Interview Tony Bray, CEO Version One

22nd October 2006

Although only a relatively small company, with turnover approaching £4 million, Version One is an organisation that punches above its weight. It has quickly established itself as a leader in the provision of document management and imaging software to the finance function and is enjoying unprecedented growth of around 25% in a market thought to be growing at an average of 10% to 15%. It is also championing a green agenda based on not only on the merits of its technology but a broader concern for environmental issues. But why is the world of document management enjoying such robust levels of growth?

Tony Bray, CEO Version OneTony Bray, Version One's CEO believes that current growth is part of a continuing trend over the last few years. He told FSN, "One of the reasons is that the cost of hardware has fallen consistently over the last 5 years, making the overall solution much more affordable. Cost of disk storage and the hardware used to scan documents has dropped whilst at the same time, high speed internet has become more affordable which has led to document management becoming more distributed. Organisations do not have to send physical documents between different office locations for approval and with continuing improvements in operating systems for mobile devices viewing documents and authorising expenses on PDA's will soon become the norm."

Version One is credited with bringing document management into mainstream accounting processes and has a string of partnerships with mid-market ERP vendors to its name. Bray believes that being a software author and being to offer all of the elements of document and image management solutions from data capture and scanning through to electronic distribution and workflow has been key to the company's success. "The sector covers a broad spectrum of capability with hardware manufacturers offering scanners and limited software at one end and complete solutions such as ours tied into the financials at the other end. There are a number of solutions that 'cobble' together software and hardware from different manufacturers but how stable is that and where do you go when you want to upgrade?" he asks.

The success of document management is driven by a very persuasive business case. "The pay-back period is often 3 to 6 months," enthuses Bray, "Infact one of the most common problems is convincing sceptical finance directors that the payback can be that fast."

Bray believes that being a mid-sized company helps Version One empathise with other businesses trying to cope with the daily paper chase that afflicts businesses of all sizes. "The technology used to be the preserve of large companies but is now very desirable for companies of almost any size, particularly when the software is integrated into core financials and driven from interfaces that they know and love," says Bray.

A common misconception, even in very large companies, is that businesses need to retain paper documents, but according to Bray, the tax requirement is merely to be able to produce an "exact image" of the document. "You have to be bonkers to want to keep paper. I understand people who tell me that that they 'know where they are' with paper because they can touch it or hold it, but the arguments in favour of digitisation are compelling. The reality is that paper documents can be lost, accidentally shredded or damaged and companies are actually much safer with electronic records."

Document management is also becoming more sophisticated so that it is possible to search and retrieve documents based on all kinds of criteria and even find related documents through associations maintained in, say, an accounting system. "Auditors much prefer document management systems which overcome the difficulties in tracing documents they experience in paper systems," says Bray.

Despite the growing popularity of document management systems the market as a whole is grossly underserved, with Version One estimating around 10 percent penetration. But the sector is very much in the ascendancy as businesses latch onto the advantages. Changed attitudes, backed by the 'modernising government' agenda are creating greater acceptance of electronic generation, delivery and storage of documents. "People are horrified if they have to change jobs from an organisation using document management to one that is not," says Bray.

One of the factors driving the growth in document management and imaging is the heightened interest in the environment and reducing the 'paper mountain' is an obvious way in which companies of all sizes can help keep a lid on CO2 emmissions. For example, using electronic forms design means that even multipart, colour, documents can be delivered electronically and that paper versions never have to be printed. Copy invoices, can simply be emailed as required.

Version One was early to realise the environmental contribution of their technology and certainly long before 'going green' became fashionable in business circles. It has won a Green Apple environmental award from the Green Organisation three years in succession and earlier this year received a Green Hero Award from the Association to recognise the company's outstanding commitment to the environment. Both of these awards were presented at the Houses of Parliament. More recently, it announced its 'Carbon Neutral' initiative aimed at neutralising the company's impact on the environment.

Not content with obvious paper savings Version One has taken additional steps to introduce environmentally friendly practices within the organisation. It has recently started a green travel and transport scheme for employees, as well as a broader recycling drive and introducing other energy saving measures such as low wattage light bulbs and encouraging staff to turn off equipment.

"It would have been easy for us to have written a cheque to salve our consciences but we wanted to do something practical," concludes Bray.