Meet Britain’s Digital Elite

We spent months looking for companies who stand out – not because of what they do, but the way that they do it. Four judges – including two entrepreneurs who made their names using technology to shake up industries – sifted through the deluge of entries in ten different categories.

Winner of our “Back-office Automation” category: Gallowglass

Visit Birmingham’s NEC to see the Kaiser Chiefs play and you’ll see the handiwork of Gallowglass. This Acton firm supplies a crew of 71,000 to 8,000 rock and pop shows every year, making it the music industry’s largest supplier of muscle power.

The company has grown fast since it was founded in 1998 by brothers Paul and Nick Grecian, and for the first few years it managed its accounts and bookings using separate software packages. In 2003 the firm decided it had outgrown its rudimentary infrastructure and wanted a paperless package that integrated all areas of activity. Theanswer was Microsoft’s Dynamics NAV, installed and enhanced by TVision Technology, costing £16,100 for an annual licence and £25,000 for the tweaking, training and switch over by TVision.

When a job is created, the Dynamics NAV automatically checks for good credit. If thereare any issues, such as an overdue invoice or insufficient credit, the operator is alerted at the time and a new job cannot be raised for them. Pro-forma invoices are created for each job and a crew cannot be booked to a job until the client purchase order number is entered against it. These simple controls were difficult to manage and enforce without an integrated system.

When a booking is confirmed it appears on an interactive whiteboard. Details such as venue, number of crew, number of hours and any special requirements are clearly visible. A simple traffic-light colour coding provides an “at a glance” view of the jobs that have been crewed and those still needing crew confirmed. This ensures that each job is promptly filled to the client’s instructions.

Management of each crew member is made possible through Dynamics NAV. Their availability and even their visa status can be flagged during the booking process. This is a vital development, replacing a haphazard paper-based system that required enormous manpower to oversee so many jobs. Feedback from clients is fed into the system together with job histories, so the Grecian brothers can keep an eye on productive – or unproductive – performers.

Nick Grecian says Gallowglass would have struggled to grow so fast without Dynamics NAV. “There is no doubt that it has contributed significantly to our growth by radically increasing efficiency and reducing the administration overhead. In 2003 we had 250 crew on our books and today we offer twice that number to clients. Our turnover has more than doubled in this time to more than £7m yet the finance and admin team has remained the same.”

Simon Hughes, director for small and medium-sized businesses at Microsoft and a member of the judging panel, said Gallowglass’s uses of Microsoft Dynamics NAV demonstrated the product’s effectiveness. “This company could not have grown so fast without the right technology. By taking the far-sighted decision to install software that automates much of the back-end processes, Gallowglass’s managers have been able to focus on the company’s core activities. You only have to look at Gallowglass’s impressive financials to see the impact of their advanced attitude to technology.”

Highly commended in the same category was MotorcleanCar valeting, a ruthlessly competitive business. Motorclean is the industry’s second-biggest player, with a £19m turnover and clients such as BMW, Pendragon and Inchcape.

To gain an edge over rivals, it replaced its paper dockets in 2005 with a touch-screen based reporting system created by Vali-data. The system allows each dealership to schedule jobs by date and time, and to analyse workflow using a simple interface. The valeters use the touchscreen terminals to take orders and report progress.

The system has saved Motorclean £15,000 per dealership, with over 300 dealerships switching to it.

Another commendable business was Access Displays.

Supplying display stands to large exhibitions, Access Displays was founded by Peter Bowen in 1990. It now offers 3,000 product lines to 12,000 customers.

Until April this year, Bowen and his 20 staff relied on primitive back-office processes. A single £100 order required 12 separate pieces of paper, including an invoice, order, job sheet and delivery note. So Bowen turned to IT consultancy Alliance Systems, which installed Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Now sales people can provide a quotation instantly, even while they are on the phone to the customer. This means that enquiries are converted into orders more quickly and consistently. The system even lets them attach pictures of items to the quotes. Needless to say, the paper dockets have been binned.

“What differentiates us from our competitors is not price,” says Bowen. “It’s about speed of response and giving customers what they want, when they want it.” He believes orders have risen 38 per cent due to the CRM system.

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