Festival of The Future is a completely free, three-day virtual event hosted by Digital Dorset and runs in conjunction with Digital Leaders Week. Our Managing Director, David Lakins was invited for an online talk as part of the event.

Lisa Trickey, Service Manager Digital Strategy & Design at Dorset Council posed the Q&A over a Zoom video call. The interview covered lessons learnt working remotely as a team during lockdown, how we launched Holidaymaker App, a new digital product for the holiday park market, despite COVID19 restrictions, and how we support and develop local talent.

Watch the interview in full on YouTube:

Tell us a little bit about Key Digital…

I started Key back in 2007 in Poundbury. There was just me in one little office and I gradually grew the team as we took on more projects. We had two different homes in Poundbury before we arrived at Stowey House in 2018.

We are now 8 staff and we work on a whole range of digital projects from developing bespoke website solutions – whether that is building websites or getting involved in integrating our client sites with other 3rd party connections – we have been doing a lot more API development over the last 2-3 years.

Our tag line is “unlocking your digital potential” – a bit cheesy I know, but it does help us to focus on the real goals when we are working on client projects and campaigns. We might be running a social media campaign one day or SEO campaign for a client on another – and this just brings us back to focus on why we are doing things – making sure we have real objectives and measures in place – not just using digital for the sake of it.

We have a client list that includes local businesses like Dorset Tea, Palmers Brewery that has over 50 pubs and The Duchy of Cornwall. And we also have a long history in the hospitality industry with caravan and holiday parks – so that sector is a big part of Key.

What lessons have you learnt working remotely as a team during lockdown?

Everyone will have experienced the uncertainty over the last six months. I remember being up in the Lake District having dinner with a client when Boris announced the lockdown. We were in a hotel and suddenly there was a big commotion when he appeared on the TV. Fortunately, the hotel let us stay the night – but it was quite a surreal feeling at breakfast the next morning – not really knowing what was going to happen next.

We saw so much change over the first 3 or 4 months – it was very exciting to begin with – but also so exhausting. And I think it was the “not knowing from one hour / day” to the next that made it so tiring – ok, so it’s a new day, what changes do we now need to deal with?

The last six months has made me realise how important it is to try and be comfortable with change – rather than fight it – accept that change is going to happen and shift what we were doing accordingly. So, if we focus on what you can control on any given day. “Make short term goals, the next hour, the next day, the next week. Don’t worry about what comes down the line. However, it is important to have a Plan B just in case…

Our hospitality and tourism clients were hit pretty hard back in March – overnight half of our client base closed for business – and who knew for how long. That was a pretty scary time – but we coped. And then in July there was a surprise announcement that they were allowed back open – but with some new restrictions in place.

That was a frantic time – as suddenly it was all hands to the pump with our hospitality clients coming back online ….. The team coped amazingly well and delivered some exceptional projects. They launched a test and trace application for Palmers Brewery 55 pubs turnaround of a QR code solution within 2 days of the government announcement.

I am really proud of how they stepped up.

What role has technology played for your agency during lockdown?

One thing that struck me is that in most cases the technology worked … as lockdown started – we were all faced with the same problem of how we were going to communicate.

Several technologies took the lead > Zoom / Teams etc – but within a couple of weeks we were all au fait with using it.

In most case broadband networks functioned pretty well.

I think lockdown emphasised the importance of technology and how much we rely on it for our day to day work. We have VOIP phones and been using some collaboration tools for a while, but lockdown accelerated our own adoption in really using cloud technologies.

We use two – three key tools within the business Slack (for comms and collaboration) and Monday (project management tool) and Dropbox – and although we were already using those tools, they really have become a staple part of our day to day work.

How has productivity changed with remote working?

I have an incredibly talented team – a big shout out to Adam, Toby, Jamie, Jay-Jaye, Paul, Laura and Louise.

Lockdown proved the principle that we could work remotely and as a team we saw it as an opportunity to really try flexible working. Some of the team have young children that are at school, so they were juggling with home schooling and work.

As a business owner it did mean I needed to be more trusting of my team and empower them to manage their work in order to continue to deliver great customer service and still hit deadlines. We all know we have a part to play in ensuring clients are looked after.

I think the majority view was that we found ourselves just as productive in our home environments as we were at work.

Slack has been such an important comms tool for us – not only as a way for us to remotely collaborate on projects but also act as an internal notice board, social and messaging tool etc.

What about some of the other aspects of work life – such as health & well-being?

We started a phased return about 6 weeks ago and it became clear that although our collaboration tools had become critical to our remote working, there was still a need for social interaction.

As with most small businesses, we are a close-knit team and we have recognised that we miss the little things like conversations in the office, rounds of tea and coffee / McDonalds Friday and generally socialising out of the office.

We are doing 1-2 days a week in the office to meet face-to-face as small teams – keeping momentum going on projects and looking out for one another.

Beverley Holidays app

How did you manage to launch a new digital product to the holiday park market despite the COVID19 restrictions?

This is a product called Holidaymaker. There are two others on the call that have been instrumental in getting this product to market. This is a team effort – Jamie & Dave Mc – thank you for your contribution to this – because we never have got to where we were today without it.

Part of our longer-term business strategy was always to try and find a product we could develop alongside the main services of the agency.

Another income stream – and perhaps one that was not reliant on the agency

About 12 months ago a small group of us sat in our dev room – this is a great space with massive white boards on the walls. We started discussing the customer journey of a typical holiday park client and drawing on the walls. We had done some investigation work in this area a while back and identified that there was a gap in the market for the use of technology by a guest when they are actually on the park.

Jamie had recently joined us with really strong app expertise – and when we discussed different customer situations – he kept saying “an App will do that” etc

….and so Holidaymaker was born.

Over the last six months that concept has grown to not just being a downloadable app, but a full-blown platform. Holidaymaker is such a simple but clever idea – imagine adding content in one place (say your website CMS) and then it being pushed out to different devices or surfaces – so that could be your website, the app, digital signage, a tablet in reception or even voice activated devices such as Google Minis or Alexa.

It has been a baptism by fire as our first beta site has been a very large holiday park down in Devon. The day after Boris allowed tourism to re-open on July 4th we launched the app with them. They’ve had over 5,000 downloads of the app since it was launched, and the feedback has been phenomenal – 90% of guests are arriving at their park with the app already installed.

The app integrates with their booking system, they can upsell activities and take orders for food take-aways. Send out push notifications for special offers and they can promote their holiday homes for sale. Events, things to do, feedback and then encourage rebooking at the end of a guest’s holiday.

We have secured a 2nd holiday park in the Lake District and are in final testing of the app – and have more parks interested.

How do you market to something like the hospitality industry when they are facing such a hard time?

One of the biggest issues has been every time we demo it or talk to someone about – we come up with new functionality – so it is a case of trying to rein our enthusiasm in and build modules that are fundamental – but we have an ever-growing road map for the future.

So that has been a useful tool to show people that the product has longevity and they can see how it fits with their holiday park businesses.

I challenged the dev team to build a new interactive website to coincide with the beta launch of the app – and that has gone down very well. Holidaymakerapp.co.uk if you would like to take a look at it.

We would have been at the Holiday Innovation Show in November for the official launch – but that has been pushed back to March. However, we have some virtual events lined up.

We have been doing some good old-fashioned PR and managed to get some trade press and the local chamber of commerce magazine.

But we have also been trying to do something a bit different – more direct marketing..

We have created some cardboard cut-out iPhones with the app on it and mini deckchairs – that we are sending out to target parks.

How do you support and develop local talent?

I’ve tried to develop an agency where people want to come and work with us. And I am very lucky with the talented team that I have right now.

All of the team have been recruited locally – but it will be interesting to see how that might change in the future as we use remote working a bit more.

More than anything I want people to be adaptable – it is encouraging the team to experiment with things, try new advertising techniques or go off and learn how to programme an Alexa for instance. Try and identify people that are naturally inquisitive and want to learn new things.

Over the last 3 or 4 years we have run a number of technology-focused events – we call them Unlock – we have a panel of local business owners and we discuss – add a bit of networking and a glass of wine.

And we try to support local businesses as best as we can. We ran a number of webinars over the first lockdown – how to use social media for the first time and things like that.

All of those things really do help us to keep a strong local presence.

Thanks to Lisa and the team at Digital Dorset for interviewing us for Festival of the Future. Find out more about Holidaymaker App.