The diary of a software developer working in the hands on world of marine civil engineering
Martin Rourke manages the IT within The Rothen Group. He been associated with the company for 6 years now, initially sub contract, finally joining on a permanent basis in May 2020.
Martin brings with him over 30 years experience in the IT & Software development fields and his main tasks within the company are to promote strong business process through the use of IT systems. The development of internal software is key to this success.
Little known fact – Martin used to be an assistant cub scout leader and was called ‘Baloo’ named after the character from ‘The Jungle Book’.
The diary of a software developer at The Rothen Group
When Charlotte approached me several years ago and said ‘I want a system to manage our work’ I took one look at the size of company and smiled. Back then, The Rothen Group was a small start-up company, and, in my naivety, I politely advised that she would be better off purchasing a solution ‘off the shelf’ as development costs for a bespoke solution would be greater than she imagined.
This in itself lay testament to the ambition that Ian and Charlie had, it also gives insight into the aggression for innovation that runs through the core of The Rothen Group.
As the years rolled by, the company grew, and from time-to-time Charlie would ask me the same question. On one of these occasions, in a moment of weakness and sheer madness, I dropped my guard and showed some interest in the problem by asking the question - What is it that your current solution does not do? Do you ever wish you’d never asked the question?! What followed was a ‘requirements gathering’ conversation that more resembled a machine gun firing issues at me faster than I could write down or fully understand at that point in time. Clearly, still dazed and confused by the end of the Q&A session, I uttered the words ‘leave it with, I have a few ideas’.
Some weeks later, I demonstrated a framework of what I felt would fit the requirements. Better structure, clearer visual signs for the key information, less clutter and irrelevant fields, integration with Google Maps & Trello. ‘Great’ Charlie announced, get on with it. And from that point onwards, the development, commonly known within The Rothen Group as ‘The Software’ began in earnest.
We are now two years further on from that date, the software now provides the focal point of operations within the company, and with each month that passes, new features are added that not only eases the workload, but also assures conformity to process, which in turn affords the company the opportunity for growth.
So, what is it that ‘the software’ provides that couldn’t be purchased off the shelf? To understand this it is best to understand the environment in which Rothen’s operates.
Rothen’s own and maintain a wide variety of plant that is unique to the needs of conducting civil engineering on the inland waterway network in the UK. The core of this plant is the versatile (and often bespoke) fleet that Rothen's has developed in house. To simply view the business as another hire operator in a similar mould to an average tool hire shop could not be further from the truth. Rothen's work with clients, often assisting in the early stages of scoping works, adding the years of experience on the canal network that in turn provide cost savings to their clients. Plant isn’t simply hired, it takes part in a process that involves many stages prior to being delivered to the client. This all leads to a process that isn’t easily reproduced in traditional off the shelf solutions.
The software now supports the fluid sales process, whilst adding a degree of rigidity to ensure that plant is certified and complies with construction standards in the UK. Future developments are planned, mobility and remote team working are key areas that we will see the software target within the next two years.
On reflection, should we have started our software journey at first asking? I believe not, a company needs time to mature in its processes. To have written software to compliment evolving business processes would have been inefficient. We are now at the stage where the business is performing, processes are tried and tested, software can be written to aid and improve how the process is followed. Interestingly, the business is now driving the software development, quite the opposite of my first suggestion of purchasing an ‘off the shelf’ product where the software would have structured the business process.
Was I wrong to have initially advised an ‘off the shelf’ product? Perhaps – but I would argue that for the vast majority of businesses this would still be a valid piece of advice. My biggest mistake was underestimating the ability of Rothen's to continually adapt and innovate, providing modern bespoke equipment and in doing so not compromising the traditions and heritage of the past, several key reasons for Rothen's success to date.