We asked eight Tees business leaders what has been the biggest challenge to their business during the coronavirus lockdown – and how have they met that challenge. These are their answers…
Karl Pemberton, managing director, Active Chartered Financial Planners
“One of Active’s greatest assets is our culture – this is our people and the camaraderie we have with each other. Unfortunately, like most, we have moved from working in a buoyant and vibrant office environment, into a remote one that some may deem as stale, lonely and boring.
“Our greatest challenge has therefore been a leadership and management shift to ensure all members of the team still feel part of something special, and still feel connected. This takes significantly more time – which is limited – to do effectively, and great wifi, which is also often limited. Video calls are, therefore, essential and appreciated!”
Sharon Lane, managing director, Tees Components
“The biggest challenge at Tees was to feel confident we were still keeping our people safe and well. Our brilliant buyer Lorna organised a plumber to install handwashing stations, alcohol gel and cleaning products. We did lots of training sessions, and were able to quickly get high standards of hygiene in a shop which is usually pretty dirty!
“People have been very anxious, though, despite the measures. It’s difficult to concentrate, and our work isn’t the sort you can do with one eye on it. I temporarily closed the workshops at the weekend – we need to look after mental health and wellbeing.”
Mike Marsh, managing director, Group Industrial
“Group Industrial remain adherent to the ever-moving guidelines to achieve the ultimate goal of beating the Covid-19 virus. The health of our workers, their families and the general public must remain paramount throughout this unfortunate time.
“With Business structures continuously adopting different control measures, it is important that as a company we all anticipate the reality of a potential downturn in business requirements during this period. However, we can remain positive and structured to continue to deliver services that can be adopted within the guidelines. We sincerely hope that the region can overcome this period collectively and return to continue positive and thriving business success.”
Frans Calje, CEO, PD Ports
“As vital pieces of national infrastructure, UK Government deems ports critical to the Covid-19 response and all of our people have been identified as key workers. As a major UK port at Teesport, one of the biggest challenges we face is helping to keep supply chains moving and the country supplied with essential daily items such as food, fuel, pharmaceuticals and other vital materials.
“Our priority throughout the outbreak remains to safeguard the wellbeing of our people. Our business continuity management team is meeting daily and continues to monitor the situation, following guidance and advice from Public Health England and UK Government.”
Elaine McLaine-Wood, managing partner, Punch Robson Solicitors
“We retain a full caseload within Punch Robson’s commercial department. What was apparent shortly before the lockdown was that a number of transactions had been placed on hold. We had a very strong start to the year with more business than ever but once the lockdown was announced we had to provide for some staff to work from home, to reduce the number of staff and change the way we operated in line with government guidelines.
“We are now in week two of the lockdown and we are still completing transactions, despite some being placed on hold. We are also taking new instructions for transactions and matters of a non-transactional nature.
“Last week in particular was very stressful on both a professional and a personal level. However, it has got easier as days pass – and knowing we are a part of a strong network within Teesside. Punch Robson has traded through two world wars, the three-day week in the ‘80s and the recession but we certainly look forward to getting past Covid-19.”
Helen Stewart, business development director, Calm Digital
“One of the biggest challenges of the lockdown for us at Calm has been clients looking to pause their marketing efforts until things are stable again. We’ve specifically written a blog post around this, and have re-assured our clients that we are still here to support them when they look to restart their campaigns. It’s a very tough time for all businesses at the moment, but we’re all trying to remain positive and optimistic.
“Another challenge has been around communication with our team and clients. We’ve used the technology available to have regular daily meet ups and virtual meetings where possible. Our business is in a fortunate position that we are able to work remotely very easily. If any business needs support, we are always here for advice, expertise or help with any digital problem. Looking forward to normality again, hopefully soon!”
Chris Petty, managing director, Cornerstone Business Solutions
“Being in the IT industry, we have always been geared up for remote working, so to send all of our staff home to work remotely was quite a quick and simple process. We’ve utilised Teams – a free package as part of Office 365 – very effectively across different departments as well as a company group to encourage some kind of socialising, jokes and quizzes to try and keep some of the office banter going, as everyone is in the same boat and finding working from home strange and potentially lonely.
“Our biggest task so far has been the amount of calls we have had from our customers asking for their staff to be set up for remote working. We had to put all of our technical staff on overtime and weekend work to get the demand done as quickly as possible to allow all of our customers to continue as best as they could in this crazy time.”
Harriet Spalding, business development manager, Mandale Group
“One of our biggest challenges has been to keep the customer interest in our new homes’ developments at the level it always has been. For us, it is usually key to attract customers to site so they can experience our show homes first hand.
“However, since the announcement amounting to an effective lockdown, we have had to close our show homes until further notice. We arranged for a company to carry out virtual tours of each of our show homes, providing any visitor to our website with the ability to undertake a VR tour from their living room. We’ve also had a change in approach to the mix of media we would usually use for advertisements and a switch from face-to-face customer meetings to telephone appointments, so we have virtually made home buying a complete online experience.”
Cornerstone MD Chris Petty presents your urgent remote-working checklist to ensure your team can work as normal from home in challenging times…
Everyone knows the unprecedented and difficult situation we all now find ourselves in, but ensuring your employees can work from home can come in useful at any time.
We are all keen that we carry on driving our businesses forward and that means embracing remote working and datasharing on a scale that’s never been done before.
We have created a four-step checklist to ensure – as far as possible – it’s business as usual for you and your team:
1. Security Protecting your business from cyber-crime should always be your biggest priority
You’ve probably got security covered in your office already – all of your computers have anti-virus software, you use a secure virtual private network (VPN) and your data is stored away safely.
But if your team is working from home, you’re widening your exposure to potential threats. And cracks can quickly appear in your business’s protection.
2. Access to data
Another thing to think about is how your employees can access business applications and how your IT support company can access your server remotely.
For each department in your business, think of all the different applications that are needed and create a list like this:
System How do we access? Who needs access Actions / Options
Email/Office 365 Online All team members Buy laptops for remote working
Documents Individual devices and Dropbox Account management team Ensure all data is migrated over to SharePoint
3. Home office set up
The obvious question is do your team have the right equipment and broadband capability? Most employees have desktop computers and may require laptops/tablets. You mustn’t also forget telephony systems. If your team does require an internal phone system, you could consider Microsoft Teams (in Office 365) to minimise costs.
We do not suggest that you go out and buy everyone a desk and a chair.
But we do advise that you clarify with your employees what their home working environment is and offer support.
4. Communication, collaboration and management
There’s always the worry that employees are not as productive working from home. This is why clear communication, collaboration and management channels should be implemented. This could be a great opportunity to look at current processes with a view to improving.
Things to be considered:
• Project management software
• Video conferencing
• Instant messaging/chat
• Reporting and time management
• Office 365 applications such as Teams, SharePoint, OneNote and Planner
Whatever your situation, with today’s technology, home or remote working isn’t as bad or as complicated as it sounds and we can communicate effectively.
At Cornerstone, we have implemented lots of remote working solutions. If you’d like advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
T: 0845 223 2400
This column is about crucial advice on changes that are going to affect every business in Teesside this coming January. At Cornerstone, we have advised all of our customers but we also know there are many we don’t look after who still have yet to take the appropriate action.
Your business, like most others, relies on Microsoft software every day. It’s the software you use the most – for email, documents, to run your company’s server and, of course, to run the PCs themselves.
But there’s a problem – and too few businesses know about it.
Microsoft has announced that much of its most-used software will reach end-of-life in January 2020. What does that mean? Will it just stop working? No, it’ll carry on working. But it won’t be supported by Microsoft. Which means if the software breaks or is compromised, there’ll be no-one in repairing it. It’ll stay broken.
As the owner of a popular and trusted managed service provider (MSP) for hundreds of local businesses, I’ve seen this happen before. End-of-life software like this becomes a keen target for hackers. They will find loopholes and ways to use the software to get into your computer or spread malware – because there’s no-one to stop them.
End-of-life software creates three major problems for your business:
• Problem 1: When it breaks, it will stay broken
• Problem 2: You’ll become a keen target for clever hackers
• Problem 3: Your business will no longer be GDPR compliant
The answer lies in the Rs
• Review – Organise an audit review of all of your software
• Replace – Some of the software, such as the Office suite, can be replaced quickly and easily. But much of it takes time… you’d be surprised how long a new server takes to get set up. We support hundreds of businesses and are now scheduling in work up to January 2020. Don’t leave it till then to take action. This is one of those times when being proactive really will save you serious amounts of stress, time and money.
• Relax – When January 2020 rolls round, I’m pretty confident the media will be full of stories about businesses and organisations that have run into major problems. “But we didn’t know!” they’ll cry. But not your business. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy business as normal.
Cornerstone is not like most IT support companies. We focus our attention on people, more than we do on computers. Experience has told us people want fewer disruptions – they just want to get on with their work – which is why we told everyone about this problem months before it happens and why we are mentioning it again, as the time is coming around very quickly.
If you would like advice then please get in touch.
The expertise in cyber security of commercial IT experts Cornerstone Business Solutions has helped one of their key clients achieve a series of major contract wins.
Stockton-based Cornerstone are leading the field in the fight to protect Tees Valley businesses against the increasing threat of cyber-crime
They are accredited to market Cyber Essentials, a government-backed scheme designed to protect organisations against a wide range of the most common cyber-attacks.
And their advice and expertise enabled their Stockton neighbours, leading electrical contractors CD Engineering Services, to meet industry-leading security standards that has helped them win prestigious contracts with blue chip clients.
Cornerstone’s in-house IT experts guided CD Engineering Services through the cyber security minefield to become one of only a small number of firms within the Tees region to have achieved Cyber Essentials accreditation.
Electrical building services contractors, CDE have gone on to achieve substantial contract successes from national blue chip clients who demanded Cyber Essentials accreditation as a key part of any tenders.
It has allowed the firm to increase turnover from £4m to £8.5m over the past 12 months, with the figure set to leap to £12.5m in the year ahead on the back of an order book worth £20m.
Stakeholders Peter Cass, Julie Cass and Darren Charlton, together with an “exceptionally talented” Teesside workforce have led CDE’s impressive growth, with the directors quick to praise the part Cornerstone have played in their success.
Managing director Peter said: “With Cornerstone’s support, we’ve won contracts from some major blue chip companies, whilst we’re competing for more prestigious tenders that we couldn’t have realistically targeted without having Cyber Essentials in place.
“CDE has been operating successfully for more than 11 years but Cyber Essentials has helped open doors to much larger opportunities that might otherwise have been beyond our reach.
“We were already enjoying a significant expansion but to sustain our growth we needed to break into new markets. Cyber Essentials accreditation has allowed us to aim higher and win a number of larger, more complex contracts.
“These are clients with whom a simple anti-virus system doesn’t cut the mustard.
“There’s no doubt it has given us a significant advantage over our competitors.”
Cyber Essentials helps to guard against the most common cyber threats while allowing organisations to demonstrate their commitment to cyber security.
But gaining accreditation can be a complex and time-consuming process. That’s where Cornerstone stepped in.
“Cornerstone made it easy and seamless,” added Peter. “They understood our needs from the start and made the entire process relatively pain-free, thanks to their excellent client focus and commitment to professionalism.”
Cornerstone director Chris Bibby revealed the IT firm had previously installed a full network for CD Engineering Services including internet connectivity and phones following an office move.
But he explained: “Although we had installed initial security software for CDE, such as anti-virus systems, this was a huge step up and it was clear both firms needed to work together closely to ensure the necessary outcome.
“A key element of gaining Cyber Essentials involved us scanning their network to check for internal vulnerabilities. This scan generates a report that that we use to decide what actions are needed to secure the network.
“We also ran through the very detailed guidelines of the scheme, answering around 250 key questions on cyber security.
“Using the report and site survey guidelines, we produced proposals and carried out any necessary work to get CDE accredited with Cyber Essentials.”
The work included deploying an MDM (mobile device management) system, dual factor authentication, malware bytes, internal vulnerability scans and cyber policies.
Encryption was also rolled out to protect information stored on all company devices that are occasionally removed from the office, including mobile phones and tablets – particularly a batch of recently purchased iPads.
Chris added: “It involved a significant amount of work, of course, but the way we managed it ensured there was minimum disruption to the business.”
Cornerstone Businees Solutions have installed a cyber security systen for neighbours CD Engineering
28/8/19 Pic Doug Moody Photography.
Residents and visitors to Middlesbrough town centre will soon have access to fast, efficient WiFi connectivity, thanks to commercial IT experts Cornerstone Business Solutions.
The Stockton-based firm will join forces with Middlesbrough Council to roll out the free outdoor WiFi service that will allow anyone to log on while on the go.
The outdoor network will not only allow town centre visitors to surf the net and use their email but will enable the council to communicate important messages to the public.
Describing the five-figure contract win as “a major coup”, Cornerstone director Chris Bibby revealed the firm would look to provide a similar service to more local authorities across the North East and beyond.
“This is our first council contract but it won’t be our last,” said Chris.
“Middlesbrough is showing real vision in leading the way as the first Tees Valley council to install free outdoor WiFi.
“We’re delighted to have won such a prestigious contract right on our doorstep.
“We’re looking forward to working closely with Middlesbrough Council and our technology partners to roll out a public WiFi solution that I’m sure will be much appreciated by residents and visitors to the town’s central areas.”
The public WiFi, which is scheduled to go live in August, will involve Cornerstone installing 20 access points dotted around Middlesbrough town centre area including Centre Square, Albert Road, Corporation Road, the Southfield Road student district and the Baker Street and Bedford Street regeneration zone.
Twenty small devices comprising the latest technology will be installed on existing street furniture.
Chris added: “A good, strong WiFi connection that’s free of charge can only be a good thing, whether you’re checking the opening times of your favourite shop, taking a peek at a restaurant menu, looking up the bus timetable or simply following the latest news while you’re on the move.
“While shoppers will naturally benefit, there’s no intention to focus only on retail-heavy areas. The council is also keen to improve the WiFi experience wherever people gather and socialise in the central part of the town.
“But it will also allow the council to promote their own services, events and important notices via the splash page through which the public will initially sign in each time they use the WiFi service.
“The benefits are endless really.”
Chris, who runs Cornerstone with fellow directors Chris Petty, Chris Clark and John Storey, revealed the firm had won the contract ahead of a number of experienced IT and WiFi specialists.
“We’re delighted the council was impressed with our tender, which involves analytics that will allow the council to keep a check on the system’s usage and overall experience.
“From our point of view, it’s a fantastic opportunity to show off Cornerstone’s expertise. It will provide a perfect case study for us to approach more local authorities across the country.”
Founded in 2008, in the middle of the global recession, Cornerstone has achieved a record £2m turnover and increased its workforce to 25, while targeting expansions into Aycliffe and Leeds.
Along with being official technology partner for Middlesbrough Football Club, the firm’s long-term contracts include Durham Tees Valley Airport, Camerons Brewery, Tecnicas Reunidas, Punch Robson Solicitors, Endeavour Partnership, TTE and Bedale-based Heck Sausages, while recent wins include Active Chartered Financial Planners.
Cornerstone also boast partnerships with such leading brands as Microsoft, Apple, HP, Lenovo, Vmware, ESET, Malware Bytes and Redstore
Teesside International has appointed Stockton-based Cornerstone Business Solutions to provide IT support to the airport.
The three-year agreement with Cornerstone will include an overhaul of the IT network infrastructure, including the wi-fi throughout the terminal, to ensure that passengers can enjoy a fast and free connection. Cornerstone will also support the airport’s network, mobile communications, CCTV, and provide an IT helpdesk for staff.
A multi-award-winning IT services business founded 11 years ago, Cornerstone was recently named Best IT Service Business in the North-East at the Corporate Excellence Awards. The firm boasts a client list that includes Middlesbrough Football Club, Camerons Brewery, Heck Foods and many more across the region.
This is the latest local firm to join the airport team, following the appointments of ROVIN Environmental, Tindle’s Chartered Accountants and MHA Tait Walker.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “We are delighted to appoint another fantastic local company to work with Teesside International Airport. Cornerstone will play a vital role in servicing the IT network needed to support the airport’s growth. Not only that, it will help make our airport one of the most passenger-friendly. Whether flying for leisure or business, travellers can be assured of a top-quality internet connection.
“As well as providing a great service to passengers, we have always been clear that the airport has a vital role to play in the economic growth of the region. When I brought our airport back into public ownership, I said it must support the local economy by working with our businesses. By working with the best local firms we’re keeping our money in our area, supporting local jobs and saving the airport cash in the process.”
Chris Petty, managing director of Cornerstone, said: “It’s great to continue working with the airport. We supported it in a more ad-hoc role previously but are looking forward to working together on a much closer basis. The plans for the airport are really exciting and it’s a privilege to be chosen to help support them.”
Chris Petty of Cornerstone Business Solutions at Redcar Football Club where the company sponsor the main stand.
23/4/19 Pic Doug Moody Photography
Leading Teesside IT firm Cornerstone Business Solutions has increased its football sponsorship profile and brand awareness by sponsoring Darlington Football Club’s dugouts and Redcar Athletic’s new stand.
Stockton company Cornerstone was already heavily involved in football, having been Championship club Middlesbrough’s official technology partner since 2015, as well as a significant ongoing Boro sponsor and Riverside Stadium advertiser.
And its name and logo now adorns both the home and away dugouts at Darlington’s Blackwell Meadows ground, where it will remain for the rest of the campaign and the following two seasons.
In addition, multi-award winning Cornerstone sponsor two advertising hoardings behind the goals at the ground of the Vanarama National League North club after becoming one of the Quakers’ latest commercial partners.
The company is also committed to sponsoring Redcar Athletic’s new stand at Green Lane for the rest of the campaign and beyond as the club continues to develop and comply with Northern League ground rules following promotion from the Wearside League.
The sponsorship deals came about through a combination of existing links to both clubs and Cornerstone’s passion for football.
“I’m a massive Boro fan, just like all of our staff at Cornerstone, but I’m also a massive fan of football in general at all levels,” explained the firm’s managing director Chris Petty.
“Darlington’s operations manager Craig Morley asked me if we would be willing to get involved as a sponsor, and from a brand awareness point of view it makes sense for us.
“The corporate area at Darlington is on a balcony looking down on the dugouts, so our name and logo are in prime positions being on them and behind both goals.
“Redcar Athletic’s secretary Kevin Fryett is a lovely bloke, and with both clubs being well-supported I was happy to give Athletic some backing as well.”
Promoting Cornerstone in wider areas of the region was also a motivating factor behind both sponsorship deals, said Petty.
“We pride ourselves on being Teesside’s leading information technology company and a lot of people already know about us in the Middlesbrough and Stockton areas, especially through the Boro,” he added.
“But we’re a Tees Valley company as well. Sponsoring the football clubs in Darlington and Redcar stretches our name right out into those parts of the region.”
Alongside its new football sponsorships and corporate box at the Riverside Stadium, which it uses to entertain clients, Cornerstone is currently sponsoring Middlesbrough’s home and away shorts for the second successive season.
The business also sponsors corners at the Riverside Stadium – which appear as ‘Cornerstone Corners’ on the big screen – as well as advertising on revolving electronic pitchside boards, sponsoring wine coolers in the hospitality suites and the club’s mobile app.
Such advertising has netted Cornerstone work with key companies including Virgin Media, and the firm is currently in discussions to open a new branch in Leeds this year, having already secured business in West Yorkshire.
There are also plans to open new offices in Manchester and Birmingham, and a target of achieving a £10m turnover in the next five years.
Cornerstone partner with global technology brands such as IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, Cisco, Mitel and BT to provide their clients with cutting edge business and mobile communications solutions.
What exactly is cyber security, and do we need it? Cornerstone MD Chris Petty explains…
The chances are that you’ve probably heard lots on the news, in the press and on social media about the importance of cyber security.
Some have even suggested to me that “It’s just another GDPR”, something many of us have already forgotten about. That in itself in a mistake, in my professional opinion, as some organisations have just been the subject of the first round of large fines. But back to my point…cyber security.
Every organisation uses digital services in some form or another – but where there is technology, there is risk, and any smaller organisations would be unwise to assure themselves they’ll be safe, in the belief that hackers only target large corporations.
Perhaps they think cyber security is all about stopping some European hacker getting orders from Russia to pinch our data and infect our systems. In fact, our main threat is more likely to be the opportunist using automated attacks to exploit poorly protected targets.
Just like an organised burglar will scout about looking for poorly protected homes, the modern cyber criminal will send phishing emails or network scans looking for vulnerable systems.
We’ve recently been contacted by a few of our customers who were required to become Cyber Essentials accredited, not only to protect their systems but because it was a required element to win new contracts. Some needed the accreditation just to get to the next stage of a tender.
It’s also now a requirement for all Law Society members to gain Cyber Essentials certification.
So what are the benefits of Cyber Essentials accreditation? Here’s a starter for ten:
• Protect against cyber attacks: implemented correctly, Cyber Essentails will help protect your organisation and commercially sensitive data from 80% of cyber atacks.
• Work with the UK Government and Ministry of Defence: Cyber Essentials is a mandatory requirement to work with key government bodies.
• Increase chances of securing business: Certification gives you a competitive advantage, particularly against any of your competitors who don’t have accreditation.
• Reduce cyber insurance premiums: Cyber insurance agencies look more favourably on accredited organisations.
Ultimately, certification shows the wider world the commitment your business has to security, demonstrating to your business partners, regulators and suppliers that you take cyber security seriously.
Cornerstone can guide you through the Cyber Essentials accreditation process.
We’ll run all of the tests and documentation and then, on an ongoing basis, run external vulnerability scans on your network to keep you compliant and protected.
Want to find out more? Contact us today.
Chris Petty, managing director of Cornerstone Business Solutions, was one of more than 600 local business people representing thousands of Tees workers who convinced the region’s council leaders to back Ben Houchen’s airport plan.
He said: “I think the vote is fantastic news. I think it’s what everybody had been waiting for and had wanted in the area.
“It was a case of do we want a new airport or do we just get rid and have a new housing estate?
“We don’t need a new housing estate, we have already got the biggest one in Europe in Ingleby Barwick, so we don’t need another one on our doorstep. We can all move forward now. Common sense has prevailed, and it links up with what is going on with the old SSI site.
“With the investment and large companies coming to the area, we need that airport. It’s a good day for Teesside.”
Petty also owns Skylive Events, which ran air shows at Durham Tees Valley Airport before the event was scrapped after only two years.
“Hopefully there might be another air show on the cards now,” he added.
Cornerstone Business Solutions has renewed it partnership with Boro for a further season.
Boro released a fans’ favourite Hummel kit this summer which harks back to the club’s iconic Ayresome Park days and features a white chest band across the middle of the home shirt.
And leading Stockton IT firm Cornerstone will feature heavily on our home and away First Team kit once again as they sponsor Boro’s shorts for the second season running.
Cornerstone were Boro’s first-ever shorts sponsors last season as Boro reached the Championship play-off semi-finals, and the company’s managing director Chris Petty is delighted to extend his deal with the club he has supported since he was a boy.
Middlesbrough’s first team squad with Cornerstone Business Solutions directors Chris Petty and Chris Bibby at the club’s Rockliffe Park training HQ.
“We are all passionate Boro fans at Cornerstone and have a corporate box at the Riverside where we like to entertain our staff and clients,” he explained.
“It proved a massive success when we sponsored the First Team’s shorts last season, and we were eager to get involved again this year for what is sure to be an exciting campaign.
“While we think of ourselves as Teesside’s leading IT company, we are still relatively small in real terms in that we have 25 staff.
“So it gives us a massive buzz to have Cornerstone branding on Boro’s kit.”
Petty said the renewed sponsorship package arrives at an ideal time for his firm – who have been Boro’s official IT partner since 2015 – as they look to increase their turnover while branching out into new areas.
Previous advertising at the Riverside Stadium has netted Cornerstone work with companies such as Virgin Media.
“It means we are raising our profile, not only on Teesside, but around the country and around the world,” he added.
“That fits with us perfectly at the moment, as we are looking to expand and increase our turnover from £2m to £5m, and we are soon to open new offices in Leeds, while Manchester is also a future target. Up the Boro!”
Rose Stoker, MFC’s head of partnerships, said: “We are delighted to see Cornerstone appear on the back of the shorts for the second year, following a very successful 10-year partnership with the football club.
“Cornerstone is a local but very ambitious company and this will again give them the opportunity to expose the brand further. They will join 32Red and Ramsdens as the club’s kit sponsors.”