Anwen Robinson joined the Netherlands-based business software company as managing director in 2009 across the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Since then UNIT4, which provides enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Coda financial management software, has grown its workforce 470 people across the UK. It also saw its revenue jump 10% to $105m (£65m) in 2012.
What do you think about long-term ERP projects and where is the market going?
The ERP market has for many years had a dubious reputation for long-term ERP projects. Some projects, mainly centered on 'Big ERP', lasted for years, and in some cases have even brought household names, like MFI, to their knees.
I think the market is rightly moving away from this model towards ERP that involves much shorter implementation timescales. The debate has moved on from cloud and mobility, of course they are critical but they are givens for any ERP technology, in fact we've been offering cloud for over 20 years.
Flexibility with control is the future. Our customers need to be fleet of foot to meet external business challenges, whether this means re-organisations or merging departments, businesses will increasingly demand flexible ERP technology that supports such dynamic strategies.
You were recently selected for the 'Tri-Boroughs' shared services project across three London services. How else is the government supporting you?
Our Agresso solution was also selected to underpin the new Independent Shared Services Centre in Swansea, which is being run by arvato on behalf of the Department of Transport. We are seeing clear signs that the government is adapting to the current climate by considering technology suppliers that offer better value for money and solutions that are more suitable for the times.
You are currently the number one supplier of business systems to local government. What other plans do you have to further Unit4 and what new products have you developed recently?
We hope to grow market share in central government, health and blue-light sectors. In the UK we are already the number one supplier of business systems to post 16 education organisations with intentions to become the enterprise software vendor of choice for Education and Research institutions worldwide. We are also the number one supplier of finance systems to the retail sector and we hope to build upon this success across commercial sectors, especially service-based organisations.
We recently developed a product in partnership with Oxford and Cambridge Universities called Agresso Research Costing and Pricing to help research organisations simplify complex research administration.
We also launched UNIT4 Data Services which is the first packaged solution for extended business intelligence using internal and external linked data. Where relevant executives can use UNIT4 Data Services to not only interrogate internal big data but also go externally to the web to bring more clarity and context to business intelligence.
Are there any other challenges that your company is faced with?
There are huge challenges in this sector. The main challenge is competition, but this is good for the market as a whole. It keeps us busy, always trying to provide more attractive offerings than our competitors.
Our strategy of constant improvement seems to be bearing fruit, even against much larger competitors. In 2012 the main competitor we saw was Oracle whom we replaced nine times and beat ten times. We also beat SAP seven times and Microsoft five times.
To what extent do you think there are more women working in IT now compared to when you first started working in the industry?
There are more women working in the industry and increasingly holding Board level positions. At UNIT4 for instance half the Board is female, but this is still not generally the norm for most Boards. A balanced Board embodies different strengths where gender is irrelevant.
On a broader basis there is a shortage of talented IT personnel who have the pre-requisite skill sets that business is increasingly demanding. This is also not gender specific but the issue in attracting females to the profession starts in our schools and is compounded through higher and further education where STEM subjects are predominantly considered to be male dominated. We need to change this mindset and the way in which we teach and promote these subjects if we are to ensure that the brightest and best girls progress into exciting, challenging and extremely well paid IT professions. As a former mathematics and computing teacher and honours graduate Mechanical Engineer, this is something I am passionate about.
What do you think about women pursuing a career in IT despite the challenge of having a family? Could Tech companies do more to facilitate them?
Being so competitive the technology sector has evolved to be at the forefront of business practices and is at the heart of every business evolution & transformation. This makes it a fantastic place for anyone to work in and I would urge women to consider it if they want to work at the cutting edge.
I think tech companies are in general accommodating towards maternity and flexible working so that women can strike the right balance between work and home life. However I also think that to get to the top you will inevitably have to make sacrifices in your personal life, but this is true of both men and women.
Are there any other challenges faced by female employees when it comes to working in IT?
Personally I have never been held back in the world of technology. The keys are hard work, common sense, tenacity, pragmatism, thick skin and a sense of humour.