Matthew Barnier started Planwell as a one-man show in 1991. Today he employs more than 20 staff nationally and has turned down US partnerships to list on the ASX with CTI Communications. Agnes King asked him about the secret of his successARN: What products and services do Planwell offer?Barnier: Our core business is a product called Remedy, a US-based workflow product targeted at trouble ticketing. We saw Remedy as a tremendous consulting opportunity, our thinking being that if we could sell the product we would get a lot of work setting it up and installing it. It was a pretty good choice for us because Remedy really took off; from 95 through 96 we did a couple of jobs with Macquarie Bank and Telstra and found the product matured and the market started accepting it. From there we partnered with companies like NCR and won a huge contract with Franklins and it just expanded. We refined the process of installing, reduced the consulting and implementation time and started putting these helpdesks in quite rapidly. We still do some system integration-type work but it dovetails quite well when customers say "can you fix us up with all the hardware and get us the Oracle database and what not". On the back of that, we do all the ancillary products, integrate with Palm Pilots, paging systems, sell paging software and those sort of things and are into CTI equipment like ApplePro products for call centres.
What are Planwell's key business strengths?Probably our biggest strength is that we can provide the full solution. We can put a whole call centre in if the customer needs it. Unlike a vendor who comes in from the US and just sells the product, we can not only sell it, we can do all the consulting, provide them the equipment - the PC desktops, the Cisco switch gear - and everything else they need to provide a total solution.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?It would have to be the investment we have made in the product. We really didn't want to be a "me too" dealer with Remedy - an opportunistic dealer that sort of says, I've got one deal, I'll sign up and I'll put the product on the shelf. We started investing in it by sending our staff across to the US, getting them trained and certified. We bought the rights to education from Remedy so we that we could deliver authorised training here in Australia and certified ourselves as an accredited technical support centre. The big differentiation for us was providing good support because customers who went through the US helpdesk experienced time zone issues and often copped the brushoff because they were so far away geographically.
As well as this we provide consulting and training for the customers. We sort of hit critical mass about two years ago when we bought the educational rights because people were asking for training and we matured past the stage where support was juggled by a consultant on a mobile phone working on another job.
Buying the rights was a great move for us - we've had a course full every month ever since and have just purchased advanced topics courses which is the next level of training. We have taken that up and are just about to roll it out.
What areas of technology are you keeping an eye on?The Web is definitely going to be the driving force for us in the future. We often see ourselves as the mechanics who can make the dot-com companies work.
So when you get these dot-com startups with their shopping trolleys and all these things they want to do, we can walk in and develop an infrastructure for those guys. Eighteen months ago we had one or two customers who chose the Web option and what we've seen now is that it has become mandatory on every deal that goes down. People want the Web interface.
What are your plans for the next couple of years?We have just set up an office in Melbourne and we are looking to set up on the ground in Brisbane. We have about 25 customers up there and it becomes very difficult to service those customers from Sydney. We found that we were missing a lot of opportunities and the customers weren't getting serviced properly. We use Remedy as the wedge to go into these organisations and we are now expanding that portfolio by adding to it as a solution using knowledge management products. We see Web development as an area that we really need to move towards. Remedy is an excellent e-commerce engine so you can basically put it behind a Web site and take your requests off that and it will process and manage them. Call centres are an exploding market now and it is certainly an area we are doing a lot more work in, especially now with our partnership with CTI. Remedy itself has moved towards the CRM market and we are following along that path as well. It is an area that is definitely maturing now and is something we are going to get a lot of growth out of in the next few years. We will also branch into enterprise and business workflow and corporate purchasing, e-procurement and expense management product lines. We have a product that will do that on top of Remedy.
What do you see as the business issues currently facing system integrators?For any reseller business, the biggest problem is that you're dependent on your channel and, like in anything, you can be too successful. We've been very successful, we've been the top Asia-Pacific dealer for a couple of years, and all that's done for us is attract a lot of attention. When the vendor does notice you they start putting more people in around you to supposedly help you but you've got the threat of them going direct. If they do then all of a sudden you're competing with a vendor. I have seen it happen in the PC channels and to combat that we need to make sure we've got contingencies, that we have other products and other services so that if one of those spokes go the wheel doesn't fall off.
Planwell growth timeline
1991: One-man company, manned by Matthew Barnier, starts trading in Sydney under the Integration Design umbrella.
1993: Attempted merger with Integration Design failed.
1994: Commenced trading under Planwell Technology brand name.
1996: Became a certified Remedy dealership.
1997: Planwell becomes the sole Australian supplier and integrator of the product after the two other Remedy dealers dropped out of the market.
November 1999: Was up for acquisition and commenced plans to partner with CTI Communications to raise capital for expansion.
May 2000: Opened Melbourne offices with further expansion set for Brisbane in August.
June 2000: Listed on the ASX at $1 per share, finalising partnership plans with CTI.
At the time of writing the merged company, Planwell/CTI, was trading at $1.50 per share.
Staff: 29 nationally
Annual turnover: $6.2 million
Current growth: 30-40 per cent
Services: -End-to-end systems integration and VAR of Remedy Pro