Interview: Nick Hewson
speaks to Nick Hewson
After leaving university with a law degree, Nick began working in the commercial property market but found the work somewhat uninspiring. As he put it "After five years in commercial property I was open to any offer that would provide a change of industry and career so, when I was approached by a computer reseller offering more money and a company car, I jumped at the opportunity without, I have to admit, giving it much thought.
Nick then spent the next few years working for a variety of different computer companies and ended up with an organisation that had developed one of the early Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
Although the company was successful and the product sold well, Nick was horrified by two aspects of the job. The first was that the software, while being promoted as a CRM system, was in reality relatively basic and little more than a contact management system. The second was that the customers who were buying the software did not seem to have a clear understanding of what CRM systems should do or indeed what their objectives should be.
Nick therefore decided that there was a market opportunity to establish an analysis and consultancy business that would research the industry, help define the systems requirement for the software vendors and assist end users in making informed choices when selecting systems to meet their needs.
Nick therefore took the brave decision to resign from his job and set up The Hewson Group in the early 1990's.
"The first few years were rather difficult as the market was too immature. We were actively researching the market and feeding the requirements back into the software vendors. The problem was that they were all too small and either did not have the ability or could not afford to develop systems that met the requirements."
However this all changed around the middle of the 1990's with the arrival in the market of the larger software vendors.
"The significant turning point was when Siebel entered the market around 1996. This caused organisations such as Oracle and PeopleSoft to become aware of the opportunity and suddenly there was great demand for precisely the services we were offering."
"For the customers of these system it also meant that there was significant investment being put into software that would actually start to deliver."
The Hewson Group's business began to grow along with the market for CRM systems. By the late 1990's it was the preferred advisors to the majority of the larger CRM vendors and had established a reputation for itself as the foremost analyst company in the CRM market in Europe .
Alongside the analysis work The Hewson Group had developed a successful consultancy business assisting organisations in specifying, purchasing and implementing CRM systems.
However, following an approach by a systems integration company in 2000, the consultancy business was sold leaving Nick free once again to focus on the analysis business.
When I asked Nick how he saw the business developing in the future, he described it as going full circle.
"Ironically the market is back to where it started in many ways. By and large many of the larger companies either have CRM systems installed or have projects underway. The gap in the market now is in the SME market where the solutions offered by the major suppliers are far too expensive and those offered by the smaller suppliers, far too basic."
"However, with Microsoft having entered the market in 2003 this is all set to change. But the problem, once again, is that the distributors of Microsoft's products are not really geared up to handle the incredible complexity of CRM implementations, and the majority of SME organisations do not really understand what CRM systems can do for their business - I have a real sense of déja vu when I think about it."
I asked Nick whether, given that the opportunity in the SME market is similar to the one that had previously existed in larger businesses, whether he regretted having sold the consultancy business?
"Not really, we received a fair price for the business we sold and starting with a blank piece of papers enables us to create a consultancy practice unencumbered with the past and precisely suited to the needs of today's market." "The business today is once again an analyst and consultancy practice with our clients being both the vendors and customers of CRM systems. An interesting growth area within this is the advisory work we are doing with British companies linked to the Governments various non-financial reporting requirements". (Ed - see also archive article "Is regulatory enforcement of operational issues the way forward?").