Posted 16th January 2023
Business survival — digital transformation can future proof your business. During COVID and beyond, strikes and postal services have been affected. By helping numerous healthcare providers provide contactless prescriptions and consultations, our technology has allowed vulnerable people to access the medicine they need.
Aspart of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Taylor.
Thomas Taylor, Founder & Managing Director of electronic signature company E-Sign. He is an expert in digital identities, digital transformation, sustainability, security, eID and citizen services via government access. Thomas had led many digital transformation projects, including, most recently for the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and IT to play a key role in the project to shape the Palestinian digital economy.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I took my Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering and Manufacturing at Liverpool John Moores University, before designing and creating electronic submersible pumps for oil reservoirs, so my background is in engineering. Most of my jobs have been about problem solving and making something better. Whilst I was in the fire service working as a firefighter, I saw the inefficiencies with paper-based document processes and came up with the idea for my business and developed it from there. E-Sign is now 10 years old.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first pushed the platform live in the early days, I was doing some maintenance in the background on the SQL database, the raw brain, heart and soul of any platform. Usually there is a management interface over it so you can’t break the SQL, but in my enthusiasm to make changes, I overrode it and went straight into the database. I made a slip of the finger and I highlighted and hit the spacebar in a filename, which created a white space — an invisible character — in the code. The whole system went down. The developers worked around the clock for three days to try and find the error and an invisible character is hard to find! The valuable lesson I learned from this is patience — do not rush into doing things, especially where large data sets are involved when you’re not aware of the ramifications. Doing things quickly can easily lead to making mistakes. I’m aware of the huge responsibility now that our customers place in us to handle their data with the highest levels of security. And indeed, as the business has grown, we cannot afford to make any mistakes or have any downtime — our clients — who range from hospitals, universities and public sector organisations — don’t have downtime. We can’t be offline.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I started E-Sign, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in business. Rich Dad (entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki) explains how, depending on how you make your living, you belong to one four quadrants labeled with a letter: E, S, B and I. On the left-hand side of the plus sign are the E and S quadrants. The E stands for “employee” and the S for “small business or self-employed.” All my life I was an employee and never felt like a Director or a decision maker. I was very inexperienced, but I was lucky to be living in a city where there were incubators and places to help. One day, I
googled “help with starting up a business in Liverpool” and two people — Pacific Stream and Ray Haigh and Roy Jones came up. I contacted them and, to this day, I believe they were instrumental in helping me start this business. Ray did my financials and told me how to conduct myself and Roy helped me to write a business plan and guided me through everything and gave me a place to work. We started at Elevator Studios then moved on to Basecamp in Baltic Creative. They had a network of MSIF finance connections and other people in other universities that were helping nurture startups at that time. E-Sign is a product of all that. This has reaffirmed my desire to base the business in Liverpool and give back as much as we can to the local community. With that in mind, all our staff members commit two days / year of voluntary service to charities, we sponsor community rugby and football teams and we donated iPads during Lockdown to local schools.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I can recommend lots of really good books! I’m a really big fan of the For Dummies range, for example Marketing for Dummies. When you’re starting out, those books are brilliant as references. Our product was ahead of its time in terms of QR code technology, but one book that really helped me to understand the market and the requirement for what we were building was called Consumption Economics by J.B. Wood. Trailblazers by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce (whose dad ran a business out of the back of a Volvo estate car) helped us develop our Business Value Map process which is the framework for the whole business infrastructure. We often work with customers who ask us for one thing or think they need a certain solution — but they need something else. Our process helps us (and the customer) to understand what is really going on and spec out the requirements. My favourite book that really helped develop our product is Don’t make me think by Steve Krug and Rocket Surgery Made Easy by the same author is pretty good as well.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The business was inspired by the idea that there had to be a better solution for securely signing documents that was easier than paper flying around or waiting for a letter or important document to come to you in the postal service.
I’d had things go missing in the past, like finance documents or contracts that were time sensitive and critical. I thought to myself “there’s got to be a simpler way”. The idea was a digital solution that would replace what was a centuries old process — the postal service.
Watching Liverpool’s redevelopment and improvement over the years and its improvement influenced me — I thought “we can make things better”. When I was a kid, my dad worked for Royal Mail and I saw the struggles with that. I probably picked up on the frustrations. I worked for many years in the fire service and public sector, so I had a deep understanding of the challenges with inefficiencies of paper-based processes. The fire service also instilled a great sense of discipline — we always had to leave everything in a better condition than we found it — even after the worst fires we would clean the station so much you could eat your dinner off it — everything would also be pristine and perfect!
I have three sons and I always tell them to leave things in a better state than they find it. This is becoming increasingly important as the effects of Climate Change show, and I’m proud that E-Sign gives businesses a demonstrably sustainable solution.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We are working on digital transformation and citizen services for international governments in places like Ireland, the Middle East and the UK. A lot of governments and large enterprises have reached a similar point in their digital transformation journey where they need a higher assurance level on security and accountability.
An example of this is a project that we are delivering in Palestine for the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and IT to play a key role in the Digital West Bank project to shape the Palestinian digital economy. Funded by the World Bank, it will give Palestinian citizens sound digital infrastructure and access to digital services; as well as address education, health, agriculture and governmental services. Ultimately, this will enable the creation of a strong digital economy, contribute to reduction of poverty and the improvement of everyday life for Palestinians.
The other side of this is citizen empowerment; we’re empowering people to have direct control over their digital identity and use only select identifying data to access their services. We are creating the secure infrastructure to do that in many places across the world.
We’re also working on some high security projects in the UK that protect national infrastructure, as well as helping organisations to expand their digital journey and put more accountability on employees so that any documents can be traced and tracked.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
We often hear the words ‘digital transformation’ and think of this massive journey or organizational change. This isn’t the case. In its simplest form, digital transformation means taking a process in your business and using technology (often in the form of software, or complemented with a software) to improve that process with increased efficiency.
With E-Sign for example, we use our software to implement digital document management and esignatures. This can be a small process where a private landlord sends out tenancy agreements electronically and only needs to do this once or twice a year, or it can be for a global organisation that is digitising its document management processes at multiple locations, spanning thousands of documents. But the outcomes (both large or small) are the same… Improved customer experience, reduced costs and almost instantaneous transaction completion.
We have in-house digital transformation experts that map out client requirements and accompany them through the entire journey to ensure its success.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
We benefit every business and industry that is typing or writing or using documents or transactions that need accountability and security — which is every company and every industry! We help to digitise this approach and then we enable customers to build an ecosystem that will complement and work alongside their other digital services.
Additionally, since legal frameworks have changed, nearly every government recognised that they need to accommodate digital transformation and write it into their digital frameworks
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
We have so many stories, but here are a select few that we’re proud of:
We helped a nationwide pharmacy digitise prescriptions for clinically vulnerable people who can’t leave their houses, enabling them to access their medications.
We helped a global engineering brand with their long-term UK infrastructure for sustainable energy — giving them full control over their supply chain, due diligence and maintaining security and audit trail.
We helped the National Clinical Homecare Association (NCHA) adopt a digital approach to prescription processing, giving operational advantages, regulatory compliance, and improvements to patient safety. Prescription process time was reduced from two days to two hours (80% reduction) as well as:
One of the UK’s top universities now uses us to globally deliver documentation and the infrastructure platform to provide e-service and eConsent for clinical trials online for diseases such as covid-19 and Monkeypox.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The biggest blocker is if a company has grumblings and resistance to digital transformation internally, as well as interdepartmental communication issues / the presence of silos. We go in and break down the barriers, hand holding through the process to make sure that all departments are on the same page.
The other one is a lack of understanding of regulations within their industries — we have to educate them. This means having to be on the ball about every aspect of our industry and constantly researching changing regulatory requirements. I sit on eIDAS platforms and work with decision makers in legal frameworks to keep up to date with them — they change as quickly as software develops.
I’ll give you a bonus number 6! Sustainability. By adopting digital signatures, each day less and less trees are getting cut down for paper and there are less wagons on the road. We have a carbon counter that enables our clients to see how much carbon they are saving by adopting E-Sign. Sustainability is key for all companies now — whether in making net zero targets, or attracting younger staff members, or winning new business.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Not being afraid to embrace change. We have weekly roundtables with both our teams in Liverpool and the Isle of Man, where we all proactively come up with ideas to take the business forward.
Surround yourself by people who are brighter than you. Have respect and neutrality in your workspace that allows people to communicate and speak up when they think about a good idea. We give people responsibility, we allow everyone to take part.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favourite sayings is by the TV presenter Jake Humphrey, who said “never sit in the comfy chair” — try and push yourself to do different things. Don’t be lazy. I’m always telling my sons not to get complacent.
E-Sign is a leading provider of digital transaction management solutions, supplying professional services including Electronic Signatures, Web Forms, ID Checker, Verification Tools, Personalised Emails, API and Payment Processing to businesses of all sizes across the UK.
To find out more about our E-Sign solutions and how they could transform your business, get in touch with us today.