Computer Application Services Ltd (CAS) – Our EO Story
Edinburgh-based software company CAS has a team of 26 people, all employee-owners. This EO story tells of developing resilience when Covid-19 struck just as the company’s re-invention was reaching critical mass.
One of the company’s sales slogans is that customers can manage more with less (meaning more caseload with less stress, fewer errors, less duplication of effort). Team CAS had to do more work for potentially less income until new ways of working “caught up with themselves” by which time small deployments could be delivered faster, large systems could be scaled bigger and the team developed working patterns to offer a wider range of services over more time zones.
From mutually agreed pay restrictions this time last year to a plan for Christmas bonuses in 2021, owning the business means owning the problem – and bossing the solution!
Does your MD have a phrase he or she repeats – they call it reinforcing a point while you might say they’re “banging on”.
I confess to banging on that, first and foremost, an employee-owned business needs to be a good business. Smiling happy people holding hands is all good and well but for an organisation to provide sustainable employment, reliable service and be a good corporate citizen, it needs to succeed – in whatever terms success looks like for that particular team.
CAS was just reaching that tipping point when Covid struck. How much damage could we sustain – could we side-step some of the incoming, could we lean into this situation and “make the obstacle the way”? And were there any cliches or metaphors we were not embracing!
The underlying sense emerged that we’d make it through whatever Coronavirus had in store but it what shape. Several decades of being “a nice wee business” had been overtaken by market conditions and a big part of moving to EO in 2014 was to effect a complete overhaul – a reinvention of the business, moving to a recurring income model across broader market bases. At the same time, we served (while seeking to convert) old-style customers whose loyalty we respected and whose cashflow was helpful … even if their supply model was increasingly unsustainable.
On the day EO went live in CAS, Workpro had a dozen bespoke case management customers in the UK Ombudsman community plus niche support service contracts for MoD training bases. A few years on, “V5” of the software is being adopted by HR professionals for employee relations case tracking and by FCA regulated customers for complaints case management. Initially we presented as underdogs but finally as “runners” and often winners in quality bids with well-known customer names. From our Edinburgh base CAS now sells and supports application specific Workpro configurations throughout the UK and is attracting customers from USA, Canada and several Caribbean Islands. (A first in Australia is one of two Covid casualties. Perhaps that will regenerate in time.)
Anyone who has been through change or growth, or especially both at the same time, knows how fine the line between coping and crumpling. By good fortune we had simulated loss of access to the office just weeks before Covid; the scenario was unusually heavy snowfall that cut off primary comms as well as access roads. What else would interrupt us other than the great British weather? Lessons learned and actions taken from that exercise enabled us to be among the first to move to home working, apart from a few colleagues granted Essential Worker status to continue NHS and MoD support of niche applications.
How to contain costs until income was sure? Furlough was on offer from the government but in the end, everyone got behind a plan that continued full service, full employment, with 20% salary reductions (apart from basic level taxpayers who sacrificed 5%). This turned out to be temporary, but the team “owned” the reality that the cash we had might need to last a while so working harder for less might be on the cards.
It became clear that IT was in demand, so the business soon regained its stride – some new opportunities have arisen because of the pandemic, just as noticeably as some projects stalled. But alongside their day jobs and paid projects, team members found time to help customers who didn’t have immediate skills and resources to adjust to new ways of working. The extra mile, is the common term used. And as our own revenues stabilised, CAStodians (the name that has emerged for CAS employee-owners) set aside some cash to support hard pressed charities and equipment for donation locally to home schooling where so many families found themselves at a disadvantage.
Best of all for business resilience, Workpro has been made quicker and easier to deploy in small applications while capacity at the other end of the scale has been greatly enhanced by investment made in infrastructure. Emergency funding was earmarked by cornerstone investors Capital for Colleagues (C4C) but in the event, the business provided for itself via new business and onward charging for the enhancements.
EO’s watchwords for 2021 are Inclusivity, Resilience and Sustainability; we couldn’t think of better words to sum up our CAStodians’ Covid response. Add “E” for employees and rearrange the letters to get one word, RISE. That’s exactly what Team CAS did and I for one am grateful.
Interestingly, two-thirds of the team joined the new SIP scheme launched at this time.
Some circumstances we find ourselves in are down to good fortune – we recognise that – while resilience describes both what was demonstrated as well as what has resulted.