Survival was the only option for Norwich-based technology solutions provider Proteo when the economy nose-dived in 2008, but gutsy innovation and strategic opportunism put the firm onto a far brighter course.
Proteo was originally established as P1 Technology Partners in 2003 by Duncan Cardwell and Greg Duffield. From the outset P1 was a Microsoft centric systems integrator, becoming a MS Gold Partner in 2005 offering software development, systems integration and managed services to a typically mid-sized client base. The business currently runs at around £2 million turnover and employs 23 staff. "About half of our costs are covered by regular income from managed services contracts and licensing subscriptions but projects and licensing sales are still important to us," said Managing Director Duncan Cardwell.
Becoming a Microsoft Gold Partner proved to be a key milestone. "At the time this was important for us and something we worked very hard to achieve," said Cardwell. "It helped us differentiate ourselves in terms of competence and had a positive impact on business wins. From being a 100 per cent services business we now have six products but still very much provide the generic systems integration and software development services. We're all about transforming the efficiency of businesses on the move, helping them to work smarter. We felt this significant change in the business needed clarification through the brand so we rebranded to Proteo in 2010."
July 2008 signalled a nose-dive in fortunes with 80 per cent of Proteo's pipeline dropping out in a month as the economy went into meltdown. "We went from mad panic to creative thinking to try and solve the problem," stated Cardwell. "We we're lucky enough to pick up a couple of big contracts and there was enough revenue there to pull us through into the middle of 2009. Acquiring a mobile working technology business was the start of a more strategic process to change the business to be successful in what we saw as the post 2008 era - the start of the main shift from services to products."
Having side-stepped a terminal tailspin in the midst of an economic storm Proteo's outlook is now bright. "We have a very different business post 2008," added Cardwell. "Since acquiring the mobile working technology business we have tightened up our proposition to focus on businesses on the move, specialising in mobile working, vehicle telematics and cloud computing. Our view is that the back-office is at a relatively mature level of automation and that the mobile information worker is where businesses now have an opportunity to find efficiency and costs savings."
Cardwell calls the next phase of growth ‘businesses on the move', targeting firms with large vehicle fleets, mobile workers or those that have distributed people and offices where access to information and business processes is more challenging. For example, these include industries such as transport and logistics, construction, service and utilities. "We have several products to help them work smarter, find more efficiency, save fuel, save time and save money," said Cardwell. "In March 2011 we had our best sales month ever, proving what is possible when you have products."
Launching the first product, Orchestrator in 2006, was another defining moment. And last month a new product called Tough Touch, touted by Cardwell as a ‘game-changer', went into production. "We are excited about the Tough Touch," Cardwell enthused. "My business partner Greg has been in China this year where the product is being produced and we are confident we can grow fast off the back of it. We're aiming to exceed £3 million turnover to March 2013 and £5 million turnover to March 2014."
The Tough Touch is a ruggedised tablet hybrid device for mobile workers in harsh environments and will sell into industries such as transport and logistics, construction, service and utilities. It will be positioned as a replacement for the many PDAs and handheld terminals that don't use smart technology. The device has a 7-inch backlit LED touch-screen, a redline laser barcode scanner and has been drop-tested from 5ft onto concrete. "Channel partners will be key to the success of the Tough Touch," said Cardwell. "We aim to build a number of long-term partnerships with ISVs and Systems Integrators who are already in the sectors we want to enter and that can use the Tough Touch as part of their offering or solution. We'll be employing someone to lead this effort."
Other hot market opportunities for Proteo include mobile salesforce applications, particularly on the iPad, along with ‘In cab' systems for the transport and logistics industry using the Tough Touch and Proteo's MobileWorkerFlow software. "Again, it's around making the mobile worker an information worker and connecting them into the enterprise," commented Cardwell. "This brings visibility, control, dynamic scheduling, better sales conversion and faster order processing, creating a more connected, real-time business. We're also helping to reduce travel, reduce spend on fuel and increase wellbeing of mobile workers. "We're strong because we have a systems integrator background and culture. We provide a solution combined with a set of products that are 100 per cent ours, so we can adapt and tailor as required without restriction from third party suppliers, their plans and timescales."