SME Needs was referred into Sutton Housing Partnership because of our previous experience in the IT sector.
They provide housing services in Sutton and want to understand what opportunity existed for generating external revenue, using capacity within their ICT Team.
My client wanted to understand:
The size of the target market
The level of competition within the local area
The attitude towards the project within both the department and the organisation as a whole.
What barriers stood in the way of the project
The viability study consisted of the following:
The initial interviews with the department management looked to understand more detail about what they were looking to achieve and the reasons for it. They also looked to identify known gaps in the skill set within the department.
Once a good understanding of the project was gathered the desk research became much easier. Within a defined local area what was the size of the opportunity? How many suitable target companies were there? Data was gathered from the local council and the Office for National Statistics plus multiple other online sources. The desk research also looked to identify a list of competitors who advertised a competitive service offering within the local area.
Mystery shopping is always a bit of fun. After developing the “story” to tell a series of telephone conversations provided a great deal of information about:
The services being offered
The quality of the competitive marketing
An understanding of the sales processes used
Moving forward this will enable the organisation to set highly competitive prices and enter the market with better marketing.
The workshops held within the organisation were key in understanding how likely it is that this project will succeed. If there is no appetite for it internally, there is no point in moving forward.
A series of workshops gathered information and feedback from the whole department and then a set of individuals from each other department in the organisation. The questions looked to gather knowledge around:
The product/service range for now and the future
Levels of optimism/pessimism
Their thoughts on what the target market looked like
How they wanted to be perceived externally
Potential names for the new operation
The formal and informal skills available internally
The workshop outside of the department also looked to understand what, if any, hesitations they had around the project.
An internal team, by its nature, serves the rest of the organisation and so it was both understandable, and expected, that the key concern raised was about the level of service that would be provided internally once external customers were brought on board.
Further interviews that looked at the internal systems completed the discovery stage of the project.
The combination of research, interviews, mystery shopping and workshops strongly suggested that there is a good opportunity for them.
There is a sizeable local market, of small businesses, and whilst there is a fair amount of competition, there are only a few that should be considered a threat.
The staff within the department, whilst expressing some concerns, seem to be up for the challenge and for the work that will be involved.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be in developing and then maintaining a high level of enthusiasm for this project within the rest of the organisation. Whilst they seem, at the moment, willing to go with the project, there may be times when that enthusiasm wains. The roles of internal communication and customer service will be paramount in keeping them onside.
The biggest issue was the skills gap. Their internal network was on Microsoft Server 2003 whilst the market was using a combination of Microsoft Small Business Server (various versions), Server 2008 and also moving onto Server 2011. The cost of the upskilling would make the first year, or even two, unprofitable.
This project never went ahead but that was the point of the viability study – to see whether it was an opportunity that made sense to commit to.