The Office Group
The Office Group was founded in 2003 by co-directors Ollie Olsen and Charlie Green, both previous employees of MWB. The Group is geared to expand beyond their current tally of five centres in London, buying up freehold properties or managing buildings on behalf of landlords. They aim to provide good looking and affordable office space for their customers, but also strive to answer their further needs: they operate an overt environmental policy and organise a regular ‘office party’.
When Green and Olsen opened for business, they managed their client accounts and billing with a collection of spreadsheets, Word documents and an accounting package – a collection of in-house developed applications which were backed up by intensive manual processes.
This enabled them to get on with business, but limitations soon presented themselves.
Billing never ceased being a two-day nightmare; a distracted operator could miss a charge, line items were being accidentally deleted, and data got lost in transfers between systems.
And when it came to running the business, historical information just wasn’t accessible. It was evident there were insufficient controls and it was clear that the arrangement didn’t scale when another centre came on line. Olsen reports; “It wasn’t going to hold us back from expanding physically but it certainly was costing us too many man hours to get the billing out each month. With one building the situation was manageable, but with two it was just too much. We needed a system.”
The Group reviewed its options. Their choices appeared to be restricted to either buying software off-the-shelf, or have a system developed to their requirements. Various packaged solutions were considered and each in turn discounted, including the system that is used by some UK centres. Olsen reflects, “I was using that package in the Waterloo Business Centre, a centre managed but not owned by us, and I have used it at MWB in the past. I decided against using it as I had found it lacked resilience, the reporting wasn’t accurate or up to date, and it didn’t reflect what the occupiers needed to see, or what the bank needed to see. Essentially, I felt that it was more trouble than it was worth.” With no appropriate choices to opt for, Olsen approached a software company and commissioned the development of a bespoke system. However, the experience wasn’t good. Olsen continues, “I’ve seen this before. Irrespective of the size of a company, bespoke development can cause more management problems, more training issues, more glitches, more errors and upgrades than any other form of software procurement. It became the case here too. The problem with these guys was that the bespoke package was actually holding me back. It seemed an absolute performance to make any kind of upgrade; the amount of time and effort put into creating the product was not reflected in the price and time it took to get the job done, and it always felt like work-in-progress. Despite the investment and management input, I never felt I got the system I wanted.”
A routine call from UltraSoft Technologies (UST) resulted in a presentation of UltraSoftBIS, and Olsen was drawn to it immediately, as he says, “Because of the quality of the system. By that I mean the ease with which my team could come in and use it straight away.
UltraSoftBIS is more like a website that you can browse. It’s so straight forward to use. It was apparent that it would immediately save us a lot of money on training alone.” Olsen was also impressed by UltraSoftBIS’ pedigree. The first system (UltraBIS) created by UST was deployed by Regus, and UST’s CEO, Harun Biswas, started in the serviced office industry in 1994. “I also felt that since UST are from the industry, that it was created for serviced office operators. I felt that someone else had gone through all the hassle of designing it and making it bespoke so I did not really need to. That was the benefit to me; it was originally created for the leading operator in the industry and I felt UST understood what I needed. It actually had a number of surprises in there that I didn’t even think of. UST’s knowledge of the business was far greater than anyone else I had spoken to. The knowledge and understanding of the sector displayed by UST was extremely important to me as it gave me confidence that the system was going to deliver, and be adaptable.”
Olsen still remained cautious however; “I did look at their competitors’ products briefly, and found none of them to be capable of just being dropped into my business and be pretty much ‘up and running’, fulfilling needs of the business from the very first day.”
Olsen concludes; “Thank God you guys came along and called me, otherwise it would have been a nightmare.”
The Office Group installed UltraSoft Technology’s UltraSoftBIS dedicated system for the service office industry.
Olsen reports that implementing the system was quick and straight forward. Harun Biswas, CEO of UltraSoft confirms; “Installation just took two days. We transferred existing data, and created the links to The Group’s accounting system, which we did on the spot, while working with the accountant for half an hour. Then it was simply a matter of a day’s training to familiarise staff and The Group was self-sufficient.” Olsen admits there were a few ‘how to’ calls at the beginning, but it was the speed at which he could get the software into the business and start billing accurately that impressed him. Olsen adds, “The fact that I have not thought about it suggests that it (the support) has been very good. Everyone at UltraSoft has been helpful. Furthermore, they always returned my calls pretty quickly and I feel that if there is anything I ever needed from them, or if there was any trouble, they would be there for me.”
Olsen reports favourably on the final results; “It was very, very easy to buy, bring it in, get it sorted out, get the basic training and operate. From were I am standing I see no errors with it. It is helping the business by reducing the management time, increasing my confidence by capturing all of the costs as well as providing me with a straight forward and easy way to introduce new charging structures without much management time. I have confidence in the data produced. I’ve got the ability to introduce new services immediately, and increase prices immediately. The fact that it is so easy to use saves on training time, especially as new receptionists and other staff start work.”
Olsen reports an 80% decrease in time and costs for the billing process, and further substantial savings from training costs. “The billing run used to take me two days. Now it takes two hours. The savings from training amount to 2 days per person.”
His final verdict? “Highly recommended!”