Lucas Gundry: ‘You should have a zero-tolerance approach to legacy systems’

24 Apr 2020

Lucas Gundry, The Keyholding Company. Image: Clarity PR spoke to Lucas Gundry about how The Keyholding Company responded to Covid-19 through digital transformation.

For some businesses, digital transformation has been at the forefront of their strategy for a number of years, while for others, it has been a sort of nebulous, big-picture topic that was always coming down the pipeline.

But as the Covid-19 crisis moved across the world, many businesses have been forced to look at how prepared or unprepared they really were for digital transformation.

Future Human

The Keyholding Company is an alarm response specialist based in the UK, which quickly saw just how important digital transformation was in the current situation. Aside from responding to alarms and coordinating responses, the company provides locking and unlocking services for businesses as well as mobile patrols.

“In our world, we work with lots of facilities and management companies,” said Lucas Gundry, technology director for The Keyholding Company.

“They’ll do the cleaning, the maintenance, the engineering and the security and they tend to do a lot of guarding, so we’re not really interested in doing that, we prefer our niche, which is the mobile.”

Gundry said that while the company has an operation centre in London, it also has a distributed services partner network across the country, giving national coverage.

“Our other USP is our approach to technology. About four years ago, we started a project with Haulmont, which is our technology partner, where we basically developed our own bespoke platform from the ground up for our requirements in mobile security,” he said.

This allowed the company to digitally transform every aspect of what it does, which became critical when Covid-19 hit the UK. While the business itself fell into the essential services category, one of its core offerings of locking and unlocking buildings essentially became null and void once a large proportion of office workers in the country were working from home.

Responding to the crisis

Once the Covid-19 situation accelerated, The Keyholding Company put measures in place to protect its own staff, just like many other businesses.

“In our London office, we basically built a wall in the middle of the office,” said Gundry. “This was to divide the frontline staff and the managers who were working in that office because the managers see everyone, so we didn’t want them to get infected and then spread it to all the teams.”

In addition, social distancing and regular handwashing measures were put in place and anyone who could work remotely was sent home. “What has been good for us, and difficult for other companies in our industry, is our 24/7 contact centre has been working from home for about a year now so they work all over the country, like a distributed home-working workforce,” he said.

‘A lot of companies, when it comes to their tech stacks, are kind of stuck in this space where it’s hard for them to change’

Once these initial strategies were in place, the team looked at the company’s core business and examined how it was going to be affected by Covid-19, and figured that with so many buildings now vacant, there wouldn’t be a need for locking and unlocking doors.

“We reached out to our clients to discuss this and confirmed quickly that this was the case, but realised that they’d want it converted to patrols. So, imagine all these buildings are completely insecure so the security risk is definitely higher.”

Gundry said the team contacted Haulmont and said it wanted to quickly roll out a simple mechanism to enable clients to convert their locks and unlocks service into new patrol packages.

“We had a client portal already that we had built with Haulmont in the last few years, so within a weekend, we built from the ground up a page in the client portal where you can choose these packages whether you want one patrol a day, two patrols, six patrols etc. They could also add new sites if you wanted,” he said.

“We built all this functionality over the weekend and launched it the following week and got our first patrol package booked the same day, so that was really cool.”

Gundry said that while the client portal was already there, the service packages were a more long-term plan for down the line. He added that the account management team was a key part of ensuring the company could transform its offering into something that clients actually wanted. “You’ve got to have that conduit between the tech team and the business.”

Challenges with digital transformation

Gundry said a major stumbling block for companies who want to accelerate digital transformation is getting stuck in legacy systems. “A lot of companies, when it comes to their tech stacks, are kind of stuck in this space where it’s hard for them to change,” he said, adding that he’s not a huge fan of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

“A lot of businesses go for massive ERPs and then if you want to do something that ERP can’t do, it costs a fortune and takes forever to make any kind of change,” he said. “ERPs do work for some businesses, particularly large corporates because of the scale at which they’re working at, but for SMEs, all an ERP will do is make you the same as everybody else, but it gives you no uniqueness.”

‘It’s so easy to drive into a cul-de-sac and then you have to spend a fortune to get out of there’

However, he also noted that making changes quickly can come with its own issues. “Everybody wants to be able to make changes quickly [in situations like this] but you’ve got to do a lot of groundwork in advance to get yourself into that position.

“You’ve always got to be thinking around what the long-term plan is as well because you don’t want to end up in a cul-de-sac,” he said. “It’s so easy to drive into a cul-de-sac and then you have to spend a fortune to get out of there and you end up becoming a business who says ‘we can’t do this’ rather than ‘we can do this’.”

Advice for businesses

Gundry said he would advise businesses to be brave, take risks and make changes quickly. “But be really conscious that it’s not going to get you stuck in six months’ time or a year’s time because I think one thing about the Covid-19 situation is showing is that this isn’t three months, this is a long period of time.”

He also said businesses should be ruthless about getting rid of legacy systems that don’t work. “If all you’re talking to your tech team about is the number of service issues that you have or priority-one problems that you have, then that’s all you’re going to be doing forever.

“You’ve got to spend money and take risks to get rid of the legacy and you should have a zero-tolerance approach to legacy systems.”

He added that companies should look at their goals and then think about what is going to potentially stop them from being able to achieve those steps in that order. “You’re looking for the road to get you to those plans and not drive off into any cul-de-sacs. Your technology strategy should absolutely underpin your business strategy, they shouldn’t really be different things.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic