The case studies featured in the past have focused on the impact of one piece of technology on small and medium-sized enterprises. However, very often it is a combination of new technologies that can revolutionise the way a company works. Such is the case with Pyramid Consulting, an IT consulting company that has leveraged the benefits of several different technologies to allow it to operate out of a virtual office.
In 2000, the company employed 35 people, was turning over €3.5m and had its HQ in the North West Business Park near Blanchardstown, Co Dublin. At 2,500sq ft the HQ was comfortably large, parking was easy and since at the time the company had a number of clients in the manufacturing sector that were also located on the capital’s periphery, its location on the M50 next to the airport was convenient.
However, there were drawbacks. As the company developed its clientele in the financial services sector, attending meetings in Dublin City wasn’t so easy. Not only that but many of the key staff lived on the southside of the city and had a difficult commute. “To make a 10am meeting in central Dublin, I would arrive at the office at 9am, turnaround and head into town and after the meeting come back out. It meant half a day was gone on a single meeting,” recalls Barry Murphy (pictured), Pyramid Consulting’s managing director.
Murphy, therefore, began looking around for new premises in central Dublin. The picture he found was considerably different to three or four year’s previously when space was scarce. Now, he recalls, there are plenty of ‘to let’ signs around. However when he started looking at costs they started to add up: furniture – the existing furniture would not suit new premises; rent; rates; and parking – free in Blanchardstown but at a premium in the city centre.
“We were talking about it one day and I just asked the question ‘do we need an office?’ and so we brainstormed it,” he recalls. By then the company had shrunk from its all-time high of 35 staff members due to certain businesses – such as manufacturing services – being disposed of. An analysis of work practices found that the only people who needed offices were the marketing department and personal assistants and secretaries. “The consultants or revenue generators definitely didn’t need an office as they were out most of the time and the software we developed in-house, along with all the documentation, could be stored with a hosting service,” Murphy explains.
Pyramid Consulting now consists of Murphy, who handles business development, and eight consultants. Marketing services are bought in as needed and Mespil Business Services provides the few remaining ‘bricks and mortar’ aspects of the business such as a postal address, a telephone answering and forwarding service as well as meeting facilities as needed. But Pyramid’s move from a fixed-office environment to a more flexible virtual office is underpinned by a triad of technologies.
“Firstly broadband,” says Murphy. “This was the big enabler for us.” Consultants need access to high-speed connections to download software or to run applications. Each consultant has a broadband connection at home. “That works very well. Everyone is happy with the performance. They are online and it’s a fixed cost.”
The second enabling technology is GPRS. A number of the consultants use an Xda – a combination mobile phone and personal organiser. “They can be onsite with a client and still get their email as and when they need to,” says Murphy. “Email is key to us for interacting internally, with customers and with suppliers so the GPRS and handheld devices really make a difference.”
And thirdly each employee has his or her own laptop. At the moment, these laptops use dial-up access for checking email on the move but Murphy confirms that the company is looking at other connectivity technologies such as wireless local area networks. “We’re only three months into this so we are still fine tuning it,” he explains.
Without any of those three technologies, he says, running a virtual office just would not be possible. “Things such as broadband have only become available in the past year and if that wasn’t part of the setup I don’t think we’d be doing it. A lot of our guys develop software at home and they need to get that software onto a customer’s site or whatever,” he adds.
These are not the only technologies that Pyramid uses. Banking, for instances, is done via AIB’s Internet Business Banking while billing information is harvested from the consultants via an ASP application called Tempus Pro, which tracks time spent and project status. Murphy is now looking at implementing Salesforce.com as a means of tracking sales performance.
People have described Pyramid’s move as a sort of home-working initiative but Murphy dismisses that. “This is, in my mind, a move from what was very much our own firmly established building with all the infrastructure we had built inside it to a much more flexible virtual operation. And that’s the emphasis I really want to make here: it’s a virtual operation. We are using the elements that are all around us in a much more cost-efficient way.”
By David Stewart