Opinion: Lines of communication

Sarah Putt calls for clarity in project pricing

According to Computer Society president Ray Delany the days of the “isolated geek” are numbered. I say good job. If you want success, you have to learn to communicate with your clients and you have to employ people who are willing to be accountable for communicating effectively. Two recent encounters with New Zealand firms – Lexel and Clarus – convinced me of this.

Following the sale of Axon/Integral to Datacraft, Lexel claims to be New Zealand’s largest homegrown ICT integrator. Founded by Chris Simpson in 1987, Lexel was formerly known as Computer Brokers. It was begun – as all good, true and noble IT companies are – from Simpson’s garage. It now employs around 135 staff and has an annual turnover of $35 million.

Simpson, who runs the company with his son Noel, says the company aims to employ 500 staff and achieve a $100 million turnover. An impressive goal for a private company, and whether or not a buy-out intervenes on their path to achieving it, only time will tell.

Being something of an industry veteran, Simpson made an interesting observation about the growth of IT. According to him, it continues to gobble up whole industries — first it was the printing industry (move to online), then telephony (move to VoIP) and now video survelliance.

As he’s well placed to profit from IT’s relentless expansion, Simpson had no complaints. But the area in which Lexel is seeing the most growth currently is professional services. Placing business analysts, technical writers, project managers and the like in an organisation, and enabling the customer to score their performance each month. If they aren’t happy they get a discount.

A couple of weeks after my meeting at Lexel, I caught up with Edwin Dando, from Clarus in Christchurch. Founded in 2006, Clarus is an IT consulting firm that specialises in Agile project managment. Dando says that while the company employs 12 permanent staff, it has on its books around 110 associate consultants working in Christchurch and Auckland. Customers include Trimble, Allied Telesis Labs NZ and Zeacom.

The Clarus approach is for a consulting lead to go into a customer’s business, introduce the form of Agile managment known as “Scrum” and then for an associate consultant to come along afterwards and spend the next few weeks or months at the company, helping to implement the system. Dando refers to his network of associates as “good bastards” – as in you’re at a BBQ and you want to know the name of a plumber or an electrician and someone recommends a “good bastard”.

Clarus experienced huge growth at the outset, growing 400 percent in its third year of operation. It now has a turnover of around $4 million, although a large percentage is paid out to the “good bastards”.

Dando says he thinks that Clarus’s success is due to its willingness to communicate with clients throughout the process – whether that’s developing a website, or implementing the Scrum approach to project management.

The project is broken down into parts with a series of deadlines that enable a client to reprioritise tasks as the project develops. It reminded me of a website I helped commission in a previous role. The developer asked for the specifications upfront and delivered the finished product a few weeks later.

When, upon delivery, I discovered a few things I wanted added, I was told this would cost almost as much as the original project to implement – all because I hadn’t asked for them upfront. (It still rankles).

Fry Up debate

While we were talking it struck me that Dando would make an excellent addition to our line-up for the Fry Up debate in Christchurch next month. We had originally planned to have it on March 1 but the earthquake in February meant it was delayed.

The moot is “Politics has no business in telecommunications” and Dando, along with REANNZ CEO Donald Clark is arguing that it does. Telecommunications Carriers Forum CEO David Stone and Jade chief innovation officer John Ascroft are on the opposing team. Should be good fun, so if you’re in Christchurch on May 10 come along – it’s free and The George in Park Terrace (recently reopened), serves a good breakfast. See you there.

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