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Source: Qual IT

In a world of social distancing and lockdowns the need for digitisation is growing at an accelerated rate. Qual IT, independent information technology quality assurance firm, is set to help organisations safely navigate this ‘new normal’.

Their speciality is to help ensure certainty for IT investments – a need no more certain than now.

Grounded in solid family values, and with a canny ability to recognise opportunity and spot risk, Qual IT has grown from two blokes in Wellington, to over 250 employees in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland with over 80 clients, including heavy hitters NZ Police, Transpower, NZ Transport Agency and Tower.

But like many Kiwi success stories, the beginnings of Qual IT were humble, full of ingenuity and always with a dash of humour thrown in.

“I think it was almost accidental that we started our own company,” says Jon McPhee, co-founder and director of Qual IT.

“Shane and I were playing Star Wars online one evening, chatting about how we get more work life balance – and become our own bosses!

“No, seriously, we had recently returned from our ‘OE’ in London, were contracting in IT, saw an opportunity and jumped right in,” says Jon.

“It was when off-the-shelf applications (‘apps’) were rapidly emerging in multitudes. It triggered a change in the way organisations approached procurement of their IT products and systems,” says Shane Hewson, Qual IT’s co-founder and director. “But it was also leaving companies open to significant risks.”

Shane explains the risks organisations faced were the potentially massive, and often hidden, costs of implementing unnecessary, or not fully compatible products, and the reputational risk of having to admit that more money was then being spent to adapt or change as a result.

“Up until that point, a lot of the big software firms had been creating complex, behemoth bespoke products and systems but now, they were challenged by the emergence of trendy and competitively priced off-the-shelf ‘apps’.

“The problem was, companies, quick to purchase these solutions, were not properly testing or ‘qualifying’ them for implementation in-house. We saw the gap and went for it,” says Shane.

“We were the first truly independent, IT quality and testing company to set up in Wellington.”

Values core to the journey

Neither Jon nor Shane had formal training in information technology.

Having finished school at St Patrick’s College in Upper Hutt, Jon initially joined a manufacturing jeweller as an apprentice before changing direction, and joining the Bank of New Zealand in Tawa. He then progressed to the investment banking division at National Bank. Shane, who grew up in Plimmerton, went to Tawa College, followed by the University of Victoria where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce.

The pair became friends when Shane also joined National Bank – and Jon met Shane’s sister! Having met their future wives at the bank, the couples headed off to London for their OE, soon before the Y2K crisis was supposedly going to hit.

With their interest in technology growing, Jon and Shane paid their way through night school in London, completing a course in programming and coding. This set them up to understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the systems they had been using within big financial institutions where they contracted in the City. Returning to New Zealand, the couples got married, and set about planning their next steps in Wellington.

The family connection between the two business partners has influenced the way they approach work, their clients and employees – with open communications, respect, and accountability central to success.

“For us, the values that encouraged us to start the company remain at our core still today,” says Jon. “We love people, we value friendships and trust-based relationships, and we are always upfront and tell it like it is. Our clients and our employees appreciate this. We have had clients across the private and government sector which have stuck with us for years.

“A critical decision for us was choosing to remain independent of any software providers. We wanted our clients to know that the advice we gave was completely agnostic. No kickbacks and no cosy vendor relationships. Just advice for solutions that were right for that organisation,” explains Shane.

“In fact, there have been many times we have talked a client out of a massive IT spend because it wasn’t what they needed.”

Having developed a strong and trusted pedigree in testing, Qual IT saw a new trend developing.

Spotting opportunities

“As the world of ‘apps’ continued to evolve, we saw three things happening:

core systems would need to regularly upgrade or update at times not determined by the companies using them; maintenance costs started soaring, and ‘apps’ increasingly required add-ons or feature items so integration was getting more and more complex.

“Companies were increasingly spending big money on fixing things, and hiring expensive consultants to integrate systems, products and ‘apps’ as they tried to keep up with the rapidly evolving offering.

“Again, we spotted an opportunity – to use our knowledge of the risks and mistakes we were identifying in the testing process, to advise clients earlier on in their IT investment decision making. This would help them avoid pitfalls from the get-go, and ultimately, save time and money.

“We are at a point where IT is no longer a separate function run by a CIO – it is now fundamental to the business – in fact, it often determines the strategy,” says Shane. “So understanding from the beginning what will best enable that strategy is absolutely critical.

“That is why we transitioned our company from focussing purely on testing to a full quality assurance enabler. We knew that having seen the upside as well as pitfalls of numerous IT projects thanks to our significant testing experience, we could offer advice earlier on in the business case or investment stages,” he says.

Different cycle, same risks

Post-Covid, Qual IT, is seeing another risk on the horizon and is calling for caution.

“Because of changes to working and consumer behaviour following lockdowns in New Zealand and across the globe, organisations are having to quickly onboard and integrate IT systems, platforms and products that enable remote working and online business transacting,” says Shane.

“This has also come at a time when avoiding big costs is at the forefront of shareholders’ minds, so CEOs and boards are faced with the dual pressure of keeping margins razor thin while having to quickly change how their organisations operate.

“If this is not properly managed – it will be a recipe for disaster and turn into a massive money pit.”

Having been in IT testing and quality assurance for almost 16 years, the Qual IT team has seen what has worked and what has not – when it comes to procuring and implementing new systems, products and platforms. With this knowledge, Qual IT is emphasising the importance of planning and testing to achieve success on an IT project, before spending in a sudden response to current trends.

“Our advice to companies and government departments is not to knee jerk to the mounting pressure, but rather bring IT investment decision making to board level; integrate it into the very essence of your strategy; and ensure it is at the inception of your budgeting process,” says Jon.

“From our perspective, you want to do it once, and do it right. And if you know from the get-go where the risks are, then you are less likely to get it wrong.”

Further information on Qual IT

Backed by 16 years of experience, Qual IT partners with organisations to deliver their business needs by providing expert Quality Assurance (QA) which includes Consulting, Business Analysis, Testing and Engineering services to help ensure certainty for IT investments. Shane Hewson and Jon McPhee founded Qual IT in 2004 after they saw an opportunity to deliver open, honest, no surprises QA solutions in the New Zealand market. Since then, Qual IT has provided IT QA services to some of New Zealand’s largest and most successful organisations and grown into a company with a client list of over 80 organisations across NZ and overseas with a team of over 250 permanent and contract QA professionals. Qual IT’s work across industries has included local and central government, SOEs, logistics, freight forwarding and shipping, aviation, IT, health, agriculture, insurance, banking, retail, transport, utilities, education, property, and telecommunications. Qual IT is a trusted partner of some of New Zealand’s largest enterprises including NZ Police, Transpower, NZ Transport Agency and Tower. Qual IT HQ is in Wellington and they also have a significant presence in both Auckland and Christchurch as well as a satellite office in Hamilton.