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I’m not surprised that so many Silicon Valley technologists have become advocates of the digital detox. The developers behind the likes of Facebook and Google have seen the impact that gamifying apps has had on the average phone user.

We are all addicted to our phones and we use them for everything, from email to photos to social media.

There’s even a new organisation, which was founded by ex-techies, called the Centre for Humane Technology, which is calling for the software giants to stop competing for our attention, and instead devote themselves to helping consumers achieve “Time Well Spent”.

I’m not going to wait for the tech giants to design an app to help me enjoy life. I’ve decided to take control.

I recently went on holiday to Cyprus. As readers of this blog will know, I usually struggle to switch off – even when I’m away with the family. So this time I started locking my phone away in the hotel safe. At 10am, it was gone, and I wouldn’t allow myself another look until 6pm. It stays in the room when we have dinner too.

As digital detoxes go, this was pretty ‘lite’ but I noticed it had a profound impact. I have been fully focused on my family. The conversation has been flowing. My wife and I have had a chance to properly unwind (although she’s still been using her phone, despite my best efforts).

When we went out for dinner in the evening, I noticed just how many people were absorbed in their phones. They would sit in silence, or speak in short sentences. That could have been us this holiday.

I realise it’s not easy to attempt a digital detox, especially as a entrepreneur with a growing company. But there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.

1.) Do it during the summer holidays

Have you noticed the volume of email dropping right down? That’s because a lot of people are taking time off to be with their children. Take advantage of a quieter August and plan your detox to coincide with school holidays.

2.) Get a PA

There is no way I would be able to detox without my PA. She handles everything urgent on my behalf. You need to be able to put down your phone, knowing that someone you trust can field emails and calls.

3.) Build digital detoxing into your company culture

You need to show your team that they are not expected to check their emails on holiday. Start by cutting communications in the evenings and on weekends. Lead by example, and don’t send emails out of hours. If you can delegate, other people will too. When someone goes on holiday, make sure there are processes in place that mean they don’t need to check in. When anyone is out of the office, there should be another person who can pick up the slack.

4.) Enjoy the detox

There’s no point locking away your phone if you’re going to hate every minute. Prepare yourself for the experience, and enjoy unplugging from technology. Take the time to have conversations with real people, and to notice the world around you.

I’ve become a digital detox evangelist on this holiday. When I see people round the pool on their phones, I’ve been telling them to put them down. They have had their revenge: when someone saw me writing this blog on my phone, they told me off.

Steve Jobs famously wouldn’t let his kids near the iPad. Bill Gates says his family has strict rules on screen time. If the world’s most famous technologists feared the impact of too much screen time, we should too.

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

AGS, provider of facilities management services to Transport for London (TfL), has completed the implementation of a mobile workforce system from BigChange.

The system, which sees field technicians equipped with tablets connected in real time to a control centre, has been rolled out initially across the company’s fast-expanding Pest Control division.

AGS provide a range of services for the upkeep of public transport facilities across London, including the Underground, rail lines, tunnels, rail and bus stations. As a contractor to TfL, AGS provide everything from cleaning, maintenance, painting and specialist coatings. The Group’s pest control division was formed two years ago as part of a strategic move to expand the AGS business nationally.

David McMillan, General Manager, AGS Pest Control says:

“The UK pest control market has undergone some major changes in recent years and we have identified a need for small, specialist and highly mobile teams to deliver fast-response services,”

“BigChange provides a highly agile and accessible platform that will underpin this expansion and allow us to easily collaborate with like-minded companies nationally.”

AGS Pest Control are using JobWatch, the 5 in 1 mobile app from BigChange linked in real time to BigChange back office CRM and work scheduling. JobWatch replaces a series of separate systems to provide a fully integrated IT solution for paperless working throughout the company.

McMillan says:

“We have previously equipped our technicians with tablets but they were simply used to take pictures and send emails. It was not a connected system so it required a lot of laborious data entry and frankly wasted time for both our field technicians and office administrators,”

“We wanted a system that would do everything and BigChange offered the best solution.”

With their TfL contract AGS face challenging working conditions. often underground or trackside and are bound by stringent safety and security procedures. The array of paperwork has been eliminated with the introduction of JobWatch that provides on-screen workflows and fully digital working.

In London, AGS technicians are not patch based but get allocated jobs across London. The system helps to ensure the right technicians are assigned to the right jobs based on their skills and certifications. With parking difficult in London travel by van is minimised and BigChange scheduling software assigns the best daily working schedule for each technician based on jobs location.
The TfL work is fault based and service requests are via the TfL system that will soon be integrated with the BigChange system to provide a seamless digital workflow from start to completion. With a pool of over 60 mobile operatives the pest control specialists are sometimes supported by crews to undertake supporting work such as clearing vegetation and removing litter.

McMillan says:

“BigChange provides us with an overview of everything that is happening in real time. With colour coded status reports I can instantly see how we are doing and deal quickly with any outstanding issues. It’s a brilliant management tool,”

“The other thing we really like is that it is a fully integrated system that does everything we need; it joins up all the dots.”

AGS operate 24/7 with night and day shifts. Work is usually scheduled the day before deployment with technicians receiving jobs on their tablets. The devices are then used for all tasks onsite such as risk assessments, certifications, job sheets and customer sign off on glass. On completion the job details a sent directly to the client with the AGS Control Centre dealing with any issues and additional service needs, with quoting and invoicing as required.

AGS has ambitious plans for expansion nationally and BigChange provides a platform that will underpin this growth.

McMillan comments:

“Being a cloud solution we can expand without any IT infrastructure restraints and we really like the flexibility of the system. In our business there are numerous types of reports and different clients have different requirements; it can get very complicated. With JobWatch we can simply configure report templates to meet any requirement. This is important as we plan expansion nationwide,”

AGS also see a future in collaboration.

McMillan explains:

“With the pest control market opening up in recent years we believe there is void to be filled by specialists around the country. With JobWatch we can easily share work by giving contractors access to the JobWatch app or by collaborating with other companies who are part of the fast-growing BigChange network,”

“Smaller operators can compete not only by sharing resources and intelligence but by using JobWatch there is a professional system in place that provides all the functionality and credentials needed to deliver big company services but with more reactive and better value services.”

BigChange AGS teamwork

HSS Groundcare, the only national groundcare hire and maintenance service in the UK, has rolled out new mobile technology that has boosted field engineer productivity by 40 percent.

Providing visibility of operations nationwide, the new system supplied by Leeds based BigChange connects back office cloud software with mobile devices and vehicle trackers as part of a paperless, real-time system.

HSS Groundcare is part of the HSS Hire Group, the £350 million turnover business employing almost 2,500 people across 250 UK locations. The specialist groundcare and landscaping service operates from 12 locations nationwide and looks after 21,000 individual assets. Although HSS Groundcare supply and hire equipment, such as lawnmowers, chippers and strimmers, the primary activity is the servicing and maintenance of equipment and the company provides a same day call out service.

HSS field engineers are equipped with rugged tablets running JobWatch, the 5 in 1 app that replaces all paperwork. As well as digital job cards, the devices allow access to a library of useful documents such as procedures and equipment manuals with technical diagrams. On the move the tablets sit in dashboard cradles and provide navigation and BigChange GPS trackers keep customer services up to date on the whereabouts of each engineer.

Previously HSS Groundcare relied on spreadsheets and mobile phone communications to manage the field operations but, as the division was expanded, this system quickly became overloaded and too cumbersome to use with the increasing volume of work.

Colin Newton, HSS Groundcare Director says:

“Utilisation is the key for us and since implementing the BigChange system this is where we have seen enormous benefits. We need to keep our engineers as busy as possible and with this system we have increased utilisation from around 50 percent to 90 percent,”

“Gone are all those idle hours sitting around the depot and our engineers are much happier busy doing their job.”

With clients including local authorities, sports grounds and golf courses, HSS Groundcare provides services that include repairs, servicing, fault monitoring and operator training. A landscaping service meanwhile includes groundworks and the application of compost, mulches and fertilisers. With contracts with many different organisations, each with distinct service packages, managing and accounting had previously been very complicated.

With BigChange, job sheets and reports can be easily tailored and managing business has become a lot easier. The system is also proving invaluable for meeting KPI obligations. With contract performance typically assessed on criteria such as response times, time taken to fix equipment and the first time fix rates, JobWatch provides instant and accurate data on all jobs. Through the tablets, engineers can also access historical information looking at, for example, what repairs were undertaken previously.

Newton says:

“Previously we couldn’t keep track of the work and reporting to customers was particularly difficult. JobWatch gives us all the information we need and that is vital for customer service. Not only can we keep customers informed – on for example the engineer’s ETA or when their equipment has been fixed, but we can also monitor the performance of equipment. We can also spot recurring faults which might be caused by operators themselves. That added dimension to our service sets us apart in the eyes of our customers.”

JobWatch is integrated with the company’s bespoke hire system call SPANNER allowing data to be freely interchanged for accounts and stock control. For example, engineers record parts used or needed on their job cards and this automatically updates the central stock control system and actions parts requests. Engineers can also record labour and parts for recharging and customers get an automated report on completion of the job.

Newton adds:

“BigChange has given us a massive improvement in efficiency and as well as the improvement in resource utilisation – more or less doubling the number of jobs we do a day. We are also saving fuel through optimised routing and scheduling. The added visibility is also allowing us to better plan ahead so we can schedule everything, including annual planned maintenance work, to optimise the use of our resources.”

Newton explains:

“JobWatch was resisted at first by some engineers but now our engineers love it. In fact, they refuse to take any jobs that are not in the system. From a management perspective JobWatch gives us consistency across the business as we all use the same worksheet format; so whether different engineers are in different regions, we all rely on the same standard data reporting.”

Using the BigChange powered tablets, engineers capture photographs on site to provide evidence of work done and the customer signs off work with an on-screen signature.

Newton adds:

“If a job fails we can see exactly why and with time stamped photographs and tracking logs we have indisputable evidence and that means there is really no cause for a debate and we can invoice immediately.”

BigChange has also helped improve customer services according to Leah Hague, Outsource Asset Manager, HSS Groundcare.

“For customer services the key benefit is visibility. With the tracking we can immediately see who is where and see if a job has started and how long it is taking. With live reporting from the engineers we can immediately see the status of every job and everything is attached to a job card – documents, photographs and the customer signature sign off – so everything is in one place and immediately accessible.”

I really want my colleagues to live happy, healthy lives, and will do anything I can to help them on that journey.

At Masternaut the business I founded previously, I ran an initiative called Cash for Quitters. I offered my colleagues a cash bonus of £1,250 (and gave £1,250 to Cancer Research UK) in exchange for going smoke-free. I successfully helped 12 people give up smoking for good, which was a great achievement.

One of my Masternaut team now works with me at BigChange. He still doesn’t smoke cigarettes but he has taken up vaping. I felt this was a backwards move so I started doing some research.

Vapes have only been around for a short time. The first electronic cigarette was created by Hon Lik in Beijing in 2003. Yet, less than two decades later, the health warnings are starting to build up.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has stated that vapes and e-cigarette are “not safe and effective in helping smokers quit”, while the Surgeon General has warned that the liquid and smoke can contain a number of toxic chemicals, including acrolein – a weed killer[1].

I worry about the members of my team that vape, and it bothers me that so many young people, who would never have started smoking, are choosing to vape because it’s seen as cool. Even children are being lured in by all the sweet flavours – some are even based on confectionery.

Beyond the health risks, vapes are really bad for productivity. It’s bad enough that smokers take regular breaks to light up, people who vape feel they can do it all the time because it’s “not as bad as smoking”, which means even more time outside, distracted from their jobs.

Some people even feel it’s acceptable to vape from their desks. The warnings about second-hand vaping emissions aren’t well publicised but studies have shown they can cause breathing and lung problems. This is absolutely not something we would tolerate at BigChange.

The NHS has recommended that smokers move over to vape, claiming that e-cigarettes are 95pc less toxic than the alternative but I worry that this will become the next big health scare of the decade.

So, at BigChange, I’m bringing back Cash for Quitters. We are ironing out the details but I’m hoping to launch in September. It’s possible to test for nicotine quite easily, so we’ll be able to check if anyone cheats. You can even buy testing kits on Amazon now… I thought I’d been successful with my mission and yet here am I, 10 years later, with a new problem to deal with.

I think it’s important that us bosses highlight this issue, and work together to keep employees smoke – and vape – free. Who’s with me?

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

I am not often plagued with self-doubt but turning 57 has thrown me. It’s too far the wrong side of 50. I’ll be 60 in three years and that’s a really scary age.

I work with colleagues two generations younger than me now. It’s made me wonder whether I still have what it takes to build BigChange. Am I older and wiser? Or running out of steam?

In fact, right now, I feel younger than I have in a long time. I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past year (many thanks to all those who sponsored me I also feel lighter in spirit. I lost my dad two years ago. In my faith, you say prayers for your loved ones for 11 months after you bury them. Sadly, 11 months later, I buried my mother, so I have been saying those prayers for 22 months. When you experience tragedy, it takes time to grieve and get back on an even keel, but I feel I’m there now.

Older entrepreneurs aren’t as rare as you might think. A recent study by MIT found that the average age of a start-up founder is 42. The people who create high-growth companies are 45, on average[1]. The idea that all founders are pimply 18-year-olds is a myth. In the UK, the average business owner is 51. Ray Kroc didn’t open his first McDonald’s until he was 52. Maybe I’m not so old after all. As long as I’m the right person to be leading this business, I’ll work till I drop.

If BigChange does outgrow me, I would happily see out my days doing charity work. I would be proud of my legacy, either way. But I feel like I’m still the best person for this job. Yes, I’m older. I’m also calmer, more rational. I’m better with people. When you’re young, you want everything to happen yesterday. I’ve learned to bide my time and be patient. You can’t build a global success overnight.

I used to enjoy material things. These days, I’m content with my lot. I don’t need to buy anything. My focus instead is on creating wealth with the business, and helping our customers to grow.

People ask me if I’d consider selling the business, now that I’m getting on a bit. I reply that I’m a buyer, not a seller. I’m pushing on. I may have reached my scary age but I still feel like I can conquer the world. I’m seven years into my journey with BigChange and I feel more ambitious than ever. I want to turn this into a billion-pound business.

I believe I have another 20 years in me. You’ll have to carry me out the door.

UK business owners

Martin Port
Founder & CEO



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