It’s been a long time between drinks – eight years to be exact – but after getting as far as a finalist in 2010, the team at Hawke’s Bay Technologies has gone on to take out the Pan Pac 2018 Business of the Year.
The business has evolved from being a reseller and service provider of Ricoh copier machines to becoming one of the region’s leading IT and communications service providers.
Duncan and Amanda Wallace moved from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay in 2007 to start the business and have grown it from four staff to over 20, which now includes a number of high-end IT engineers.
The early days were tough. It was the start of the Global Financial Crisis and Duncan says that although they were working incredibly hard, the business operated on negative cash flow for its first two years.
However, they always had a plan right from the start, and Duncan thinks this has been key to their success: “If you’ve got the plan and the passion and some good advice, you should be ok.”
Still basking in the afterglow of winning the Pan Pac Business Awards 2018 NZME Medium to Large award and then the Supreme Award, we caught up with Duncan to listen to what he considers are the key ingredients to building a successful local business.
You first entered the awards in 2010 and you were a finalist; what did you go away and do to win the overall award eight years later? The business was only about three years old when we first entered and we certainly didn’t have everything we needed to win. We were a finalist in our category and afterwards we listened to the judges’ feedback, then went on to analyse why we didn’t win, what we needed to do differently, and what areas of our business needed attention.
It’s no different to playing sport and you lose and you say, ‘ok, why didn’t we win?’ We analysed our performance and we used it as an opportunity to work out what we needed to do if we entered again.
Since the earlier days, the business has matured. Being a small-to- medium-sized business, we realised that we couldn’t be experts in everything, so we brought in support, mainly with our human resources function and systems and process optimisation. This freed us up to focus on the strategic direction of the business.
We now have solid human resources processes such as performance appraisal in place, along with what we need for health and safety documentation and processes. We also have regular business improvement meetings where we are on a constant mission to just do things better.
In entering the Pan Pac Business Awards again in 2018 it was about testing ourselves and seeing how we measured up. We believed that what we were doing was good but we wanted to validate that.
What have been the initial spins-offs since winning the award? The emails and the phone calls have been fantastic; it felt like everyone was celebrating with us, which was really nice.
I’ve been called and asked for advice by senior people on boards around technology decisions. It has been difficult in the past to find appropriately qualified staff but now CVs are turning up on my desk from very competent IT engineers.
We’ve signed up some significant managed IT service business. Some of our customers had been thinking about changing so winning the award helped them realise ‘ok, we think you are doing a good job and that award tells us that you are’.
The business started out as a reseller of Ricoh copiers but technology has evolved rapidly and you’ve changed your business model accordingly, was that easy? Our main reason for change was to make the business more sustainable, relevant and ultimately more profitable. To grow we needed to look at diversification and be prepared for what it would actually cost us.
It was timing for us; we started to pick up some very significant IT contracts and people were starting to talk about us. That was after five years of graft migrating to also be an IT provider. We had to really work on getting the message out there that we not only sold copiers but had a whole new IT services part of our business to offer.
The common theme that is part of our culture has been about delivering, and that our good reputation is everything. Whatever we were getting into, I needed to make sure it was as good or better than what we have done with our traditional business. So that has always been and will continue to be what drives the business. It’s easy to jump in and do something new but you can end up doing it averagely and we were hell bent on that not being the case.
For businesses, what HBT is about is helping our customers to access the information and the tools that enable them to do their job, wherever they are, all the time. And now with the rapid growth in cybercrime, it is imperative we provide a secure IT platform designed with resilience to avoid risk and potential down time.
What have been the challenges in evolving the business? There’s not one thing that sticks out. Technology is a challenge, full stop. We have made mistakes with selecting the wrong vendors to supply certain services for us. You are only as good as the partners you work with.
In the last year we have gone to the market and built some good relationships with very experienced partners in the IT space. We have created an advisory board to help keep us on the right track. These guys are on international software boards, so I’ve gone pretty high level and it has been invaluable.
What’s the future direction of HBT? We are building a national IT network business alliance so that we can provide services throughout New Zealand for customers who have presence around the country or worldwide. The alliance will be offered to other businesses that are Ricoh distributors and service providers.
Our Onekawa premises is also running out of room. It has served us well to date but we will be looking at a building project in the next 12 to 18 months as we look to expand, so we are looking at potential sites at the moment.
How competitive is the IT market? It’s very competitive but with technology moving so fast, there’s always opportunity to bring new things to the table if you understand your customer’s business and where they’re heading.
We certainly now take more of an interest in where our customers are heading business wise and make sure our IT solutions are in line with where they are going, and that helps us guide and enable them to make wise decisions with their technology.
You need to start with the end in mind and with IT, it’s important to make decisions on expenditure now that will be relevant in three years’ time.
What has been exciting about being in the technology space? IT as a whole is super exciting. With experience you look to those things that work and those that don’t and that helps address the customers’ needs. Being a bit older and wiser helps!
What’s an exciting project that you have on the go? The Hawke’s Bay Airport project is pretty exciting. We are managing the technology aspect of the airport’s evolution and have been pretty immersed in the project with them.
We initially talked with the airport at a high level about how they were using technology, especially around security and systems stability. They soon realised that with the expansion and growing passenger numbers, they needed an airport that functioned 24/7 and had total resilience in its IT platform.
How we look at it is that it’s as important as having quality asphalt on the runway – there’s no point having a runway if the foundations are not up to scratch. It’s the same with IT.