to make informed decisions.

However, decision making at a high level is often the result of considering not just one data point however well evidenced, but many and from different disciplines. Computers often can do one thing very well and fast but can rarely assess the bigger picture.

Neural Networks are capable of learning, but again this is often domain focused. We will see in future the rise of self-driving cars and literally billions of pounds are being spent each year to make this a reality. Whilst there is a high degree of confidence that this huge investment will succeed, the code behind it won’t be able to diagnose cancer in a patient.

Humans are never born to drive or diagnose a patient but have the unique ability to learn completely new and unrelated skills. Given the rapidly changing world and technology, this is a good thing, and it is ironical that whilst we are rapidly adapting to new technology, technology itself is not very good at adapting.

So, what does this all mean for the workplace, the new world of work and HR? Computers and AI will be focused on “narrow field” activities and tasks, those that require speed, accuracy and analysing big data. On the other hand, humans adapt rapidly, have holistic and “outside the box” thinking, multi-disciplinary knowledge and creativity.

Whilst HR contains a lot of administrative tasks which can be automated, there is much that cannot. HR requires a whole range of diverse knowledge and insight from understanding the Law to the values and culture of the organisation, from the needs and objectives of both company and staff to respecting union rules and the wider culture of society in which it operates.

HR acts not just to re-enforce polices and values, but also a change maker within the organisation. In fact, to do HR well, you need to understand that you are working with human beings; A statement so obvious it is often missed when discussing how a computer (with no sense of self, empathy or deep understanding) could replace people in role that requires deep interaction with others.

Computers can learn but learning without context can be at best a disaster, and at worst, catastrophic. For example, Microsoft took down Tay, an AI Chatbot on twitter only 16 hours after launch because – through learning – had started tweet offensive and racist comments. It had no moral compass or understanding of the wider culture to recognise that there is good learning and bad learning.

Imagine you are driving your car 60 mph when a child crosses the road in-front of you. There is no time for you to break without hitting the child, so you can either swerve the car up onto a pavement and hit a wall (with the potential you will incur life changing injuries) or kill the child. This is not hypothetical but a real moral and legal dilemma for the manufacturers of self-driving cars. Is their legal responsibility to the owner of the car or to other road-users? There is no legal requirement for a driver to risk or sacrifice their life to save another. Supposing the car is programmed to risk your life rather than kill the pedestrian, but now the person running across the road is a terrorist with a gun whom you are trying to stop with your car.

You might think this is going off-topic, but having a moral perspective, values and a big picture view are all important for the right decisions to be made every day.

Even the best AI lacks these things and for those who believe these issues will be sorted in the future, the answer is that we might not need to wait after all. Many in the AI field believe these kinds of issues can only be solved if AI moves to a biological architecture (rather than digital), that it requires consciousness, self-awareness and intentionality. If correct, then these attributes already exist in what we currently call humans.

The Doppelgänger

With over 1,400 customers you’d expect us to hear some rather extraordinary stories and you’d be right. In our 45+ year history we’ve heard many stories about of the antics that companies have uncovered through our Time and Attendance solutions. In our #ItCouldNotHappenHere series we cover our “favourites” – one in each post.

24402 ÔÇó postcard mailshots 7

It shows great commitment that an employee loves working for you so much, he gets employed not just once, but twice and at the same time.  You might think that people would to a “double take” when seeing an employee finish one shift in the factory only to move across the site and begin yet another shift immediately after the last one finished. Exploiting a lack of joined up systems he was able to work an 80 hour week with 16 hour shifts until T&A integrated to Payroll.

Download our Product Sheet to find out how you can ensure #ItDoesNotHappenHere!

Download Time and Attendance pdf

Contact us for more information

 

Flintshire County Council chooses hfx

flintshire

Council invests in cloud based hours management system to support 350 remote and front line staff in waste management and recycling teams.

Flintshire County Council is the unitary local authority for the present-day Welsh administrative county of Flintshire, one of the administrative subdivisions of Wales. The Council is responsible for services such as education, waste management and strategic planning in the area. Like all councils operating in today’s economic climate, the council’s focus is on delivering its services to the community as efficiently as possible. It as recently invested in hfx’s Imperago solution to manage staff working hours for its 350 front line waste management and recycling staff. Since implementing the solution the council is able to better manage working hours for its remote teams, and with the efficiency gains the system is on track to deliver substantial savings and improved staff availability in the first year.

Cloud solution provides flexibility for remote workers

A long standing user of hfx’s working hours recording and management solution across the authority, the Council knew that hfx could deliver the working solution that it was looking for to record working hours for its employees working remotely. As a modern and flexible Council they needed to find a time recording solution that better fitted with the requirements of the front line waste and recycling teams.

They wanted a solution that was powerful enough to deliver the control needed to drive efficiency with remote working teams, but which also had as little an impact as possible on users who have minimal access to systems and little technology experience.

The Council decided that a cloud based solution would provide the flexibility that it required to record hours for staff working across different locations. hfx’s solution has a clear, modern interface that is straightforward to use, with no training required. The Council was also able to further adapt the system to have an alternative PIN security feature, should Identity cards be lost or forgotten. This has facilitated built in reliability in the time recording system to accommodate workers who may lose their cards while out.

In addition to providing control and flexibility, the hfx solution also empowers staff to access their information securely from anywhere with an internet connection.

Efficiency gains translate into improved end user services 

The Council uses hfx’s system to record hours for the staff working across seven locations, covering all the areas of Flintshire. Each site has the new HexOne dedicated touchscreen clocking terminal developed and built by hfx in the UK. Staff members are also able to access the portal remotely from home or smartphone to access and amend personal details, add notes or book leave. Efficiency savings are a key driver for all local authorities and the ability to better manage and control remote teams is already delivering great improvements over the old manual process.

The system is on track to deliver substantial savings by reducing lost hours and improving staff availability in its first year. A key reason for selecting hfx was also the company’s proven experience in working with local authorities and knowledge of the sector. Flintshire Council chose to implement the solution with a phased approach to iron out teething problems as they occurred and found the support provided by the hfx team invaluable throughout the process. The phased implementation also helped users to buy in to the change and has given a strong foundation to move forward with future plans.

Reports ensure optimal working patterns and staff well-being 

As well as providing improved management on a daily basis of recording staff hours, the new solution has provided additional benefits with the built in reporting functionality. The reports help managers to monitor working hours ensuring that they meet European Working Directives while still delivering the key front line services. In addition, the reports from the hfx system help to manage staff sickness and absence, highlighting possible issues and ensuring fair and accurate working patterns, while meeting financial and operational demands. The solution can also help the Council to design automated rotas for optimal workforce planning.

In summary, hfx’s Imperago is helping Flintshire Council to shape its service and highlight issues and trends through powerful and accurate information. Reports can now be quickly generated and distributed to highlight issues and ensure the Council maintains high standards of service delivery to the community

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HFX CELEBRATES COMMITMENT TO REAL LIVING WAGE

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HFX starts 2019 accredited as a Living Wage Employer. Our Living Wage commitment will see everyone working at HFX receive a minimum hourly wage of £9.00 in the UK or £10.55 in London. Both rates are significantly higher than the government minimum for over 25s, which currently stands at £7.83 per hour.

HFX is based in the East of England, a region where over a fifth of all jobs (21%) pay less than the real Living Wage – around 484,000 jobs. Despite this, HFX has committed to pay the real Living Wage and deliver a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.

The real Living Wage is the only rate calculated according to the costs of living. It provides a voluntary benchmark for employers that wish to ensure their staff earn a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum. Since 2011 the Living Wage movement has delivered a pay rise to over 160,000 people and put over £800m extra into the pockets of low paid workers.

Nick Whiteley, CEO said: “As a leading workforce management solutions provider we have a strong commitment to our colleagues and we are delighted to honour this pledge.”

Tess Lanning, Director, Living Wage Foundation said: “We’re delighted that HFX has joined the movement of over 4,700 responsible employers across the UK who voluntarily commit to go further than the government minimum to make sure all their staff earn enough to live on.

“They join thousands of small businesses, as well as household names such as IKEA, Heathrow Airport, Barclays, Chelsea and Everton Football Clubs and many more. These businesses recognise that paying the real Living Wage is the mark of a responsible employer and they, like HFX, believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”

For more information on HFX click here

To find out more about the Living Wage Foundation visit www.livingwage.org.uk

From the North Pole (with Love)

With over 1,400 customers you’d expect us to hear some rather extraordinary stories and you’d be right. In our 45+ year history we’ve heard many stories about of the antics that companies have uncovered through our Time and Attendance solutions.

Here is our Christmas Special.

From the North Pole with Love

It is always important for staff to take that special time out on holiday and refresh themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the production line…and some would think it is especially nice if the Supervisor clocks them in and out while they enjoy that holiday, so they don’t waste any of that holiday entitlement.

Not quite so nice though for the manufacturing company concerned. Fortunately our biometric solution soon put an end to that. 

Download our Product Sheet to find out how you can ensure #ItDoesNotHappenHere!

Download Time and Attendance pdf

Contact us for more information