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Business spotlight: Innovative Technologies’ pandemic manufacturing plan

18 June 2020: Aisha Anwar is more than just financial controller at Innovative Technology Ltd, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. She explains how she’s managing such rapid change.

Ordinarily, being the financial controller for an Oldham-based, global technology manufacturer might be enough to tax the mind of a bright 29-year-old. But thanks to the worst pandemic to afflict the nation since 1918's Spanish Influenza, Anwar now wears many more hats than that title might typically infer.

With 82% of Innovative Technology’s 160-plus UK based workforce currently furloughed, including many in the finance team, the Manchester University graduate is tackling a host of other duties as well including HR, payroll, and a heap of multi-disciplinary admin-related tasks.

The company has also begun, on a relatively modest scale to start, producing PPE equipment such as BSI-approved face visors, both for commercial sale and donation to frontline COVID-19 keyworkers in the NHS. Anwar's role is a very different proposition than it was just a few months ago.

Remote working benefits

"Everyone's had the big shift to remote working which has been a bigger change for those who didn't previously work from home and particularly the director group who were maybe a little more resistant to it previously, but they are actually finding a lot of benefits to it, and I do think it will change their perception which will be really positive for the rest of the workforce."

Anwar believes this wider remote working trend will be supported by the firm for those who wish to embrace its freedoms, "but because of the manufacturing element there are actually more roles needed on-site than one might imagine, as it's not just the production team, but also the engineers who will need to support if something goes wrong."

This is partly down to the challenges of remote diagnosis of technical issues that cannot always be addressed by even the most creative uses of Zoom and where physical attendance will always win through.

On the manufacturing side, the bulk of employees are involved in product development, primarily its core product range of note and coin validation equipment, the majority of which are made at their factories in China and Brazil.

But the company's mechanical and electronic engineers and algorithm-focused data scientists are also working on a biometric image capture unit to be used for age validation in the gaming sector, and for self-exclusion; a hot button issue for the Gambling Commission for its ability to let people ban themselves from betting shops or casinos. 

Technology embedded within the finance function

And much like the company's technology-driven DNA, the finance function is no stranger to its advantages, as Anwar readily testifies.

"Given that its quite a techy business, everyone - particularly the FD - is really into getting technology inside the finance function, which is really nice, being able to automate a lot of the processes using a data switch integration platform to make our systems that historically had not been able to talk to each other, be able to link in. It gives us more control of what's going in and more real-time info and exception alerts."

Perhaps most tellingly, "it's meant that with the reduced workforce we can still operate at a good level" while forgoing the need to enter data multiple times or "pull stuff up laboriously to get the answers to the questions that the board are after".

"All of a sudden, it is about real-time information," says Anwar, "because it's seemingly changed overnight."

She confesses that despite dealing with their Chinese factory in Shenzhen having to close "a long time before" the coronavirus hit Europe, "even with that foresight, it was still quite a surprise."

In terms of cash-flow planning, Anwar uses scenario modelling to "make the board aware of what the crucial decisions are and how we think it will impact cash in the next month, six months, 12 months and outwards". 

Deep involvement 

It is this immersive element, and the thrill of working inside the heart of a business, that most appeals to Anwar. 

Having spent four years in practice at CLB Coopers in Manchester, where her talents were so admired by the FD at Innovative Technology Ltd – then, a client – that she was duly poached in 2017, a year after earning her ACA spurs, to her current role.

"In industry, you have true involvement in the business and play a crucial role in the big investment decisions," says Anwar. At the same time, she also enjoys "that level of detail of seeing things through to completion" as against "only seeing a client a handful times a year". 

ICAEW advocate

Anwar's a keen advocate of the ICAEW's nurturing abilities having been a past chair and president of the Manchester Chartered Accountant Students' Society. 

She is also a member of the NW Future Leaders roundtable discussion events, which she has found invaluable for the informal exposure it brings to the deep knowledge pool and opportunity face to face time with existing leaders across divergent fields and sectors.

"This is a great way to meet people outside of your firm," says Anwar, "especially as I didn't train at one of the Big Four firms, so there are not thousands of people to meet. It's also great to get those different perspectives from people who aren't trying to sell you a role or sell you anything, just genuine advice from people the ICAEW know that have been successful, and it's hard to find that yourself, I think.". 

Given her current trajectory, and apparent ability to soak up and apply such knowledge, Anwar is undoubtedly destined to rise still further up the leadership ladder.