Talking Tech with Ben Gilhespy of CDEMN

As physical events and meetings ground to a halt due to the pandemic, business networks such as CDEMN turned to tech to keep firms connected...


As physical events and meetings ground to a halt due to the pandemic, business networks such as the County Durham Engineering Manufacturing Network (CDEMN) turned to tech to keep firms connected, as Operations Director Ben Gilhespy explains…

Can you tell us a little about your role and what it involves?

As Operations Director I look after the day to day activity and direction of the network. This involves working with our members to determine their needs in order to identify how EMN can support them and who else they should engage with as either members or supporters to advance these. Currently whilst we can’t see each other as easily as we would want to this requires a lot of time on Zoom, Teams or making and receiving calls.

How was your organisation impacted by the pandemic and what changes did you make to ensure business continuity in the wake of the crisis?

The biggest changes were the loss of face to face interaction and being able to put people together in a room. We spent a great deal of time reacting to our businesses requirements and helping them understand the implications of the current and ever changing situation whilst supporting them through the minefield of new information, terminology and governmental help provided.

What impact did the changes have on your existing digital transformation strategy? Was it a matter of ripping up your plans and starting a fresh over night?

It gave us a nudge in the right direction to be honest. Helping us to look more seriously at our online profile, the markets perception fo who we were and exploring new methods of engaging using electronic means rather than face to face support.

Do you see any of the new technology/ process you embraced becoming permanent fixtures of the business as you plan for life post-Covid?

Whilst we long for face to face meetings we also recognise that the implementation of video meetings as a more accepted way of undertaking discussions will no doubt change how we support our members in the future. Our newly launched EMCONF webinar also proved hugely successful with more than 230 engaging. The ability to do this from your office or home allowed more attendees to take part and helped us realise that this could be an initiative worth continuing.

Did you put any new processes or systems in place to aid employee wellbeing?

Not really. We did however ensure that we didn’t spend all of our call and zoom / teams time discussing business.

Which of the new approaches would you say had the largest impact and why?

Definitely Zoom – a great tool and ideal way to engage on a wide range of topics with audiences from one or two to hundreds

What do you believe the wider impact will be on the sector going forward?

Obviously we cant really manufacture at scale from home so this will ensure the longevity of traditional factory workplaces. We do see a change to more flexible working for those office based and also more interaction with clients over digital media therefore reducing dedicated travel time making for a more efficient business model.

Research by the NCSC showed cyber attacks on UK businesses reached an all-time high during the pandemic, what measures did you put in place to ensure your networks were secure with so many people working remotely?

As a smaller business entity and one that doesn’t really manipulate data, we haven’t been required to undertake too much additional online security. Caution of course is always taken whilst engaging online especially where we see so many of our businesses susceptible to attacks.

What key lessons will you take away from the crisis?

Be willing to adapt to new ways to work and accept things that you cannot change.

How are you preparing for the eventual phasing of staff back into the office? Are there any new areas of technology you’ll be exploring as you look to the future?

We have worked in and out of the office throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so according to need. We do hope to see more client face to face interaction and events as the weeks go on. Software like Teams and Zoom have been a tremendous support without which we would have struggled so we are very thankful for these.

What do you believe the lasting impact will be on the way we work?

I believe that some meetings will still be held by digital means which will result in reduced travel and associated financial and environmental costs. I do feel that the knee jerk reaction that work will become more remote may not be quite as far reaching as many have believed or stated.

To find out more about the County Durham Engineering Manufacturing Network, visit:

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