AEMT - Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades

25 July 2019
25 Years of EMIR!
EMIR Software was launched in 1994 and is celebrating its 25th year. It’s certainly the most well-used software system amongst AEMT members. Thomas Marks, secretary of the AEMT, met with EMIR founder and MD of Solutions in I.T. Ltd, Gary Downes, to discuss all things EMIR and the AEMT!

Thomas: So, 25 years is a long time, how did it all start? I understand you wrote the software originally.

Gary: Yes, that’s right! I studied Computer Science at University and then did a Masters in “Managing Innovation”, so I was always keen to invent a software package and bring it to market. Straight from completing my Masters, I joined International Computers Limited (ICL) in Stevenage and worked as a programmer of sorts, creating end-user applications to help analyse stock and help staff to provision properly in their “World Wide Spares” department. That is where a lot of EMIR’s inventory management has come from.

Thomas: How did that inspire an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) product especially for the electro-mechanical market?

Gary: Well, one of the big issues at ICL was keeping track of assemblies that were sent for repair to external companies. Repairing items that came in from the field engineers, who mainly replaced computer boards and components, meant that ICL’s loop stock could be maintained. They didn’t have to buy all parts new, which in the current world situation, is obviously better for the environment! So, cutting a long story short, I eventually went to work for one of these repair companies, called Electromech Control Systems [ECS] in Dunstable. They asked me to write a system that would manage their entire workflow, including: Quoting, Warranties, Order Processing, Job Costing, Stock, Purchasing and Finance. I spent about 18 months writing the solution for them. It was very comprehensive by the time it was finished! 

Thomas: Did ECS repair Electric Motors?

Gary: Not exactly! They repaired a multitude of electro-mechanical items and that included some small electric motors. After 18 months, the directors of ECS were concerned that I would move on and leave their system unsupported, so they helped me set up a separate company to sell the system on, with ECS remaining as my primary customer to start with. I discovered the AEMT while marketing for new business, and thought that the Electric Motor repair market would be a good source of companies like ECS.

Thomas: Was it all plain sailing after that?

Gary: Not exactly, the system I had developed for ECS was called BOSS and was a completely live system. Engineers worked in clean environments and logged onto their own desktop PC’s to record all aspects of their work as it happened. With Electric Motor repair, it is not a clean environment. Most costing was down to the 24-hour nature of the industry. Most companies also didn’t want their engineers anywhere near a computer! BOSS was about fixed priced repair. So this was again different to the more one-off, every-job-is-different, approach that was needed from the electric motor repair marketplace. I spent about a week re-writing the job costing process and then went onto sell the system from there.

Thomas: Who were your first customers?

Gary: In terms of the company that did the most to help me deliver EMIR, a special thanks must go to the recently departed Gerry Hann, who was AEMT president at the time [1995], and the Managing Director of Teamseed in Swansea, who are now part of Quartzelec. It was under his guidance that much of the EMIR re-writing and adapting for the market was done. A special thanks must also go to Dave Whalley and Nigel Raveneau, the owners of ECS at the time, who were great guys and a real inspiration and help to me throughout the whole process of starting a business. They were also gracious enough to allow me to buy them out around 18 months after the business had started.

Thomas: So, the AEMT was important right from the start?

Gary: Yes, absolutely. It has always been my goal to try and get every AEMT member company using EMIR for their business! It is why EMIR came to be and its almost our mission! We have done well over the years and have sold to over 100 AEMT members using the system and around 200 companies overall.

Thomas: Were there any other AEMT members that help to inspire the development of EMIR?

Gary: Yes, absolutely, too many to mention, so I hope they will forgive me if I miss some out! EMIR has developed enormously over the years. Most of it is inspired by our customers. Back in the early days, a very significant sale went to Mid-Kent Electrical who were the first EMIR users to need a multi-branch system. So, Andrew and Martin Savage, effectively helped to create the EMIR Professional system we have today. In the early 2000’s, we also sold to Central Electrical and who inspired much of the functionality over the years including a Customer Relationship Manager tool and Online Job Tracker. Thanks to Shaun and Tim Sutton for their input and faith in us over the years. WGM Engineering in Glasgow, headed by Ian Mathieson, were also a very significant sale who have gone from 5 users to 70+ users in the last dozen years. They inspired a lot of the contracting/project management functionality along the way. Houghton International in Newcastle have also been with us since the mid 90’s who have gone from strength to strength under Michael Mitten’s leadership. He deserves much credit for their fantastic growth over recent years.

Thomas: So, are you personally still writing EMIR?

Gary: No - unfortunately not! Because it was a very rewarding thing to do! I haven’t written any code since 2000, when EMIR moved onto a Windows platform. Our product development is headed up by John Anderson who has done a fantastic job over the years. We now also use partners for our mobile app “Smart Site” and tablet-based “Workshop Routing” systems, so it’s a much bigger concern now than when I used to write code!

Thomas: What are the plans for EMIR now?

Gary: EMIR is developing at the fastest rate it ever has and so more functionality is appearing on a monthly basis! We now have 18 modules and extensions as opposed to the 5 or so we started out with in 1994. Importantly, the software is now not just for Electric Motor Repair companies. It now handles sales, repair, service, site work, hire, manufacturing and assembly for a wide-range of electro-mechanical items. EMIR has grown enormously in its build functionality and is increasingly being sold into companies that primarily manufacture and assemble items and who don’t repair at all! This started with the EMIR sale to Hidrostal some 5 years ago. Annette Boulter deserves praise for her version and enthusiasm, which inspired this development. 

Thomas: You’ve hosted some great Open Days in the past, what are your plans to celebrate 25 years?

Gary: Yes, we have had some great events at Old Trafford, the National Space Centre and most recently Silverstone. This year we are going to the training home of English football at St George’s Park, near Burton-on-Trent. It is where Gareth Southgate and the England team train before every international fixture, as well as England’s boys, girls and ladies teams. Also, professional teams like Ajax come and use the facilities in the summer for pre-season training. The facilities also include a replica Wembley pitch! So, it’s a great facility and we hope to put on a good show for all our visitors. We will reveal EMIR’s latest functionality and our plans for the future. It is on Sept 26th so not long to book a place now!

Thomas: Finally, I can’t finish the interview without asking about your AEMT Presidency which has just concluded at the AEMT AGM, how have you found it?

Gary: It has been great! I have really enjoyed my time as President and have found it very rewarding. I have been involved with council for 8 years now and spent the last 2 being President. I am the first Associate member to hold any office and the first to be President - we had to amend the articles of association to allow that to happen! So, I’m very privileged to have held the role and it is a sign that the AEMT is moving forward and embracing all its members and their opinions. I am particularly pleased that we manged to launch the AEMT Awards during my presidency. It is something I personally believe in, which is why we are also a main sponsor. We’ve had two fantastic Awards nights so far and it’s really great to see 170 or so AEMT members and guests in one room celebrating the best of the industry together! Dave Hawley, another associate member has now taken over and I’m sure he will be a great President. The important thing is that the AEMT continues to represent and benefit its members. I’m sure this will continue to be the goal going forward!

Thomas: Thanks for your time Gary and we wish you and EMIR continued success!

Gary: Thanks Thomas and keep up the good work!



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News: 25 Years of EMIR!