These guys are the Navy SEALs of IT nerds

Early in 2013, the global logistics giant DHL began seeing an increase in so-called “trouble tickets” – complaints to its IT department from system users. There was a problem somewhere in the company’s IT system and it was causing deliveries to miss their targets.

Missed deliveries are always bad news for a logistics company, but as a business utterly dependent on its digital supply chain, an unidentified IT issue somewhere in DHL’s system had potentially disastrous implications.

The problems got worse and impacted customers to such an extent that the whole thing ended up on the CEO’s desk. An elite task force was formed to sort it out. But after ten months of upgrades, patches and changes, they hadn’t managed to.

That was when DHL stumbled upon Actual Experience (ACT), and installed their tools. Within a mere 18 hours, the company’s ten-month-old problem was diagnosed and solved. They found the fault, fixed it, and business returned to normal.

Actual Experience (ACT) is a young university spin-out that’s new to the Aim market. In today’s Penny Sleuth, I’m going to show you how it solved DHL’s global IT problem, and why that matters for investors.

To fix IT problems, start with IT users

Now, in the business world, the sort of problem DHL faced is a serious issue. Virtually everything in the $8trn global digital economy relies on digital systems and networks. Yet despite the vast sums spent by corporations on technology it’s common for things to operate badly.

The video conferencing service might be laggy or the online ticketing system keeps freezing. How often has customer service had to call you back because their screens are uploading your information too slowly?

And it’s not unusual for such problems to occur while the IT department’s performance tools indicate that the system is working perfectly. So when the techies try to solve an issue, they can’t reach a diagnosis at all easily.

These are the problems that Actual Experience is out to solve. Its mission is to provide that missing link between IT and business productivity. To do this, it approaches the problem from two distinct angles.

Most IT performance tools produce data from the perspective of the system itself. Actual Experience’s name comes from the fact that it evaluates the human experience – the view from the user’s angle – and quantifies it.

“Until now, everybody has relied on technical jargon, just a mess of numbers and graphs and stats that are essentially meaningless,” says Director of Products Ben Burns, “because they don’t link to the only thing that really matters – to people’s experience, to human experience.”

Actual Experience also recognises that a digital system represents a chain of functions linked together. So it applies supply chain management techniques to the digital world.

Most IT performance measurement products will evaluate one aspect in isolation, such as the data centre, the network, or an application. Yet, bad digital experiences arise from weaknesses in the chain as a whole.

Essentially, the company’s product is business information software-as-a-service. It runs continually, monitoring and reporting on the health of the digital supply chain.

This is worth keeping an eye on

Actual Experience is another spin-out from a UK university – Queen Mary, University of London in this case. I’ve written about the buoyant market in the transfer of knowledge from academia to the commercial world before.

Jonathan Pitts, Professor of Communication Engineering at the university, developed the analytical techniques used by Actual Experience. He is also a major shareholder alongside CEO and co-founder Dave Page.

The company is currently valued at £57m – a figure which reflects the promise of the technology rather than the current sales base. It’s early days, with revenue just under half a million for the last accounting period, but there are some blue-chip names among ACT’s 50 customers.

The appearance of regulators Ofcom and tech companies like Cisco, Fujitsu and Verizon suggest this is a sophisticated product, while business users include Barclays, Maersk and ITV. IP Group, a technology transfer company with a number of university spin-outs in its portfolio, is the largest investor.

Actual Experience has good quality customers and plenty of room to grow in a large enterprise market. Digital supply chains are crucial to the way we live today, and Actual Experience’s skill is in fine tuning them to give their best possible performance.

That’s why I believe this company is worth keeping a close eye on.


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  • Londonian

    Navy Seals? But this is a British company spun out of a British university. Maybe SAS would have been a better choice.

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