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September 2012


Leading logistics firm chooses Spark as development partner

Distribution services company EC Group is expanding its e-commerce offering thanks to a development partnership with Spark

EC Group, Britain’s longest established distribution company, is now able to offer improved web ordering as part of its logistics packages thanks to a development partnership with Spark Data Systems.

EC Group was founded back in the 1800s and has been owned by the same family for nearly a century. Over the years, the firm has grown and innovated as technology has advanced and today is a leader in logistics services offering a wide range of mailing, fulfilment and distribution services to blue chips, public sector bodies, charities and e-commerce companies.

While EC Group has been offering e-commerce for a number of years, it was keen to make sure the technology behind its processes remains leading edge as Chris Long, Managing Director of EC Group explains:

“EC Group has been at the forefront of logistics for many years, and one of the main reasons for the company’s success is its willingness to adapt quickly to new technology. We know we need to keep improving our e-commerce offering and Spark has helped us do that by linking sophisticated web ordering technologies to our already state of the art order processing and warehousing systems."

EC Group and Spark, who have been working together for more than five years, have now become development partners as Jon Jones Director at Spark Data Systems explains:

“What we have is a formal, legal agreement for working together. What this means in practice is that we’ve developed a number of fixed price service offers that EC Group can sell as a packaged product. This means that EC Group can now offer an e-commerce store, product storage, dispatch, delivery tracking and sales reporting in a fully joined-up service offer to everyone from micro virtual businesses perhaps selling one or two innovative products right through to those offering a full on line catalogue and fulfilment system

“As a partnership we work closely with them during the pre and post sales processes and become part of their team providing expert support and development on an ongoing basis,” says Jon.

Chris concludes: "We’re delighted to have Spark onboard as our partners. Despite the obvious technical complexity of the work involved, their down-to-earth approach makes the process simple and accessible. “And the result is that we are able to deliver faster responses to technical queries and reduced lead times on projects and modifications. This will deliver significant benefits to our clients all the way through an ecommerce project’s lifecycle, from specification through to implementation and ongoing development.”

To find out more contact Jon Jones on 0117 9076563 or email jon@sparkdata.co.uk

Spark delivers key improvements to insurance group April UK

Spark builds central IT system for leading insurers to improve processing, reporting and compliance

Leading insurance firm April UK had considerably improved its processes and reporting systems thanks to a new centralised IT system built by Spark Data Systems.

As one of the UK’s leading providers of Personal Medical Insurance (PMI), April UK holds information on more than 100,000 policies and around 2,000 sales advisors, past and present, and the volume of data that needs to be held is increasing every day.

“We built the original computer application to process policies and commissions for the company, and have supported them ever since,” explains Lee Fedder, director at Spark.

“We have worked hard to keep up with the challenging demands of an enterprising and forward looking client, where products and practices are continually changing. “So as part of our ongoing support, we recently reviewed the IT systems. While we found that all the systems were working well, we could see ways to improve how the advisor information was processed and reported.”

The way the systems had been set up meant that as the information had grown, it was being stored in different places - some advisor information was held in the core policy and commission systems, but some was also held for peripheral processes, such as recruitment, training, and compliance.

Spark presented a proposal to April UK CEO Sarah Buck to merge all this information in a central system covering all processes.

“Firstly we wanted to show April UK how merging all the systems into one make the whole system much quicker and easier to use. We then wanted to show how the merge could also help April UK with its compliance requirements.”

Spark designed the new system working alongside the April UK staff that use it and built an easy to use browser based application. One of the key reports that April UK can now generate is an “Advisor Life Story”: a chronological description of everything that advisor has done with the company, from recruitment, through qualification, sales progress, promotions and exit.

This has become a requirement for Insurance companies in the UK, and whilst all the information was available before, it was distributed across a number of systems making it tricky to produce this type of report.

“Thanks to the merge, all our advisor information is now in one place,” said Sarah, “which means there is much more consistency. Everything matches up and there is no need to enter details such as advisor name or date of birth more than once. If anyone updates advisor information, the change is seen by everyone else immediately. We are also able to produce much more comprehensive reports on advisors - something which is being scrutinized by auditing bodies such as the FSA.

“We also now have a better platform for dealing with future requirements. With everything central, and using up to date technology, we can more easily add new functions.”

Lee concluded; “With reasonable timescales and budgets, we have been able considerably to improve processes and reporting. April UK are very pleased with their new advisor system and the benefits it delivers.”

To find out more contact Lee Fedder on 0117 9076563 or email lee@sparkdata.co.uk

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Mountain-top proposal for James and Hazel

From mountains to marriage - Spark Data Systems web developer James picks Snowdon for the ultimate romantic gesture.

Web developer James Putterill reached new romantic heights when he proposed to girlfriend Hazel Wheaton on top of Snowdon.

Having met at the University of the West of England’s kayaking club, James ad Hazel have always had a love of outdoor pursuits in common. So it was no to surprise to friends and family when the pair, both 25, decided to take on the challenge of cycling up Snowdon to mark their three year anniversary. The fact that they came back down engaged however, was a surprise to everyone but James!

“We set off at 5pm and rode up the Llanberis path. Then, after just over two hours of riding and a bit of pushing we arrived at the summit. It was an amazing ride, and we were just enjoying the moment – Hazel had no idea I was about to make it one we would definitely never forget.”

The weather had come in leaving the couple with little to no visibility and a tad wet, but it did mean they had the whole summit to themselves, making it the perfect romantic moment for James to pop the question.

“After the initial shock and disbelief that it was really happening, Hazel said yes!” said James, “But we didn’t have long to celebrate our happy moment because we still had a mountain to ride down!" 

The couple plan to marry in summer 2014, and although they have not ironed out many of the details yet they are sure of one thing - they want a kayak-themed cake!

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