Opencast growth speeds into 2022

21 December 2021

After another successful year with significant new client work, Opencast is accelerating its growth plans. Chief executive Tom Lawson reflects on 2021 – and looks ahead.

The last two years have been hugely successful for Opencast.

We set out in early 2020 a five-year strategy for growth. We’re already well ahead of schedule on that, so that by the end of 2022 we may well have reached the size and scale we set out in that plan.

Way faster than first planned, we are now projecting to employ 400 people by the end of 2022, with revenue growing 114% year on year, to £30m.

We have always planned safely and prudently about where the business is going and at what pace. So, while our growth is important, looking after our people and our clients must always be the top priority.

Looking back at the past year, the work we've recently secured at HMRC has undoubtedly been our biggest success. These were landmark contract wins that give us a bedrock for the future in terms of revenue stability and scale.

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"Way faster than first planned, we are now projecting to employ 400 people by the end of 2022, with revenue growing 114% year on year, to £30m"

Variety needed for our people

As delighted as we are to have won the new HMRC work, we need variety from both a risk management perspective but also for our people, so that they have interesting and varied work and clients to do that with.

DWP has continued to grow significantly. We’ve also been able to maintain and add to our portfolio of other accounts, adding client diversity, technical challenge and sense of purpose in equal measure.

eConsult has been an important client for us, adding a highly relevant set of technology that has been key during the pandemic in helping people to see their GPs. That will remain and grow moving forward, because public behaviour and the adoption of digital have changed so significantly.

Another great partnership is with Elmtronics, the electric vehicle charging infrastructure company. That is going to be a huge growth area, and highly impactful for society too in terms of the change that it is going to deliver.

Both of these clients have elements of social good to them, which goes beyond just making money. Further wins, including at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) will kick in fully early in 2022, further expanding the breadth of our portfolio of work.

Pastoral support

We want to have an ongoing dialogue with our people about the work they want to do. We have no fixed ideas on this – but we do have a set of strong capabilities as a business that can be applied across sectors and opportunities. If it makes economic sense, and it’s something our team want to do, why shouldn’t we go and do that?

As a leadership team we need a constant focus on how we look after our people, providing the best possible environment for them, again ongoing dialogue with our team is essential for this, and something we expect.

Delivering that to our people in practice is about a mixture of factors. Yes, it’s about the type of work they do. It is also about pay, bonuses and support structures.

We've now added share options into that mix as a financial and almost philosophical incentive. In what is a bold and radical move, our founders are effectively giving away a third of their shares to everyone across the business. We want our people to feel part of the business and have a genuine stake in its future – and this move delivers exactly that.

There is also the learning and development we provide, so it is not just about the roles that people perform, but the additional investment we make into their growth. A big thing for us this year has been getting the pastoral support in place that will look after our people.

In early 2022, we will have new people experience partners (PEEPs) in post. They will ensure that everyone in the business has someone who is looking after and advocating for their needs. That is another way we are trying to differentiate ourselves from others.

We want the new PEEPs to represent and advocate for our people in terms of their needs on all those fronts - whether it is in the type of work, the learning and development they want or broader support through pay, recognition and reward.

More demand not less

As we improve the offer to our people and expand the business, we are recruiting nationally and are looking hard at new office hubs and locations in the UK, as well as investing in our office headquarters to make it work as well as it can for flexible, hybrid ways of working.

Obviously, the environment is uncertain with the economy. There is still nervousness as we come out of hopefully the worst of the pandemic, but there are going to be some stings in the tail, as we're seeing now with new variants.

What has been consistent, though, is that for people in our industry, there is more demand, not less, and the pandemic has accelerated societal shifts. That means there is likely to be more demand than there are companies and skilled people able to support it.

So, while we'd expect to see fluctuations in clients and sectors, as long as we are fleet of foot and go where the interesting work is based on our capabilities, there will more work to take on and keep growth going and not have to stall our progress.

We are still in the process of broadening our overall set of service offerings. The focus in 2020 was in growing out our user-centred design capability. This year has seen more focus on platform engineering and DevOps. There is more to do on that because it is a very competitive marketplace. But there are also huge opportunities for it, so that is an area we will continue to grow.

Architecture is another big area we're going to be pushing on into 2022. We're seeing huge demand for that as a service and organisations want to tap into that. Technical and solution architecture skillsets are going to be big growth areas for us.

I also think 2022 will be the year that we branch out more formally into data and establish that as a wider service offering. AI and machine learning are already embedded into some of what we do – and undoubtedly these will grow in prominence over the next few years too.

More external focus

I’ve been chief executive at Opencast just over a year now. The last year has absolutely flown by. I can't quite believe it has been that long! Over that period the pandemic has meant that that role for me has been different to what it might have been.

While we've been digesting growth and getting the internals of the company right, as we go into the next couple of years - hopefully with travel restrictions and the flexibility to move around being greater - being much more externally facing out with our clients and the wider market is where I want to be.

I have really enjoyed the past year in my role as chief executive. It is no hardship coming to work when you are doing the things we're doing - and being able to enjoy doing them with the great team we have at Opencast!