How mis-applied IT wiped 66% off a company’s stock value
Case studies are almost always positive, especially in the business of digital workplaces. A feature of many digital workplace strategies is the closer integration of field sales and technical teams with the staff in corporate offices. Provident Financial is a UK firm which specialises in lending to people in financial difficulties. Interest rates are certainly high but there is a demand for this type of finance and the business was making very good profits under the direction of its CEO Peter Crook. The company had around 4,500 part-time debt collectors who also acted as sales people and who got to know their customers quite well.
In February 2017 Peter Crook (salary and bonuses of £6.3 million last year) decided to go digital. The company set up a 2,500 strong full-time sales team and gave them all iPads that provided a list of calls they had to make, giving them perhaps 4 minutes to make a call. However persuading a customer to make a payment on their loan is not a 4 minute task, and so debt collection rates dropped from 90% to 57%. Not good for cash flow. The story is written up very well in The Guardian newspaper. The result was a profits warning that wiped £1.7bn off the value of the company. For the CEO the story did not end well. He left the company and paid back some of his earnings before joining the Board of Cabot Credit Management. Cabot, the largest debt collection agency in the UK, was about to go out to an IPO but then delayed it as Peter Crook decided to leave the Board.
This is a good case study of how dangerous it is to assume that just providing technology will improve business growth. It is essential that the way in which business is conducted is fully appreciated by those making this type of decision. It is also not just a case of having a business analyst work through the process and help write the IT specification. Ethnographic research is essential in understand the extent and nature of many business processes, especially those outside the corporate walls where the details many not be apparent to HQ. Probably the most famous example of this was the work of Julian Orr in 1986 on how Xerox photocopy engineers went about their work. Another lesson is that we often learn more from things that go wrong than from things that go well, and so case studies of decisions that did not have the intended outcomes are very valuable.