James Eades tells us how Systemagic provides people-focused IT support and cloud services with industry-leading response times and no long term contracts.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
James Eades: Fortunately, my family and I are all doing well – we’re very lucky to live in the countryside so have been able to make use of the outdoors during the lockdowns, and due to having a young daughter, we wouldn’t ordinarily have been out and about much anyway. We’ve embraced the lockdowns as an opportunity for family time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Systemagic.
James Eades: I joined Systemagic in 2002 as an IT technician, straight from studying Business and IT at University. Over the first 8 years, I moved from being a technician to being Operations Manager, then the Director, and eventually taking over as Managing Director in 2000 to enable the original founder to retire. From this point, I put my own stamp on the business, focusing on recurring revenue with a clear vision to deliver the best possible customer service without any contract terms. I completed purchasing the business in 2015 with the help of an external investor, which allowed the business to thrive, and we’re now very lucky to be enjoying strong growth each year. Outside of Systemagic, I mentor young business owners through a couple of mentoring programmes and privately, and outside of work, I’m a massive Formula 1 fan.
How does Systemagic innovate?
James Eades: Nothing stands still in IT service delivery – aside from the technology itself, service delivery is changing rapidly, and we need to be continuously raising our standards, innovating and adapting. Our focus is firmly on customer service, and this leads us to innovate by finding the right balance between automation and procedure and personality and traditional customer service. As we’re still owner-managed, we’re able to adapt and innovate quickly, and we’re growing the business without layers of management so that we can roll out innovation and change quickly when necessary.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
James Eades: IT has been one of the industries that have been leaned on during the pandemic, so we’ve been lucky that where some areas of our business have been negatively affected, others have continued. We initially expected our flexible 30-day terms to work against us with customers looking to save cost, especially where we support a large number of businesses in the hospitality sector. However, we’ve been very lucky – we’ve had a small handful of customers sadly close their business, but otherwise, we have managed to grow the business this year, albeit less than forecast pre-pandemic. The major change for our business has been the shift to working from home – we have a young team, and very early on, we recognized that our priority must be in protecting their mental wellbeing and morale. Thanks to a focus on mental health and looking after the team, we’re coping well.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
James Eades: For much of the pandemic, the team would rather have worked in our offices than at home, but despite additional safety measures, I took the decision to shut the offices for over 8 months of the last year. For some of our newest team members, this means they’ve completed less than 6 weeks in the office since they joined, so we’ve had to learn quickly how to best engage new starters and include everyone. What I’ve learned, or rather had cemented, and is that people matter more than anything. Looking after your team is key because a happy team delivers better customer service. Pre-pandemic, we were focused on quirky rewards – games consoles in the office, for example -it’s now become clear that the focus should be on wellbeing, remuneration and reward. A thank you has far more impact than an Xbox!
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
James Eades: We would have been absolutely lost with Microsoft Teams – I honestly don’t know how we’d have run the business without it. We have daily whole-team video calls four times a day (two being optional, drop-in sessions), there’s constant chatter on there for both helping each other in the course of our work and having a chat, and we’re making use of some of the extended features like files, polls and tasks.
In terms of management skills, the biggest thing we’ve learned is not to micro-manage and give people space. We’re a very data-driven company, so it’ll soon become clear if someone isn’t working at their usual output. If that happens, we’ve learned to ask why first – you never know what’s going on in someone’s world, and output isn’t everything.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
James Eades: While we have lots of local and regional competitors, there’s not really one or two organizations that we frequently come up against when pitching for new business. There are so many small and medium-sized businesses that there’s plenty of business for all of us; IT support providers. In terms of staying in the game, we plan to continue doing what we’re doing – delivering the best possible customer service against industry-leading response and resolution times. Our customers tell us we’re genuinely different from other IT providers that they’ve worked with, so as long as we keep that point of difference and don’t just follow the pack, we believe we can continue to grow healthily.
Your final thoughts?
James Eades: It has certainly been a tough year for us all, and for many, the separation of work and life has become more difficult where we’re working from home. I think anyone who’s led a business through this pandemic deserves a pat on the back (and probably a holiday!)