Last week I was reminded that I have been working at Ten-25 Software for 21 years. Of course, I’ve been involved with the company far longer; my parents were two of the original founders back in 1981, so it has been a part of my life since I can remember. It took a while to get used to the fact that school friends’ houses didn’t have the ambient engine noise of the Starship Enterprise, emanating from an orange ICL System 25 the size of a fridge freezer! A lot has changed since then, as you would expect, but the rate of change seems to be accelerating in recent years.
Computing has certainly moved on a bit
We have seen a big shift it how businesses run their computer systems. It used to be that most of our customers would have a person, or even a team of IT people in place to manage day-to-day IT issues. Nowadays, almost all rely on Ten-25 to provide that service, and the systems are expected to to be far more self-managing.
The technology has obviously grown hugely in in things like speed of processors, RAM and disks, but interestingly in the move to mobile devices has seen them also become more rugged for business life. When I joined Ten-25, our contract stated that the server for the system had to be kept in an anti-static, air-conditioned server room; now, we all just merrily shove a phone with far more computing power in our pocket.
User expectations have changed immeasurably. When I finished my degree in 1996 I was the only person on my course with their own PC, and probably one of only a few at the University. Our customers used computers, or more often character terminals at work, but nobody had experience of computers in their home life. Now we all use computers, either directly as a desktop or laptop at home, or as a phone, car, TV, fridge – the list is endless. That shift has seen people expect the ease of operation they get from booking a holiday online or using a banking app to apply in how they use a trading system at work. Of course that brings its own challenges, but is an expectation that we have worked very hard to meet, especially in our latest system, UT400, which has the slick, user-friendly feel of an app coupled with the under-the-hood power of a serious piece of business software.
Printers are, and always have been a massive pain, and are so often the weak link in the chain of a system. We are starting to fight our way clear to less printed documentation, but I am sure we aren’t completely paperless yet.
Whilst the technology has sped ever onwards, customer expectations have evolved, I still see the essence of what our customers are looking to deliver to their customer today, the same as it was in 1997 – a great range of products, at sensible prices with the backup of friendly and informed customer service.
Not enough time
A big thing I’ve noticed is how busy everyone is. Everyone seems to be rushed these days, everyone is stretched a little thinner and has to work a little harder for the same outcomes. It’s a tough market, pressure to be leaner and more efficient is ever-present and that results in a lack of time. Time is such a valuable commodity – I hope those who have it are in a position to appreciate it! Again this is something we have consciously built into UT400 – time-saving automation and the capacity for faster, more usable insights to enable day-to-day functions to be carries out more quickly, and business-critical decisions to be made in less time but in a more informed way.
Hand in hand with a leaner business model so prevalent in the modern commercial world is a drive for less waste. Any extra margin that can be gleaned from existing stock or not wasted is vital and can make all the difference. I was delighted earlier this year when one of our long-standing clients said his business had managed to more than double profitability without having to increase stock-holding, purely from the analysis and reporting functions of the software. It was so rewarding to hear that our product helps in such a practical, valuable way, and has made me even more conscious of the need to prioritise these sorts of features in our new systems.
Sustainability and responsible sourcing are never far from the headlines at the moment and again, it’s something that has become more of an issue in recent years. Our industry is not alone in this of course, but it’s certainly something everyone involved in any supply chain needs to be on top of, from stock efficiency to logistics solutions. Seeing this trend emerge so prevalently over the last few years has driven a huge focus on stock management and operational efficiency in the software we’re developing, finding new ways to help our customers to do their bit towards greater sustainability and responsibility in sourcing and managing waste.
Streamlining processes / efficiency
Of course efficiency in the management of materials and stock is not the only area where a leaner approach is needed – employee headcount is costly for businesses and every organisation I know is constantly striving to hit the right balance between cost and service, ensuring that the greatest value for money is achieved throughout the business at every level. One customer recently reported that they had managed to automate so many administrative processes with the software that they had managed to convert an entire role from admin to sales – thereby making every penny of the HR budget work harder toward a more successful business, without reducing the overall number of people employed by the business. Every little step towards efficiencies of this nature is a benefit for businesses, and every business needs every advantage it can get in today’s competitive environment.
I touched on this at the beginning, but if there’s one standout feature of the last 10 years it has to be the exponential advances in technology which are now readily available and used in so many ways, every day, by everyone from toddlers upward.
Technology can be such a force for good when used properly, it can help and guide as well as perform functional roles that free up people’s time for the things where the human touch really adds value – the relationship-building, service providing, trust-enhancing side of the business that no machine can ever replicate. Technology is a powerful tool, not something to be feared, enabling greater efficiencies and insights at dizzying speed, meaning that business owners, managers, logistics teams and yard controllers have everything they need at their fingertips, reducing the margin for error, increasing efficiency and ultimately, enabling a better service to their own customers. Technology really can be your friend (and not just in a creepy AI sort of way!)
People are still so important
It’s easy to look at business efficiency at the expense of the human touch, but as mentioned above, there are some things machines simply can’t do. These days we are better informed about employee wellbeing and satisfaction, managers are more aware of the need for job satisfaction and the importance of employee engagement to boost not only productivity but also mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace. We all have a day job to do, but one thing we have tried very hard with in our new software is to make it as fun as possible – we even used a games designer to help with the interface to make it as enjoyable, intuitive and easy to use as possible, while making it simpler to see targets day to day, encouraging a healthy competitiveness and transparency of performance to both incentivise and reward progress every day. Excellence is always in the details – and no detail is too small to leave out.
The business landscape of the 21st century world is very different to how it was, in many ways. Of course some features remain constant, but it certainly feels like there’s more pressure, more competition and less room for error. We all need to be able to get the best value from the resources available to us, whether in terms of technology, raw materials or employees. Productivity and performance of both people and business seem to need to be set at a higher level than ever before. I’m so glad to work in an industry which is flourishing, despite its challenges, which still has that sense of camaraderie and teamwork that has always set it apart. No-one, no business, can be all things to all people, so understanding where we all fit in, and knowing the value of your own product or service to the right audience is always paramount.
I’ve seen many changes in my years at Ten-25, and I don’t doubt I’ll see many more. But as long as we continue with integrity, with good intentions, and with a responsible attitude to every resource, tool, material and person within our influence and the same commitment to excellent service, I believe we will continue to see growth, innovation, and great success.