Abacus House is an anonymous looking structure. A commercial property in every sense.
Yet its bland appearance belies its contents, for here is a hive of leading edge technology, an e-commerce consultancy developing software applications that drive customer relations and management solutions.
The company housed here is Eysys, which has already secured a number of high-level consultancy projects with leading international travel companies while developing its own management tool, Holistic.
To those with a limited, or perhaps no knowledge, of computer technology it’s a world of mystery and imagination.
It is also the world of Simon Powell who established Eysys with business partner Humphrey Sheil.
Mr Powell and Mr Sheil had previously worked together at Comtec, a business they set up in 1995 and grew to reach a turnover of £14m before a £27m management buyout in 2008.
“My entrepreneurial career began at the age of 22 when I joined the family travel business and grew it to more than 20 retail shops,” said 46-year-old Mr Powell.
He added: “After we sold Comtec our paths diverged. Humphrey went of to work for Thomas Cook in London as head of data engineering and infrastructure, while I stayed on as chief executive officer until 2010.”
Now both are reunited under the Eysys banner whose aim is to enhance the way e-commerce businesses and the public trade on the internet, by making their website transactions more effective and efficient in order to grow their profitability.
Sensing he’s speaking to the uninitiated Mr Powell explains: “It’s a system that sits on top of a website. It enables the user to have more control over the way they sell and how they manage the margin and the conversion of that website. The goal is to raise the profitability of that site.”
This, he goes on to explain, is achieved in a number of ways.
“The first is by trying to optimise the way money is spent to attract people to websites. “Anybody can put a website on the end of the internet but getting people to that website is the challenge that companies of all sizes have.”
This was the background against which Eysys was set up and the Holistic programme created.
“Humphrey and I were talking about what we could do to change the technology landscape and what real difference we could make,” he said.
“Since coming up with the idea, it’s exactly one year on since we moved into this building with just four staff.”
Currently Eysys employs 30.
Mr Powell said: “Once we started with the development of the platform we saw that the different modules required with the vast amount of data that internet sites generate needed to be put into a format that allowed a business person to manage their own online presence.”
After attracting what he calls “the eyeballs” the next important area is content – how you display this and make it easier to read and better displayed.
“It’s about making the content correct for the audience looking at those items,” he said.
“We have come up with a whole different way of organising content within websites. We make it far more appealing to the end user and to the search engines that look at that content and its relevance for the individual sites.”
Now we move seamlessly on to “intelligence”, not in the human but in the military sense.
“When trading on the web you are not trading in your own little world but in the greater worldwide web. Intelligence is about collecting data on your competitors.
“If, however, we are all selling the same product on the web, then price competition becomes important and you have to react to it.
“So another part of our system is about collecting data on your competitors to allow the correct decisions to be taken around what to do.
“Should I either reduce margins and drop the price, or have I to stop spending money to attract eyeballs when I know I’m not going to get the conversion for it?
“So the automation of linking competitor data to my paid search campaigns might be a very important thing to do.”
All of which brings him back to the Holistic programme and its relevance to the world of e-commerce.
Making websites more intelligent means, he explains, the provision of “an overarching dash board or management console so that the business owner can have an uncluttered view without misinformation. In short, one holistic view.” Eysys was recently successful in its application for a research, development and innovation (RDI) grant from the Welsh Government.
This enabled staff to begin work on the development of the Eysys platform which involves using automation and predictive techniques to bring it to the next level.
What then does this mean?
Mr Powell said: “It’s about actually forecasting changes made by using the data in the platform and seeing what the outcome might be.
“If, for example, I was to reduce my margin using the predictive technology with the amount of visitors and data we have, we may be able to predict that by reducing the margin by 4% it might have a positive income on sales of 10%.
“So we are using some very clever processes to start building the next generation module for Holistic, which is due out next year. This will allow the machine learning and artificial intelligence to start bringing forward our ability to predict with more certainty the outcome of changes for websites.”
The award of the RDI grant has proved to be the impetus for creating another 10 jobs to help drive the project over the next 18 months.
Of its real significance Mr Powell said: “As far as we are aware there is no one else in the UK looking at producing this sort of platform. There are a few organisations in Silicon Valley doing parts of some of the Holistic platform, but in totality we can’t find anyone in the world developing anything like we are here.”
Of those working on this unique concept, that could potentially change the way e-commerce is conducted, Mr Powell said: “We are taking advantage of the graduates from both Cardiff, Swansea and other centres of higher education. Ninety per cent of those who started with us are still here and developing technology that is probably at the forefront of any development in the UK.”
Turning his attention to the economy in general, and Wales in particular, his observations are centred on personal experience.
He said: “It was interesting coming back into business. Comtec had been my life for 15 years and selling it was a major event.
“Restarting was interesting because it’s about getting going. One year on, having started above the garage as all good start ups do, we then took on staff, grew and moved here.”
Then, acknowledging the help available to achieve this, he added: “There is a load of help available in Wales for businesses to get started. There is confusion about how you start to access that help but once you make the right contacts then schemes such as Go Wales, where we recruited our graduates from, have been both helpful and important for us.
“It gives us the chance to see we have made the right selection process and we have been 95% successful in taking them into full time employment.”
He added: “When we started the business I wasn’t sure that the recruitment of people without experience of the IT industry and high-end programming would be a success but a year on it has proven to be.”
He added: “We have excellent graduates looking for big challenges. From the financial perspective institutions such as Finance Wales are important in enabling people with ideas who have no funding to actually start and are a positive asset.”
The current economic climate is, he said, difficult and no-one is having an easy ride.
That said, there are opportunities for companies in sectors which can actually produce growth. Which raises the question of how you adapt a business to take advantage of those areas in which there is growth.
It is, he believes, about not having fixed costs but having variable costs that can be flexible as a business needs to change.
“Change is difficult,” he said, acknowledging the dilemma.
“It isn’t what people like putting businesses through but the only way to survive and prosper in this challenging climate, which shows no sign of ending, is to have that ability to take the chance and look for opportunities where you wouldn’t historically have searched.”
All of which leads him to the question of bank lending and a hesitancy before replying.
“I think banks would have no interest in lending money to a company like this unless you could provide 100% security.
“Eysys has won major contracts in international consultancy while building Holistic. It’s incomprehensible how the economy can grow without businesses like ours accessing capital.
“Seed capital can take you so far but the intermediary stage is important. We started Comtec with £10,000 each and an £80,000 small firms loan. Now there’s no chance of this. Comtec wouldn’t have happened and 180 people wouldn’t have been employed.
“At the end of the day it’s vital that banks start lending money to those who can start building businesses.”
Looking to the future from an Eysys perspective and the technology his company is developing, Mr Powell believes that everybody within the next decade will have something like the Holistic platform managing their websites.
He said: “Those people who haven’t got a system along with those who will copy us will be uncompetitive in the e-commerce space and we all know how quickly this space is expanding, whether it’s 25% or 30% of all transactions that are carried out. What we do know is that the High Street in the traditional sense is declining.”
The Eysys creation, Holistic, isn’t limited in the scope of its usage but sectors have been chosen – jobs, automotive, insurance and travel.
“We are not limited by the vertical or geography so where we see the Eysys product set going over the next five years is that of an exporter from Wales. Our system will be used around the world and one pilot client is based in Croatia.”
He added: “We haven’t come at this with a narrow mind but with the global and local markets as milestones to achieve.”