1987: Margaret Thatcher was re-elected for a third term; the great storm blew in and Rick Astley was ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Against this backdrop a pearl of an idea led to the creation of a company that is now celebrating 30 successful years in business – Crown Workforce Management.
The company was founded from a management buy-out of the Sydney Development Corporation’s Midland Offices where Mike Hawkesford, Crown’s founder and CEO, had formed a team of 20 to develop a ‘softflow data capture’ rostering and time and attendance system.
“There was a good group of people in Lichfield who I had recruited who were highly skilled developers. I knew that we had a product that had potential. I believed in them both.”
Overdraft funding was used to finance the deal and the name Crown moved to the top of a long list when the company needed to register an available name with Companies House.
Crown’s first two customers were Rolls Royce and British Aerospace, Dynamics division. The deals were worth £500,000 and gave the new company a ‘honeymoon period’.
The company has enjoyed good times and bad…like all business it was affected by the recession of the early 90’s which led to rationalisation. Riding out the experience may have been tough but it “created the mould for a careful and prudent approach to leading the company,” reflects Mike.
However, it has been Crown’s ability to innovate and stay on top of the technological curve which has resulted in its longevity.
It has experienced some key milestones: achieving ISO 9000 – the international standard of quality management and quality assurance in 1993, a new Tamworth premises in 1996 and Microsoft Gold accreditation in 2002.
Crown systems were first developed on IBM frameworks but by the end of the 90’s it was clear that Microsoft was emerging as the main player in software development for 32-bit computing. The launch of Windows 95 occurred at a key time when UK public sector organisations were establishing client server networks.
Crown began developing in this new technology while simultaneously maintaining ‘green screen’ systems for ‘several hundred’ existing clients. The new platform allowed Crown greater flexibility to shape the look and functionality of the products.
“We were able to combine big system thinking with advanced graphics, flexible operating and the ability to integrate with other workplace software packages. It allowed us to leap ahead and we began doing business with organisations from a variety of different sectors,” recalls Mike.
In the noughties, self-service functionality is introduced and the product range is branded Crown Manager – providing clients with modular purchase flexibility. The advent of browser and web-based software delivery allows Crown to experiment in the development of web client alternatives and by the middle of the decade the web client version of Crown Manager is launched. The company finds itself adapting to changing times with the impact of legislation such as the EU working time directive and those specifically for road transport workers.
In 2007 Crown acquired a new business – Pasfield Curran, experts in flexible working practice. The consultancy mirrors Crown’s products and provides advice on how businesses can meet demands through new ways of working, such as annualised hours or other flexible approaches.
During this decade, Crown also wins its first police contract – North Wales Police – which was followed by a contract with Lancashire Police. Crown now has nearly 40% of UK forces among its clients.
Into the ‘teenies, and Crown is still embracing change. The UK Government launched G-Cloud – a procurement platform for public-sector bodies to acquire cloud-based technology services which the company uses. It begins working in partnership with multi-national contractors such as Cap Gemini, KMPG and Oracle which provides ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning – solutions for large organisations, and it launches Crown Duty Management – a sub-brand with products specifically geared towards emergency services.
The company continues to innovate – in recent years it has developed HR and analytics modules to help customers harness greater capabilities for greater understanding of business operations and help them plan for the future.
Only this year, it gave itself a fresh new look with a rebrand to reflect its people-focused approach and show what differentiates it from competitors through “inspired workforce management”.
On reflecting on 30 years in the business Mike admits it is unusual for a software business of Crown’s size to have stayed the test of time.
“I was once advised that we wouldn’t have a business until we’d taken our software through a first generation of change. We started on IBM mainframe 3X, then AS400, followed by Client/Server right through to Cloud. We have managed to steer our way through 30 years by listening to our clients’ needs and remaining flexible to provide the solutions they desire.”