Wednesday 18 September 2019

SMEs on building their companies by harnessing technology

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Jim Hughes from Innovate Photo: Tony Gavin
Sean Gallagher with Jim Hughes from Innovate Photo: Tony Gavin
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

'We enable our client companies to scale their businesses by harnessing the power of technology."

So says Jim Hughes, Innovates's CEO and co-founder,  when I visit him and his team in their headquarters in the Innovation Hub in Gorey, Co Wexford.

Set up in 2006 along with co-founder - and now CTO - Enda Cahill, the company employs 37 staff and this year turnover will reach €6m.

"We specialise in providing a broad range of managed ICT and professional services across four key areas," explains Jim.

"They are communications, which is about ensuring our clients have the right broadband and connectivity, and networking, which is about making sure they have the right on-site IT infrastructure, servers and equipment.

"We also specialise in cloud infrastructure and cloud productivity, where clients are supported in moving their data to the cloud - and to off-site data centres or a hybrid of both - and finally, security, which due to increased threats and impending regulatory compliance such as GDPR, has become a major factor for growth-focused organisations".

The company, which works with SMEs with up to 250 employees as well as larger enterprise-type clients, also provides contract staff on a company's premises or remotely in its own offices in either Gorey, Sandyford or Mullingar. This helps companies who have a need for short-term expertise or flex their numbers to complete a short-term project.

Among the company's larger client base are names such as Glanbia, DCC, Life Style Sports and Hertz while their SME clients include Campus Oil, Irish Greyhound Board, Kirby Group Engineering, Cully Automation and Barnardos.

Having grown up on a small farm outside Gorey, Jim Hughes always had the ambition to run his own business. After completing a degree in commerce in University College Dublin, he got a job in a firm that provided managed IT services. There he first met his future business partner and co-founder, Enda Cahill. From Enniscorthy, Enda had studied Computer Applications in DCU as well as completing a Master's of Science in Networks and Distributed Systems in Trinity College.

A published expert in wireless communications technology, he also worked in New York and London where he focused on network infrastructure, smart-card solutions and security projects in e-commerce and multinational businesses.

Enda's technical competencies together with Jim's entrepreneurial drive and passion were the perfect combination when both decided to set up Innovate in 2006. "From the very outset, our idea was to build a managed IT business based on a recurring revenue business model that was allied to the growth in cloud technologies," explains Jim.

While their core competencies are fundamentally rooted in IT and telecommunications, it is their commercial understanding of how technology can drive organisational strategy that has enabled them to stand out in the market. "Technology has the potential to transform organisations in ways you cannot even imagine, and our passion is about finding ways to unlock the value of IT to enable our clients succeed," stresses Jim.

What's also unique about their approach is that they have found a way to make world-class IT affordable. Rather than an upfront cost to clients, their 'as-a-service' business model packages all IT infrastructure, cloud, consultancy, managed service investment and contract staff into one single monthly operating investment - and it's proving a hit with their growing client base.

In 2014, Jim and Enda realised that it was time to strengthen their internal structures and invested in building a senior management team including hiring a chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief commercial officer and a chief marketing officer.

"This provided us with core competencies that neither Enda nor I had naturally and helped improve the overall corporate intelligence of the company. That gave us the structure and resources to scale the business," adds Jim.

As the business has grown, both Jim and Enda have tried to be mindful of the need to achieve balance in their lives. Both are passionate about GAA and their communities as well as spending quality time with their families. It was this that propelled them to base their company locally.

For that reason, too, they were instrumental in working with the local authority and other stakeholders to develop the tech hub and workspace in Gorey where they are now located.

"Moving to our new offices at the Innovation Hub in 2017 was a physical representation of our commitment to our team and to our community," says Jim. "It's what we call the concept of de-commuting - letting people know that their career and lifestyle will prosper by not spending hours every day sitting in traffic. We think that this model could revolutionise working lives in similar-sized towns around the country by supporting employees to abandon three-hour daily commutes to work in a local tech hub in their own area.

"In fact, some employees now even travel from south Dublin to Gorey, preferring the stress-free empty roads to the daily grind of slow-moving traffic. This allied to our family-friendly culture has led to a truly people-based culture."

"Being based here has allowed me to have a relationship with my children that I don't think I would have if I was on the road," insists chief marketing officer Mia O'Loughlin.

Gordon Jones, who joined the technical support team last year, said working locally turned his life around after a daily commute to Dublin.

"Living in Gorey, my wife Ciara and our three children now have a more family-oriented life. I can have breakfast with the kids which I never did before and instead of staring at people's brake lights for the next hour and a half of traffic, I can walk to work in 20 minutes or if I cycle, I'm there in six minutes. And I've also got to know more people locally. It's changed our lives," insists Gordon.

Jim's goal is to double the business by 2020. "We are now focused on developing further partnerships in the market, growing our services within our existing customers and acquiring new customers in the market," he adds.

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