Wiltshire-based Southern Tank Services is a specialist supplier of solutions that enable the environmental containment and transportation of oil, fuel, water and chemicals. Its product portfolio includes tanks for domestic and commercial heating, fuel oil and agricultural diesel fuel storage, petrol storage and dispensing, as well as water and rainwater harvesting tanks – plus associated pumps, hoses, meters and filters.
Southern Tank Services was founded in 2002. Since then, the company has developed a national reputation for the quality of its services and installations. Today, it supplies clients with state-of-the-art solutions throughout the UK and Ireland, and its oil tank installation replacement teams bring many years’ experience and expertise to meeting the specific needs of customers from the company’s base near Salisbury.
Co-founder and Sales Director Chris Ford says that after 12 years of steady growth, the business found itself increasingly hampered by an ICT infrastructure that was failing to meet the access and communications needs of its teams in the field. So a chance meeting between a colleague and a business partner who had been through the Superfast Business advice programme came at an opportune moment, raising the suggestion that it might be beneficial for Southern Tank Services.
“We were struggling with a number of issues,” says Chris. “The biggest was that our broadband speed wasn’t particularly fast and with five people in the office using a single line, it was slowed down even further. We also wanted to improve our remote working capability. Quite simply, our infrastructure was letting us down.”
The issue of business continuity had recently been highlighted when the company’s server went down and had to be taken away for repair, leaving Southern Tank Services without web, email and systems access for five days – a situation which had a severe impact on productivity and customer service.
An initial session with the Superfast Business adviser immediately identified potential areas for improving the performance of the company’s ICT infrastructure, and established some key recommendations, which included exploring cloud-computing options for core business systems such as accounts and Customer Relationship Management (CRM), moving away from a reliance on the physical server, and a follow-up meeting with a specialist adviser who could focus on some specific targets.
“Our adviser basically took a business background snapshot of what we already had and what we were doing with it, and put together a mixture of modules from the programme that would help us to move forward,” says Chris.
The advice from the Superfast Business programme focused on the infrastructure, using the cloud to access and manage business systems and data, and to streamline applications in order to improve end-user efficiency and productivity.
“The most impressive thing was the way they took the time to find out what we actually do,” says Chris. “At the end of the day, we’re quite a simple business with a straightforward model, so it wasn’t a case of radical change – more a matter of slicking things up and improving what we already had.”
“But they presented us with options that we didn’t even know existed. We didn’t realise that there were choices about where your email can be hosted and backed up, for example. Or that you can have a full back-up service in the cloud. These were revelations to us.”
The idea of moving from a server-based infrastructure to the cloud was particularly appealing. Server reliability aside, the company regularly experiences power cuts which interrupt business processes and communications.
Chris is really keen to implement many of the recommendations. The business is looking to relocate the main office to its Sutton Mandeville site and will be able to take full advantage of improved connectivity.
“Once that’s done, we’ll upgrade our infrastructure and move to cloud-based CRM and accounting,” he says. “All our files will end up in the cloud and we’ll all be able to access them remotely.”
In the meantime, the Superfast Business adviser spotted the chance to look at improving the quality and value of the company’s remote hardware and software support, which Chris agrees could be more proactive.
“They also recommended that we develop a tablet-based app for our installation teams to use on-site to create certificates and reports that can be issued to customers – using portable printers – while an electronic copy is sent back to the office. This will help us in our efforts to be as paperless as possible,” he says.
This simple, Excel-based app has been implemented on the company’s tablets and will be ready to go as soon the remote printers have been purchased.
Chris says that this tool, like the planned shift to cloud computing, embodies the business benefits of signing up to the Superfast Business advice service – translating into significant improvements in productivity and efficiency, as well as cost-savings on ICT infrastructure.
“The ability to save a file and back it up remotely, so that everyone who needs to is accessing the correct, current version of a working document, will be a huge improvement,” he says. “It will remove any possibility of ambiguity and people not knowing which quote was last updated, for example.
“We’re still getting there with CRM. Any CRM system is only as good as the information you put into it, and we haven’t finished downloading all the data from our accounting package. But once these systems are fully integrated in the cloud, everyone will have access to a common set of data remotely, and that will be a huge help when it comes to after-sales support.”
But the main benefit, says Chris, is the chance to be educated in what the company can achieve with just a few adjustments to its ICT strategy, by a specialist who really takes the time to understand the business.
“Our specialist recommended various companies that could help us pursue these possibilities, and it was clear that he wasn’t promoting one above the other. They are all capable of providing business-class solutions. And there’s a lot of reassurance in knowing that you aren’t being recommended a supplier by someone who will be taking a cut. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
While implementing much of the plan is on hold prior to the office move, Chris says the business is already reaping the benefits of improved efficiency – and eventually, the shift to a tried-and-tested cloud-based infrastructure, prescribed by an expert with a clear understanding of the business, will pay dividends.
“We have tried to implement as much as possible but it is still a work in progress, and we haven’t set targeted dates ahead of moving our office,” he says. “We didn’t want any dramatic changes or a reinvented wheel. We just wanted to make the wheel a little rounder and smoother in ways that work for us. And this service is helping us to get there. Now we know what we can achieve.”