Bill Papas

11 June 2014 — Bill Papas, chief executive of information and technology company Forum Group, is on a major growth path, with sustainability a new core focus. Partly this is about a personal passion for Papas to work with small and medium businesses who “really invest in their business” and who need help to deal with the emerging issues of fuel excise and power price increases. It’s a major opportunity, he says, that many other manufacturers are failing to respond to.

Information and technology company Forum Group recently launched an environmental division as part of its strategy to double its growth in the next 12 months. The new division will complement existing offerings such as the Australian arm for GPS fleet management and logistics system TomTom, integrated print solutions and records and data management.

According to chief executive Bill Papas, the conversation about sustainability is becoming “easier and easier”, as businesses are increasingly presented with sustainability solutions.

“It then goes onto being a cost discussion. [With factors such as] fuel tariffs and electricity prices, businesses are looking for genuine solutions,” he says.

“We have gone through various cycles, of businesses first seeing it as a cost saving, then seeing it as an investment but one which they couldn’t get a return on, to now seeing the bottom line value.”

For most small to medium businesses, Papas said in an interview with The Fifth Estate, sustainability is being driven by the need to reduce costs.

The core of the company’s approach as Papas describes it is, “looking at where the pain points are [for a client] and finding efficiencies.”

“Our methodology across all our platforms is the investment [in technology] needs to be delivering a return immediately.”

New product to reduce energy costs

A recent addition to the company’s lines that delivers on that strategy is PowerPerfector, a voltage power optimisation technology that can reduce a whole building’s electricity use by around 10 to 20 per cent.

The small unit is installed in the switchboard to monitor and reduce the oversupply of power to a building, and is being marketed on a zero-capital arrangement that enables power savings to cover the cost for many users.

Acquisition plus organic growth

Papas says the group has combined an “aggressive acquisition strategy and organic growth strategy”.

The delivery of products through the environmental division, he said, is regarded as a major benefit for ongoing organic growth.

In the 2012-13 financial year the company turnover was $15 million, and a result of $28-$30 million is expected for the 2013-14 financial year. Within the next 12 months, the goal is to double in size and revenue growth.

The company has around 4500 clients and 100 staff.

Developing strategic partnerships in Asia, particularly Japan, is something Papas said gives the group access to a significant amount of technology and solutions that can boost the offering of the environmental division.

Great green opportunities in the north

The company has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with services provided nationally and also into New Zealand. Papas says he believes not enough attention is paid to opportunities in the North.

“There is not enough interest and emphasis being put into the third largest market in Australia [Brisbane]. The Northern Territory [also] and Queensland have been very successful for us on the environmental side [of the business].”

This is, however, not without its frustrations.

A key difficulty for clients is obtaining the right information, and gaining access to technologies, which might be proven overseas, but are not accredited for Australian use.

“For example, there is a fuel efficiency product which gives a 10 per cent saving in diesel efficiency – it has a cleaner burn and lowers [the vehicle] carbon footprint. But it is hard to get it through the testing and get it validated [for use in Australia],” Papas says.

“[Even though] it ticks the boxes for sustainability and financial benefit, and has been available in Japan for the past 20 years and is widely used by some of the biggest global companies, it is a struggle to get the testing done. It is not an easy process, and there is not a lot of [government] support.

“People talk about finding these [sustainability] opportunities, but there is not enough support or education.

Papas says the group looks to deliver synergies across divisions, for example IT and fleet management working together to improve logistics and deliver better fuel efficiency. The objective is to introduce broader solutions across each customer’s business which can assist with sustainability.

The 100 staff includes a substantial number of technical experts across each key area, including offshore expertise brought to Australia as part of setting up specific divisions such as TomTom and PowerPerfector.

“We invested in bringing UK people out as part of our organisation to adapt [the technology] to Australian conditions,” Papas says. “With the PowerPerfector business we brought engineers and experts out of Europe [to Australia] who will apply their expertise to what is [actually] a commercial problem [in terms of power consumption and costs].”

Sustainability for the battlers of the business world

Papas says the firm is focused on providing a go-to-market channel that also focuses on smaller markets and smaller firms. From his perspective, the growth in commitment to corporate social responsibility has been very much confined to publicly listed and larger enterprises.

In the hospitality sector in particular, he says the emphasis on energy efficiency is being driven by global pressures.

“There is still a lack of education [in CSR] for the rest of the market,” he says. “[Generally] companies only look internally, within Australia [for influence and information], not at global patterns and solutions.

“Businesses today don’t always know what they can reduce [in terms of resource and energy use]. Especially SMEs, who don’t have the ability to invest in research, they rely on people like us coming to them with information about what is possible.

“While it is always nice to get top listed and government [clients], those I have a passion for are the [small and medium businessses], because they are the people who really invest in their business. There is a real lack of emphasis from manufacturers as to how we can help them, and these businesses have to deal with fuel excise increase and power price increases.

“They are the businesses I’d like as an organisation to become more relevant to, and be delivering solutions that they would never have access to otherwise.

“There is a disparate level of information and support [available from governments] – there is no consistency at all between state bodies. There is also [sometimes] a lack of drive, because of their own self-interest, to invest in the innovative solutions that are out there [globally].

“It is a frustration for business [some of] these technologies have been out there in the [global] market for some time, some which have been used overseas for years with a proven track record, and there is a lack of proven methodologies to make channels to take [those solutions] to business.”