Yoke Har Lee: Growth built on quest for quality

Breaking boundaries is a way of life for Wellington-based company Qual IT Solutions. The company has seen its headcount double in the past two years to 70 people, underpinned by a similarly robust pace of revenue growth.

And while the market has definitely softened, says its general manager Craig Dewhurst, Qual IT is hoping to stay on course for double-digit growth this year.

The company specialises in quality assurance testing of e-commerce systems, web technologies, and enterprise resource planning systems, among other things. It helps clients ensure that their technologies and systems can withstand the toughest tests and will deliver on their performance specifications.

Qual IT also trains businesses which want to learn how to conduct UAT (user acceptance) testing and provides consultancy on quality assurance.

Several factors have helped propel the company on to its fast growth track since it was set up in 2004 by founders Jon McPhee and Shane Hewson. Dewhurst has since become the third partner in the company. The three men have over 50 years of managerial and technical experience in various industries, especially financial services and IT.

One of the biggest drivers of growth for Qual IT is the voracious appetite for innovation in IT solutions. "People are a lot more ambitious with the functions they are trying to achieve," says Dewhurst. "IT applications are also critical to a lot of businesses. All these changes come with the risk of added uncertainties to any project." Clients who have been turning to Qual IT's testing services have come to realise the benefits of outside expertise.

"A lot of our clients do have in-house teams," says Dewhurst. "But the high levels of change that IT projects see add new levels of risks to these projects. The testing portion is typically between 15 and 25 per cent of a project's cost.

"We help keep the cost of testing down - often by bringing on high levels of skilled resource. This helps ensure the quality of a project is not compromised."

Key selling points, says Dewhurst, have been Qual IT's ability to keep to planned timelines and deliver the desired goals.

One customer has been Sydney-based Centrum Systems, a professional services and IT consulting services firm which is a partner with Qual IT on several projects as well as being a client.

Centrum's director for business development, Helen Monaghan, believes Qual IT has stood out from competitors because "they are not looking at what they do as an IT project but as a business project. They are highly focused on the business outcomes".

One of the evolutions taking place in testing methodology is the focus on breaking boundaries, by simulating events that will put the systems under duress.

Testers no longer work on whether the system will break, Dewhurst says. "The way software testing has developed over the last five years, we work along the principle of 'how do we break this?' or 'what can we do to break this?' This requires the testers to do what the developers have not thought of." Qual IT is aware of the need to keep competitors at bay, and to improve its own internal processes, systems and human capital.

A few years ago it embarked on a process to capture knowledge in the company by identifying its key intellectual property (IP) and systematically documenting that knowledge so it can be preserved, improved upon and replicated.

"We have developed our key practices, developed the processes we used and added consistency to our way of doing things. We have introduced good governance, by bringing on an external chairman, and have used a number of external advisers to help us. We have also brought on BDO Spicers to do our accounting, and like any good company, outsource some functions such as our network and IT," Dewhurst says.

The company has several competitors, from individual contract workers, to large one-stop-shop integrators of IT solutions who undertake the whole gamut of IT work, to other similar independent companies.

Dewhurst says big project integrators tend to present solutions based on what they typically do and the technology they represent. But the reality is that companies no longer rely on single technology solutions.

"This creates opportunities for us," he says. Two years ago the company assessed its prospects and the economic environment. "We predicted the economy will slow down so we took measures to diversify our growth. Part of that strategy was to diversify our markets."

That spurred a move into the Australian market and Qual IT clinched a large project from an insurance company across the Tasman to test its quality assurance.

The company is now positioning itself to move into the British market once the economic mood lifts.

"We will use the Australian experience to develop our model [for the British market]." The US is another possibility further down the road. Dewhurst believes the vital step to exporting services to the US is developing the right relationship or partnership.

"That really is the key," he says.

- NZ Herald

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