Chris Carter, founder and managing director of Planit: "We make sure your software system does what it is supposed to do, and doesn’t do what it is not supposed to do."
The true value of testing software was little known when Chris Carter set up shop in Australian in 1997. It took years of education in the Australian market – and some very public business software failures – before the idea of testing software before deploying it became firmly established as a “necessary evil” in the minds of businesses, small and large.
It’s easy to bring to mind examples of software calamities. Recently, Virgin Airlines deployed a new online booking and ticketing system that caused long delays (virtual and real) and led to a deluge of Facebook complaints. The accounting software company, MYOB, released a flawed version of its product just in time for the introduction of the GST, causing its clients chaos and damaging its reputation. The problem-plagued launch of the Myki public transport ticketing system in Melbourne is another example.
Carter, the founder and managing director of Planit, explains his company’s services in a nutshell: “We make sure your software system does what it is supposed to do, and doesn’t do what it is not supposed to do,” he says.
Planit will “crash test” software applications for businesses of all sizes. “The three things we prove is that the software is technically correct, functionally correct, and fit for its business purpose,” he says.
Asked if this is not the software developer’s job, Carter says: “Would you drive a car that hasn’t been tested? Technology is ever more complex, and mistakes inevitably do get made.”
The company also provides training for those companies that prefer to have in-house quality assurance and testing teams. Today, however, just 3 per cent of Planit’s revenue comes from its training services, and 97 per cent from its consulting arm.
This was not always so.
Initially, Carter and his small staff conducted training for chief information officers in software testing and quality assurance. “Some of the delegates thought, Oh my goodness, these guys are very good educators, but testing is more difficult than I thought.”
Growth keeps coming
And so the consultancy arm grew. In 2012-13, revenue reached $52 million (for both arms of the business).
The company’s steady trajectory – today Cater employs 495 staff – was unruffled by the global financial crisis. “Software testing is seen today as a necessary evil, but the key word is necessary,” he says. “We passed through relatively unscathed.
The growth keeps coming. Carter estimates a lift of 15-20 per cent in revenue in the current year as the company continues to expand into export. In 2009, Planit opened in New Zealand, where it now has 100 staff, and recently opened an office in Perth (after starting in Sydney, then Melbourne), and is going further offshore to India and back into the United Kingdom (the parent company no longer exists).
Carter says he learnt to always have a three-year strategic plan. And he has learnt to jettison plans without fear. “We are always looking tactically,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to change your mind.”
Quite recently, the company introduced a specialist service for technical testing that includes automation and performance. Planit has changed its testing methods to stay in line with the shift from the “V-model” to “agile” software development.
But the blue-sky opportunity of yesteryear is a crowded market today, Carter says. Multinational system integration companies and Indian-based outsourcers have joined many other “pure-play” consultancies in Planit’s market.
It’s competitive, but Planit has achieved all its growth without equity or debt finance. “We have an overdraft, but we rarely use it.” Being the largest specialist consultancy is an advantage, Carter says, as is its reputation for quality and personal service. “We have permanent staff,” he says. Many rivals operate using contractors.
Carter is the sole owner of Planit. The company’s parent was Imago QA in the United Kingdom, started by Carter and others in 1989. Carter was charged with expanding the service into Australia in 1997, and in 1999, became the sole owner in a management buyout by trading his equity in the parent company.