Francis Westtek is the Managing Director of Westtek. He has 26 years of IT experience and 17 years helping recruitment companies choosing, using and supporting the right IT systems. A previous winner of the South African Business Innovation award, Francis networks with black belt efficiency.
- Tell us a little more about Westtek and the team
Our structure is streamlined and effective: we have 5 internal staff, 8 lovely Call Desk first response staff at King’s Langley and then over 108 site engineers. We also have 400 support staff across the UK so we are able to provide support within two hours.
- Are there any trends or challenges that are encouraging Westtek to evolve?
Cloud Computing – The idea of “cloud” comes from the centre of a network diagram. If you were to Google a “network cloud” you’d come upon the typical spider-diagram image of a cloud. In essence it symbolises the central connection of data and is integral to strengthening your information storage, data protection and security. Many companies still work with local email service which really are not good for securing your workload or data as they are ultimately a single point of failure! Cloud offers a stronger back-up system – you are not going to lose your data. It’s also important to utilise cloud because if you leave your office overnight then clients are going to depend on your out-of-office emailing system but if your system is run only by a local email service then you’d have to have “email downtime” – and it’s in this “downtime” that you’d lose clients. Email is critical to service at any time of the day and it is more critical to a business than phones.
Security – Insider security is a big problem. Many buy cheap firewalls and think that they are completely protected! I tend to think of it in terms of the security at night clubs – you could be checked for your name without the confirmation that you are who you say you are in terms of your other details (i.e: your hair, shoes size, build etc.). That’s the kind of protection that a cheap or free firewall will offer. And that’s not comprehensive security! It’s too easy to be hacked if you’re using a free or cheap firewall. On a personal note: if you were hacked due to your inability to effectively secure your information the banks aren’t so likely to pay out.
Data tests – The challenge now is that there are approximately 5000 recruitment businesses starting every year and the reality is that many will source their client base from their previous employer. It is data theft! But the industry is so under-regulated that it is difficult to take control of these kinds of situations. How do you document and protect your company’s data legally? How can you legally prevent data loss from those moving on to start their own companies? It’s a difficult one to navigate.
- What are you plans for Westtek for the next five years?
It has always been our goal for Westtek to become the number one IT Solution provider in the UK for the recruitment sector. We’re constantly working with this goal in mind. We want to receive recognition for our proactive and value-driven service within this sector. We spend a lot of time and money in software development and we have proven that we’re able to reduce our clients’ contact time with IT support by 85% within the first three months of working with them.
We also work to educate our clients on a regular basis on the tricks of technology that will help them in more efficiently moving through their workload. We hold “101” sessions and training which are all catered to making our clients lives easier by teaching them how to reduce the amount of time that they waste through simple and effective technology solutions. Our clients can gain ten minutes to their day! We have also video sessions and one-on-one tuition. This is how set apart from other IT support companies.
- What do you feel has been the key to Westtek’s success?
Automation is key! Fix your technology, not your people. Every Monday night we have our own software maintenance. Work through the problems that you have with your technology by engaging with a company such as Wesstek that works to improve the efficiency of your systems and how your staff deal with your systems. Don’t simply waste money and time by hiring more people when the solution isn’t extra people but a more effective maintenance and use of your technology.
- Since having founded Westtek what was the biggest challenges (or challenges) that you and your team have faced?
The biggest challenge is definitely building your client base. It’s such a competitive and unregulated industry – so much so that every Tom, Dick and Harry can decide that they want to start and IT service business. And then you have the issue of potential clients thinking that they only need the cheapest deal to have their systems functioning effectively. They’re only looking at price rather than the quality of service. It’s all part of a typical cycle that Westtek consistently works with. It’s a three-point cycle:
Point #1: A company decides to do a search for IT support and stumble upon a company that claims to provide service at a cheaper price-point but find that, after a few months, they’re already experiencing issues in terms of the amount of time they’re spending discussing/working on issues with the IT support company and thus struggling to maintain their own productivity.
Point #2: The MD will then decide to change providers but believes that the expense that they are already paying is “too high” considering the quality of service that they have received. So, the MD will decide to go for a company at an even lower price-point which equates to a much lower level of quality.
Point #3: The MD the finally decides that high quality, efficient service might be worth investing in after-all.
This is when they come upon Westtek and find that we’re fully aware of this typical sequence of events. Wherever another company is at within this cycle we can accommodate with a price agreement that reflects their current position.
It’s a dominating question: how do you get clients to go from bad service to great service? Generally speaking, people are “better-the-devil-you-know”. That being said, we have over 86 reviews attesting to our high quality level of service. We will do whatever we can to consistently remain pro-active and get you to phone as little as possible!
- Clients not changing supplier even when they are getting very bad service from their current IT supplier
Keep eyes on the numbers!!! Cash, clients, profit levels, you name it. Know them all and know them well! It’s shocking just how many companies don’t know exactly what they’re made of. It’s a ticket to company failure.
- From the start of your career had you intended on founding your own company?
Yes, I’m not very good at being an employee in the sense that I’ve always been quite independent and have wanted to break out on my own. I was in the army for two years (constantly taking orders) and I was always looking forward to moving away from home to do my own thing. I came to the UK in November 1990 with £100. And within days from having arrived I’d gone down to £75 but had secured a job. I started from nothing and just wanted to continue building my own future.
- Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
Always listen to and at least consider the advice of others! Particularly when it comes to knowing your numbers. I learnt that the hard way with a previous endeavour and the results can lead to personal catastrophe. However, I have learnt from my mistakes quite organically and I’ve been rebuilding since then.
My next step really will be in 2019. I hope to be able to help other companies in a non-executive mentoring position. I’d like to see more companies succeed within this industry through simple changes of approach!
- What is your opinion of the UK’s vote to leave the EU?
I believe that the UK should be out of the EU. The UK used to be “Great Britain” – by leaving the EU the UK can reclaim that position and take more control. Luckily, this referendum won’t really affect a company like Westtek; people will always need great technology service. That being said, leaving the EU will create more opportunities, more positive implications for all industries and overall make the UK more self-reliant.
- What advice would you give to those in the IT services industry thinking of starting a business?
Based on what I’ve already mentioned in terms of the issues and the state of the industry, I’d seriously recommend that potential entrants pick another industry! IT support services have become a bit of commodity and it’s very under-regulated. Maybe go work for another company for at least ten or thirty years and then see where you can go from there. I tried growing a company the “organic” hard way and I wouldn’t recommend it.
- What challenges are present now for those wishing to build a new IT services/software business?
Finding good staff and keeping the numbers of staff as low as possible. Again, improve your technology, not your people! Most companies have the capacity for automation but they’re not using it properly. Instead they employ too many people and end up wasting lots of money. Most of the companies that I have come across could get rid of over half of their staff!
- What would you say is the key to keeping an organisational team happy and running smoothly?
The key is through listening! Be compassionate, be engaging, allow your staff to make mistakes and fail fast. Everyone has to learn to become better and stronger!
- Have you or your team had to handle the issues of the Windows 10 automatic installation within your own company or with assisting clients? Did this create issues?
Yes, this did cause plenty of issues for people. We do however have software to handle this issue. I would recommend Windows 10 for those with new machines. Windows 7 is better for people with old machines as Windows 10 wipes old machines of their data. Essentially, Windows 7 is great as it is!
It’s a clever move by Microsoft and Westtek are here to clean up the mess of it. It’s essentially a marketing ploy by Microsoft who have used the public as guinea pigs. This way of handling it though, by using automatic installations, should have had much more preparation than this!
- Do you think starting a business now would be harder or easier than starting one up ten years ago?
It’s definitely much harder now due to the much higher levels of competition. And the competition is at a much younger age range. The entry-level is much harder – long term people struggle with this. There has been a 25% reduction in IT company start-ups in the past year. I’d recommend waiting for ten or thirty years of working as an employee within the industry before considering starting up your own business. It’s not for the faint-hearted! That being said, I do enjoy my career!
- What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
For me the attitude “failure is not an option” is essential! It’s a difficult industry and therefore you have to keep going and not settle for failure. It’s a hard road but it’s really the only road available.
Always surround yourself with people who are better than you, who can advise you, who can give you a more knowledgeable perspective. You can’t grow without accepting that someone might now more than you or be better at what you do.
I recently read a book The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field by Mike Michalowicz. It’s a fantastic read and highlights all the truths that are simply common sense within business! It’s all about working with fewer clients at an exceptionally high level of service rather than having a mass collection of clients but only being able to offer watered down service. I can’t recommend the book enough! Westtek consistently works with the ethos of be as proactive as you can with the clients that you have.
- You regularly attend events and seminars as guest speakers, what kind of advice would you normally give attendees?
I usually discuss how to save at least 15 minutes per day using technology tip and tricks that are mostly free and already available to them. I give this advice not only through seminars and events but also through newsletters. People always light up with the simple tricks that they come to learn from my events and seminars. You see their excitement at being able to take that information back to their team and enforce a more streamlined working method. It’s not simply training – it’s insight and advice that has the real ability to affect change. It’s about teaching companies to use what they already have to the max!