A worthy aim
Four years ago, Shuttleworth the long-established developer of Management Information Systems, which are specifically designed for the print sector, decided to help sign companies achieve a greater level of efficiency and profitability too. Val Hirst reports on the Kettering-based company’s progress so far.
When I first visited Shuttleworth in 2010, it unveiled its plan to persuade sign companies that they would benefit significantly if they harnessed the power of its bespoke management information system.
Now four years on, joint Managing Director Andy King reveals not only has the plan has proved successful, with at least 40 percent of its new system sales in the last two years being used by customers operating in sign related areas, it is also a good indicator of the fact that a market that had long been regarded as something of a cottage industry, is,in fact, quickly becoming as streamlined and efficient as any other manufacturing sector.
A wholly family-owned business that was originally established in 1981 by Stuart Shuttleworth and his wife, but which is now jointly run by his two son-in-laws, Andy King and Paul Deane, Shuttleworth has always focused on serving the print sectors. Now boasting a staff of 48 and 450 users worldwide, it has maintained this specialism, whilst also further broadening its appeal in line with the continually evolving nature of print.
Andy King explained: “All companies, whatever the precise nature of their end product, actually have a lot in common; after all, all businesses need to communicate with their customers, produce estimates and/or quotations, keep track of their production processes and resulting costs and issue invoices, which is why our core Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system tracks all of these functions, and more.”
However, he agrees that depending on a company’s size and the complexity of the products and services it is offering, some functions are more vital than others, while also enumerating some of the different areas that the Shuttleworth software suite covers.
He says: In addition to the CRM module that can be used in conjunction with most popular accounting packages, such as Sage and Access, there’s a Total Production Management (TPM) module that helps users to plan and schedule their workflow, plus a browser based system for gathering real time job based data from the shop floor and an information sharing facility. In addition, there’s also a module that helps to promote more efficient stock handling, while extensions of all of the modules make it possible for customers to request a quote over the web, view estimates, track deliveries and call off orders against stock held. And, if they wish, we can even help users to open up their data and integrate it into their websites so that they can use it for marketing purposes too.”
He continues: “The modular nature of the system means that our customers can select the functions that are initially best suited to their needs and supplement them as their businesses develop. Added to that, we also have the flexibility to build in extra items that are tailored to suit the precise needs of individual customers.”
This level of extra customisation is known as Shuttleworth Plus and while some functions will only ever be company specific,Andy says that whenever it becomes obvious that such elements would benefit the majority of itscustomers, they automatically become mainstream andare built into a future version of the core software.
He adds that Shuttleworth takes this kind of customer input very seriously, observing: “As with all software developers we are continually enhancing our package in line with the changes that are taking place, both in the sign and print sectors and in the business world generally. With the growing reliance on e-commerce, it’s important that we keep completely up to date with the way that real businesses operate and, if possible, stay a couple of steps ahead by anticipating now the demands of the future!”
This is why users will be pleasantly surprised by the latest version of the Shuttleworth MIS – v5.05 – which offers a unique dashboard feature that provides the instant management information, in the form of graphs, figures and charts that is most meaningful to each user.
Another new feature that will appeal to sign companies is a facility that Shuttleworth somewhat cryptically identifies as ‘kitting’. Originally developed to simplify the load of POS and packaging companies, and generally available early in 2015, it enables users to effectively ‘bundle’ all of the disparate elements pertaining to a particular project and treat them as a single entity. Andy describes this as a ‘gamechanger’, claiming that it will help to reduce admin time, while also promoting greater estimating accuracy and thus facilitating greater profitability too.
Another recent innovation is Shuttleworth’s mobile CRM feature, which enables sign installers to use an app on their mobile phones to access a client’s project information, photograph the finished installation, record the client’s approval and send all of the relevant information back to their HQ, so that an invoice can be promptly issued. As Andy remarks, this eliminates the possibility of lost or misplaced delivery notes, while also maintaining an accurate visual record of work completed. Most importantly of all, it’s something that the installers find quick, easy and appealing to use.
For small companies, one of the biggest obstacles to the installation of a MIS system is, of course cost, and with a Shuttleworth basic system costing upwards of £5,000 to install, depending on the level of functionality required, plus an annual fee of £1000 per user, it can add up to a not inconsiderable investment.
However, as Andy is keen to point out, when this amount is balanced against the time saved, the efficiencies achieved and thereams of useful information provided,regarding a company’s day-to-day workings,it is easy to see that the resulting increase in profitability could more than cover the initial outlay. And, when you compare this amount with the on-going costs of employing people to carry out all of the same functions manually, it begins to pale into insignificance.
Andy reflects: “Often businesses start as a one man band and the owner keeps everything in his or her head, but once they start to grow, it becomes that much more difficult to keep track and certainly, once a company is employing more than three or four people, there is probably a very real need for some sort of MIS system, if only to reveal the true percentage of profitability realised against turnover, something that often comes as a complete revelation!”
Once a company sensibly decides that the installation of an MIS system would be a good thing, the Shuttleworth team will spend time learning about the intricacies of its business prior to suggesting how best the system can be implemented. Then, once the format has been agreed and work completed,Shuttleworthwill also deliver the degree of training required, either on-site or remotely, via its ‘GoToMeeting’ facility.
But the Shuttleworth service doesn’t stop there; following the system’s ‘Go Live’ date, it continues to monitor and review the system’s usage to ensure that the customer derives the maximum benefits required to provide a speedy return on its investment.
Thereafter, users will automatically be able to upgrade their systems each time a new version of the software is developed and will also be invited to log into Shuttleworth’s regular webinars that explain, in detail,how new features can be used to best effect.
The company also offers a comprehensive technical support service staffed by a team of 11, who automatically log all of their contacts with clients and have the skills and experience to be able to quickly resolve any glitches that may occur, often within minutes but certainly on the same day in 97percent of cases.
Andy King says: “We appreciate that once companies have grown accustomed to having the level of control that an MIS offers, they rightly rely on it to run their businesses most effectively and therefore it’s up to us to ensure that it performs consistently and reliably, which is why we regard our support services as an extremely vital part of the overall package.”
When quizzed on the company’s aims for the next four years, he simply concludes: “We’ll continue to improve and develop the system and devise new ways of making it even more useful and user-friendly while also doing our best to help many more signmakers to make the most of their businesses!”
A worthy aim indeed!