Jadu was geeky, now design led

Leicester firm builds on £2m contract won from streamlined government procurement, launches Spacecraft to improve life for website users

Leicester technology firm Jadu sells software and services to over 80 local councils across the UK. Eleven years ago the small start-up was shipping its first software from the Leicester Creative Business Depot on Rutland Street. By 2013 it was in its own premises at Meridian and operating sites processing over £20m a month in transactions from councils, central government and universities. This month the company launched a wholly-owned spin-off company, Spacecraft, employing more than 50 of the company’s 80 staff.

Simply put, Jadu provides the technology that makes websites work. The content management system it develops allows non-technical staff to upload words and images to a website. Its forms technology allows members of the public to set up a direct debit to pay council tax, or apply for a school place. Its search facility lets visitors find what they’re looking for. All these have to be fast and foolproof. The systems need to be robust, to protect personal data and resist malicious attacks. They need to work on tablets and mobile phones as well as on desktop computers.

Just as important as these technical functions is the design of the website. Design isn’t about aesthetics or making the website look pretty, explains Matt Culpin,  Jadu’s creative director. It’s about thinking things through from the user’s point of view. It’s about structuring the website interface so customers get where they want to be fast, easily and with the minimum of fuss. “Good design is invisible”, he says. If you notice the design, it’s getting in the way.

That emphasis on design is the reason behind the Spacecraft launch. It signifies a switch of focus from technology to the user experience. This isn’t a “nice-to-have”. If the public can’t find what they want from a website within a very short time, they’ll pick up the phone or even drop by the customer service desk. And that is seriously bad financial news.

One council calculated that it cost £40 in staff time for it to answer an enquiry from the public face to face, Matt Culpin told a meeting of geeks and entrepreneurs at Leicester Startups in September. The comparable figure for a telephone enquiry was £17. For online enquiries, it’s a matter of pence.

It’s not difficult to see how that drives local councils and government. Cash-strapped organisations are signposting everyone to their websites, fast. Want to find out how to register a birth, report a missed wheelie bin or pay a parking fine? Look online. The policy even has a name—digital by default. If you’ve wondered why it’s hard to find a phone number on a council website, now you know. The economics are so blatant.

Jadu has been in this business a long time. Back in 1999 founder and current CEO Suraj Kika landed its first significant contract, building an online consultation for the Department for Trade and Industry. A contract including building an early dynamic website for Kettering Borough Council followed and the company kept up with trends, building mobile apps and adding councils and government departments, large and small, to its portfolio

A serious influx of cash came in 2013 when the company was hired to create a website for the Ministry of Justice. The £2m contract, to introduce a charging system for employment tribunals, came with a tight ministerially-imposed deadline. Jadu delivered in just 18 weeks, and won plaudits for flexibility and speed. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling issued a press release calling Jadu “a perfect example of how small businesses in the private sector can help transform our justice system, driving innovation and better value for hardworking taxpayers.”

Key to getting the contract were changes to the way government procures IT services. An online marketplace, G-Cloud, brings together public bodies and suppliers from small and medium enterprises. Before that Jadu had worked on government contacts, but low down the food chain, frustratingly dependent on very large suppliers who restricted contact with the government client.

Jadu’s working style was crucial in hitting the MoJ deadline. Committed to Agile working, it delivers projects in small teams working in short sprints to deliver the next iteration of a marketable product or upgrade. It’s fast, frenzied and sidesteps many of the delays and blockages inherent in traditional methods of delivering complex contracts.

The approach doesn’t suit everyone, but for those it does it’s fun and challenging. Jadu, in the fashion of some other, more famous, technology firms, has twenty percent time policy, encouraging staff, especially those who are restless and otherwise prone to distraction, to work on standalone projects of their own choosing. Regular innovation days at Leicester’s National Space Centre provide a chance to swap ideas and collaborate.

The firm is always looking for fresh talent, and says it is always recruiting. It doesn’t employ sales staff or an external PR company. But it does have its own talent acquisition specialist – to spot engineering and design talent and speed up the hiring of the best. There are plans to add perhaps 10 or so staff a year over the next three to five years, says Matt Culpin. The parent company Jadu will continue the development of the software that made its name. It’s also building an export businesses through its companies in the US and Australia. Meanwhile, the design-led offshoot Spacecraft will be freer to find solutions across a wider range, moving beyond its parental Jadu brand.

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