Case study: EACS – providing cost-effective solutions for SMEs

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Mike Dearlove is the managing director of EACS, an award-winning cloud, IT and managed services provider, based in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire with customers across the UK.

  • Tell me about your company – where did the idea come from? How did you get started?

EACS was founded in 1994 when I set up the business in my parents’ garage, initially to provide cost-effective IT solutions to SMEs. I realised that there was a gap in the market to help smaller to mid-sized companies find the right IT solutions to make their businesses more efficient and to implement those solutions quickly so they obtained a good return on their investment. Fast forward 20 years and we now have more than 100 staff, a £17 million turnover, partnerships with many of the leading IT vendors and work with companies across the UK, from SMEs to large enterprises and public sector.

  • How would you describe your business’ ideology?

Our priority continues to be to provide the best possible support to our customers, whether that’s through helping them implement the latest technology or providing managed services so we can handle their routine IT while they focus on developing new initiatives. We also challenge customer thinking by showing them how the right IT can create a step change in their business. It could be through using cloud, or by implementing virtualisation to make mobile working easier and more secure. The most important thing is understand their business needs and then question the status quo so that together we can determine if there is a better, more effective way of doing things.

  • Tell me about your role – what does a typical day look like for you?

My role tends to be more strategic these days, looking at everything from what we’re going to do next as a business to how we can ensure EACS remains a great place to work. Creating the right culture for our staff is really important and it’s up to me to ensure everyone has the opportunity to develop their skills. I’ve worked in the industry for over 20 years but I’m still blown away but the talent and skills of our people at every level. Technology moves at such a fast pace that it’s absolutely imperative that we keep at the forefront of innovation.

  • Tell me about your clients – who purchases your products?

EACS is trusted by over 400 customers, 75% of which have been with us for more than five years, including London Overground Rail Operations (LOROL) and Travis Perkins. We’ve doubled in size in the last 10 years, and this growth is testament to putting long-term customer service ahead of fast profits.

  • How many employees do you have?

We currently have more than 100 employees based at our Huntingdon office. You can tell a lot about our philosophy by looking at our staff retention rate. 25% of our team have been with EACS for nine years or more and 50% for more than five years.

  • What do you look for when you are recruiting?

We aim to create a team that shares the same values as the business, so we look for people who have the right attitude and professionalism, want to develop their skills and will go the extra mile for our customers. However, there continues to be a shortage of IT skills in the sector and I would like to see more initiatives to break down the divisions between education and employment and encourage young people to take up a career in IT. I would also like to see something that encourages people to retrain in IT as a second career, whether that’s after a career break, a redundancy or simply a change of direction. IT is an exciting area to work in and there are lots of opportunities.

  • What attributes are necessary in your business?

Problem solving skills are essential, as well as good project management and people skills, as many of our staff spend a lot of time on site with our customers. Our employees also need to demonstrate honesty, commitment, hard work and most importantly the passion and drive to go the extra mile to help our customers.

  • What makes you a good employer to work for?

We continuously seek to grow our employees so they can achieve their maximum potential, so we invest in both professional and personal development celebrate individual and team success. We pay for all technical and personal development training and exams for our staff, which I’m told is unusual for the IT sector. Every member of staff has a one-to-one with their line manager every week, ensuring that standards are maintained, any issues can be quickly addressed and both parties can continually track progress against objectives. We’re training line managers to ensure that as a business and individuals we are getting the most from these one-to-ones.

  • What have been your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?

When I first started the company, it was based on five core principles:

  • I enjoy coming to work
  • the staff enjoy coming to work
  • customers enjoy working with EACS and value us
  • we deliver a professional experience
  • we make a profit.

These played a major part in enabling our very small team to get through our most challenging period – our first year of trading. As every new business discovers, the challenges you are faced with every day are very new, scary at first and appear impossible to overcome. For us these were:

  • compromised premises (operating out of a garage)
  • no customers
  • no accreditations
  • no reputation
  • getting people to trust you and give you a go against all the known players in the marketplace.

However, remembering and sticking to our core principles and combining this with hard work, drive and focus to deliver what was promised allowed us to build trust and a reputation for excellent customer service. This resulted in us being extremely successful in a relatively short period of time (although not without many sleepless nights), challenging every cost and making the best use of every hour of the day.

  • What have been your greatest successes?

The first order we received for over £2 million was definitely a standout moment. We also began hosting an annual event called Optimise IT back in 2002 to provide our customers with strategic IT updates which has gone from strength to strength and now attracts several hundred attendees to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford every year. We also take it to three other venues around the UK. But perhaps most important of all has been winning a series of CRN awards, including CRN corporate reseller of the year in 2009. These are the Oscars of our industry and show that we’re recognised by our peers for providing great services to our customers.

  • What are your top tips for SMEs?

Email and computer systems are the lifeblood of most businesses so investing in security is absolutely key for any business. We work with some of the leading organisations in security solutions to help organisations stay safe while reminding them to invest in back-up and disaster recovery so that, should the worst happen, they will be able to get things back up and running quickly.

  • How do you use social media? Does it help you engage with your client base?

It’s no longer enough for a business to rely solely on a website to communicate with existing and potential clients. We use LinkedIn to engage with our clients as well as a tool for recruiting top industry talent. Twitter and Facebook also allow us to showcase our expertise and experience while helping paint a powerful picture of the culture of the business, which in turn helps customers decide whether we are the right partners to work with.

  • What new technology/apps are you considering using?

As we have grown we have had to consistently review the use of technology within the business to ensure we are able to maximise the time our employees can spend delivering to the business. Many of the technologies have developed and grown with us, such as our CRM system, whilst others have reached a point where, due to growth, they are no longer fit for our purpose and therefore a major change has been appropriate, such as our financial system.

In addition, as we have grown we have had to invest in additional technology that we perhaps haven’t needed in the past to help us manage the business more effectively, such a new HR application and a new scheduling system to provide better management information and make the scheduling of technical consultants and engineers more dynamic and efficient. Looking forward we are currently updating to Skype for Business so that we can showcase to clients in real time the benefits of upgrading to the latest technology.

  • What is your vision for the future? Are you looking to expand?

We are continually focussed on developing our four key pillars, which underpin our future revenue streams:

  • products
  • solutions (on-premise and cloud)
  • managed and support services
  • business aligned services.

Ultimately we want to grow our managed service client base by taking away their day-to-day headaches and challenges and providing them with the best possible customer experience. Much of this revolves around getting the best out of the new products and solutions but then understanding how these can help the customer relieve their headaches and ultimately achieve their business goals. In the future our business aligned services will become an integral part of this process by helping customers get the best from technology to make them more competitive in their specific marketplace and achieve a return of the investment made.

In relation to expansion, the intention back in 1994 was that we would always strive to grow providing we continued to meet the five core principles I mentioned earlier. Looking forward I can only see exciting times at EACS as we continue to look to develop new solutions and support offerings for our customers, while those principles remain at the very heart of why we are here and therefore remain an integral part of the company culture. Should it become apparent that we be failing in any one of these, then we need to understand why and then fix it before pressing ahead all guns blazing.