CDN Consular Services Limited is a specialist provider of export documentation services for organisations selling goods or setting up businesses outside the UK. Companies of all shapes and sizes, and across a broad spectrum of industries, use CDN to handle customs, regulatory affairs, intellectual property and legal documentation, as well as translations of paperwork and letters of credit. It has been providing these services to British and global businesses for almost 30 years.
Customers find it much more cost-effective to outsource export documentation handling to CDN because requirements vary so much from country to country, and can change frequently. For this reason it is a hard discipline for organisations to keep on top of if they try to manage it themselves.
Efficiency through automation
Based in Egham, Surrey, with easy access to the various embassies and Chambers of Commerce in and around London, CDN services some 700 clients from week to week. It typically processes around 400 orders a day, with a staff of just 35 permanent employees. CDN’s ability to manage this size of workload with such a tight team, and turn documentation around quickly and efficiently, is down to the company’s strategic use of bespoke software. In particular it uses automated systems to manage client accounts and orders, and track the status of current processes.
Because CDN’s requirements are so specific there is no software on the general market that it could purchase to manage its activities, so for the last 16 years the company has depended upon the bespoke software development services of One Beyond. CDN first engaged One Beyond to create a core order entry and invoicing system. This was designed to collate and manage orders, and ensure that jobs are invoiced correctly. As the business has grown, and technologies have developed, One Beyond has revisited the CDN system to ensure the company takes advantage of the latest capabilities.
Remote access via the cloud
One Beyond migrated CDN’s order entry and customer management system to the cloud, giving it a web-based interface so that the contents can be accessed securely from any location. The updated system took less than five months to produce.
Explaining why the new, cloud-hosted version is important, managing director Neil Beard says, “The need to keep customers informed, and to communicate with them regularly, is far greater today than it ever has been. Our old system was very reliable and had more than served our needs, but it was over 12 years old and technology had moved on since it was first developed.
“The new web-based version gives users the flexibility to access it from client sites or customer roadshows, or from home. This in turn allows them to spend more time seeing clients, and show them the status of their orders in real time. With our old server-based system this wasn’t possible; access was confined to the office.”
One of CDN’s first priorities has been to embark on a new business campaign. This involves staff visiting clients and offering to work from their offices for a day – showcasing their services and letting them see first-hand how they could be doing things more efficiently. “We couldn’t have done this before,” Neil notes.
In addition to the cloud web front end, a mobile app for iOS has been developed. This includes features to view order reports, quotes, invoices and details around Legislation Services.
The system One Beyond has developed is fundamental to our competitive edge in the market …. This was a huge development project for us, but one that was delivered quickly and efficiently.
A large proportion of CDN’s revenues are derived from repeat business, so impressing existing customers is equally critical. “Once we win an account, orders tend to be small but regular,” Neil explains. “This highlights our need to be very communicative with our clients, and to have consistent fees and timeframes. Our ethos is to automate as much as possible so our clients can rely on a reliable, slick and standardised service.”
An increasingly important element of that service is client reporting, and it is here too that the One Beyond system provides CDN with a valuable competitive edge. “Invoices alone won’t typically give the customer as much detail as they need,” Neil explains. “They don’t help the client manage their budgets, because they don’t itemise who placed the order – or how the costs relate to different types of document, or the particular processes involved.”
The updated system provides detailed management reporting, which clients are able to access via a new, secure customer portal. “Here, they can see all of their orders over a given period with a detailed breakdown of costs, so they can see the value for money they are getting,” Neil says. The portal also supports secure client messaging.
“No one else offers this level of service; it’s a significant competitive advantage,” he adds. “Clients each have their own private window into their account, where they can see the status of their orders and generate whatever reports they need, allowing them to act on this information in real time.”
Rapid & Agile development promotes innovation
CDN has been able to anticipate and meet clients’ changing demands because the development process favoured by One Beyond is a highly collaborative and agile one. Rather than try to second-guess all of the requirements up front and come up with a fixed specification, One Beyond’s approach is to start with a very basic prototype, developed quickly using the latest rapid application development (RAD) tools. Having something to work with, One Beyond is then able to work with the client to refine it and add specific features as the potential becomes evident.
As well as giving CDN the system it needed in just a few months, this approach has also produced a very flexible, malleable piece of software. Says Neil, “We have yet to come across a requirement the system can’t handle! Some customers want monthly invoices and regular summaries; others want them weekly or even daily – or by order, or by the person requesting the jobs. The One Beyond system can cope with all of this very easily.”
When CDN first engaged One Beyond it was because the software company was local, and showed a keen understanding of CDN’s requirements. These advantages still apply today, Neil says. “One Beyond shows an instinctive appreciation for what we need to achieve, and the fact that the development evolves so quickly is fantastic. There’s no way we could have written down the scope of what we needed up front. It was far too complex; we couldn’t have anticipated everything. Mapping out a rough framework and honing the detail on an ongoing, iterative basis made much more sense.
“The system One Beyond has developed is fundamental to our competitive edge in the market,” he concludes. “Our business is as good as the systems that underpin it. This was a huge development project for us, but one that was delivered quickly and efficiently. Even allowing for rigorous testing this has allowed us to pass on the benefits to our clients with impressive speed.”
A cloud-based order entry and invoicing system with a web-based interface allowing for detailed management reporting via a secure customer portal.