Looking back on 2019, and forward to 2020

31 December 2019

 Happy New Year blog post header

This blog was written by Phil Clark, Embedded IT Founder and Director.

So, I decided in 2017 to get into the habit of writing a yearly review of how things were going.  Its been 5 years since I started Embedded, and 3 years since I’ve been living solely off the proceeds, so think in the interests of transparency and helping others wanting to jump off the corporate bandwagon that it’s good to be open about how things are going.

2019, by stark contrast to 2018, was awesome on pretty much every level.  2018 nearly sunk me financially, and 2019 has nearly recovered the position which is great.  I think this is a combination of “growing up” personally, and having a clear focus on what we’re all about, which has paid off very well.

And this clear focus has made life so much easier.  Using the wisdom of Simon Sinek (“The Infinite Game”, great book…), I feel we are generating our own “just cause”, which is simply to enable businesses source the right technology from the right supplier on the right terms, to the mutual benefit of all parties involved.  That needs some work, but the principle is valid.

Through 2019 we applied this principle to some key consulting clients.  My big current Utilities client have been the best client I personally have worked on for a long time, lovely people and fascinating industry content, but outside of that, in 2019, we worked on some other excellent procurement advisory projects for a number of different clients (midmarket retailer, a significant hospitality franchise, a midmarket hotel chain, a significant financial services administration provider, a global food manufacturer and a few others).  Although smaller and part-time projects, they all generate the same sense of satisfaction that one is helping a business buy the right thing from the right supplier on the right terms.

Outside of pure-play procurement, we have also helped drive market awareness for some of the Channel players, delivering webinars and channel engagement advisory services for a global distributor, a midmarket security consulting firm, a start-up security vendor and even subcontracted advisory services through a global analyst group.  Having this view of both sides of the supply chain agenda keeps us balanced, and informed, which really helps all parts of the business.

With the volume of consulting work, we lost a bit of focus on the Embedded Directory.  Launched in 2017, it has been sitting there chuntering to itself with no real love and affection (well, marketing spend) and 2019 was the year of the relaunch.  The original design had lead us down a bit of a cul-de-sac, so we went for a full re-design and build with a simpler UI and better back end data management.  I even wrote some SQL queries myself, blimey that took me back…..

Despite letting it float for a bit, the original version still managed to match a handful of Clients to Suppliers with a total contract value of about £1m, so I’m re-convinced that there is a market for this style of service albeit with the right effort and commitment from the team.  We have changed the commercial model (a small subscription and a very small commission), and this means we are now covering our costs and can invest in better marketing support, future development etc. 

Automation of some of the key stages of technology sourcing is still my ambition, however we needed to park the “Embedded Online” AI concept we had last year (which provided links between Channel and Vendor layers of our world) because of time and cash commitments.  With a decent tailwind I hope to pick this up again later in 2020, as intellectually it is quite fascinating (NLP, data structures, trend forecasting).

One of the proudest moments of 2019 was sustaining the South Hants IT networking group, now a settled unit with a core of attendees.  Despite not generating quite as much charitable cash as I was hoping, we have built something quite cool here – a forum for local tech businesses to build relationships and learn stuff.  I have now out-tasked the administration of the group to my Office Manager (also known as the wife), so we can try and give it a more professional look and feel and drive broader attendance.  I also want to join up with some other local networking groups to consolidate / swap ideas.

And our involvement in the CIPS community is going from strength to strength.  I sit on the committee for the South of England branch, and am really pleased with being so, as it looks like the branch is having a really good resurgence with growing attendees at events and a clear focus on “giveback” to younger students who may not even be aware of Procurement as a career choice.  Walking groups of teenagers through the Quality Cost Delivery triangle concept armed only with 3 wooden die and some chocolate coins is weirdly satisfying.  CIPS will continue to be a focus for us in 2020.

So three years on, I’m even more convinced there is a growing market for advisory and enablement services that help people navigate the complexity of the Technology Supply Chain, and with the broader market changes (Brexit, IR35, new trade deals, new technologies, climate change and sustainability focus) I can only see this becoming more the case.

This latter point is of a personal interest.  I am thinking of partnering with a sustainability organisation to help better assess technology companies for sustainability and environmental credentials as I think there is a market for buyers knowing their carbon impact of IT services.  I’m hopeful the world will wake up to the potential impact of climate change on society in 2020, and if we can help a bit by promoting environmentally responsible businesses that would be enormously satisfying.

Financials, 2019 saw a 50% increase in revenues and but largely flatline profit figures because of investments made in people and the Directory, which hopefully will set us on track for a good 2020.

2020 looks like it will balance better between consulting and online revenues.  With a number of projects already in pipe for the re-launched Directory, and reasonable forecast consulting revenues through to the middle of the year, I’m hopeful we can build a more self-sustaining business model to allow us to focus more on investments in automation / online services over consulting.

That said, we will never stop doing Projects.  The learnings we get from dealing with the players from the top to bottom of UK Technology Supply Chain are invaluable, and as a bunch of sociable individuals, we will always be getting our hands dirty with real world technology problems.  If you love what you do, you’ll do it well.

May all of your personal aspirations come true in 2020, and Happy New Year from all of us at Embedded. 

Phil. x


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