The construction software company COINS is the type of mid-sized enterprise that George Osborne and Vince Cable want to see develop and grow. Fortunately for them, this one is.
If you are not in the construction industry, you can be excused for not knowing COINS. However, a little knowledge is worthwhile; COINS is one of those classic, hidden, middle-sized companies with international reach, strong IP and a clearly defined niche. It's profitable, growing and focused. In other words, the type of company of which the UK needs many more.
COINS provides the enterprise resource planning system for the construction industry. As founder and chairman Larry Sullivan says, “we are the hearts and lungs of the body of a construction company.” Approximately half of the purchasing orders of the UK construction industry are processed by COINS. “We know how to make their processes sing,” says deputy chairman Laurence Shaw. “We have 6,000 man years of industry knowledge in this company.”
So, think of it as the construction industry's specialist Oracle or SAP. Only it's not a software behemoth; it's rather more agile.
Which it must be, acknowledges Laurence Shaw. At its heart, COINS' product has been an integrated software package. That equals complexity, expense and a long sales cycle (typically nine months). In a flat UK economy, that's a tough sell right now. Growth in the UK, therefore, is likely to be incremental, selling additional aspects of the core product to an installed base of clients.
There are opportunities though. The pressure on local government to manage and maintain its empty properties better is a factor that will force adoption of the COINS software; so, too, is the requirement to measure and calculate the carbon footprint of buildings.
But strong growth will come from outside the UK. There's a land-grab for new clients. COINS has made significant acquisitions in the USA and is localising its product development to make more effective inroads into that huge and exciting market. There's an embryonic Middle Eastern business.
At the same time, COINS has to transform itself, to avoid being consumed by the new wave of change in the technology sector. The advent of the cloud computing model means that the old model of ERP implementation will soon disappear.
“We are moving from being a company that provides a software package to a company that helps its customers improve its business processes,” says Shaw. “We can't just concentrate on loading the software; our client programmes have to be transformational.”
For a company stuffed with clever software guys, this is quite a cultural change. But Shaw is optimistic. “We are changing the architecture of our product. We are focusing on customer care and service. We have to free up our people's time so that they can share and transfer knowledge with each other about our clients. We have to be a transformational partner.”