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optim8 Business and IT Services: Claire King & Marionelle Perold

Two IT entrepreneurs develop a training product that opens a new world of opportunities.

Juliet Pitman

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Claire King & Marionelle Perold of Optim8

“From the day we started the company we always knew wewanted to develop a product that we could call our own, and that we could growand resell,” says Claire King, director and co-founder of optim8 Business andIT Services. What they couldn’t know is that the product they were toultimately develop would be perfectly positioned to meet a critical need in themarket.

King started optim8 with partner Marionelle Perold after thepair had worked together at a previous employer. While her particularcompetency was as a Microsoft programmer, Perold was an experienced Dominoprogrammer and their complementary skills made for a perfect fit. “It allowedus to cover both sides of the market,” explains King. The pair started off developing bespoke software solutionsfor businesses across a range of sectors and this remains their core competencetoday. “We primarily service small and medium enterprises which find the ‘ready’solutions too large, too expensive and too generic for their needs. We’re alsoinvolved in consulting and IT environment auditing, but the development oftailor-made solutions for business still generates the biggest portion of thebusiness’s income,” says King. Even as the business was finding its feet, however, she andPerold had their sights set on their own product. They started developinggradu8 in 2005, the year that the business was formed. King explains thetraining management system’s key features: “gradu8 is a learner managementsystem aimed at training companies or educational institutions, and businessesof any size that handle staff training and career development internally. Itmanages the logistics of the entire training function over multiple courses,classes and locations, from planning, scheduling, assignments and testing, toreporting.” Among many other functionalities, the system will registerlearners, build the structure of different courses, track and recordexamination dates and classes, send out reminders about overdue assignments,and coordinate lecturer timetables.

A good deal of research went into the system’s development.“We looked at a range of different industries and then hit on the trainingmanagement space. The more we looked at it, the more we realised that therewasn’t anything on the market other than the really big expensive productswhich didn’t suit our target market,” says King. The programme is ideallyplaced in a South African market troubled by a shortage of skills. More andmore companies are finding themselves in a position where they need to investin the internal training of staff in order to meet critical skills gaps andgradu8 is designed to help them manage this non-core function. Moreover, as King explains, it’s flexible: “We licence theprogramme on a per-learner basis and this makes it affordable enough forsmaller companies that want to invest in it as a means of managing the trainingand career development of their staff.” But it’s also suited to largercompanies. “Large corporations that have multiple separate-entity companies caninstall the programme but it will have a custom-branded user interface for eachdifferent entity, so to the learner it looks like an internally brandedapplication rather than an external product. On the training company side, thesystem has the ability to register individual learners or entire clientcompanies, and it records and retains all records of past interactions whichallows for ease-of-use when someone comes back to the company for moretraining.” While the programme is not designed to manage the actualdelivery of training module content to learners, King indicates that optim8 isconsidering the potential of integrating the system with a partner company’sonline learning system. “This will give us a totally holistic product that canhelp to administer training on all levels, and deliver courses online tolearners. It’s a very exciting space to be in right now,” she concludes. Giventhe market’s current need for effective training solutions, it looks likethey’re right on the money.

Contact: +27 11 465 1999; www.optim8IT.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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