The following letter was sent to Acumen customers on 3 March 2009. I’ve copied it here for reference.
RE: Kelworth Acquisition Progress Report.
Two weeks ago, I wrote to you to announce the acquisition of the good will and assets of Kelworth Limited, which occurred on 9 February 2009. We took over Kelworth incredibly quickly, in a desperate effort to minimise disruption to the existing client base, rather than leave the numerous small clients without any support during these already challenging economic times. Kelworth itself was liquidated on 30 January 2009, with considerable debts, and the liabilities are now with the liquidator.
Since my last letter I have been inundated with calls from concerned clients, and I have endeavoured to get through them, but the volume has been such that it has been quite a challenge, and I apologise if I’ve not met your expectations so far. I’m sure you will agree that the priority for myself and my company should be (and has been) the stabilising of the new Acumen division (the owner of the Kelworth assets).
Instead we are working hard to achieve a number of key goals as quickly as possible.
New Website Launch
We remain committed to releasing a new version of our website (www.webapplicationsuk.com) in the immediate future and it is currently under testing and contains a new sign-in area with the following features:
1) Community Forums – allowing Acumen customers to interact with each other and with the company, by suggesting enhancements and new features, as well as seeking help, and providing help, with any issues.
2) Wiki – Allowing us to build up (over time) a knowledge base of how to use the Acumen products, that will allow you to research information easily.
3) News Articles – Regular news updates from Web Applications UK, allowing you to keep up to date with the latest developments, without the need for us to send out paper letters.
4) Ticket System – Allowing you to raise and track support issues online.
We are also investigating the possibility of adding live chat to the site in the near future.
There are a lot of changes coming to Acumen Division in the coming weeks and it’s essential that we find a cost-effective (and environmentally friendly!) way of staying in communication with such a large customer base, that has less impact on the Amazonian rain forest!
With that in mind this is the last letter that will be sent via post; in future all communications (with the exception of invoices and formal communications) from Web Applications UK, and myself, will be by email. For that reason we would like you to send a list of Names, Positions and Email addresses which we will use to contact you with in future, and to create login accounts on the new website, which you can use to access the new interactive features.
Please send a list of contacts to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. If for any reason you are not able to do so (i.e. you don’t have web/email access) please feel free to phone us on the above number and we will arrange an alternative.
Once we have received your email you will be contacted with your login information for the new website, as soon as it is launched.
Acumen Division – User Group Seminar 2009
On Monday 30 March 2009, we will be holding a national User Group Seminar for Acumen Division customers, where we will be introducing ourselves and discussing the many challenges that lie ahead. It will also be a real opportunity for our customers to have their voice heard.
Thank you to everyone who has already been in touch to book their places, the response has been great. Please note that unless you have sent an email to email@example.com and booked your places, then we don’t know you are coming and haven’t booked you a place or arranged food (this particularly applies if you’ve only told someone you’re coming). Please make sure you email us by Friday 20 March 2009 at the latest, so that we can prepare for your arrival.
I have spoken to a number of you in the last couple of weeks and a few questions are quite common:
1) Why are we holding the User Group Seminar in Manchester?
The cost of putting on a User Group Seminar is very expensive. Every year we do a User Group Seminar for our existing Travel Division customers, this year it is also in Manchester on the 31 March. Holding the Acumen Division seminar the day before is allowing us to control the cost, which in turn allows us to invest more money in improving the software. Moreover, we took the time to plot the Kelworth customer base onto a map, and Manchester was the most central and convenient location.
2) Why are we not holding multiple regional User Group Seminars?
As I mentioned, the cost of putting on a User Group Seminar is very high. By having a single seminar it allows us to invite companies such as Microsoft to come and participate and demonstrate some of the new technologies that are available to our customers. If we were to split into regional seminars the size and scale would have to be much smaller and would make it hard to justify the cost. Furthermore, it would take a considerable amount of time to organize the logistics of multiple seminars. It is something we may consider in the future if we could make the economics work, and there was enough interest.
3) Why are we not visiting clients individually?
Well the mileage cost alone of visiting a client in Cornwall or Inverness is hundreds of pounds; the costs escalate if we have to put someone up in a hotel, or if we send more than one person. In the majority of cases the cost of a visit would outweigh any potential margin or profit we make from the customer we’re visiting. In the end costs reflect on prices, and I’m sure you’d like us to focus on keeping them as low as possible! We are not averse to visiting clients, but it is essential that we keep costs to a minimum if we are to have the finance available to fund the future of the Division, for the benefit of all our customers.
We appreciate that not everyone will be able to make the User Group Seminar, but we can’t emphasize enough the importance it plays in ensuring your voice is heard, and contributes to the shape of any future endeavors.
COMPLETION OF INVESTIGATIONS INTO KELWORTH STATE
We have been working seven days a week to assess the state of the Kelworth Company and the issues facing its customers. We have just about got a handle on the accounts, which had not been reconciled recently, and the invoice position, as well as outstanding debts, and overdue supplier payments. We’ve also been taking a good look at the code base.
One of the first actions I have taken is to meet with the M.D. of TalkInternet who hosts the majority of the customer websites. I have secured a deal with TalkInternet to prevent the websites being taken offline (they had not been paid recently), and our services department has taken over ownership of the servers to ensure continuity of service. These servers do cost several hundreds of pounds each month and we will be chasing payment of anyone who wishes to continue service.
We also looked at the source code for the connection between the Websites and Accowin (now rebranded Acumen). It was immediately obvious that it had been very badly designed and implemented. There were a number of amateur mistakes that were immediately obvious and account for the numerous issues surrounding memory leaks, etc. When we took over Kelworth, we were assured there was only one version of this ‘connection’ (we call it a Web Service), unfortunately, when our technicians looked more closely, we found 80 significantly different versions! One of the main areas of difference was in the way pricing is calculated.
Worse still, the source code for the different versions no longer exists, or has been lost. Although, this is not technically a problem, as we have the ability and technology to reverse engineer the code (all our engineers are Microsoft certified, and we have a number of experts), it significantly adds to the complexity and time. The reality is that it is not cost effective to reverse engineer and fix 80 different versions of the Web Service.
As such, we are not able, in good conscience, to accept the liability for supporting and maintaining the existing website/web service implementations. That is, we cannot guarantee that we can fix your website if it breaks.
That said, if your website is working the way you want, or you can ‘live with it’, we can ensure that it continues to work effectively. For example, in many cases, if the website breaks we can find a way to bring it back online quickly. Although we are not legally responsible for doing so, we will use our best endeavors to find a solution for you in such cases. If we do need to do some significant work we will quote you the cost of doing that work and commit to not make a profit on such fixes. It is regrettable, but we cannot afford to take on the liability in this case, as the existing code was so badly implemented.
As for the Acumen system (previously AccoWin/AccoMan), we are in the process of training up our own support engineers to take over first line of support in the coming weeks. We have also retained the services of the existing Foxpro experts, responsible for the original development. As such we will be endeavoring to support the core system in the future, and genuinely believe you will start to see an improvement in service from the support teams in the coming months.
To enable us to make headway into the many problems, we are suspending work on all new developments or feature requests, and focusing instead on stabilizing the current release until the bugs are ironed out, only then will we begin to take on new work again.
There are a number of avenues we are working on immediately to allow our customers the widest range of options going forward.
New Web Service
Many of our customers have a long term commitment to the Acumen product and have no plans to migrate from it in the near future. We respect that, and are committed to servicing those clients to the best of our abilities.
The problem remains, however, that the existing solution for connecting Acumen to websites is unsupportable and very badly implemented. As such, we are committed to finding a new solution that will get them connected to the web as quickly as possible. There are a number of deep technical issues, particularly for customers with poor connectivity, which we have not yet found a solution to. That said – this is our bread and butter, and something we work very hard at, so are confident of finding a solution quickly.
We hope to roll out a new web service to allow customers to connect up their websites. Customers on the old system will be allowed to upgrade to the new system for free, but will face the problem of needing to make changes to their existing website. This is something that we will be able to do for them at a cost, or they can engage their existing web developer to do it for them. Customers on the old system that are happy with the current solution will be free to continue to use it (unsupported) until they next upgrade their web solution.
As many of you may know, we already provide a high-end reservations system called Tr@veller to a number of large clients in the travel industry. We are investigating the possibility of providing a cut-down version of this software (which is far larger and more complex than Acumen) at lower costs, as an alternative for larger Acumen customers to consider. Tr@veller offers an easy route to website integration already.
A number of the largest Acumen customers may consider moving to Tr@veller proper. It is a much larger and considerably more expensive solution than Acumen, but is a valid option for companies that have more than 20 users or turnovers over ~£3m.
Web Applications UK has been working hard on a new product for the last year that would have been a direct competitor to Accowin. It is next-generation technology, and we are excited to start talking about it now (it’s been secret up to now). We have ramped up production and hope to go to beta in this calendar year. This will present a low-cost solution for the smaller Acumen customers and real flexibility for everyone currently on the Acumen product.
I think it’s important to note, that we recognize many of our customers will prefer to stay on Acumen for years to come, and we respect that. The options above are not going to be forced onto anyone, they are just some of the routes we are planning to give viable alternatives to those looking for something different, and no doubt they will form part of the conversation on the new community website and during the User Group Seminar.
I recognize that some of this will not be welcome news, particularly to customers on the existing web solution. When a systems company goes to the wall it tends to have damaging repercussions. I hope you can see that we are working hard to minimize that damage, and provide realistic routes forward for all our customers.
We remain committed to our customers and hope to speak to you more as you participate with the website community and user group.
Web Applications UK