If It Ain't Broke, Break It: A Year in Review

Craig Dean

Chief Executive

A man is judged by the company he keeps

On Christmas Eve last year, Jack posted an article entitled ‘5 things I learnt about being a Webbie in 2014’. It has turned out to be a fitting prelude for 2015, a year where the theme has been, as ever, change, but also the learning that change is driven by.

I talk about change a lot, often to younger people at the sort of things Chief Executives go to – guest lectures and employ-ability events. Change is something I encourage, though I often find that met with confusion or skepticism. Why change something that works? As the old adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. At Web Applications we don’t really see things this way – we’re more inclined to say something like if it ain’t broke, break it.

Those of you into your ’70s rock might say that sounds a lot like a Meat Loaf song, which it is, but there’s a key message in that short phrase that sums up everything we do here at Windsor Works. It’s actually a rather good motto for any company, although it suits a software house particularly well.

We’re never afraid of trying something new – the most obvious example might be Extrali, our brand new enterprise-scale reservation system unveiled at UGS6. Extrali is defined by its sleek interface and streamlined user experience, and is something that just wouldn’t have been possible to put together without our hunger to try out new technologies, finding out what works, and what doesn’t. Building a robust, quality platform that will feel new and drive success for years to come can only be done in an adaptive environment.

I’m always talking about innovation as the key to real success in business. Innovation is only brought about by change: what hasn’t been done before? Above all else, the most important thing to innovate is yourself, which is primarily achieved through learning something new. Only by innovating yourself can you hope to innovate your surroundings.

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Innovating our surroundings – Webbies mentoring at Hack Jnr

Learning is something we do every day, shaping our policies and practices. Individual learning and development is integral to success as an IT professional, and it’s a close focus for every Webbie. But just as our collective embracing of change becomes a personal practice, learning is something we also do as a company.

Driven partly by our philosophy, and partly by the chaotic universe inhabited by tech companies, we’ve seen an awful lot of change this year.

One of the most obvious from a public perspective is our new look. Brand new websites for Web Applications and Tech Angels – Instead of a one-stop-shop section, single-page product portals for Brease, the Babel suite and Extrali, the latter featuring a vastly improved and great-looking client area. With that, new branding and visual language for our range of solutions.

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Less visibly, behind the scenes there has been a myriad of internal changes – some new faces on our PM team and two newly-promoted Senior Engineers for starters. Two new board members were appointed in Jeffrey Ng and Shaun Austin, and two founding directors of the business moved on to try new things for themselves, bitten by the innovation bug! The progress of our employees is symptomatic of our emphasis on recruiting raw talent, and creating an environment that helps our team reach their full potential. It gives me great pleasure to see ‘home-grown’ talent going from strength to strength.

We refined our mission statement to more accurately reflect our ‘why’, and make our values as a company explicit. Our company ethos is used to measure every decision we make. I cannot understate how encouraging it has been to see our employees using our ethos to inform their own decision making.

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The most influential companies are just people all pulling in the same direction

Extrali has easily been the biggest headline. The actual metrics are difficult to grasp out-of-context, but I can say simply that Extrali represented the culmination of a staggering amount of self-funded R&D. Some of the new technologies we have introduced, particularly in the back-end stack, stemmed from conversations with and suggestions from our developers. Some of the major features in Extrali have partly been envisioned as a response to feedback from our partners. Extrali is an excellent testament to our collaborative approach.

We’ve also had a major addition to our Babel product suite, an inline solution for .NET websites we’re calling Babel .NET. This lightweight, high-performance solution comes with no separate server requirements. One aspect of Babel .NET we’re particularly excited about is the Managed Availability Cache, an in-memory cache that drives efficiency. We’re no longer measuring search times in seconds, but milliseconds.

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15 years of excellence – and counting

2015 – our 15th year – was always going to be an interesting one, but we were ready for it. We are a company that reacts well to change, because we’re a company that for the most part drives change when the context doesn’t demand it, so that when the context does demand it, we’re already moving.

I like to think of us like a fighter jet with supermanoeuvrability – purposely designed to be a little bit unstable, thus able to react far more quickly than traditional aerodynamic aircraft. You have to be ready for the curveballs that this industry will throw at you.

But that’s what I love about IT: you never really know what’s around the corner. So of course we have plans for next year, and the next 5 years after that. But the only thing I can really promise is that it will be different, and there will be changes. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Here’s to 2016: let it bring something new.