We talked to Nick Halliday, CEO of software development and systems integration specialist IDS Group, about building a collective of agile, world-class technical experts and inventors, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these Covid-19 times?
Nick Halliday: Even in lockdown 3.0, we’ve coped pretty well. We’re lucky that we have plenty of outside space and things to keep us occupied. My eldest two are teenagers, so – aside from the usual grumbles you’d expect from youngsters of that age – they were fairly self-sufficient with their homeschooling, and our youngest remained in nursery.
Fortunately, the business is also geared up for remote working – not least because we have colleagues in Belarus and the USA.
All in all, we feel grateful to be safe, and psychologically, the team and family have managed to keep positive. We haven’t found it anywhere near as tough as some in the world.
Tell us about you, your career and how you founded IDS Group.
Nick Halliday: I’ve worked alongside digital businesses worldwide for more than 20 years. Before setting up IDS, I helped agencies enhance their software and systems integration propositions, consulting and acting as a conduit between agency, client and third-party specialists.
I soon realised that I was spending my career solving organizations’ problems through the power of technology and knew I could do more.
I, therefore, set up IDS because I wanted to build a collective of agile, world-class technical experts and inventors who relish the opportunity to bring complex yet next-generation projects to life. As an invested resource, we enjoy sustaining the ongoing success of technically brilliant ventures too.
How does IDS innovate?
Nick Halliday: It may sound clichéd, but innovation lies within our DNA. This means we problem solve by default, whether we’re supporting a client with a technical project or bringing one of our own ideas to life – we are solutions architects first and foremost.
Even during lockdown – when our workload initially tailed off while clients took stock of their budgets – we kept our minds fresh by launching an IDS innovation. As an organization, we run agile teams, scrums and collaborative projects but couldn’t find a fit-for-purpose tool to maintain our productivity and bring colleagues together as effectively as if they were in the same room. So, we designed and built our own agile events facilitation software Timboretro – to complement tools like Jira, for instance.
We can do this because our growth aspirations don’t centre around client numbers. We want to keep our capacity high and our senior skill-sets progressive without ever having to invest in a below-par resource that puts our reputation at risk. This means we naturally have the opportunity to work on extremely complex briefs and projects with real purpose, which keeps us constantly energized.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Nick Halliday: The waves of uncertainty caused understandable degrees of panic throughout most industries, and many of the projects in our pipeline represented big decisions for our clients. Three big assignments were, therefore paused initially, while clients took care to preserve cash.
By lockdown 2.0, five organizations actually accelerated their software design and systems integration projects. There was a different vibe that time around, certainly among our client base. SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses are known for disrupting, after all, so a number of entrepreneurs approached us for help to press on with their ventures.
It hasn’t been easy for the team, though, because – while we’re used to operating in three core locations internationally, and we naturally embrace technology – our camaraderie is core to our culture. We have a really close-knit team, so we’ve missed working alongside each other as we ordinarily would.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nick Halliday: The successful delivery of an IDS client project is not dependent on the skill-set of one single person. We draw on the expertise of analysts, designers, developers, cyber specialists, account managers, quality assurance pros and more. So, even when some clients paused their work with us, we didn’t really have the opportunity to furlough anyone.
Faced with a drastic reduction in our volume of work, this was a risky – and costly – choice to make. However, we’re known for being a fair and supportive employer, so this was a true test of our values. Thankfully, the decision paid for itself when projects came back online, at pace.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Nick Halliday: I enjoy time with my family, and I find exercise a welcome distraction. Under normal circumstances, I’d also socialize a lot, so I’m definitely missing that at the moment.
Other than that, this probably sounds like an odd statement to make, but I actually handle stress well by being a bit of a workaholic – never fully switching off. In many ways, the harder I work, the more in control – and less stressed – I feel.
This is a choice, and I think that element of choice means that I keep anxieties at bay when I’m busy, but don’t worry about things when I do want to relax because I know I’m ‘on it’ and most things are in hand.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nick Halliday: Because there are so many elements to our business, it feels like we compete with everyone – tech consultancies, software development companies, design houses, start-up support firms and change management specialists. In fact, the list goes on.
However, providing our breadth of offering under one roof is actually our differentiator. Very few software and systems firms manage to be a true technical partner to clients – sometimes going so far as to take financial risk alongside them. For instance, we have our own tech accelerator programme. I also think our caliber of people helps us stand out from the crowd.
Our industry also doesn’t have any geographical boundaries, so we have to compete on a truly global scale too. This is one of the main reasons why fees, jobs and responsibilities vary between anything from £250-1250 per day, dependent on the type of resource. For a client looking for a partner purely on the basis of price, we wouldn’t compete. However, in some circles, clients can’t believe our value – they think we undercharge.
But this is one of the things that make us special, I hope. We’re here to supercharge existing technologies and give companies that need an extra push the best possible foundation for growth acceleration. We, therefore, think carefully about the services we recommend, on a case-by-case basis, and don’t believe in locking clients into anything they don’t need.
Your final thoughts?
Nick Halliday: There’s no getting away from the fact that the last year has been brutal, but at the same time, it has also kickstarted new operating models, accelerated skills development, opened up previously underexplored markets, generated entirely new job roles, and ripped up the rulebook in terms of our expectations of work – and technologies. We’ve seen 10 years’ worth of change in only one, which is phenomenal, really.
For IDS, clients’ appreciation for a trusted, agile and committed partner has never been so great. So, to loop back around to one of the points I made at the start of this interview, overall, I’m feeling very grateful.
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