Agile specialist BJSS tackles digital failures

BJSS is one of the more interesting success stories to emerge in the UK IT services sector in recent years.

The Leeds-based company ranks as one of the largest privately owned domestic players in a market that due to factors such as the disaggregation of major outsourcing deals – particularly in the public sector – as well as a spike in demand for onshore, agile expertise, has seen a resurgence in mid-size services firms. 

BJSS’ revenue rose by 40% to £116m in the year ending April 2018, with net profit up by 40% to £22.6m in 2018. The company’s headcount recently passed the 1,000 mark, following the expansion of sites in Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester and the ramping up of its apprenticeship programme. Its small US presence is also expanding at sites in Houston and New York.  

Founded back in 1993 by a small team of engineers, the company made a name for itself as one of the leading proponents of agile development and testing, with its “Enterprise Agile” approach adopted by organizations including the NHS, where it supported the re-engineering of the “Spine” national healthcare infrastructure. This remains one of the largest open source development projects in the UK public sector to date. 

BJSS also worked with the NHS to build the e-Referral Service, which has delivered savings of £70m. Outside of the public sector, the company helped to re-engineer Waitrose’s in-store system, as well as developing Co-op’s Membership proposition within the retail sector.

In a recent chat with company executive Simon Cook, he talked us through how the company is expanding beyond its core agile proposition to working increasingly as an end-to-end digital transformation partner. 

Cook acknowledges that many digital initiatives fail because organizations take a narrow view of “going from point A to point B” rather than looking to drive a lasting change by making the business more adaptable. He also cites a disregard for the value of legacy systems, and the limitations of taking a big bang approach where by biting off more than they can chew, companies can frustrate and lose the buy-in of their employees. 

Instead, Cook believes that organizations should look to open up the legacy environment by adding light-weight apps that plug into monolithic systems through APIs, that enable them to more rapidly build new services while retiring the older platforms in the background (something that BJSS has worked on with utility giant E.ON). He also talked about the need to break down traditional barriers between business and IT stakeholders, while imposing a culture that encourages project leaders to start small and to learn and adapt. 

This is all sensible advice that teknowlogy Group would wholeheartedly endorse. But one of the big challenges that we see in 2019 is that many companies have managed to make this cultural shift within isolated digital labs or units, which are struggling to scale it across the wider organization. Cook agrees this is an issue facing many businesses, and believes that this sidecar approach can encourage inertia in the traditional business who may feel that it does not need to adapt when the innovation centre will drive them forward. Focus on developing the breadth rather than the depth of talent across the organization, Cook advises.

BJSS has demonstrated an impressive track record in attracting big clients and industry which have been underscored by a number of industry awards. It will be interesting to watch the company as it looks to scale up to the next level. BJSS will increasingly come up against the bigger players in the services space such as Accenture and Capgemini, while facing new challenges in terms of talent development and account management. London-based peer Endava offers an interesting parallel, with its development leading it to an IPO last year, which has helped it to fund international expansion. A similar path may lie ahead of BJSS.