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35 Years and counting… stories from the IT frontline

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

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35 Years and counting… stories from the IT frontline

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 Magazinemagazines, 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!

CONTEXTKensingtonoffice

CONTEXT’s first office was at 9-11 Kensington High Street, which is now a hotel

 

 

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What a Journey! CONTEXT Scoops Best UK Workplace Award

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.

gptw1

by JD

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