Providing innovative software development services to businesses, ranging from complex application development through to more routine applications.
- working with a specialist networking provider can be an alternative way to access superfast broadband, if no mainstream provision is available
- cloud technology can be an important enabler of business process improvements and the introduction of service offerings
- digital technologies such as cloud can help to reduce the overall cost base of a company
- video conferencing and remote working can help to reduce barriers associated with geographical distance.
Overview of the business
Established in 2005, method4 provide innovative software development services to businesses across the UK.
Based in Cardiff, the business has grown organically, with clients evenly distributed between the public and private sector.
Key clients are from financial and business services, further and higher education, and Welsh Government.
Method4 provides a range of services including complex application development through to more routine applications such as website development.
In delivering its services, the business works with partners such as Microsoft, and smaller, more specialised providers of software and hardware in both Wales and England. Its services build on those of its partners in areas such as hardware, network infrastructure and web design etc.
Superfast broadband adoption
Method4 has a superfast broadband connection providing a 100 Mbps upload and 100 Mbps download speed. It benefits from fibre connections throughout its premises, and a wireless access link of up to 1 Gbps connection when required.
Its broadband is provided by an external service provider (Spectrum Internet). Its offices are not served by the large established broadband providers.
To adopt superfast broadband, method4 made use of Welsh Government Superfast Broadband Vouchers. These vouchers reduced the cost and risks associated with its investment. The advice of its provider was felt to be particularly valuable in helping to consider options and identify its needs.
In planning for its new office accommodation, method4 are considering ultrafast broadband, which they believe will be become the future standard.
IT skills capacity
Method4 employ a team of twenty-one. Staff are predominantly recruited from higher education (particularly Cardiff and Aberystwyth universities). It plans to grow to forty members of staff in the coming years. In advance of an expansion in staff numbers, it is planning to move to newly constructed offices, adjacent to its current premises. Staff account for approximately 90% of its cost base.
Staff development activities are particularly important, given the rapidly evolving nature of digital technologies. This is a core requirement of its accreditations with partners, including ‘Silver Partner’ status with Microsoft.
The business has sought to develop an environment in which staff are able to put forward new ideas for services and process improvements, and to work on solutions collaboratively. Access to superfast broadband allows some home working, via secure connections. However, this does replace the personal interaction offered by its office location, and the access to its full computing infrastructure.
Use of digital technologies
As a software business, method4 makes extensive use of digital technologies such as the cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications across its business processes (see ‘Method4 Information flow’ at the end of this case study).
Access to superfast broadband represents an important enabler of these technologies. Here, method4 believe that there are few aspects of its business untouched by internet-related technologies. They allow its business services to be offered across the UK, and beyond. Indeed, without a fast broadband connection it believes that its growth would have been compromised.
The specialised and bespoke nature of method4’s service means that e-commerce is rarely used. Its website does, however, provide an overview of basic company information, the services and technology used, as well as examples of prior work. For the most part the majority of client contacts come from “meeting and greeting”.
Method4 is seeking to monitor and engage with leading edge technologies. In its plans for its new office space, for example, method4 is considering the potential for installing data sensors and capturing data for use on its website. The intention is to position the business at the forefront of new trends such as big data – and the potential to analyse large volumes of data. It is also considering installing a 3D printer.
Security is particularly important given the sensitivity of some clients and sectors. Its robust security measures (VPNs etc.) online form part of its offer to clients. To this end, the company is accredited for Cyber Essentials Plus, and ISO 270001. These processes are based on robust preventative processes, and regular monitoring of threats.
Since adopting superfast broadband, method4 has seen performance improvements in a number of areas. Its business model, for example, has evolved in response to the arrival of superfast broadband enabled technologies. This has allowed it to service clients more rapidly and efficiently, while providing solutions that do not rely on physical IT infrastructure, including the addition of new managed services through the cloud.
Other performance improvements have been seen in communication processes. Here, cloud enabled conference calling (Skype etc.) has allowed more efficient response to client requests, and allowed meetings with geographically dispersed teams. It has also enabled improved business spatial reach through remote desktop sharing and training.
Cloud technologies have resulted in some additional cost, but this has occurred in parallel with savings and efficiencies elsewhere. For example, a number of development and test environments are now cloud hosted. This is said to save the business an upfront cost of over £20,000 in equipment. In addition, the monthly cost of cloud hosting is estimated to be broadly equivalent to the physical rental space saved, and the associated maintenance savings.
Product innovation represents a further area where performance improvements are being enabled. The business can develop cloud environments consisting of web apps and virtual servers for short time periods. This allows it to test new products and systems without the need for large capital expenditure on local servers and other hardware.
Innovation is seen as a core part of the business’ service development process, and one that it seeks to encourage. Here, the bespoke nature of method4’s solutions means that innovation is an ongoing element, with cloud-enabled technologies at the heart of most new solutions offered.