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[ Question time: Margaret Fitzsimons ] Another thing electrical contracting firms will have to


think about is providing pensions for all their employees. By 2015, offering a pension scheme will be mandatory for companies of all sizes, so this will have to be taken into account in long-term HR budgets and plans.


ECA Today: What advances in new media will the electrical industry see in the coming years? Margaret Fitzsimons: The increasing use of mobile technology will cause a minor revolution in our industry. Last year, only four per cent of our users had a smartphone. I look forward to the results of our forthcoming research on the subject, which will no doubt reveal major growth in this area. This is the tool that all business people on the move, including electricians, have needed for years. With the smartphone will come a proliferation of applications – some useful and some not. Recent useful apps for our industry that spring to mind are the MK app, Draka’s cable calculation tool and, of course, Voltimum’s own app. Many more are in the pipeline. Watch out for the growth of QR codes. Today, some


of us use them to check in at airports using our phones and they have started to appear on billboards and in magazines. Soon everything will have them. It’s relatively simple to create and attach a QR code to printed or onscreen material By scanning the QR code with your smartphone a whole new world of information will open up. You can be taken to product demonstrations, technical data sheets, websites, app stores – all accessible on your phone. The possibilities are endless. Although there is nothing like face-to-face contact, I


believe that the industry will embrace webinars more and more to help provide the training required to support new technologies and new legislation changes. We have got to cut out needless travel and this is a clever way to do it. We use this technology extensively in Voltimum for short courses, pre-qualification for longer training courses, or for follow-up tutorials or refreshers. I mentioned earlier that the UK industry lacked its own


major trade fair. This is not the case on the continent where millions of pounds are spent on trade shows every year – particularly in Germany. In the future, new media will allow us to ‘attend’ those fairs virtually. In general, I would say that the industry is struggling with the concept of social media.


It’s a trendy platform


that is difficult to get right for business. My view is that today the corporate world is trying to elbow in on people’s personal networks, which is going to aggravate and alienate them. However, the concept of Facebook, LinkedIn or similar sites is great, and the formation of business groups or special interest groups within these channels is probably the way forward. Digital signage is one of the fastest growing media


in the UK. We are seeing screens pop up everywhere, including at the trade counter of leading wholesale outlets in the UK. These allow dissemination of key messages right to the grass roots of the industry. Voltimum now has its own TV channel, which by autumn 2011 will have 100 high definition screens at the largest trade counters in the country. Fed via internet and controlled by clever


scheduling software, it allows time- and location- specific messages to be played, as well as general messages to be transmitted throughout the network. The screens can now be made interactive through the use of QR codes and smartphones, which is a good example of technology ‘convergence’.


ECA Today: Why is it beneficial for electrical contractors to use this type of new media platforms alongside traditional ones? Margaret Fitzsimons: Keeping abreast of new developments is vital, so having 24-hour access to information on a website is important and receiving alerts via email ensures one is staying on top of things. New media is not only quick, it is also extremely visual, allowing film and animation to bring a message to life and explain difficult technologies or concepts. It allows us to respond quickly and easily as users. Being a business that produces messages, it allows us to evaluate interest in our products or services. More and more, it allows comment and feedback from other users – ratings, comments and testimonials can make or break a product or service. But contractors should not only be using these media


for acquiring information – I would love to see them used to promote their business and services, explaining about their expertise, boasting about their successes and winning new clients. The lack of marketing in contractors is an industry-wide weakness.


ECA Today: The ECA is one of Voltimum’s industry partners – what key benefits can ECA members gain from using the service? Margaret Fitzsimons: Voltimum is about having essential, work-related information in one place and keeping up to date with latest developments. It’s also about feeling sure that the information is from the best sources. Our partners, who provide the content on the site, are the electrical industry leaders and the acknowledged industry experts. We strive to make Voltimum the first port of call for everybody in the electrical industry. Contractors have free access to our online Product Catalogue with details of 175,000 products. They can choose from more than 200 courses in our ‘training’ area to help them keep on top of their game, and they can refer to technical articles and use calculation tools in our ‘technical resource’ area. We have a panel of experts, including the ECA, who answer technical questions by email, which then appear on the portal for all to see. What many people know us for is our VoltiNEWS or VoltiTECH e-newsletter, circulated weekly to 75,000 people in the UK electrical industry. It’s probably one of the most important ways for people to keep up-to-date with what is going on. Voltimum is a good way for contractors to get their


news out to the market too. We would love to hear more from them.


n Voltimum UK can be found at www.voltimum.co.uk, where you can register for free newsletters and full website access. Download the iPhone App at www.voltimum.co.uk/app


September 2011 ECA Today 41


In general, I would say that the industry is struggling with the concept of social media


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