By Adam Gifford

John Quirk is about to knock the walls out in his office.

It's not that the Motherwell Information Systems chief executive is a sudden convert to open plan offices - it's just that the business is expanding too fast for the luxury of closed offices to continue.

In the past year, staff numbers have grown from 160 to 260, with many based in Australia and the southern United States, where MIS has a thriving export business.


Mr Quirk says the company has turned round financially in the past couple of years and invested substantially in the people and resources needed to build a world-leading supply chain practice.

Profit last year was $2 million, up from $294,000 the year before.

The main constraint on growth is finding enough "competent, innovative, entrepreneurial people with a can do attitude."

Besides normal recruiting, the firm has developed a graduate training programme to bring in 10 top students for next year.

"We look for a good academic record plus high performance in other areas. It could be sport, drama, politics. As long as they achieve in one other area than academic, we hope they will be sufficiently rounded to be valuable to us, because it's hard to take a nerd and put them into business and get something useful."

The company, a subsidiary of Scottish engineering firm Motherwell Bridge, deals in "best of breed" products which do what Mr Quirk calls "the hard stuff."

These products are taking off, as new electronic technologies stretch the supply chain from the customer's customer to the supplier's supplier. MIS specialises in the "bolt-ons" to enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), such as optimisation, transport planning, logistics and bar coding.

One product is the supply chain optimisation tool from Numetrix, a Canadian company recently bought by ERP giant JD Edwards, which has left Motherwell in charge of sales and implementation in Australia and New Zealand.


Motherwell also has an SAP implementation practice, a practice implementing and supporting Ross Systems' Renaissance ERP product, mainly in US steel mills, a relationship with Baan based around its CAPS Logistics product, and rights to Ebsco Information Technologies' Cor (constraint oriented reasoning) tools.

This month, MIS signed a partnership deal with Jade Group to develop e-commerce applications using the Christchurch-developed Jade programming tools.

"Our view on e-commerce is easy. E-commerce is like teenage sex. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone wants to do it. They're just not sure when or even if they should. Ultimately they do it, and a lot of people have been doing it longer than anyone thought."

He rejects the view of some consulting firms that companies should engage in wholesale transformation to prepare themselves for e-commerce.

"Because the area changes so quickly and technology changes so quickly, you've just got to say 'put some suppliers in the system and let them top up the inventory,' or 'let customers come in and look at their order status.' Pick out biteable chunks and implement it.

"If [failed police computer project] Incis started as small projects under a big architecture, it would have had more chance of success."


Motherwell practice manager Peter de Heer said the company chose Jade because Cardinal (which developed the product) had a good track record in e-commerce with its development of ASB Bank's FastNet and Bank Direct's online banking system.

"There is still a market gap in terms of ERP integration with e-commerce which we want to exploit."

Among the projects being worked on is an attempt to use XML (extensible mark-up language) for EDI (electronic data interchange).

"The Internet allows EDI technology to become more realistic in price, you don't need dedicated lines. The up and coming format to deliver that is XML."

MIS is forming the New Zealand and Australian chapter of the Supply Chain Council, an international standards organisation ( formed in 1996 with about 550 member companies worldwide.

Members have access to its supply chain change management and implementation model, SCOR (supply chain operations reference), which provides a standard set of definitions, inputs, processes and outputs representing the flow of materials and information in a supply chain.