Belfast-headquartered CMI is one of the UK’s leading IT managed services businesses. CMI creates IT strategies, manages IT systems, improves cyber security, and supports the IT departments of over 400 companies from its Belfast, London and Thames Valley offices. Panoramic backed Ken and his team in June 2019 to continue their buy-and-build strategy by acquiring London-based IT managed services business BTA.
How have you found integrating BTA over the past year?
The integration process has been successful but has presented its challenges. This acquisition was the biggest we have done to date, which brought with it a bigger challenge in terms of integrating both cultures. We are using the same technologies but in different ways, and BTAs management was very much top-down, whereas my management style is more empowered and devolved, so employees needed to adapt to new ways of working.
Where are you investing to grow the business further?
The biggest area of potential organic growth for us is through the ‘modern workplace’, and that’s where we are helping our clients transform the way they work. This has been accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s not just the ability to work from home: it’s how people collaborate within a remote environment, exchange information and ideas, utilising all different forms of technology available.
How have you reacted to the recent change in working practices?
We’re doing now what we’ve been helping clients do for a considerable time, therefore changes in working practices have worked very well for us. The staff reaction to it has also been very positive. The biggest issue of home working is the relative social isolation, so to address that we’ve organised daily, weekly, and monthly communication channels that are business-orientated, but also socially-orientated. If anything, I think communication with our staff and across the business has improved as a result. It makes it a lot more structured and controlled than when you’re working in an office environment.
What has been the biggest challenge during lockdown?
The most important challenge has been cash management and forecasting. This is all about controlling inflows and outflows of cash from our creditors and debtors. Many of our clients have furloughed staff, and many had a reduced requirement for services, so we have scaled-down our services in conjunction with their requirements. It’s about being a lot more flexible, as we are now seeing things significantly pick up again.
What will the future of IT look like following Covid?
The current circumstances are going to accelerate the drive towards the cloud further and faster, and the on-premise element of workplace practices will reduce going forward. That’s going to be one of the main changes. I also think the modern workplace and working from home is going to be very different, and that’s going to bring with it new challenges to do with security and data management.
What are the most important emerging IT trends?
Some of the most important IT trends are artificial intelligence (AI), the ‘internet of things’ (IoT), and automation.
A lot of AI is already in place, but people just don’t realise it. It’s about practical automation facilities that are going on in the background. It has a growing presence, but it’s not fancy sci-fi stuff, it’s the practical use of technology for efficiency and productivity.
The ‘internet of things’ is also already here in many respects, in that you can control so many things using software, whether it’s your car, fridge, or the lighting in your house. From a business viewpoint, the IoT is going to be particularly big within manufacturing, using intelligent devices on the factory floor.
Another lesser-considered but important trend is compliance. We are seeing that for regulatory reasons, governmental reasons, GDPR, and all equivalent factors, compliance is becoming an increasing requirement for the SME sector, and most businesses tend to look to their IT partner to assist them with their compliance requirements.
What are your ambitions for the future of the company?
Our ambition is to continue to build, grow, and expand. We will continue to look for new acquisition opportunities to add value and depth in expertise and client base. Organically, we will continue do business with larger and more diverse clients.
Best tip / action for companies looking to invest in their IT?
Before spending money on IT, companies need to understand and buy-into its importance. From our viewpoint, you’ve got to look at IT as being the possible differentiator between you and competitors, because the more you can automate and the more you can improve productivity and efficiency, the more secure your business is going to be in turbulent times.
If you want to future-proof your business, you need to look at how IT can help you do that. In many respects that does mean using technology to do the functions that people do, but that can allow the company to scale without having to recruit more people, which can be a challenge in the current marketplace.
Once you buy-into what IT does, you want to make sure you pick a partner that has got the skills, breadth and experience to take you forward on that journey strategically, not just providing you with a tactical point solution. That supplier needs to challenge you to the point where it’s not what you want, it’s what you need.