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Method4

Providing innovative software development services to businesses, ranging from complex application development through to more routine applications.

Learning points

  • Savings from ‘going to the cloud’ tend to be one-offs as hardware is not purchased to support data storage.
  • Much of the digital applications needed to operate a digitally active business are subscription-purchase rentals.
  • Security requests of clients need to be fully considered before staff are enabled to work off-site.
  • Microwave connectivity in built up areas is vulnerable to the height of other buildings.

Introduction to the update

The first case study of Method4 was undertaken in December 2016. This update seeks to highlight progress towards digitalisation of its business processes some 19 months later (July 2018).

Overview of the business

Picture of Method4 logo

Method4 are a Digitally Embedded software development company based in Cardiff; offering both ‘off the shelf’ packages and bespoke solutions, they are Gold partners of both Microsoft and Umbraco. Over the last year the business has expanded, with growing staff numbers, turnover, and extended geographical reach of their services.

Continuing to work with clients in both the public and private sector, Method4 now offers services to central Government and sponsored bodies such as the Department of Education, and Institute for Apprenticeships. This is alongside their existing clients from financial and business services, further and higher education, and the Welsh Government.

Logo for method 4

Method4 flow of information diagram

10 February 2020

Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.

DownloadWord

Superfast broadband adoption

The last year has seen significant changes in the business’ physical assets, having constructed a new building to house Method4 and other companies. As could be imagined for an IT business, connectivity has been integral to the design of the building with Fibre-to-the-Premise being installed and funded through the Welsh Government superfast broadband vouchers. Method4 made use of these vouchers in their previous building, and highlight how essential they are to assist businesses in what could be a prohibitively expensive exercise otherwise.

In this instance a number of the businesses to be housed in the new premises pooled vouchers in order to fund the dig. On top of Fibre-to-the-Premise, the new building has fibre throughout. This means that Method4 can now easily maintain its previous 100Mbps upload and download speed, and has capacity up to 1Gbps should it be required. Previously connection was achieved through a microwave dish, its use was put at risk due to a new, taller, building that was being constructed, was anticipated by Method4 and changeover to Fibre happened in advance of the building reaching the critical height.

Cloud

Method4 appreciates that good connectivity is becoming increasingly essential to operations, particularly with data being stored in the cloud. Five or so years ago much of this information and the business’ resources would be held on a local connection server.  Alongside these data issues, Method4 supports their clients online also, undertaking live development in real time. Furthermore, in the last year the business has digitised their finance system.

Disaster recovery

Therefore, to ensure continuous connectivity the business has a number of Disaster Recovery systems in place, including the possibility to run mobile 4G connectivity throughout the building using a ‘dongle’; whilst this would only provide limited services the business would be able to continue to operate.  Estimated costs to the business should internet connectivity be broken runs at around £30k per day (£25k loss of earnings and £5k incurred costs), so ensured connectivity is essential to business operations.

We had the opportunity to build a little bit of a technology community here which would obviously benefit Method4 and benefit the others, which is to the most part what we’ve achieved

Managing Director, Method4

IT skills capacity

In the last year the business has grown to 39 staff members, primarily computer science graduates from Cardiff and Aberystwyth University. Having achieved the growth objectives set for the year, the next year’s growth objectives are to increase to around 45 – 50 staff members, with a self-set upper limit of 50. The business has set this initial cap as it wishes to ensure capacity to maintain contact with all staff members and ensure quality control; the new premises does allow for further growth however and there is demand in the market for Method4’s services.

In the last year, the business has adopted a cloud-based technology training package called Pluralsight. Through the ownership of a licence for this product, members of staff are able to access the package wherever they may be. It also allows managers to monitor what training staff have undertaken, as it is felt that this, alongside the nature of the course modules at Cardiff and Aberystwyth, give staff the skills that are required.

Use of digital technologies

As a Digital Embedded business, Method4 utilises the full potential of internet connectivity, making it an integral design feature of the new building. The broadband itself continues to be provided by Spectrum Internet. They do highlight, however, that savings through cloud-hosting typically are ‘one-offs’ as they negate the purchase of a physical server. The building does currently have a server which stores the in-house intranet, but once this becomes obsolete the business will not replace this piece of equipment.

Interestingly, due to the nature of subscription-based IT software, much of Method4’s software assets are rented – standard Office document suites and products, Skype for business and other such tools. They do not use Dropbox however as they have bespoke secure data exchange software that is developed and used in conjunction with their clients.

Finance is conducted online through Quickbooks, a move that was undertaken in the last year. Additional storage is also rented through Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, which has a mixture of cloud and physical servers which present a very resilient option. Webapps is also used, which isn’t a dedicated server but an application that runs applications.

Tender for work

Digital technologies are also used to tender for work, with Method4 advertising through a Government website called GCloud, which has a specialist Dot Gov section. Furthermore, Gold partner status for Microsoft and Umbraco are further sources of employment.

Security quality procedures

Method4 is ISO 27001 rated, meaning that there are a number of security quality procedures that must be undertaken, such as encrypting laptops. Method4 does offer remote working across the business and its use is growing and expanding allowing Method4 to be a more flexible option for employees.

However, the nature of some of the more sensitive work can curtail staff’s ability to work remotely many clients do not wish for their data to be accessed off site – defence, educational materials that contains data on children and so forth. This has been mitigated wherever possible by working with test data only.

Business performance

The last year has seen a significant increase in the business’ turnover, rising from around £1.8m to just under £2.5m. Staff salaries continue to be the most significant overhead to the business; due to turnover outstripping overhead increases the business continues to be able to self-finance.

The most significant impact on future business performance is considered to be the building of new facilities, which will house some of the companies Method4 ‘building-shared’ with previously, and some new organisations. The aim of this co-location is to create a technology community where it is hoped that innovative ideas may be sparked, the sharing of ideas between different companies are likely to enable this.

We create an environment through this building and the café next door where we communicate and bump into each other and maybe opportunities occur. Hopefully it will occur for Method4, but if they don’t, they don’t. It’s just trying to create the environment for it.

Managing Director, Method4

The community includes a technology investor, social media people, a collocation space for start-ups and the self-employed, along with a TV and publishing company.

Method4 has future plans to install IoT devices around the new building. With a company such as Wildflame in the premises it opens up many new production possibilities including an Internet Exchange (IX) connection. Initial talks have been held around this.