Cresta Leisure is an award-winning, Dorchester-based company that specialises in the construction and maintenance of prestige swimming pools, spas and hot tubs. It has a diverse customer base of private and commercial clients across the South of England, provides a full range of design and consultancy services and has a team of engineers who deliver responsive pool and spa maintenance services. Cresta is the main UK dealer for the world-famous Proteus Pools brand.
In 2013, director Simon Bareham decided to take advantage of Superfast Business’s fully funded support service to take a fresh look at the efficiency of its processes and IT systems. Like many SMEs, it had adapted them over time to meet the evolving needs of the business without taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.
Simon admits that he was initially sceptical about the possibility of getting free support and specialist advice without being sold something in return – but that is exactly what Cresta received. The Superfast Business adviser, James Cope, initially spent some time listening to how the company uses its IT systems, asking pertinent questions, making suggestions for adjustments and agreeing a support plan. This was followed by a meeting with a specialist adviser, alongside key members of Cresta staff who added their experience and business knowledge to the discussion.
As the consultation would reveal, a hybrid mixture of a Lotus database, Microsoft Windows, Sage and Outlook Express was supporting the company’s business processes very effectively. But diarising maintenance call-outs, job creation input and output, job sheet return and the transfer of information into Sage were still largely manual operations, keeping the remote engineers out of the automation loop and making work for administrative staff at head office.
The main potential to emerge from the consultation was for greater automation. If the engineers had real-time mobile access to the business systems via tablet devices, they could input a lot of their own data directly and get customers to sign off visits electronically. This would make overall processes more efficient and, crucially, it would reduce the time between job sheet completion and bill production – the key to improving cash flow for any SMB.
“The support we received from our specialist adviser was excellent,” says Simon. “She really listened to us and took on a full grasp of how we do things. It wasn’t a question of coming in and telling us we needed a brand new approach – she saw that our systems were working well, and was fully aware of our budget constraints. Lotus isn’t the most prevalent of databases, as she pointed out. But the plan recognised that we’ve done some clever things with it and that it works for us. So her recommendations were genuinely based on improvements that would help the business as it is.
“Our engineers have traditionally worked in a convoluted and duplicative way to complete their worksheets. That’s just the way it has been. But this consultation kicked me into action to re-address our Lotus-based processes. We’ve had Lotus for more than five years and have made occasional tweaks without taking a big leap forward. The consultation highlighted the potential benefit of using the new Lotus app so that the engineers can diarise their own tasks and fill in worksheets remotely.”
Simon estimates that for an investment of £2,500-£3,000 in tablets for the engineers and some software upgrades, the business will save around £10,000 a year in recovered hours, including office staff who will no longer need to spend time reconciling information manually – a healthy Return on Investment. He is confident that he will soon recoup his investment and in doing so, improve the overall management of the business.
Common engineers’ complaints – that they can’t access enough information to complete a task or that they need to return to the yard and look for parts advice online – will soon be a thing of the past. Armed with a SIM-carded tablet, they will be able to download product information directly from the company database, and schedule return visits in real time. There will be less duplication of data input in the office. And Cresta will have a seamless audit trail for every allocated task, from job creation to completion.
“This has really focused my energies and management time when it comes to our business processes,” says Simon. “Like every small business owner, my time is at a premium. Whether it’s health and safety, finance, IT or anything else, I probably have 12 hats hanging on a hook behind me at any one time. You can’t be an expert in all of these areas.
“So having an impartial expert come in and look at your business processes from a macro rather than a micro perspective is invaluable. It pulls you away from the coalface and makes you look at a whole range of different considerations. You think you’re unique but a fresh, experienced pair of eyes will spot things that you haven’t seen yourself.”
Simon is convinced that without the advice and input from Superfast Business, he wouldn’t have been moving down the tablet route so soon. He confesses to having a tablet phobia, preferring the familiarity of desktop systems. But the consultation brought the rapid recent changes in tablet technology to his attention, and he will be signing up for one of Superfast Business’s tablet familiarisation sessions so that the Cresta team can see what else the devices could do for the business.
“It was nice to get such good, professional advice for nothing,” he says. “There was no hard-sell or pressure. The presentations and the way the consultant got under the skin of the businesses were all impressive. I’ve already asked for a follow-up consultation – we don’t want to waste her knowledge of the dynamics of Cresta Leisure!
“I’m really happy that I took the plunge and used the opportunity to take a new look at our management processes. I think a lot of small business managers and directors are sceptical about the notion of getting anything for free. They think there must be a catch somewhere. But if there’s help like this to be had, you should take it. No matter how good a manager you are, you will always have your weak areas.”
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