At CONTEXT we’re constantly striving to bring insight and actionable market intelligence to the IT channel. Over the past three decades that central mission has seen us expand into 16 Western European countries, and even further afield: to Russia, Dubai, Japan and Brazil. We’re delighted to be taking the next step of our journey in South America by launching the first ever distributor panel in Argentina. It’s been a tough year for the channel there so far, but this is an opportune moment to offer CONTEXT’s unique market analysis, so that channel organisations can make crucial business decisions with greater confidence going forward. Continue reading
Category Archives: Company news
Throughout 2018 CONTEXT has been marking its 35th birthday – we have used this anniversary year to look back and celebrate the growth of a company from small beginnings to being a serious force in the IT industry. On the occasion of the latest GTDC EMEA Summit last week –where vendor and distributor leaders meet and debate the most current issues in the industry – Jeremy and Howard Davies, CEO’s and co-founders, took the occasion at a CONTEXT vendor dinner to look forward to the next 35 years. Continue reading
1999 was a momentous year for CONTEXT. Not only were we facing the Y2K bug, but at midnight on 1 January 1999, the national currencies of participating countries in Europe, aka the Eurozone, ceased to exist independently. Their exchange rates were locked at fixed rates against each other.
By then we had built up a pretty successful pan-European price tracking and comparison service, PriceWatch. It had depended for years on our ability to monitor prices and VAT rates across different countries and currencies thus enabling customers to perform apples to apples comparisons across a huge swathe of IT products, from desktops to printers to displays.
The service started in the late ’80’s thanks to a chance comment from Unisys: was there anything we could do about tracking prices as the work involved was causing them a headache? We obliged, and started turning out huge folders, updated monthly, filled with pages of indexed specifications and prices, which then graduated into – gasp – an accompanying 3.5” floppy with the data in digital form. Many a CONTEXT old-timer will remember the wrapping and binder duty into the late hours of the night to meet deadlines.
The big question we faced was this: with the introduction of the Euro, was that the death knell for our European Pricing Service? The pundits said yes. Why would any manufacturer pay for data on prices when transparency was assured thanks to the common currency?
Of course, we need not have worried. In fact, if truth be told, the manoeuvring by vendors attempting to rationalise VAT rates and prevent grey market activity gave us more work than ever before. The PriceWatch service grew, and is now an extremely successful component of the suite of information products we provide today across the globe.
In this latest post, CEO and co-founder Jeremy Davies reflects on the IT infrastructure challenges during the first few years at CONTEXT.
One of the reasons why working at CONTEXT in the early days was exciting, was that our work combined the business side with deep interest in emerging PC technologies. Balancing budgets and wanting to keep ahead of the curve was both challenging and fun. Continue reading
To mark CONTEXT’s 35th year anniversary, co-founder and CEO Jeremy Davies reflects on the state of computing during the early days at CONTEXT.
Starting a small business means adapting your needs to serious budgetary constraints. You need that 20MB hard drive, but can you afford it?
Towards the end of the 1980’s, the PC revolution was in full swing, but computers were not cheap. IBM’s PC came in at around £3,000 in those days, equivalent to £6,300 in today’s value. Margins were high double digits compared to today’s meagre low single points. At one point it is said that UK Apple dealers were making so much money, the Cupertino company asked them to stop the ostentatious displays of wealth and invest in their businesses. Continue reading
To mark CONTEXT’s 35th year anniversary, co-founder and CEO Jeremy Davies reflects on the early days of the IT industry and the beginnings of CONTEXT.
It’s now 35 years since CONTEXT began tracking the IT business. That’s quite a thought in itself. The fact that we have been able to create a business from scratch and – despite all odds – still be here, thriving, 35 years later.
But what’s even more stunning is to have been a witness to the changes that have taken place since those pioneer PC days. And what has kept us in business has been that change: not only have we watched it but we lived it, taking an active part as a small and growing business, embracing the latest technology as it unfurled and integrating the new as we built the platforms and processes needed to track the burgeoning IT industry.
So, a few facts to illustrate. In the 1980’s, magazines were king. Vendors advertised in magazines, prices, specifications and even dealer lists. To track prices, one had to track magazines. This intensely manual job resulted in output that every month saw huge physical printed files sent out to subscribing customers. If you wanted to know specs and pricing, you opened a folder and leafed through pages of printed text. A huge step forward was achieved when data files began to accompany the printed “books”.
Surveying dealers was another challenge. To create our master dealer list in the UK, we got hold of the Yellow Pages directory, and telephoned every entry that had the word “computer” in it. We asked three simple questions: Do you sell microcomputers? Which ones do you sell? Which ones are you authorised to sell?The calls were done by a dedicated in-house team who, after building the list, started contacting resellers every two months, asking for sales figures. These were manually entered into paper spreadsheets, and the calculations done – you got it, manually. Printed reports then appeared every two months detailing these aggregated and projected sales of PCs, Printers and Software.
This is not to say there were no computers involved from the beginning. There was one. It was an Osborne 1 portable computer, running CP/M on a 4.0 MHz Zilog Z80 processor and 64 KB of RAM. Twin 5.25” floppies and a 5” screen completed the picture. As work volumes grew, we invested in our first IBM twin floppy PC. And then came hard disk drives… but that’s another story!
We always knew CONTEXT was a good place to work, but now it’s officially one of the best in the country, according to Great Places to Work. A massive “thank you” should go out to all those whose hard work made this possible.
The value of Great Places to Work
Great Places to Work (GPTW) is a highly respected industry voice on a mission to help improve workplace culture and CSR. As part of its efforts it releases an annual Best Workplaces ranking, announced this year on 3 May. Its unique methodology is what sets it apart. It comprises two elements: a Trust Index employee survey; and a Culture Audit, where experts appraise any HR and management policies designed to help drive engagement.
This methodology makes it a particularly credible way to measure workplace culture and engagement. In fact, many organisations apparently use it as a stand-alone work assessment tool, helping HR analyse where it’s performing well and which areas might need attention.
Engagement and innovation
After identifying the award as a focus for us back in 2013, we’ve done much to transform the company, and we will not get tired of looking for new ways. A CONTEXT-wide questionnaire identified seven areas of improvement, ranging from salary and benefits, to training, communication, and – my favourite – more fun! A focus group was set up to tackle each, with an executive team sponsor and employee(s) on each group.
The succeeding three years has been a constant journey of improvement which has seen us introduce a range of fantastic new initiatives. These have included:
- Summer family outings at Hever and Leeds Castles
- End-of-year Christmas party River Thames cruise
- Much greater focus and investment in training
- IT training and English classes
- Two People Days, company-wide meetings designed to foster bottom up feedback during which we listened to and learnt from each other on areas in which we could improve
- New air conditioning
- A two week salary bonus in 2016 – 2017 bonus still pending Q2 results
- A range of innovative new benefits – including healthcare benefits, early leave on your birthday, discounts in local restaurants and stores, etc
- A new STAR recognition system
Getting better all the time
It goes without saying we’re all delighted to have been named as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces. It’s testament to all the hard work that’s been put in over the past three years, and will help us grow as a company by attracting the brightest and best going forward.
But I also have to say, this is the beginning. We’re onto something special here and we’ll certainly not be resting on our collective laurels. The challenge going forward will be to continue listening to and engaging with our employees, working to introduce more innovative new initiatives, and ultimately, to continue making CONTEXT an ever greater place to work.