By Simon Woodhead
So here we are – Christmas 2020 – and the world looks very different to last year, although that only seems like yesterday.
First and foremost I want to thank the Simwood team who have done an amazing job this year in quite trying circumstances. I took the decision to lock down early when the writing was on the wall in March, but I took the more controversial decision to come out of lock-down before the nanny state decreed. Our reasons for both were the welfare of our team, viral welfare early on, mental welfare later. It is easy to envisage the middle-aged middle-manager home-worker in his plush garden office and wonder why everyone doesn’t do it, but that just isn’t reality. Those who live alone in small flats and need to work on the ironing board, or have young families so need to work on the sock drawer in the spare room, or share houses and need to live and work from a single under-stairs cupboard are more the normal and that isn’t healthy. So I have really appreciated our team’s flexibility and resilience this year and I like to think we’ve recognised that. They’re working seamlessly dispersed between the COVID-secure offices and home, often a mix of both as they see fit, and we’ve ended up in a place where wellbeing, both viral and mental is closer to where it should be.
Of course, we’re hugely grateful to be in this industry and my heart continues to go out to those caught on the tail-end of policy and seeing their life’s work wrenched away from them. I know what it is like to build your life around a business or job and from my younger days I also know what it is like to lose everything. My loss was my own fault but to see viable businesses destroyed, and jobs people gave their all to taken away is heart-breaking and my thoughts are with them. There are 3m people in this country who have been excluded from any support whatsoever because they got off their arse and set up a business, or did multiple jobs, or dared to take maternity leave. We need those people in this country, not more civil servants, and as such I really applaud the work of ExcludedUK who are trying to help. Simwood has donated £5,000 to their Christmas fund which is going directly to those who need the money; I hope it helps.
The virus has been odd for us as a business. Up to March we were growingly very strongly (+50% or so) and our customers were doing really well. April showed substantial decline overall but it was quite polarised. Some customers went into overdrive, riding the work-from-home wave, others shut up shop completely which was very sad. We tried to help where we could as I don’t believe ‘business is business’ but rather it is humans exchanging value, and by definition requires humanity. That was well received by some and flagrantly abused by others we misjudged. It has certainly been a year of seeing true colours, both of individuals and companies at every level. At one end you have the scrote who rather than pay his bills preferred to seek Ofcom’s support in committing fraud for his own gain, (whilst simultaneously signing me up fraudulently for a load of charity subscriptions from the company bank account), and BT remains as odious as ever! On the flip-side though, we’ve had heart-felt conversations with customers genuinely trying their best to get by and recognising our value, through to multi-billion Pound/Dollar customers and peers (including Vodafone to namecheck one) who have paid us early through this period, without us asking. Humanity has been a big theme and I’ve certainly come to appreciate who we do and don’t want to do business with more than ever.
Thankfully, we’ve more than doubled Simwood Partner over the last 12 months and Simwood Wholesale closed the year with volumes up nearly 50%, which is a great result. We’ve got some amazing new Partners who, ironically, are far more developer focussed than many of our wholesale customers. We continue to suggest that a number of wholesale customers would be better off as partners and are going to need to continue doing so given where the market is. As a result, and in no small part due to some amazing new wholesale customers we’ve added, wholesale is going to get more wholesale over the coming year. It has to.
We’ve had some real high notes this year. SimCon in March seems to have been the last event most people we know attended and it was touch and go whether we ran it. We had more people attend the stream than the room but it was done safely and to my knowledge everyone stayed safe and had a good time. We made a few announcements there of new services which we’ve been working hard to deliver on despite the year not going to plan! First delivered was the new Manager interface for Simwood Partner customers, so you can change all the whitelabelling yourself through a clean portal. This extends to our generically branded (not mentioning the name here as I don’t want to undo that in search engines) VoxAP Core based app – yes you can colour the app to your own brand for your customers. Simwood Residential is nearly there too although has taken second place to a lot more attention on bringing the Sipcentric platform over to the Simwood architecture after some unplanned service affecting issues. I’m sorry to those who were affected that we didn’t prioritise that sooner. There’s been a tonne of work behind the scenes on the wholesale platform too, which you won’t have noticed thankfully! It is somewhat worrying to see competitors having an annual maintenance window just to update an SSL certificate – what the heck do they do to maintain or evolve the rest of the year!? By contrast we have dozens of code commits and deployments every day and even where one of those might be an SSL certificate change, you won’t ever notice it taking place. That is how things should be in 2020; hell it was how things should have been in 1990!
Alas, I digress. Another major high point and significant focus for me and select colleagues was our work with Ofcom and discussions with BT that ultimately led to our admission to the Secret Club. Whilst we have BTZero, BT remains the u-bend in the plumbing of telecoms – far more passes through them than should and they catch whatever they can. Getting our interconnects to IP, without needing to sell out and become their reseller, is huge. It affects customers directly because it means we can dismantle our SS7 network over 2021 and our per-call economics are 5-years ahead of competitors. The benefit of that plus BTZero should become more apparent over the next 6-9 months.
We’ve had a little rotation on the team this year, with some great new colleagues joining and one long-term one going, but the core team has remained strong and unified. That was gratifying, not least in the face of a customer pretending to be a competitor employing headhunters to target our staff (whilst simultaneously out to ‘destroy Gamma’ from the position of being their reseller!). I’d be embarrassed for them but thankfully we’re in a place where the brightest and the best in the business want to come and work with us, and we have some great young talent that is hungry to develop. We’ve had a number of promotions and other progress in the team this year, all well deserved, and it is great to see.
Next year is going to be burdened by the virus and whatever post-virus punishment of the hard-working becomes necessary to prop up the Civil Service final salary pension scheme. As an aside, if you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (or watched the B-grade movies on Prime) I’d recommend you do!
2021 is going to be a challenge, more than we think I expect, yet also presents a great opportunity for our sector. We’re here to help wherever we can and genuinely want our customers to thrive and our sector to do good for the wider community. Together we can I’m sure.
Lastly, I wish everyone reading the very best for the Christmas break. Please stay safe and look after each other.