Founders Series – Dave Kerr, Chief Technical Officer of Bridgeall

Dave Kerr, Chief Technical Officer of Bridgeall
Dave Kerr, Chief Technical Officer of Bridgeall

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What does Bridgeall do?

Bridgeall accelerates digital transformation for companies through IT development & consultancy services, centred on Microsoft technology, and also through our own IP Cloud solutions that help organisations improve their efficiency.

What do you do there / what is your role?

I am an Owner/Director of the Company and take the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). My key focus at the moment is working with our product team on our new cloud product called smartcrowds.

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smartcrowds enables businesses to better engage staff, customers and partners in their organisational innovation and continuous improvement processes.  It simplifies the challenge of capturing, developing and evaluating ideas and feedback from a range of sources and channels, taking the best ideas forward into projects using a structured, transparent process that delivers more positive outcomes for the organisation.

What is your background?

I graduated from Herriot Watt University in Computer Science and started my career with SportScotland as an Assistant Systems Manager.  From there I moved to the Finance Sector where I worked on a significant Year 2000 project as part of a 200 person-strong IT team. Following that I moved to the Energy Sector, specialising in IT systems for the newly-deregulated energy markets.

What was the ‘aha’ moment that led to the company founding?

Each of the three directors had become equally frustrated by the poor quality of vendor software that we had come across in our previous roles, and in particular with the software available in the Energy sector.  We set about changing that, using our expert experience in that sector to build a new type of system that would make it much easier for organisations to manage the complex interactions in that sector.We used our expertise to develop robust billing solutions for the deregulated non-domestic water markets I both Scotland and England.

Where did you get assistance when you started?

Establishing the business in a shared Innovation Centre in Glasgow helped ease the startup challenge, providing us with access to shared office support staff and facilities, and faster routes into the right people at Scottish Enterprise who were able to provide advice at the right times.

Give us a brief history of the growth of the company

Bridgeall was established in 2002 and following a brief period of our own investment into the development of a new solution for the deregulated Gas market, fortunate timing enabled us to secure a multi-year contract for our Gas Gateway product with a large UK utility, which was a terrific start for the company.

As the business grew we developed two distinct arms. The primary focus was, and still is to this day, our Services arm which includes the development of Custom Software Solutions & associated Software Support, Cloud Solutions & IT Operations, and IT Consultancy services.  

In parallel with this, we have always maintained a secondary focus on building our own IP cloud products, which we self-financed from our Services arm profit.  In 2005 we embarked on the development of a very innovative cloud solution for public libraries called collectionHQ, which enabled libraries to manage their book collections more efficiently using highly complex supply and demand analytics.

As usual, the journey never quite followed the plans that we had set out initially, however we persevered and went on over the next six years to deliver a truly global success story by securing contracts with half of the UK’s local authorities and a further 100 customers across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, including many of the world’s largest and most influential English speaking libraries.    

In parallel with this our IT Services arm was flourishing, with some great wins including the development of the Central Systems for the new competitive Water market in Scotland which opened in April 2008.

In 2011, we divested our collectionHQ product to Baker and Taylor, the world’s largest supplier of books to public libraries, who we identified as a great fit for taking the product to the next level.  This also proved to be a turning point for our own business. At that time we had 28 members of staff, 20 of whom had been solely focused on the collectionHQ product and who moved over to the new collectonHQ owners at the point of acquisition.

Back to eight people working for the Bridgeall business, we had some important decisions to make about our future.  However, the three directors of the business were uniform in our agreement to kick-on with a two pronged-plan to both grow the Services business and to develop another successful cloud product – not just replicating but bettering the success that we had achieved with collectionHQ.

Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when?

We have always been self-funded from our start in 2002, preferring to keep matters under our own control.  This has enabled us to stay agile, react to changes and opportunities quickly and make fast decisions.

So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?

We now have 40 staff working for the company, with a ring-fenced team focused on our smartcrowds product.  In 2014 we moved from our office in Hillington to a great office in a prime spot on George Square in Glasgow, which has really helped promote our business.

What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?

When we started the business, cloud was in its infancy which often made it difficult for us, as a smaller company, to compete with larger IT consultancies.  There’s now a wide-scale adoption of cloud solutions across businesses of all sizes, which has helped level the playing field between SMEs and the others. We have really focused on this aspect of our business, establishing Bridgeall as a leader in solutions for cloud adoption.

Employee engagement is also more prevalent which is what our smartcrowds product is all about. Millennials have been brought up with social solutions and so engagement and inclusivity are now expected by these people entering the workplace.

What is your target market –  Who is buying your product / service?

Bridgeall delivers IT development and consultancy services across a range of public and private sectors, and whilst our smartcrowds product can also deliver great results in any sector, we are focusing our early efforts in Healthcare, Local Government & Housing, Transport & Construction with an additional cross-sector focus on Health & Safety and HR.

What are your goals for your business?

Our key goals are to continue to build a strong and profitable services business, expanding further afield from our mostly Scottish customer-base into the rest of the UK, and to deliver a successful, profitable smartcrowds cloud service across the UK with a view to longer term global expansion.

What are your biggest current challenges?

Our two key challenges are recruitment, and marketing focus.  Recruitment is a never ending challenge – with a global movement towards digital transformation, the IT sector is booming and it has never been harder to find the right people to join our team.  

The marketing focus for smartcrowds is also critical – we know from experience how a laser-focus can bring great success in a single sector, but it can be difficult to maintain that focus when your product has such widespread sector potential.

What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?

To expect the unexpected.  No matter the amount of planning work done, the route to move forward often changes and you need to be adaptable…

What’s the secret to good leadership?

Being inclusive and empowering staff to follow through on their own ideas.

Where do you see the company in five years?

Reaching the goals that we set in our mission would be success for the wider company. For smartcrowds, gaining a firm foothold within the innovation sector and establishing smartcrowds in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Innovation Management tools is a key goal.

How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?

We need to gain more confidence as a nation, we have great people and great skills, and if we can break the fear factor and learn to accept that failing fast and learning lessons is a good thing, our businesses in Scotland will flourish.

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