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Dariel Software Solutions: Malcolm Rabson & Greg Vercellotti

A small software company proves that technology is about people, not systems

Juliet Pitman

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Greg Malcolm

In an industry that has become known for relying too heavily on the appeal of sexy systems alone while paying little attention to the other aspects of business, Dariel Software Solutions has focused its attentions on getting the right people in place to ensure ongoing success.

And with a client list that includes Discovery Life, FNB Corporate, Standard Bank, Rand Mutual Assurance (RMA), Sappi and Anglo Platinum, it’s obviously doing something right.

“Our focus has always been to create a home for techies,” explains Greg Vercellotti, executive director. While the “techies are people too” approach might sound too warm and fuzzy, it’s actually a smart business approach to attracting the right people.

As Vercellotti notes, many skilled technologists resent employers for treating them as nothing more than a commodity to be marked up for profit. He goes on to describe what he sees as a potentially “vicious or virtuous” cycle:

“If you have good people you need to keep them challenged with good work and if you have good work, you attract good people. On the other hand, if people aren’t challenged, they leave; if you don’t have the right people, you won’t get good work.”

Dariel has developed its own “entrance exam” that assesses skill, capability and, very importantly,company fit. Malcolm Rabson, co-founder and managing director explains, “We’re interested in more than just their technical ability or how they score on a computer-based syntax test. We want to know how they think.”

Their approach to recruitment has enabled the company to build a core team of 50 highly skilled and productive people.“Providing software solutions for companies is all about giving them peace of mind and this can only be achieved if they trust you.

Having the right people on our team has played a vital role in building relationships of trust with our customers,” says Rabson. And there are other things that the company is doing right when it comes to customers. The beauty of bespoke software solutions is that they can be tailored to meet the exact needs of the client, but all too often miscommunication and lack of understanding about the client’s business and needs means companies end up with software entirely unsuited to their business.

Dariel goes for a tight engagement with clients, as Vercellotti says: “Our approach is to give clients the big picture of what their system will look like upfront and then show them releases from very early on in the project. They can let us know each step of the way if how we are interpreting their brief is what they had in mind.”

This method has instilled trust in clients who are given a chance to provide input during the process instead of being presented with a wholly unsuitable system at the end of the project. Rabson adds an important point about the limitations of systems: “No system can offer you everything.

There are trade-offs and you need to decide what is most important from your system. So we make it our business to ascertain precisely what a client wants their system to do for their business – whether it be scalability, the ability to add functionality or speed of response time – and then we build the architecture to meet this need.”

Building relationships with clients takes time but Dariel has developed a reputation for good work and word of mouth has helped the company to grow organically. This growth has demanded different things from the company founders at different times.

Initially self-funded by a core of three people, Rabson remembers how their intention was not to incur debt in starting the business: “In the early days, the three of us had to make sure each one of us was billable and at the end of the month take a look at who could afford not to draw a salary so that we could reinvest money into the business.

We’d work on projects during the day and follow up with things like sales, admin and strategy in the evenings.” The challenge then was to multi-task effectively but as the business has grown and employed specialised people to focus on individual areas of need, the challenges have changed. “No wit’s about co-ordinating all these individuals so that we’re all working towards the same goal.”

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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