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View from the channel

With Jo Berry, co-owner of IT support and services provider Central 

Founded in 1991, Greater Manchester- based Central is an independent provider of outsourced IT support and service desk capabilities plus infrastructure and cloud services to more than 2,000 small and medium- sized businesses, with a particular focus on social housing associations, including Horton Housing, Women in Social Housing and Bron Afo. 

It recently built on this area of expertise with the signing of a three-year IT managed services contract with Brighter Futures Housing Association, a Staffordshire-based accommodation provider for people living with mental health, homelessness and other complex needs. 

Central will provide first, second and third-line IT support to the housing association’s 230-strong workforce, as well as endpoint/patch management; capacity/ availability monitoring; and regular service and maintenance reviews. 

Paul Richards, interim Head of Contracts and Procurement at Brighter Futures Housing Association, said: “We chose Central not only because their tender was the most professional, but because, having seen their wider work in the housing sector, we knew they would understand how to assess our IT infrastructure requirements.” 

For much of 2021, Central has been marking its first 30 years in business with a series of activities and events, from a complete rebrand and the launch of a new company website to fund-raising for local charity Springhill Hospice and the donation of 30 bags of shopping to pantries operated by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. 

Here, co-owner Jo Berry gives her view from the channel. 

TR: How’s business? Better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?
Jo Berry:
As a managed service provider, 2020 was an extremely busy year for us. Lockdown and the resultant move to remote working meant that a lot of our customers required support to update systems so staff could work from home and remain safe. 

As we’ve moved into 2021, this has remained consistent and we’ve continued to perform well as organisations have looked to put in longer term IT infrastructure strategies to manage new working practices, now and in the future. 

We’re confident that we’re going to have a great year ahead, too. We’ve celebrated a milestone trading anniversary of 30 years recently, so we’ve spent some time qualifying who we are as a business and putting into words what we’re all about. This — alongside a rebrand and new website launch — means we’re really excited to see what the future holds.

cyber security

TR: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
Jo Berry:
Social housing and manufacturing have been key verticals for us for a long time, as we’ve got a lot of expertise in these areas. In fact, we have over 20 years’ experience in the housing sector alone. We’re known in the industry to be a safe pair of hands – we’ve got a lot of heritage dealing with these organisations and have many long-serving members of the team who are known as experts in their field. 

In terms of services, we’re experiencing a lot of demand for infrastructure updates, as mentioned above, as well as cyber security as a ransomware pandemic has been happening at the same time as the virus! 

TR: What recent wins are you most proud of?
Jo Berry:
We recently signed a three-year contract with Brighter Futures Housing Association to be the organisation’s dedicated technology partner – including first, second and third-line support for its 230-strong workforce. 

In the past year, we also managed a lot of complex mergers, including the integration of Colne Housing and Greenfields Community Housing into the newly formed Eastlight Community Homes, now the UK’s largest housing association. This is interesting as historically we worked on many projects with stock transfer organisations, when housing associations were separated from local councils into new entities. 

The Eastlight merger proved especially difficult due to ongoing lockdown and social distancing restrictions, so I’m really proud of the team for going the extra mile and delivering on the project within the timeframe agreed. 

TR: Where is business proving most difficult?
Jo Berry:
As the entire industry knows, there’s a skills gap within the tech sector, so it’s always a challenge to find people with the right technical skills who also hold values that align with our own. Our people are our beating heart, so it’s critical that any new member of the team fully fits in with our culture – which is to put ‘care’ at the centre of everything we do. 

TR: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
Jo Berry:
We’ve always worked on quality rather than quantity, and that means seeking out the right opportunities, rather than just any opportunity. When we find the right client, with the right project,
that’s when we can do our absolute best work – providing value to the customer and satisfaction to our teams that we’ve done a job well. This is reflected in our rebrand, which has allowed us to tell our story and showcase our values a lot better – hopefully resulting in the right clients being able to find us, and us being able to find them.

TR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
Jo Berry:
The same as it always has been – the increasing competition and being able to cut through the noise so that we can stand out. We want the right projects where we can harness the power of our specific expertise and do great work. We really do stand by our values and genuinely care about making a difference. For us, it’s about the human connection and relationship as much as it’s about the technology. Technology is a given and for Central it’s about demonstrating that we want to make a positive impact. 

TR: Could vendors and distributors do more to help you overcome these challenges? And if so, what?
Jo Berry:
Vendors and distributors could possibly help us to overcome this challenge. Once they learn what Central is good at and understand our fantastic team, they’ll know where we’ll be the right fit and can refer us accordingly. That’s why it’s vital for us to listen to our partners and make sure the relationship is a two-way street. As we’re operating in a number of niche markets, it’s crucial that our vendors and distributors understand what we do well, and where we do it to the best of our abilities. As mentioned earlier, our differentiator is our people and desire always to go the extra mile. 

TR: Are customers becoming more demanding, and if so, in what ways?
Jo Berry:
It’s all about service, and that’s where we can truly make a difference. We can provide an exceptional experience to clients — that’s always been the case — but with more information available at our fingertips than ever before, you have to go above and beyond to provide expert advice and weigh in with a professional opinion. They also want a technology partner that aligns with their ethos, which is why it’s so important we make our own values clear. 

TR: If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?
Jo Berry:
The time spent on busy motorways – that was the one great thing about lockdown! 

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TechnologyReseller: 2021