Since it was founded in 2003, Gloucestershire business Green Fuels has established itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of biodiesel processors, developing technology that produces top-quality biodiesel as a complete replacement for fossil diesel.
As a champion of renewable and alternative energies, Green Fuels has attracted an international customer base of waste management companies and agri-businesses, energy companies and charities, all of which are now using its B100 biodiesel in transport and energy production.
It has bio-refineries in 28 countries, with more being implemented every quarter. Together with the thousands of decentralised biodiesel processors it has sold, these refineries produce more than one million litres of biodiesel daily, saving over 2,500 tonnes of CO₂. Green Fuels’ biodiesel now powers the Royal Train and several vehicles in the UK’s Royal Fleet, as well as a fleet of trucks in Dubai: impressive facts for a family-run firm which employs just five people.
However, this rapid growth has also created some significant IT challenges for Green Fuels. By 2012, export accounted for almost 90% of its turnover. The team was constantly on the road, doing business across international time zones, and needed access to the latest versions of key documents, regardless of time, date or place. The situation was compounded by an ad hoc mixture of software applications and versions, and on-premises servers and conferencing technology that was not up to the job when it came to serving an international customer base.
“The tipping point came when I was on the other side of the planet and couldn’t get hold of essential documents to support me in meetings when I needed them,” says founder and CEO James Hyland.
“We had used Dropbox quite a bit to share documents but ran into storage limitations, and we were prolific users of Skype for overseas calls wherever possible. But it was increasingly obvious that we needed to take a standardised approach to get the benefits of new technology.”
The decision to consolidate the Green Fuels IT strategy on the cloud-based Office 365 software package meant that cross-border collaboration, document sharing and updating, diary coordination, and voice, instant messaging and video communication would be possible in a consistent and streamlined way for the first time – and without the need for a high-maintenance physical infrastructure.
The company replaced its ageing laptops and desktop PCs, deployed Office 365 and Windows Intune, and upgraded to Microsoft Office 2010. The impact on the organisation was instant: regardless of their location, everyone had 24-hour access to secure email, shared diaries, a central SharePoint document library (with browser-based editing capability), and a full range of communications options and real-time collaboration tools. Windows Intune provided simplified software support, maintenance and security.
However, operational improvements were still compromised by low broadband speeds. This was rectified when Green Field moved its headquarters to Staverton in early 2014, and was able to upgrade to Superfast Broadband, enabling it to exploit the business benefits of cloud-based software and communications to the full.
“The document sharing had already been working reasonably well and I could see an immediate benefit on overseas trips,” says James. “Where it would previously have taken a day to gather updated documents for a client meeting, I could now do that in real time as long as I had a good internet connection. But back in the office, connectivity could still be slow – and expensive, in terms of landlines and overseas calls.
“Our Superfast Broadband connection has completely changed all that and allowed us to see the long-term potential of cloud-based systems as well.”
The overriding benefit of the upgrade has been to improve the company’s operation at every level, allowing it to keep its overheads low while realising the advantages of the latest business IT models.
“This is a feast or famine industry,” says James. “We sell large, lumpy equipment and we need to move quickly to react to an enquiry or sales opportunity. Essentially, having a high speed internet connection has made things easier for us. I recently closed a £400,000 sale because I was able to access documents and liaise with colleagues in real time.
“We’re almost where we want to be as a ‘virtual’ operation. Most of the team have fibre optic broadband where they live, which means that they can respond to events and enquiries in the same way as if they were in the office. We can give business partners access rights to specific information, which is vital for collaboration on projects.
“We also have a new level of consistency because everyone has access to the most up-to-date versions of important documents from any device, including smartphones and tablets, as well as email and messaging services.[u2] That’s made a big difference. When you are overseas in a different time zone, talking through a potential deal, you can answer a site-specific question with the latest documentation accessed via the cloud, rather than relying on the possibly out-of-date version on your laptop.”
This improvement in customer service extends to being able to print high-quality marketing material from the central library, using local business centre services. “We try to keep everything digital but people do want hand-outs and this means we can travel without excess baggage,” says James.
Cost savings and increased productivity have been other major benefits of the upgrade. Communications costs are now “insignificant”, says James. By switching its telephone system to Voice over IP (VoIP), he estimates that Green Fuels has slashed at least £150 per month from its phone bill and achieved a degree of flexibility that is ideal for a small business where everyone shares call-answering duties.
Easy-to-use functions such as call diversion to staff mobile numbers mean that overseas calls can be answered outside UK working hours, so there is no need to keep the office staffed to cover global time zones. VoIP also enables flexible video conferencing. And by choosing to use a London telephone number, the company is able to give the impression of being a larger organisation, adding to its credibility on the world stage.
Based on the payment of a monthly subscription rather than expensive annual licence fees, the cloud model means that software is supported, data is backed-up and applications are automatically upgraded, helping Green Fuels to cut back on support and training costs.
“We were looking at an upgrade anyway, so the whole process hasn’t actually cost us that much to get things going,” says James. “Our biggest monthly savings are on overheads. We’ve been able to boost our efficiency without, for example, employing a receptionist – so there’s an immediate salary saving. If you take all these things into account, I’d say we’re probably saving the business £3-4,000 per month with the new systems.”
James said Green Fuels is now committed to further exploring the benefits of cloud-based computing. The company’s research arm (Green Fuels Research) already uses a cloud-based accounting package and the aim is to migrate the rest of the business’s accounting processes to the cloud in the near future, which will allow the team to generate invoices and quotes more easily, wherever they are in the world
“We’re in the process of moving all the important bits of the business to the cloud so that our employees can work as flexibly as possible,” he said. “Following the implementation of the new system, the upgrade to Superfast Broadband has worked incredibly well and allowed us to fully embrace all the opportunities that come with it.”