Highlights of my conversation with Dan Fairbairn
- Rolling out cloud solutions across franchises
- Analysing and improving business workloads
- The emergence of the cloud integrator
- Project pricing
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Heather: Hello and welcome to Cloud Stories. I’m your host, Heather Smith, and in today’s session I’m going to be speaking with Dan Fairbairn from Ocius Digital. Ocius Digital is a technical yet approachable, professional yet personable, casual yet dependable business. Their clients choose Ocius Digital because of their in depth experience and unrelenting commitment to solving the most challenging business problems.
Ocius Digital understands the obstacles and opportunities that small businesses balance each day, including the seemingly never ending demands on the directors, finding the time to work on the business and not just in the business, constantly seeking ways to minimise the administrative overheads.
Before I go straight and speak to Dan, I just want to let you know, thank you very much for everyone who has been downloading the shows. If you’re listening and you’ve been downloading the shows, I really appreciate it. We only launched recently and we’ve had a massive hit on iTunes downloading the shows. Thank you very much. Let’s get straight onto talking to Dan from Ocius Digital. Hello Dan.
Heather: Hi, how are you going?
Dan: Good, and yourself?
Heather: Good, thank you, a nice Friday night. Let’s get down to the important questions Dan. Who is your favourite super hero and why?
Dan: Oh my Goodness. Straight off the bat. Generally I’d say Batman but I don’t know if he’s a superhero. I don’t believe he has a power. I watched the Captain America films last night so I’ve been enjoying them as well. Good question, seriously good question. Right now I’d go Captain America but I can’t tell you why.
Heather: Okay, you look a bit like Captain America, don’t you?
Dan: I wish. Hopelessly optimistic but thanks for the compliment.
Heather: No worries.
Dan, can you share with us and our listeners what your business does?
Dan: Yes, certainly. Practically speaking, we do what is termed software implementation, which is a bit of a heavy title but it’s actually that we help primarily small business that don’t have or don’t need an IT department or similar but want to make a change in their business and usually are looking to bring in some kind of cloud software and usually something around Xero and its add-ons. For those guys that don’t have either a project manager or even someone with the resource internally, we work with them on a project basis to make sure everything goes in as smoothly as possible.
How do you define a small business, Dan?
Dan: It’s a bit of an interesting one. The majority of our clients probably sit anywhere from a sole trader one man band up to generally about, possibly about 15-20 people maximum. As a general rule we’re dealing with the director ourselves and we’re dealing with the decision maker ourselves. Generally it’s companies with one or a small amount of sites or a single site and usually it’s something that’s been born out of the current director starting the business. Whether it’s directly a family business or otherwise, it’s usually a self-centred business.
Why did you start your business? Maybe throw in when you started your business and why did you start the business.
Dan: The business kicked off what would be nearly 18 months ago now. We kicked off … we officially registered April 1st 2013.
Heather: Wow. You’re very new then.
Dan: Yes. We officially kicked off then and the first couple of months was really exploratory. We really started getting work pretty much as of the last financial year start. I’m sorry, as in Australian financial year start, July 1st.
Heather: Which is the 1st of July 2013 for our overseas listeners.
Dan: From there, we have pretty much run through and built month on month every month. Previously, for the best part of two years before that, or just over two years, I used to work for a franchise company in Australia that had a trades franchise and they moved from … they basically did the transition that a lot of our clients now do but on a much larger scale.
They moved from an in-house system that had been built to spec over probably 5-10 years that just wasn’t scaling to the level that was needed and actually moved to a programme called simPRO, which is one of the Xero add-ons.
That got me exposed to Xero, the product, plus the add-ons, plus the people in the industry associated with it. From the franchise side, I was heavily involved in the project planning and set out of that transfer which was across 100 plus businesses in all different areas of Australia. I was able to take that, pull that out and, practically speaking, do the same thing but with small businesses, one on one and directly with the client. We kicked that off. About 15-18 months ago officially got running and yes, every month since we’ve pretty much grown.
Heather: You were working as an employee.
You did a massive rollout and you realised that it was work you really liked doing and you launched yourself as your own business?
Dan: Yes, pretty much, almost exactly that. We did … obviously the project that I did on an employee basis for my last employer was, practically speaking, was the same as we do with our current clients but obviously on a much larger scale but it gave me an insight into the nuances of what’s there and what I enjoy in it and also gave me a lot of exposure to people within the industry, both Xero employees, Xero add-ons, partners, and I moved around. Several people commented on the skillset that I have.
My background is … my degree is Business Management so neither I nor any of our guys are IT guys, technically. Actually, we tend to find it comes as more of a positive because we tend to come to things from more of a business approach. The technicalities of setting things up are, without sounding flippant, they’re not entirely difficult. The skill is really finding business workloads, finding why people do things, how they do things and working out work flows from that point of view for the client, more than actually just getting information in and starting to run.
Heather: The term that’s thrown around in this industry is cloud integrator and Xero has its own certification programme for cloud integrator.
I’ll just throw that out there but that’s essentially what you’re doing in the business, would you agree?
Dan: Yes, absolutely. That’s our, I suppose … I mentioned software implementation before, cloud integration is, yes, you’re right, primarily the skill we bring to it and that’s specifically what Xero terms it because … when we first kicked off, there was a bit of discussion with Xero because we had a business that didn’t fall into a category. We’re not developers, we’re not bookkeepers, we’re not accountants. What do we do? That’s slowly seen.
The cloud integrator channel from Xero’s point of view was officially recognised late last year and has grown since that as accountants have slowly realised and bookkeepers and financial planners as well, in the same respect that you don’t really want me doing your financed, accountants and bookkeepers, I think, are realising that there is an opportunity here to work with a specialist to give their clients better software and better options and better insights to allow them to go and do their job much more efficiently.
That’s the channel that we’re termed under and where we’re now is essentially … we have a fair size of the market but of a very small market. It’s still largely under-recognised. It’s getting bigger pretty much every week, I think, especially with, at the time of chatting now, with Xero Con pretty much coming round the corner. I think …
Heather: That’s the Sydney 2014 Xerocon for people listening in, sorry. Yes?
Dan: That will shine a light on our emerging industry. Certainly there is a bump up from the last February 2014 Roadshows in Australia and from there because I know Chris Ridd MD of Xero Australia obviously mentioned integrators a lot on stage and that was brought in as the real channel. I think we will start to see that again coming into the end of the year after Xero Con.
Heather: Yes, it is interesting. Xero has defined these three categories and Australia has the three categories very much defined but many of us, myself, I’m a management account so I don’t neatly fall into either of their categories because I’m neither an accountant, because they deem that to be really a tax accountant. It’s trying to squeeze yourself into something that people know.
I was questioning someone’s business card the other day which was all about cloud and I was like, “Do actually the people that you’re trying to get on board know what that means?” Yes, we’re at the cutting edge trying to explain what we actually do and how we can actually help them.
With what you’ve just shared with me, I’m going to jump ahead and ask the question, what advice would you have for someone wanting to provide cloud integration services to a franchise organisation?
Dan: I suppose that would depend very much on not so much the type of organisation but the scale of organisation. Since leaving the last role I had and since setting up Ocius, we have dealt with a few companies who are either just at the stage of looking at franchising, just have franchised or even are of a small scale but it’s on their radar for growth.
One of the beauties of cloud software and web software in general is scalability. Both, I suppose, in two senses. One, that you can have the likes of Xero and some of the common add-ons, such as Vend, Inventory add-ons, WorkFlowMax for project management that will grow with you.
In other words, if you have two employees today and you have ten employees in six months’ time, you don’t need to suddenly change everything that you do but also the nature of integration is that you can get information in and out of systems fairly easily. We’ve given that advice to quite a lot of people that are looking at getting some kind of system and our first advice really is to get one. It sounds a little bit silly as a piece of advice but a lot of people, especially at an early stage, stress over the ifs, the buts, the maybes, and take longer and longer to get into something.
Thinking in the older fashion of choosing an application, setting up a server nuts and bolts and everything screwed down and we can’t move. Whereas, in fact, we have even had some clients that we’ve set up a particular software with and then moved them on three months later because the business has scaled that quickly. It’s really not a difficult thing to do. There are some core things to think about and some franchise specific things which will vary even country to country or around data soverenity or data protection, who owns the information, if you’re a Master Franchisor or how much control do you have over the information?
That’s another one that’s best not for us to advise on, that’s more of a legal advice. From a systems point of view, absolutely the core advice is to have some kind of system. That’s your selling point without making it already as good as the matter in your head.
Heather: What I’m finding, and I haven’t dealt with that many franchises yet but I’ve dealt with business coaches and their calling me in, I’m doing the full setup and I’m just replicating that over and over again. Then as the business coach there, monitoring the system and they have all this cloud access to monitor the system from the sidelines and I just go in and duplicate what they want to whomever they want, which … with the cloud solutions, the business coach can sit in the background and monitor the financial results and then prompt them along and coach them along, which is always.
Dan: Yes, absolutely. You’ve got some frankly spectacular tools on the market, like the add-ons and things that could pull information from a range of sources and provide reporting and data that’s not unheard of but five years ago you would have been dreaming about. Your franchisees will continue doing their job day to day but the power of what you get as a Master franchisor are the analytics. It’s spectacular in some cases on how you can lay it out. I think even for some people looking to bring on franchisees like that, I think that’s something worth opening up to them.
Heather: It’s a selling point.
Heather: It’s a selling point that I can look at your data and tell you you’re not hitting KPI’s or that your KPI’s, you’re so far out of them there is something wrong, you need to be adjusting something. It’s a selling point if you’re managing and at least when you go into a franchise, you want them to be involved. I guess that was my concept of why you would go into a franchise.
In your business Ocius, how many staff do you have on board at the moment?
Dan: Currently two. We’ve got two and we’ve got … sorry, we’ve got two plus we’ve got a marketing consultant on retainer as well. We’ve got two employees. Myself, as I mentioned, started this over a year ago now. It slowly grew from being … I didn’t start it with another role on the side but it grew from I suppose client facing taken up 5-10 hours of my week to taking up 40, 50, 60 hours of my week and we have taken on … a couple of weeks ago we’ve taken on a graduate project manager to effectively replicate what I do.
From clients that come in with no idea what’s in the market or what they want to do and breaking down what their business is and what they do currently, to getting everything set and ready to go, providing support and so on. Yes, that’s a graduate project manager. We will be looking, based on growth currently, we’re looking to recruit again fairly quickly in the New Year. Then potentially again if everything continues straight through, probably then again. Hopefully turn of financial year we will probably be at least four people. Touch wood.
Heather: It’s good and bad growing. There are so many learning curves that come with growing. You help a lot of businesses move to cloud solutions and you’ve talked about the type of businesses that you look at to move into cloud solutions.
Do you perceive that there are any businesses; let’s pick Australia, that shouldn’t move to a cloud solution? We’re looking at a business that we would define as small that shouldn’t be moving to a cloud solution.
Dan: Not particularly that you can define, to say industry X or size X or whatever. I think some of the core things to look at … of the projects that we’ve run using the 80/20 rule. If we were to look at the 20% that would’ve been tougher for us to implement, generally those that we’d struggle with would be those that just struggle with the process naturally. A business that runs on everything in one directors head, or everything in one person’s head, that’s always naturally a struggle because you can’t teach a system to somebody that’s naturally human. If that makes sense?
Dan: Everything is based off … if you have a company that says, “We charge $X an hour for this kind of work and $Y for this kind of work and we have clients like A, B, C,” that’s naturally very easy to systemise. If you have someone that says, “We charge $X but if it’s sunny we charge more and if we don’t feel too polite we charge less and if it’s raining we do this, and on the second Wednesday of the month we do that.” That’s impossible. No one person can ever understand it let alone the system. That’s some of where we get involved from a scoping point of view to say to people, well there needs to be some rules. Love them or loath them, the McDonalds of this world who made a billion dollar empire out of restaurants run by 15 and 16 year olds because of processes.
Aren’t McDonalds in the business of real estate and not burgers?
Dan: Yes. It’s an interesting one. Certainly, I’m always cautious with clients about comparing to the McDonalds of this world because a lot of small businesses don’t want their employees to be monkeys and don’t want their employees to be robots but processes are good. Obviously there should always be some element that people can step outside them but otherwise, it doesn’t really matter what you do in your business. Something is always going to stop at your door otherwise. Yet naturally, that’s the biggest struggle. Certainly in Australia. We’ve had some interesting things outside.
We’ve had some queries from people on other things worldwide on things like data sovereignty and people that are in specific industries where certain core partners or suppliers don’t believe they’re able to be cloud based because of sovereignty of information and things but, again, that’s more of a legal standpoint and it’s something we tend to get advice on rather than involving ourselves in.
Heather: Absolutely. As an implementer, you don’t necessarily have control over sovereignty because the solution could be stored in rack space in the US and then overnight move to rack space in Sydney. You don’t actually have that control unless you’re putting it remotely on a server but if you’re plugging into a solution you don’t have that ability to do that.
Dan: Yes, absolutely.
Heather: Let’s think that I’m very dumb.
Can you go through and explain to someone dumb like me how you come into the business and map out a workflow for my business?
Dan: Okay. I suppose, for those clients that we work with at what we call the earliest point, a client that speaks to us and says they’re not even sure what’s in the market in a lot of cases. Most of the clients that speak to us or most of our prospects that speak to us at least know what Xero is. That’s usually what’s driven their conversation, whether it’s they’ve found out about it themselves or their accountants recommended it or quite often another small business they know or an associate has recommended it.
Heather: Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of recommendations come from small businesses. Good on them. Champions.
Dan: Probably a majority of our prospects, they have either heard of Xero from somebody like a competitor, in a lot of cases. There is a lot of competition in industry, all competition talks. Or supplier business coach, those kinds of involvements. Usually they know something about what Xero is, if not what add-ons are. I still think a lot of people from client side, not so much from accountants and bookkeepers need an explanation of some of the differences between cloud accounting and Xero as opposed to the old …
Heather: Like a desktop solution?
Dan: Yes, exactly. Mainly, I suppose, that’s around Xero providing pure financial accounting, tax compliance, payroll, those things and then using the nature of add-ons for your business specific tasks. Often that’s the first explanation for people. Then we generally, in our products, we go through 3 or 4 phases. Scoping first of all. That can take any amount of time, again, depending … what we went back to earlier about how many processes people actually have and how watertight they are.
That can take the form of a couple of hours just discussing what someone does, how they do it, how they get information, where they store information. Let’s take the simplistic example of a wholesale company. Do they have a warehouse? Do they have two warehouses? Do they have production offshore? Who are their suppliers? In a lot of cases, do they have … obviously they have to have accounting currently for compliance but do they have …
Heather: You would assume that.
Dan: When a prospect says they’re not sure or they don’t know, that’s another key for us to take one step backwards because we’re not accountants. Do they keep inventory in there or do they run it through direct sale or another system. All of these questions will drive us in different directions and obviously that’s the skill of what we’re offering, the ability to narrow things down on that point rather than having to try four different ways of doing something to try and find out the answer.
That’s the nature of what we do. I find myself, historically the way most IT projects are run are … an inventory company for example, people will give them an inventory solution, run the entire thing through, set everything up, go in and train the clients, let them go live and then turn around and go, “These are the 15 reasons it doesn’t work”. What we try and do is basically reverse that so that we do all of our testing, all of our training, all of our workflows with real information but before our client goes live so that almost the last thing we do is process the information and turn the switch.
Heather: Yes, absolutely.
Dan: It’s one core part of it and it’s where, I think for those people that get let down by software or underwhelmed by it is where it’s not been implemented correctly and they’ve just gone in with a Chinese whispers understand of how some things work only to find out that’s not the case.
Heather: Yes. I think that … because I come across messes and you probably do too. Investing in someone who knows what they’re doing and who has a proven track record in the beginning I think it’s really essential. I’m not sure whether you do dense so let people know if you do. Sometimes if you’re new and starting out in this area, call an expert who will actually work with you. I know that I go in and do the work but the client may actually think someone else is doing the work because I’m doing it as a ghost worker. That sounds a bit strange. I don’t know whether you work … if a bookkeeper or an accountant comes to you, do you work with them Dan, or is that not something you like to do?
Dan: No, we do in both cases. The majority of clients, we work with the end client and we’ve got a variety of accountants and bookkeepers both in Melbourne and in other cities in Australia that we work with. As a general rule, we actually recommend them that the relationship is clear to the client because I actually think it’s a sell in through the client to say … for the same reason I’m not going to … if someone asked me for a trial of account setup or things like that, I’m not going to pretend I’m doing it because I’m vastly unqualified to do it.
That said, we do have larger accountants that get us involved as they get, for example, a quarterly catch up with their client or similar, and we will just sit in the corner as an employee of the accounting company and sit and give our thoughts and offer a professional insight. We take both legs. Obviously with the four projects we run, we run them under our name but absolutely there are plenty of …
Dan: Yes, absolutely. Plenty of accountancy work.
Heather: Maybe we can coin that term.
Dan: Copyright it.
Heather: I do think people should bring in team members to do the project implementations. I know I did one the other day with someone and there were six other businesses in there doing the collaboration on the integration and that was fine. It happens very quickly and you’re in there for a few hours and you’re out and it’s done.
I also think one of the things that business owners need to be aware of, maybe you agree or don’t agree with this, when we come in and do and implementation, it may mean that some of their processes need to be refined and simplified and … I don’t want to use the word changed but made better, which is even worse. What would you … do you agree with that? I don’t have my dictionary handy.
Dan: No, I understand your hesitation there but I would 100% agree and with that phrasing especially. Of a project we run for a client, probably 80% of our time, take out training and things we do at the end but 80% of our time is actually involved in the analysis work and that side of things rather than the actual core of pushing information around and doing things. We’ve got … I don’t have it in front of me easily and I don’t want to get distracted by the computer but we’ve got … we just moved office and we’ve got a vinyl going on the wall which is a quote from someone who I can’t recall.
Heather: We’ll put it in the show notes.
Dan: exactly the point I’m making here… The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘We’ve always done it that way’. [The quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper] We fall over that all the time. It’s another one alongside what I mentioned before about not having a process. That’s one of the things we’ve, certainly for our grad who started and for clients we work with and accountants we work with, if someone is not going to drive change and someone is not going to push things, there is absolutely no point in doing things.
You mentioned people that don’t have accounting almost, there are a fair few people that you’ll see as well, and I’m sure, moving onto Xero almost from spreadsheets. Their processes will have been born out of 15-20 years of using excel and the things it, in fact, won’t do rather than the things it does well. That’s a fairly common thing where – frog in hot water theory. Someone forgets the reasoning why they actually do something in the first place so they just assume that it’s the way it needs to be done.
Heather: Yes. I think, you mentioned it earlier but I think if advisors are going into this role and they can actually draw a quite simple flowchart to demonstrate to the client what they’re actually doing, they can actually typically eliminate some of the processes. The reason we’re doing this is to save them a massive amount of time. I know that I helped a client implement Deputy, the staff scheduling solution and it just saves so much time and it was so simple to implement.
He went and did it by himself after that. He didn’t even need me to help him. It was so simple. I was like, damn you. It does save a massive amount of time. You might have already answered this but let’s just go through and maybe get some dot points on this.
When you’re looking to move a business to a cloud solution, what preliminary checks do you go through? You said that the client needs to be open to change and to have some processes on board. Do you look at their internet connection?
Dan: Yes, certainly. From our … if we’re talking, as opposed to what should a business think of, if we’re talking of what do we think of when we work with the client or start with the client? Yes, absolutely. There is the site that they work at, in terms of the physical location, absolutely internet access is a key. That said, it’s becoming, I would actually suggest less and less important every day because the natural … Australia aside, the natural internet speed around the world is increasing and the actual, the requirement on internet for web software is pretty much decreasing.
A lot of people will ask the question of us very early about internet speeds, under a misconception that because Xero or the associated add-ons are web based that they need to have some kind of connection that would make government agencies jealous to run it. In fact, there is only very basic information being transferred. In a lot of cases where we go, I would say the larger proportion of our clients if we see them onsite either don’t have Wi-Fi or don’t know the details offhand and we end up doing everything that we do just off of mobile.
Dan: That speed is pretty much fine. There really is minimal concern now. Your main thing is actually not so much the speed, it’s dropouts and even they’re becoming less common. I’ve had a few clients in situations that have said they have internet that can be a bit problematic at times and usually for those we just recommend, whether you physically use a phone or whether you have a little mobile hotspot or dongle or whatever, if you’ve got one of those available as a spare, that’s usually more than strong enough, especially now that each capital city pretty much supports 4G, which for example, in the case as I mentioned before, we’ve just moved office. In our office we used to be at many moons ago, in fact 4G mobile internet was faster than our landline internet.
Heather: Really? Okay.
Dan: Yes. In most cases it’s not too much of a consideration.
Heather: Okay. Well, that’s worth knowing. We, here in Brisbane, we had this suburb built, part of it, which is a new suburb in Carina and part of it was built with no underground cable connections and no overground, no underground. Everyone is dial up and a number of my clients actually moved to this particular area, it’s not the whole of the area, but moved to this particular area and they just went crazy and they actually had to sell the house and move out. It’s interesting that you say Wi-Fi is getting better so it shouldn’t be a problem hopefully for people.
Dan: Generally not and some of those core programmes like the … some of the add-ons that work, for example, Vend obviously works through retail where there is a requirement, you must have your software … obviously we like to think for every industry you need to have something core to your business but in those cases, for example, Vend, it will also cash locally as well. If your internet connection drops out in operation for 10-15 mins, whatever it might be, everything just collects locally and when your internet connection comes back up, it sends everything back up again. There is lots of mitigation you can do around impact.
Now, when a business approaches your for work, do you provide them with a quote or an estimate up front? If so, how do you go about calculating that?
Dan: Yes, absolutely. Generally our work will run in one or two distinct ways, which is either quoted or hourly. It’s usually defined by how far the client is, I suppose, through the life cycle.
Heather: Of the implementation? Is that what you mean?
Dan: Yes, and in fact we have quite a few clients that come to us that have almost finished the implementation or have a product but never really implemented it. For example, a client that may … let’s go back to the last example, they may use Xero and use Vend in their retail store but it’s never really been set up properly and they’re now questioning how things have been done and so on and so forth. Those clients, we see no option apart from to run, at least in the interim, hourly because as you know with similar things yourself, with rescue missions you never know what you’re going to come up against.
In most cases, we can usually, being cloud base offer, we can usually get access in advance and at least advise what areas we can cover in what sort of time frames. For our projects where we obviously scope, set up and support everything, absolutely it’s all fixed fee. The nature of … there are lots and lots of articles around it and I’m sure you’ve seen it in your industry or your business as well but the nature of financial planners, accountants and bookkeepers is moving away from hourly rates and more into value based processing.
We’re no different. A client … I don’t believe and certainly I’ve not seen the market will sign off on hourly rates because as we go along we may find things we don’t expect. The client can’t be expected to bring up every single dot point with us at the scoping session. We’ve got set definitions of the price and time of set-up whether it is Vend, WorkFlowMax, Xero or whatever it is. Some of the key things we look at from a scoping point of view are where their information is help currently, how clean that information is.
It’s about the most common thing that causes us problems is if the information is not clean. There is a fairly age old rule of something in something out that I won’t go into here but everyone is aware of it, it causes us problems with implementing. Those are the things we usually look for and make an estimate of, as well as what a client wants to bring into the system. In almost every case for projects we do, the clients need training, understandably. They want some support and they want basic information set up but then we look at for example if you’re saying job management.
Do you want to bring in the jobs you have at the moment that are partway through? Do you just want the core information or do you want timesheet history, purchase history, all of those things? They will naturally affect our pricing. We go off with that initial session, and to be honset, and of course we win some, we lose some. We provide that to the client on an all in basis when we quote. When we have a scope there, if there are things that weren’t spotted or things that are a little bit left field or the client has something else they want to handle, we will do anything and everything to involve that in the scope.
It’s not the construction side of things where everything is a variation, aside from the fact the client tells us that they trade in South America or something stupid. Then of course we will cover anything and everything that we can at that point.
Heather: It is very difficult on these bespoke solutions because everyone you go into is different. I did an implementation yesterday and it was going swimmingly and I was like Xero hero. I then went to import the contacts and there were thousands of contacts and you can only import a thousand at a time. Then all of the contacts email addresses were incorrect. I was going, “Argh!” There were thousands of email addresses that didn’t have .com on the end of them. You’re going along and everything is fine and just fixing up that could be two hours’ worth of work in the data fix-up, going through and checking it all. It’s very frustrating when you’re trying to quote people and you’re trying to be fair to them.
Dan: It’s really difficult as well because understanding from the client’s point of view, you don’t know what you don’t know. We have terms in our quote around the core information that we currently have and put it in as is. We can’t make things up that aren’t there, we can’t make things that don’t exist but obviously a client isn’t to know, for example, that a field doesn’t exist or in that case … we’ve had similar, we’ve had clients, for example, that bring contact information in and in their old system, some staff have put, for example, you mentioned Carina earlier as a suburb, some people will have put Carina in the suburb field, some people have put it in the city field.
Heather: Yes, and we’re going, “What are you thinking?”
Dan: Which is right and which is wrong but those … those are the things that if we said we would bring contacts in, we will do it and we will work around those things and we’ll clean those things and do what we can with them. Again, this is … I go back to talking about traditional projects and doing all the work and then testing it at the end and finding out it doesn’t work. This is what we try and do at the beginning. Generally with clients, we will get a test system and bring in some sample information. We will just grab five of their clients, five of their suppliers, a few of their costs, push them all in and then give them access to say, “Is that what you expect?” because I’ve found historically you can play huge games of Chinese whispers.
In fact, I was talking to a client this morning about it because, the simplest example, they asked for a particular report showing their overdue invoices with a particular filter. That’s an example of something where we will produce the report, print the screen of it and send the screen shot of the client to say, “Is that what you want?” because one person can sit on the end of the phone describing something and the person on the other end paints a picture in their mind that doesn’t even look close to it and that’s one of the most common causes of issues for people, I think, when they try and either implement themselves or they see a feature on a website, expecting something or whatever it might be.
Heather: Yes. I do find that sometimes people think that everything is going to happen magically for them and they contact you on the 25th of June and they say, “What are all these things that are unreconciled?” It’s like, well, you needed to be working on that. Anyway, you’ve mentioned a few add-on solutions as we’ve gone along.
Can you, for our listeners, sum up what SimPRO does?
Dan: Yes, certainly. simPRO is one of the add-ons around Xero. I think at last count Xero is over 300 now. Add-ons in various spaces for all kinds of industries and even some holistic things like payroll and HR and other things as well. simPRO is a trade software. Its primary target is people in larger trades, electrical, plumbing, and also some of the heavy service trades like fire, air conditioning and things like that where you may have 200-300 jobs a day. Think of, for example, the commercial side of someone that’s doing fire testing but there are 400 fire alarms to test in that building.
Heather: Okay, yes.
Dan: It’s highly customised software. It’s almost what, listeners may not know, what you would class as ERP software. Rather than just having one area, for example, it tracks jobs or it tracks people. It will do contact management, lead management, newsletter emailing, retentions, solar credit’s for Australia, all kinds of different areas. The franchise company that I used to work at was electrical and plumbing and they used it there. The targets at the moment, it’s not one man band, guys running around mowing lawns and washing windows and things, it’s primarily larger business structures, and it’s based out of Brisbane over here as well.
Heather: Okay. Yes, it is. It’s based quite locally to me. It’s just down the road from me actually.
Can you share with our listeners what Vend does?
Dan: Yes. Vend is another option, another Xero add-on as we mentioned. Vend sits in point of sale. Vend is the web alternative to the age old till system siting in the retail store that you’ve had historically. I suppose you could look at that old way of doing it, you would have a till system in a simplish form that you’d just type numbers into of ‘that was $2, that was $5, that was $6’, and at the end of the day you’d get a total and hope that you bank that amount of money. Vend is web based so it has all you product information in it. It has items in inventory.
It also has really cool things that you can do like loyalty programmes, plus it also has, for those people … we’ve just implemented it to somebody who has 5-6 stores around Melbourne that then is going to so a similar thing to what we talked about before, which is doing some reporting across the entire entities so they can see which stores are selling products, which products are moving in which stores, and inventory across all stores.
If a customer walks into one of their stores and they don’t stock a particular product, they can see what everybody has. Those are things that the larger retail stores have traditionally had all around the world but they’re now accessible to the smaller businesses as well. In some cases they’re even used in small coffee shops, even pop up stores now. Pretty much all you need is an iPad and preferably a receipt printer of some kind, and you’ve basically got a shop.
How can an add-on solution promote themselves to Dan Fairbairn?
Dan: Add-on solution wise for us, as I mentioned before, our projects are quite engaged with the client so when we do a quoted project we’re working with them for usually somewhere 4-6 weeks and we’re not quite fulltime but we’re doing a lot of work over that period. We have got a huge amount of trust in there. From our point of view, for add-ons, it’s really … the proof is in the pudding. The add-ons we work with, we’re not partnered with the 300 add-ons that Xero has, neither do we want to be. I would pretty much need 300 staff. We keep to the core products in each industry as well as some other things that work holistically, like HR and admin and things like that.
Yes, for us it’s more around … I won’t say products that wok but what you’re able to do with them. Most of the products that we work with are quite customisable. In other words, if you don’t have a field of information that you need or don’t have a way of capturing something that’s in how you do your business, there are ways of making it work and there are ways of reporting things. For some of the key add-ons, if you put information into it, you should be able to report it out in a way that’s meaningful to you.
From our point of view, when we’re chatting to add-on partners and some of the guys that work with Xero and similar, that’s what we’re looking for to go, “Well, this is not something that is going to fit one business that may come to us once a year. This is something that can …” as I mentioned earlier, our skill is tailoring things to particular businesses. There is no point in us having a product that will fit one person once a year. We want something that is highly customisable.
Heather: Okay, excellent.
Your final question for this session, Dan, what advice do you have for a 17 year old who is just leaving school and he wants to be the next Dan Fairbairn and go into business and become a cloud integrator? What do you think he should do?
Dan: That’s a seriously good question. I was waiting for you to go, the next Steve Jobs or the next Bill Gates or something. You’ve thrown me off there.
Heather: Well, not that they’re not aiming high to be you but it’s always interesting to see, what is the route that they should take to do that? What do you think was the route they should take? Did you do it quick enough? Were there things that you messed up when you did …? What is the quickest route to get there?
Dan: In terms of what we do, it’s a very tough one to say. Naturally what our industry or any industry recognises is experience. That goes without saying. Obviously there is huge demand in various industries for graduates at the moment and for people with degrees, in particular industries that is appropriate for the right people but by the same nature, 3 or 4 years of industry experience can give you so much more as well. From our point of view, in terms of recruitment, if we look for … I’ll talk about that. Ours is more around who the person is and what they’ve done and their personality because it’s much more relationship based. From our point of view, I mentioned before … I did my degree in the UK in Business Management. I actually started in an economics degree in the UK which would be the equivalent of a commerce degree in Australia.
Heather: I did a commerce degree and I know nothing about economics. I think we have our own economics degree, maybe it’s like an economics degree.
Dan: Yes, given that, I need to be careful with my next point but basically I did one year, hated it and decided there was no real world use for it because it’s based in textbooks. I moved to business management and then from there, yes, I’ve worked … I started when I was at uni working in retail, shopfront. I did retail management. I’ve done business support and I’ve now done this. Obviously in terms of starting this up, it was just something that was passionate to me and I decided to go for it but yes, certainly I think industry experience is vital, I think obviously contacts are vital as well, naturally. Aside from that, in terms of being the next me, its not a very high aim!, but I’ll agree with that.
Heather: Sensational, thank you so much for talking with us today Dan.
Dan: Thanks very much. You’re welcome.
Heather: You’ve been listening to Cloud Stories. I’m your host, Heather Smith. Please download this show, subscribe to it and leave us a five star rating on ITunes. I’ll put in the show notes how you can contact Dan Fairbairn at Ocius Digital. Thank you very much Dan.
Dan: Thanks very much. You’re welcome.
- Ocius Digital http://www.ociusdigital.com/
- simPRO Software http://simpro.com.au/
- WorkFlowMax http://www.workflowmax.com/
- Xero http://www.xero.com/
- Vend http://www.vendhq.com/
- Deputy http://www.deputy.com