The penny share that could save you from white van man

Waiting in for service personnel to call can be a frustrating experience. But this small-cap technology company aims to change all that, says Tom Bulford.

In today's world we are completely hostage to technology. Some of us are never very far from our smart phones, iPods or tablets. And if our wireless connection doesn't work we are dumbfounded. We've all witnessed a household descend into panic when the internet cuts out.

The trouble starts, though, when you have to call for technical support. A few weeks ago I was having difficulty turning on my computer and so I contacted the manufacturer's helpline. An appointment was made for Tuesday. The technician arrived. On the way he had picked up a new on-off switch for my computer. This proved to be a switch for a different model. Another appointment was made for the Thursday. Nobody turned up. At the end of the day I called the manufacturer, and after plenty of to-ing and fro-ing managed to speak to somebody in the service department. I cannot remember the excuse but the appointment had to be rescheduled for the following week.

Again the technician arrived. I am a bit hazy about how this happened but this time he brought with him a new motherboard. This turned out to be faulty and did not work. He told me he would come back two days later, this time with one that did work. He did so, he fitted the new mother board, and the computer worked just fine so long as it was turned on.

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But there was still the original difficulty. Sometimes it was hard to actually start up the wretched thing. The technician got out his screwdriver, fiddled about for a few minutes, spotted that the existing on-off switch had not been securely fitted into its casing. He gave it a little push and the problem was solved.

On the way out he told me that the manufacturer would contact me for some feedback, and would I be kind enough to give a favourable report?!

Could scheduling software be about to change the delivery world?

I was reminded of this the other day when sitting through a presentation in the City. The speaker was Mark Duffin, and he revealed that if a repairman has to make two trips instead of one to fix a flat screen television, it is cheaper to give the customer a new one.

I am guessing now that you are nodding your head and recalling your own experiences of the unreliability of the white van man. We have all spent hours waiting for somebody to turn up. To be fair things have improved. These days you do at least get a call along the lines of "I am on my where exactly is Acacia Avenue? I can't find it on my satnav".

But there is still a huge amount of inefficiency in the process. Goodness knows how much it must have cost my computer manufacturer to sort out my problems, but Mark Duffin thinks he can improve matters. He is chief executive of ServicePower (SVR) and this small AIM-listed business is a world leader in scheduling software. ServicePower has been tackling this problem for years and it has proved to be a bit more complicated that it first thought.

ServicePower and its roadmap' for the future

Duffin has identified 13 slices to the successful service pie. These include optimising the daily timetable of each operative, adapting it as the day progresses to take account of over-running jobs, cancellations, staff sickness etc. This must be synchronised with the ordering and delivery of the correct parts. Vehicle telematics are used to keep check on the driver and ensure that he is not still in bed when he claims to be driving to his first job. Customers must be kept informed, analytical reports must be produced, warranties must be checked and the whole software engine must be hosted in the IT cloud.

That would be complicated enough if it just applied to one organisation. But ServicePower claims to have set up the "eBay of job scheduling". What this does is allow companies to appoint independent engineers, for example in areas not covered by their own direct sales force, and then allow those independents to bid for work.

In the course of his presentation Duffin showed a highly complicated road map' for the future, which showed the parts of the jigsaw that ServicePower is still missing and potential partners that might supply them. Even with these gaps still to be filled, Duffin reckons that ServicePower is ahead of the game and has an offer that is hugely unique.'

But so far it seems to be only scratching the surface. Revenues last year, mainly derived from the United States, were £13.3m a fraction, surely, of the market opportunity. If Duffin succeeds in making ServicePower the preferred supplier of scheduling software, the company could become a real success story. More to the point, I might not have to a wait around for days waiting for things to be fixed.

This article is taken from Tom Bulford's free twice-weekly small-cap investment email The Penny Sleuth. Sign up to The Penny Sleuth here.

Information in Penny Sleuth is for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon by individual readers in making (or not making) specific investment decisions. Penny Sleuth is an unregulated product published by Fleet Street Publications Ltd.

Tom worked as a fund manager in the City of London and in Hong Kong for over 20 years. As a director with Schroder Investment Management International he was responsible for £2 billion of foreign clients' money, and launched what became Argentina's largest mutual fund.

Now working from his home in Oxfordshire, Tom Bulford helps private investors with his premium tipping newsletter, Red Hot Biotech Alert.

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