Simon Sloan - Operations Manager, Hi-Impact

Tell us a little about your background and your role at hi-impact:

As a former IT Manager and Technician, my background is largely technical although at hi-impact I am no longer on the frontline and tend to coordinate our operations and projects, ensuring all the relevant staff from the various departments work together effectively. I also have key responsibilities for customer satisfaction and developing our new media strategies.

Would you give us a potted history of the business?

Beginning as an education consultancy started by two former teachers, we initially ran innovative technology and media workshops in local schools but quickly found that technical barriers and poor support meant that we couldn't deliver at the quality levels we wanted. With that in mind, we set up our own tech support division and rapidly became the preferred option in the region. We now support more than half of Wirral schools on a weekly basis.

Media has been something that has always been a part of our offering to the education sector, but we recently developed this into its own department that now works across Europe creating high end promotional digital content for hotels, event spaces, sporting venues and luxury brands. Our staff numbers have grown from just 5 when I first joined to 34 at present, with a good blend of experience, up and coming junior staff and apprentices. We have our own offices in Bromborough and we are very proud of our Wirral roots and always looking to support community initiatives.

What is a typical client for hi-impact

Schools are our primary clients - most are in the Liverpool City Region but we also have a number of schools and clusters around the rest of the UK and even a few overseas. Our media department tends to work with prestigious brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Liverpool FC, Sunseeker Yachts and major 5-star hotel chains such as Corinthia and Relais & Chateaux. I guess "typical" doesn't really apply in that case!

What are the services you offer and what is your USP?

Our services break down into 5 key areas: Education, Technical, Media, Training & IT Supplies. Within education, we design and implement curriculum-focused technology workshops and staff CPD. Our technical team support schools and businesses with everything from network infrastructures, internet connectivity, end user PCs and all manner of software and hardware. Media services include videography, photography, graphical artwork and branding, and 3D virtual tours. Our training division offers Pearson Vue testing from our Wirral offices as well as training facilities for outside course operators. We are also a major supplier of IT equipment these days, which I guess counts as another service even though we don't like to think of ourselves as a supplier of products - it's just something we do to support our clients and make their lives easier.

What are your main objectives when working with a client or school?

Customer service is always our key focus - if we don't manage that we don't get repeat business and long term contracts. Building up trust is key to our success as a consultancy, and this is underpinned by our constant drive to be innovative, daring and to think outside the box for solutions and creative ideas.

Your role must give you some insight into the strengths or otherwise of the future of computing in the UK, at least in terms of the level of education the future workforce is receiving. What are your observations at present?

It varies massively! Some areas have a very strong focus on computing and digital skills from an early age. Here on the Wirral, we are lucky that schools are more aware of the importance of preparing children for future technical jobs than some other areas we work in.

Where do you think improvements need to be made?

More emphasis needs to be placed on integrating IT and computing across the whole curriculum, and not just seeing it as a standalone subject. Primary schools have been quick to spot the need to develop digital skills, and secondaries are starting to catch up now, but there can still be an issue with trying to implement progression through the school journey as a lot of the things being introduced are brand new and it takes a few years for a pathway to be developed.

Social media plays a huge role in society now. How do you view its impact on student’s lives and its use in business? Positive or negative?

It certainly can transform businesses and give new businesses a chance to gain a rapid following without spending years going down traditional routes. It's really hard to measure the impact a good presence has on actual sales, but improving engagement and developing brand identity shouldn't be underestimated. As for social media usage among children, it is a very key time - we're seeing children of primary age using it as their main form of communication and that can open the door to all kinds of problems. Part of our role at hi-impact is delivering pupil and parent eSafety sessions to hopefully engender a responsible use of social media and open the eyes of children to the fact that what they post online or in messages can leave a footprint that comes back to haunt them. We use social media checks ahead of interviewing new staff, so our advice is definitely to think about what you're putting online and whether you'd want friends, family or potential employers seeing it.

Has Brexit had an effect on your work? Good or bad? And do you envisage any changes in the future?

We have been putting our overseas efforts into the Commonwealth First scheme and as an Export Champion, we have been given huge assistance in generating relationships with key businesses and contacts in Commonwealth nations, which means we are not significantly affected by Brexit. Initially we did see prices rise in terms of IT equipment that schools were buying through us, but it does not seem to have slowed client spend with us.

You are speaking at the Wirral Chamber in business event on digital in March what will be your key message?

We want to highlight the fact that a suitable technical infrastructure is required in this region to support the growth of digital companies. In education, we see the increased demands on bandwidth on a daily basis, and our media team require strong communications to transfer digital content between themselves and clients.

What are the best and worst aspects of your job?

Best - Being at a decision-making level in a creative company that's not afraid to make bold choices and move in new directions. Worst - trying to keep all staff up to date with our latest developments as things move so fast!

What would you say has been the highlight of your career to date?

Designing our very first Space Balloon mission was a standout moment - recovering a payload of cameras, science experiments and GPS trackers following a 20-mile high journey to Near Space was pretty special! Many other creative projects of mine have become standard workshops that we offer to schools now, but my development of the 3D scanning side of our media team has been my most recent and ongoing achievement as it takes us across Europe working for some very high profile clients.

If you could give some advice to your younger self what would it be?

Be braver! Taking chances leads to more life experiences and in business can gain you a huge advantage over the competition. Oh, and surround yourself with different types of people and ones who aren't' afraid to argue against a popular viewpoint. Challenging the way things have always been done has lead to some of our best decisions as a company.

What do you do to escape work and relax?

I'm not sure watching Tranmere Rovers counts as relaxing, but I do it anyway! I like to do things that are outside my comfort zone and have recently done challenges such as the 3 peaks and cliffside camping, but I also like more sensible things like snooker, travel and playing the guitar. I am currently trying to learn the piano, but new skills require so much more time to refine as you get older!

What ambitions do you have for the future?

Things change so rapidly at hi-impact and so, therefore, do my ambitions. A year ago I wasn't travelling much as part of my job and now I am away several times per month so I just look forward to seeing where the next 12 months take me!

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