Few mid-sized businesses have the luxury of a dedicated IT director and a broadly experienced IT team in-house. The IT responsibility usually falls to other thinly spread senior executives – a predicament Jo Dalby, finance director at childcare services provider Busy Bees Childcare Vouchers, understands all too well. She has spent the best part of the past year juggling the procurement and implementation of a fully integrated business administration and finance system across the 200-strong and rapidly expanding company – a project that has not been without its trials.
To a large extent, Busy Bees has been a victim of its wild success. Following Gordon Brown’s move when he was still Chancellor in April 2005 to create additional tax exemptions for childcare, Busy Bees’ childcare voucher scheme took off – literally overnight. “The phones lit up,” recalls Dalby. “We went into meltdown.” The incumbent bespoke childcare system simply could not support the company’s rate of growth. “We have spent the past two years improving our business processes,” explains Dalby. “We did talk about scalability, but when we looked at it, in reality it wasn’t there. We got to the point at which we knew [the incumbent system] wasn’t good enough.”
Money, however, was a problem. Being VC-owned at the time, it was difficult for the company to negotiate funding for a new system. Busy Bees turned to its auditor, KPMG, to see if it could provide the guidance the company lacked in-house and point Busy Bees towards a relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf system that could scale, but also offer flexibility. Busy Bees settled on a Microsoft ERP technology stack that includes integrated financial accounting, business administration, CRM, web development and SQL database management, with complete business intelligence reporting.
But delivery of the £1 million system has proven more difficult than first envisaged – it is running late and Dalby is frustrated. Having opted for a solution specifically to ensure speed of implementation, the project is now nine months behind schedule. In large part, Dalby concedes, Busy Bees was “unrealistic” in its expectations – probably due to the company’s relative inexperience in software procurement. Like many mid-sized businesses, “we don’t have the internal expertise, so it was very difficult to compare software systems. It’s also difficult to understand the hidden costs.”