Andrew Smith's Canberra business Cool Chilli sprang into life in 1999, not long after executives from licensed clubs walked in to buy the sector's first networked computing systems in the ACT.
But it was only in the past year that Smith converted from "working in the business to working on the business" and saw his revenues more than double.
The turning point came when Smith started using ConnectWise service automation software and was exposed to HTG peer groups, an international spray of professional networking clubs with about a dozen members in Australia that grew out of the US recession.
"The breadth of the industry has opened my eyes," Smith says. "In the past year we entered into managed services and partnered with Kaseya so there's a good view into the industry with the events they hold.
"Through the HTG program we get access to the inner workings of 11 other peer-group companies and most of those in revenue terms are twice the size. Seeing how they operate and the focus they employ [was useful].
"Professionalism in the industry is on the way up and it's quite impressive to see how well Australian personalities run their operations."
Cool Chilli derives 70 percent of its revenue from hospitality, most notably the ACT's licensed sports clubs such as the Canberra Raiders and Vikings and the Labor Club. Much of the rest comes from healthcare. It saw annual revenue lift 250 percent to $755,000 last financial year.
"This calendar year I had a big focus on changing processes in the company and implementing what I learned from HTG and other peers," Smith says.
"We changed our billing and time-management system to ConnectWise and with that came a new quoting tool and sales process. It's also brought with it a lot of automation with services and technical delivery. Making sure our processes are right is one of the keys that will help us with growth."
He credits the change with lifting billable items by 15 percent and halving the number of tickets open, which lifted morale. "A lot of staff felt more balanced in their work; it was a real change in culture."
Cool Chilli pulls down on specialist vendors in the gaming and hospitality industries such as pokies maker Aristocrat ("the lifeblood of the business") and Sanyo for its point-of-sale systems as well as telcos and ISPs such as Transact and Internode. Smith says dealing with a telco that isn't as big as Telstra has immediate benefits for a reseller of his size.
"Broadband is a significant component," he says. "Clearly you need access to the stuff - one of the difficulties early adopters find with hosted services is their ability to access information [quickly].
"We have a very good relationship with Transact. In our communications consultancy role they've been quite important. They're a terrific size for a carrier for a relatively small reseller to deal with and their products and pricing are terrific.
"We have very good access to commercial sales; they're very willing to let us know the reality of certain solutions." An example of that was selling VoIP, he says. "With Transact, if you want to talk VoIP you can talk VoIP but if the solution doesn't require VoIP you don't have to."
Smith says Cool Chilli will expand its cloud offerings next year. Although Smith considers much of the hype about cloud is just hosting by a different name, "If IT providers aren't ahead of that and don't have offerings they'll be swamped by those who do".
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Issue: 331 | September 2014
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