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Established in 2001, Accolade Executive Business Coaching provides bespoke business training and executive coaching programmes to businesses and professionals around the world.

Learning points

  • The initial cost of digitisation can lead to a significant return on investment due to cost reductions and efficiencies.
  • The digitisation of the business can significantly increase its reach, allowing international trade.
  • Digital technologies can replace most of the traditional face-to-face working methods while retaining personalised contact with clients.

Overview of the business

Picture of Accolade logo

Central areas of the business include providing a personalised coaching programme that supports the efficiency of team leaders, owners and executive teams. Originally working predominantly in the United States and Canada for around ten years, the business undertook the decision to re-centralise in Wales approximately four years ago.

Despite its central base in Bridgend, South Wales, the business undertakes approximately 60% of its activities across international markets. The owner highlights the importance of the Welsh as a unique selling point when working with current and prospective clients from across Canada and the United States.

Accolade information flow diagram

Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.

Superfast broadband adoption

The business has fibre to the premises allowing multiple employees to utilise digital technologies concurrently, with many undertaking video or conference calls at the same time. The service costs around £60 per month and achieves speeds even at peak times of around 37 Mbps for download and 15 Mbps for upload. The speed and reliability of connection was a significant factor in deciding where to locate the business.

IT skills capacity

Accolade Executive Business Coaching is supported by a local Welsh ICT SME who have installed the digital infrastructure that has helped to transform the way the business operates. Furthermore, a service plan with the same SME covers the laptops and other infrastructure for any repairs or support that is needed.

The IT company has also set up a network service meaning that remote working is possible with access to files through laptop, iPad and mobile phone. This is at a cost of around £52 per month for the service plan.

In total the SME has invested around £9,000 in digital technologies but the return on investment has been many times this amount. The business has five laptops, two iPads, two reMarkable tablets, two mobile phones and a landline.

Use of digital technologies

Accolade Academy integrates digital technologies at the core of its business model, running between 95 to 98 percent of its processes through online platforms. The owner states that without the digital aspect they could not function because they are an international business. While other businesses use digital technologies as an add-on to the main offline products and services, for Accolade digital applications are central to all core components of the business. As such, the SME estimates that it is currently 99 percent paperless, and is looking to be entirely paperless during 2020.

A central integrated online platform, Calibre, brings together multiple online communication and learning tools allowing for real time sharing and retrieval of resources between the clients and mentors. This is supported by an interactive Samsung digital board. At a cost of around £4,000 it allows interactive working with clients and gives them the feel that they are in the room.

These are supported by a new form of tablet, called reMarkables, whereby handwritten messages can be sent to clients as opposed to sending traditional emails in text format.

Interpersonal connection

Alongside using video and voice recordings in preference to email, these digital tools are retaining the interpersonal connection between the mentors and clients through a digital medium. This digital technology has allowed the business to digitise what was a face-to-face industry five to ten years ago. In the education and training industry these personal elements are considered essential in providing competitive advantage and in advancing communication with remote clients.

The SME also relies on its website to provide an insight into the business. For example, the website contains monthly tutorials that are professionally filmed by a local company. The owner considers the videos to be hugely important.

It's hard to feel a personality of business when it's all digital. So that's the importance of the videos, expressing who we are and what we have to offer. They are a big part of not just selling, but people getting a feel for us.

Business Owner, Accolade

Social media platforms are also used to provide different types of content, tailoring the content on the different platforms to respond to the client base that predominately use the different mediums. While Facebook is largely used as a promotional tool to demonstrate the range of services offered, LinkedIn is used in a more bespoke manner to tailor content to prospective clients. Further promotions tools include the development of an in-house CRM system that was designed to be accessible to navigate and meet the SME’s customer management requirements.

However, the primary form of communication is carried out via Zoom or Skype. In the past mentors would travel to meet clients internationally, now the vast majority of these interactions occur through these digital platforms.  In addition to the business benefits discussed below, these developments enable the business to significantly reduce its carbon footprint by eliminating air travel and utilising a paperless system.

Digital business systems

The business utilises digital systems for accounting, HR and time management. For example, a digital time management device called Timeulars was introduced. The device is positioned on each member of staff’s desk and they can easily measure the time take to complete given tasks throughout the day by turning the pyramid-shaped device after the completion of each task. These are then collated and provide a digital read out of the time taken to undertake tasks throughout the day, helping to ensure greater efficiency through smarter working.

Business performance

Due to the international and personalised nature of the business, Accolade’s employees were spending a great deal of time travelling. It was estimated that time spent working internationally could tally up to six in every ten months. Through adopting a digital business model, the business has been able to become almost entirely paperless and eliminate the high frequency of international travel. It is estimated that the digitalisation of the business has brought about savings of around £50,000 per year in travel expenses and around 30 hours per week in staff travel time.

Moreover, the business has grown significantly and doubled the number of clients it is able to support. Importantly, this digitisation has allowed the owner to gain a better work-life balance. Furthermore, for the region, where previously there would have been a need to employ coaches in the US and Canada to furnish demand, the use of digital technologies means that it is possible to keep recruitment within Wales and England.

Future growth plans include further access into Saudi Arabia and Dubai, where the business has been focusing activities for the last 12 months. An application is also being developed that will further support the digital conduct of the SME. This full digitisation is a first step in the plan to offer franchising in 2022.