Grow your business, My story

What does business innovation for the 21st century look like?

Like many businesses in Ireland, facilities management company FMC-Ultratech was hit hard by the financial crash. Commercial director Nigel Devenish readily admits the struggle it faced: “we tanked”.  The business – which manages lighting, wiring, power, cleaning and catering for big institutions – used the crisis as an opportunity for a complete restructuring. Hired in 2008 to spearhead the reshaping of the company, Nigel reveals how he brought FMC-Ultratech firmly into the 21st century with lean thinking and business innovation.

Leaning towards success

The crash “made FMC become exceptionally lean” admits Nigel. “We took away all unnecessary assets, like company cars, and focused on providing core services to our clients.” This lean set-up allowed FMC “to be very nimble and agile” and compete with bigger companies.

Citing the Uber business model, Nigel is a firm believer in eliminating “intermediaries that don’t add value” to transactions. “We don’t want to build a £100m business with 5,000 employees… instead we see the future as an ecosystem,” he says, with FMC putting “trusted professional tradespeople” into direct contact with customers.

Waste not, want not

This lean-thinking, anti-waste approach has seen FMC win contracts from its competitors. When Dublin City University put a lighting contract out to tender recently, its old provider thought it was a shoo-in to be re-hired. Nigel had other ideas. “I did a presentation to the procurement people and said ‘I struggle to understand why you waste so much money’,” he reports. “I told them straight that their provider was charging them for things they got no value from.” It had the desired effect: Nigel won the account, and got his wholesaler to supply directly to the University, with communication between the two conducted online.

Embracing technology

To succeed as a lean organisation, businesses must fully embrace modern technology: “Everything we do as a business we do on mobile, and all of our accounting is cloud-based,” says Nigel. But it’s not only about the devices themselves. Business innovation in the modern workplace necessitates better education of staff too. “You have to up-skill people to understand the tools they are working with. Our workers on site are now using field tablets, KPIs, and basic spreadsheets.”

Mobility and agility

Having mobile office spaces is “central to our philosophy of having an agile presence” says Nigel. “When we travel around the country we’re able to use buildings of the same standard, and we don’t have to use crowded hotel foyers for meetings.” Using offices of a certain calibre doesn’t hurt relationships with new clients and providers, either. “Bringing contractors into very professional environment sets the tone right from the start.”

This all adds up to create an agile, 21st century lean organisation. “In yesteryear we worked with roadmaps and blue sky thinking. In today’s environment, it is all about business innovation, agility and resilience,” says Nigel. FMC’s lean thinking has lead to success ahead of its competition – and it looks like it’s got plenty left in the tank.

Nigel Devenish is the Commercial Director of FMC-Ultratech, which operates from a Regus office in a former tyre factory in Birmingham, England.