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Learning a valuable and rapid lesson via the cloud

Developments in digital technology are allowing small Irish companies to compete on a level playing field with multinational competitors.

‘‘As a small indigenous technology business, it can be difficult at times to bridge the credibility gap, particularly with the public sector, where service provision can be dominated by larger international players,’’ said Garry Cullen, sales director of WholeSchool. ‘‘The internet levels the playing field. Our technology uses the very latest software techniques and is all located ‘in the cloud’ so we can scale and move quickly.’’


Software as a service

WholeSchool was formed two years ago in Belfast by former school friends Cullen and Frank McGonagle, the company’s technical director. It sells educational ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) solutions.

‘‘I had been growing and running a successful FMCG family business and Frank had a career in IT software and consulting including 13 years at KPMG,’’ said Cullen. ‘‘We had both been building internet platforms for a number of years for a range of sectors and when we looked at education, we found a fragmented and relatively untapped market.

We could not believe it had not been addressed in the manner we thought was possible, particularly as the internet was maturing so rapidly as a viable vehicle for the effective and efficient delivery of practical services for schools.’’

WholeSchool employs seven people at offices in Belfast. It provides online software to help schools with lessons, curriculums and school development planning. It also develops websites and so called integrated learning environments.

Cullen said the firm’s customers included a large number of post primary schools in the North.


Building trust

‘‘Our first customers came from a ‘schools’ showcase project’ we set up that was part funded by a Peace and Reconciliation grant,’’ he said. ‘‘This gave us a vehicle to build the necessary trust with our customers. The trust went beyond the technology and our bona fides as a dependable, reliable organisation were established over time. Over 50 per cent of teachers in the post primary sector in Northern Ireland now use at least one of our ten software services.’’

In January, WholeSchool won the Ulster heat of the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Award. It has received funding from a number of sources.



‘‘At the start, we invested money ourselves and used a European grant to part fund revenue and capital costs,’’ he said. ‘‘Our bank, and in particular our local Ulster Bank manager, have been fantastic and they have been with us on every aspect of our journey so far that has included the raising of funding to finance our expansion plans.’’

Cullen said the company turned the lack of early stage funding to its advantage as the company grew.

‘‘As we boot strapped our way in the early days, we always felt things could have happened more quickly with more money,’’ he said.

‘‘However, every member of staff was involved in every aspect of the business. The graphic designer was the sales man at times, the directors were answering the phones, the senior developer was running down to the shop to buy ink and paper. This ‘all hands on deck’ approach allowed everyone to understand what their colleagues were doing.’’

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