Switchplane – Local Eastbourne Innovators
Creating bespoke software and SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions for businesses, Tom and Joel Fielder started as a two-man band, and over 18 years created a tech brand that powers businesses behind the scenes nationally and internationally.
Locate East Sussex takes a look under the hood of a company that works with a wide variety of industries both in the UK and around the world, focusing on user experience, design and an agile approach to problem-solving.
A Garage in Eastbourne
Switchplane is at the forefront of technology companies that call Eastbourne, East Sussex home, and recently launched Chalk Eastbourne, an Eastbourne digital community for networking, resources and spreading the word about Eastbourne’s thriving tech scene.
Though it might sound far-fetched, Switchplane began life in a converted garage. For the first five years, Joel and Tom were doing all the work themselves.
However, since 2008, the company has been on a journey towards expanding the team and improving the business.
‘We have focused on building a local team, identifying and nurturing raw talent from the local area, because when it comes to the future, it’s about leading with innovation. You cannot help companies innovate without being innovative yourself.’
Currently, with 12 team members, Switchplane has been based at several offices throughout the town and decided to become a fully remote company at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Their team is still based in the local area, with some at the coworking space Cohub in the heart of Eastbourne town centre.
The Fielders have always been natural problem solvers. Joel, with a background in music and sound recording, found a passion for coding in his placement year at university and found a special knack for finding solutions with software.
His brother Tom, already ahead with training in web development, found that their complementary strengths could support local SMEs. As the world was recovering from the dot-com crash, many businesses needed the expertise that they could offer, in order to be ready for the new century and so, in 2003, the Fielders launched Switchplane.
Why Eastbourne? ‘We’re a family business, so it’s natural we would like to be local,’ Joel explained, ‘but really Eastbourne is more than a place to retire. It has character and shows so much potential that is only coming out now.’ Though, at the beginning of Switchplane’s business journey, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
‘We didn’t know how to manage our business efficiently,’ Joel said, ‘and we encountered the same problems experienced by many of the businesses that come to us. At the start, many of them were interested in our web design service, but what we really wanted was to deliver truly unique products and services.’
By prototyping its services, together with some traditional trial and error in business development, Switchplane slowly built the company to become a go-to custom software agency in the South East.
Matching your customer
‘The core offer of Switchplane is that we can remove repetitive tasks for clients by building custom software,’ explained Joel. ‘Many of our clients come to us with a preformed idea, or we are presented with a problem they need to be solved. At Switchplane, we use our experience to delve into how the software can help the business, because it is rarely just one solution, and rarely one problem. We find once a problem is solved, the client sometimes learns about others, and then we can transform their business.’
What ideas do clients bring? Well, many Switchplane clients have been able to save time and money with automation and solutions for repetitive tasks, enable easy job management solutions for teams and project managers, and much more. ‘Essentially, if you have an idea, we can work to make it achievable.’
‘Technology is a cost now, but an investment that reaps rewards later.’
One of its most notable clients, Littlewood Fencing, contacted Switchplane to help with a variety of different solutions, working with them on several projects, such as establishing an internal staff portal, solving its purchase order problems, and automating invoice approvals.
‘The core of Switchplane’s business has always been about developing our ongoing relationships with our clients.’
Time to innovate
Since Switchplane started to be recognised locally, for example, by winning an Innovation award at the Eastbourne Business Awards, they have never been a company that has rested on its laurels.
Adapting to diversify their portfolio of businesses, the Fielders brought in an internal marketing team led by Garry James, to work alongside the Operations team led by Donna Fielder, to tackle a new frontier: SaaS – Software as a Service.
‘We wanted to create a software product that we could own and market ourselves. With our experience of working with clients and a great team, we have always put the customer first and that makes us more agile when it comes to figuring out viability in the market.’
As COVID had caused issues with its clients and supply chains, Switchplane was given the extra incentive to start to put together the first products in its SaaS line: Julia – an app that allows health professionals to better manage and collect documentation for their Continuing Professional Development (CPD); and Woody – an app that helps tradespeople to manage variations with Quickbooks and Xero integration.
Does this mean that Switchplane has changed direction? Not necessarily. The company is very honest when it comes to whether you need a quick fix or a long term investment. Switchplane has assisted countless businesses to find the solutions needed and is now taking on more local clients, such as Wright Flow Technologies.
Meanwhile, Switchplane has launched Chalk Eastbourne, which aims to bring together the ever-growing Eastbourne tech community and has already connected over 300 tech professionals in the area.
‘At Switchplane, we are not about trying to tick boxes, but rather cultivating the community that is already here and supporting its growth.’
Switchplane always tries to bring development to the forefront of its business, whether that be its own products, its clients or as an organisation. To find out more, visit their website.
If you need another perspective to help your business diversify in East Sussex, get in touch.