Opmetrix – David Barley, the accidental tech CEO

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Photo: Opmetrix management team from left to right; Eion Robb – CTO, Jo Richardson – COO, Oliver Huggins – CIO and David Barley – CEO.

The Accidental Tech CEO

David Barley never set out to be the CEO of a growing tech company.  His background was in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods).  He came from a corporate background and certainly didn’t know smart devices when he joined Opmetrix 15 years ago.  But he knew the food & beverage industry and customer services really well.

Helping Retail Sales Drive Efficiencies

Opmetrix is another Christchurch ‘tech’ company you’ve probably never heard of; with clients including Hellers, Pernod Ricard and Resene.  It was established by Oliver Huggins in 1997 to enable field teams to be more efficient; doing away with bits of paper to use ‘smart’ technology.  They now have over 400 customers, servicing over 2,000 brands across New Zealand and Australia and have their sights set on Asia.

The initial platform was built on the Palm Pilot; then the Trio Smartphone (David chuckles when he recalls these).  The small screens were fiddly for delivery drivers and sales teams to operate, so it wasn’t really until the iPad came along that Opmetrix found its stride.  Today Opmetrix is configured for all platforms and devices.

They help merchandising and mobile sales teams servicing retail outlets drive efficiencies, reduce costs and sell more of their products.  It’s all about real-time information and data, including gaps in their product line-up, how to improve promotion, route planning and sales.

David says:

“There are still companies out there who are pretty clunky.”

There are still bits of paper being used and a lot of ma and pa operators in particular, remain nervous with technology and change.

Great user experience and customer service are paramount and this has meant ‘word of mouth’ has driven much of their growth.  They ask for customer feedback and their quarterly product releases can “WOW!” their customers.  Customers also love the fact they have the choice of online chat or to speak with a real person.  This customer focus has resulted in a very low churn rate and even clients who have been with them since their Palm Pilot days!

Pivot Points

David talks about a number of critical ‘pivot points’ in the organisation’s development, including when the Founder, Oliver stepped into the Chief Innovation Officer role and David went from being the ‘Jack of All Trades’ to the CEO.  Going onto the cloud; switching to a SAAS model and a rebrand have all been major points in the story.

A further step-change came when they established a board and brought on Dave Tinkler as a professional director.  David says this has brought rigour, discipline and common sense; he’s challenged them and kept them on track.   On reflection, David wishes they’d taken on governance earlier in their journey, as an outside perspective might have driven the growth more quickly.

Christchurch Is Known As A Tech Centre

They have a team of 20 and their head office is in Christchurch.  It is their ‘tech centre’, where the product development and innovation is done, as well as being home to their Customer Success and Tech Support Teams.  They also have an office in Sydney with sales, project management and a back-up tech support team.  This set-up proved invaluable after the 2011 earthquakes when Opmetrix’s disaster-recovery planning was quickly put in place and they switched operations to their Sydney office, enabling them to continue serving clients, while the Christchurch team evacuated their CBD office.

COVID – An Enabler

Foresight and planning is a bit of a theme, with Oliver and David sitting down 2 weeks before NZ’s lockdown to plan their approach.  They split the team, rotating them between working at home and in the office, which ensured they had robust systems and processes in place when the country did enter lockdown.

They were nervous about what the COVID impact would do to their business, but David says it has actually been an enabler.  While some businesses in tourism didn’t survive, those that were serving supermarkets, pharmacies and, in Australia, hardware stores were still operating.  COVID caused many organisations to consider better ways of working with their customers.

David says:

“Let’s just say all of us have been super busy and we continue to have happy shareholders!”

They have also become more efficient without the need to jump on planes to do business.

Sights on Asia

Opmetrix now have their sights set on global growth and have developed a commercial relationship with Incite (a food & beverage export specialist) to help them expand into Asia.  They know they need to implement 24/7 support to go global and see Asia as an opportunity to take a first step, as they can manage growth and customer support from NZ.

Their plan is to develop a methodology in Asia and then use this to grow their business in other regions.

To find out more listen in to the EPIC Podcast with David Barley