An interview with Colin Wynn of Administer Software, by Steve Jordan.
Colin Wynn runs Administer Software. It is one of the most advanced and popular software products for the moving industry currently available. It’s been a long and sometimes torturous road that has led Colin to where he is today but, as always with technology, it’s what comes next that’s really interesting.
In 1986 Colin joined a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and accepted a place for two-weeks’ work experience with Harmeston Software who had developed a system for Laughton Philips of Dyfed Removals in Fishguard, Wales. The owner, a Mr John Lewis, was sufficiently impressed with his work, that he took him on full time. “There was nothing on the market at that time for the moving industry,” Colin explained.
The product he developed was called Remstar. “In those days if you bought Remstar we had to give you a disc that included all the code. We were giving away all our Intellectual Property every time someone bought the product.” Colin quickly changed that.
Unfortunately, Harmeston Stoftware didn’t survive. Colin stayed working with subsequent owners of the business, Easi-Move Software Ltd, where he continued to develop the Remstar product. When his relationship with the owners of the business deteriorated, Colin decided to go it alone and Administer Software was born in 2004. “I had left the company with a 12-month non-compete clause. I developed my new product while keeping my head down. One year to the day everyone got a letter from me.” By that time, his previous employer had stepped back from the software market.
“Having those uninterrupted 12 months to develop Move Administer allowed me a clean sheet of paper and to think about things differently,” said Colin. “That’s why I was able to do it so quickly. We then went on to develop additional modules such as Archive Administer, Commercial Administer, Self Storage Administer, Survey Administer and Shipping Administer.”
I was intrigued about how hard a sell it had been in the early days. How willing were people to pay for a proprietary system rather than try to develop something themselves? “It’s the same as removals,” said Colin. “You can always find someone to do a job cheaply. But then you end up with a system that might work now, but probably won’t work in the future. I always tell my customers they are not buying software, they are buying a part of me. I live, sleep, eat and drink this removals and storage industry. We have around 70 companies using our system and if we make one change all 70 companies get it. It makes sure the system is always up to date. You’ve got to pay for that kind of service.”
So, what is the sales message for Administer Software? With all the different systems on the market I wanted to give Colin the opportunity of highlighting what he feels makes his system different. “Most systems pretty well do the same thing, but Move Administer has a full sales ledger,” he said. “That’s what makes us different. It doesn’t need to be operated by an accounts specialist, it’s written so movers can handle everything themselves. If they make a mistake it’s easy to correct.” Colin added that it makes sense for movers to have the same system in all their offices so that anyone can work from any location. “Many companies still have accounting information coming in from different systems. It’s a nightmare for them.”
But I was mainly interested in what’s around the corner. What’s coming next? What can movers expect from the IT systems of the future? Colin is currently working on Move Administer 2, but he admits that it’s a long job. Not only is he trying to develop it while continuing to provide support for his existing customers, it’s also a victim of the pace of change. The new system will use Microsoft®, cloud-based technology. It’s necessary to allow customers the opportunity of benefiting from new technology that’s emerging all the time. “But their tools change so quickly that it is really difficult to keep up,” he explained. In practice the platform is continually changing during the development of the new system. “As more technology comes out, I look for ways of including it.”
The major change is the cloud. It allows users to do away with expensive servers, gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere, and saves money. “It’s even possible to pay less for access to the cloud during quiet times,” said Colin. “You pay less at the weekend than you do when you are busy during week days.”
“I've never been a fan of the mouse,” said Colin. “I think the mouse is dead, you can put it in a trap and never feed it again. It’s been replaced by touch. Even the desktop PC is dead, it’s being replaced by touch screen tablets.”
Colin is also excited by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. He says Machine Learning will allow you to use the data you already have in your systems to help serve your customers better. “It will mean that people won’t need to input so much information because the computer will have learned from the data you have already collected,” explained Colin. The idea is that the system will know, for example, the distance and driving time between origin and destination, it will have on record how long it takes to load a four-bedroom house, or how much material is required. It will make working much faster and more accurate so customers will get the rapid service they expect.
“Of course the user will be able to override what the computer says but some of our customers have over 20 years of data in their systems already,” Colin explained. “That is so valuable. Machine learning will allow the system to learn from that historical data as well as the new data that is entered. You will be able to set the machine to re-learn things at pre-determined intervals.”
Another interesting advancement will be the use of technology such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. This will allow users to interrogate their own systems for information just by asking for it. If you need to know when you are next in Birmingham, how many containers are leaving the store next month, what’s the current revenue for the week, how many holiday days you have left … just ask and you will be told. “It blows my mind when we start looking into things like that,” said Colin.
Colin believes that mobile apps will be doing more of the work for us in the future. “People will have more time because the users of mobile apps will have done much of the work for them behind the scenes. It will give them more time to spend with the customers, helping them to provide a more personal service with fewer staff.” Apps allow easier, faster communication, give customers flexibility and help them by keeping all their information in one place.
I asked Colin about the massive growth in the use of virtual surveys. Surprisingly, he was not convinced of their value. “I still believe that there are GDPR issues with them,” he said. “People don’t realise but if they show you around their house using a survey app you have got all that information, including family photos and valuables. I just think that’s wrong.” And he may well be right. I have never heard anyone voice that fear before. Time will tell, but if there is ever a court case about it, the rep’s company car might be getting a polish on Sunday again.
Last year Colin started recording a podcast called Moving Matters. It features characters from the UK moving industry. I even confess to have been a victim myself. The podcasts have been very well received in the industry and, I am sure, help fill the lockdown hours for many. But I wondered where the idea came from? “I'm a big podcast fan,” said Colin. “I listen to them every day when I walk the dog. I just decided that this industry has too many characters in it to ignore. It’s something that I’ve been toying with for some time then, during COVID, I thought let's just do it I'll see how it goes.”
But for Colin, who is clearly something of a perfectionist, it’s a time-consuming job. “I am really fussy about the editing,” he said. “A 40-minute podcast can take a day to record and edit. But people are very keen to be involved. I have recordings booked until May this year.”
I recommend Moving Matters to anyone who loves the industry and is interested in the characters that make it special.
As for Move Administer 2, I asked when it will be released. Colin laughed. “I hope it will be done by the end of this year but, it will be ready when it’s ready.” There’s the perfectionist again!