Total Mobile is on a strong growth trajectory, increasing revenues by 30% a year. The Clarendon Docks-based business has over 130 staff, took on more than 30 new employees over the last year and expects to recruit the same number again in the coming 12 months.
The business has changed focus several times since its formation in 1985. Originally it was called Task Software and then in the 1990s the firm became known as Consilium Technologies. In those days it sold financial management systems to local authorities, not just in Northern Ireland, but also in Great Britain.
"Then about 10 years ago we began working on Total Mobile, supporting mobile working practices," said managing director Colin Reid. "We could see a revolution coming, so we developed software to enable people to work away from the office.
"To be honest, we were probably doing it too early. It was in 2010 with the introduction of the iPad that things started to change. Even then, organisations were fairly slow to adapt. It was the first technology I have seen where the consumer has been ahead of enterprise organisations. Now enterprise organisations are playing catch-up."
Total Mobile provides systems that enable workers to access files and update data while out of the office and it concentrates in particular on the public sector, both in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Social workers and housing officers are typical of the type of officials who need access to files while visiting clients.
By using mobile technologies while on the go, staff can substantially improve their productivity, according to Total Mobile. Mr Reid estimates that it will save a mobile worker about two hours a day and adds that the efficiency improvements are maximised by Total Mobile's software and systems, which enable workers to still access and update files even when they have lost online connectivity. The technology works across all types of online devices.
"We are still selling into local government, but we moved into the health market at the beginning of 2012," said Mr Reid.
Until then, ambitious plans for a comprehensive IT system for the whole of the UK's NHS had in effect prevented individual local health trusts from procuring their own technologies. When the national system procurement was abandoned in 2011 it created a new market for local trusts to buy new information systems.
"We are focused on community health," said Mr Reid, "nurses and clinicians going out to visit patients." Through Total Mobile's systems they can access X-rays and patient files while in a patient's home. This taps into the growing market of healthcare delivery at home, which is increasingly replacing hospital-based treatment.
"This is the direction of travel for all health care providers," said Mr Reid. "Treating people in their own homes and we are enabling that." But, in addition, Total Mobile is talking to trusts about the provision of mobile technology within hospitals, to improve the efficiency of clinicians as they move between wards.
Total Mobile is a high growth business that is focused on winning contracts outside the home market. It is exactly the type of business Northern Ireland needs many more of.
Being healthy and fit makes a difference
By Ron Immink
There is no question about it. Health is a hotspot –not only from a demographic perspective, but also from a technology and efficiency perspective.
If you follow the trends the possibilities are endless. Big data, mobile health, e-health, Watson (the IBM super computer) helping doctors with diagnoses, visiting your doctor via Skype, sensor technology – all the way to genetics, nano technology, material science, 3D bio-printing and a combination of all the above.
Total Mobile and Aspen NI are great examples of what is possible in that space. Very dynamic companies. Entrepreneurs and small businesses should follow their lead.
There is no doubt that their future is bright, if they keep up with the trends.
The caveman principle
With all the technology developments it is good to remember the caveman principle.
If humans have a choice, they will always go for the real deal. What do you prefer, a MP3 file or visiting a live concert? And therein lies a whole range of other opportunities.
The innovation pendulum
Faith Popcorn talks about the pendulum that swings from the extreme to the simple.
As a response to technology, people increasingly go back to nature. Action is reaction. I bet you have wooden floors in your house. It is matter of taking a position on that spectrum.
Again the possibilities with health are limitless and if you stretch it, it moves into self-management of health in areas such a sport, well-being, sleep and food.
Healthy mind, healthy body
As entrepreneurs that area should be of particular interest. Not just from an opportunity perspective, but from a personal perspective. As an entrepreneur you are a top athlete in the business world. Being healthy and fit makes a difference.
It is identified as a key success factor.
And there is a business opportunity in there as well. Entrepreneurs gym? Business yoga? Start-up food? CEO health sensors?
Ron Immink is the co-founder of Small Business Can
Focus on nursing homes saved firm during recession
Fortune favours the brave, so it is said. This is certainly the experience of the Holywood-based Aspen property group. While much of Northern Ireland's construction sector has been destroyed by the recession, Aspen has thrived – by taking the courageous route.
"We did very well during the recession," said managing director Gilbert Yates, son of the founder, also called Gilbert.
"We took a chance in the downturn and it worked very well for us."
Until the recession, the main business line for the 36-year-old Aspen group was in handling building repairs for insurance companies.
But insurers responded to the financial crisis by cutting costs and meeting claims with cash payments, rather than commissioning repair work.
Recognising that the traditional business model was under threat, Gilbert Jnr changed direction.
"My business would have just failed overnight," he said. "So in 2008 I investigated the nursing homes market."
Land had become cheap, while there was an undersupply of nursing home provision in the private sector – in part because the property boom had made land acquisition for care homes unaffordable.
Mr Yates took advantage of the crash to buy land suitable for development.
Initially Aspen undertook design, build and finance contracts for established nursing home providers based in Great Britain that were moving into the Northern Ireland market. It has now completed the construction of its sixth care home.
But the time is right, believes Mr Yates, to go beyond the development and construction of care homes into their management.
Accordingly a new group company has been established, Healthcare Ireland.
"Rather than build for people we now have our own operating business," said Mr Yates.
The first of these managed homes will be on Belfast's Crumlin Road, with construction due to begin in the next few weeks.
It will have 82 beds and a new management team has been recruited to run the home. Mr Yates praised Ulster Bank for backing the new business, saying it has been "very supportive".
While this is a change of direction, Mr Yates said that it has been conducted after careful and detailed consideration. Healthcare Ireland worked closely with a British partner to develop a due diligence package, exclusive to them, that assesses the viability of potential care homes. "This has been a unique element to sourcing the locations and sites," he said.
For Aspen and Healthcare Ireland, this is not just an exciting time, but it is already proving a successful new phase.
"We are probably the leading nursing home developer in Ireland," said Mr Yates.
The company now intends to move forward by also becoming the leading provider of nursing homes under their own management. "We are securing land now for future developments. We know exactly where we want to be in the next four years. Healthcare is a growing sector – people are living longer," said Mr Yates.
The healthcare business is not the only thriving part of the Aspen group, which has more than 100 employees, but it is clearly a key part of its growth plan.
Aspen has also taken advantage of the difficulties in other parts of the construction sector and has taken over the site of a medical centre to complete a large building project.
Mr Yates is content that he has handled the recession in the right way and changed business focus at the right time.
"The main lesson for me," he said, "has been to have an exit strategy." Once the signs of decline were clear in the business for insurers, it was important to take decisive, but informed, steps forward, he said.
"We did due diligence very thoroughly. People who had been buying land [during the bubble] weren't doing research – it was like Monopoly."