PaT – A billion dollar play? (part 1 LMS architecture)


PaT is SCS’s Organisational Excellence Platform (OEP), I started building PaT 9 years ago as a solution for our training requirements, at the time I’d tried everything; dedicated training managers, (huge) SOP manuals (that I spent roughly a year, in the evenings to build as I never had time during the day), train-the-trainer programs, signed training records, toolbox meetings – you name it. Despite these efforts I got tired of hearing, whenever there was an issue, that the person hadn’t been trained – aarrghhh. I recall witnessing stand-up arguments between a trainee saying they hadn’t been trained on that issue in front of the trainer who demanded that had (very hard to performance manage that situation!) then usually when I did the root cause analysis the person had been trained but had forgotten or had misunderstood some piece of the training and/or skipped over a piece that in hindsight was critical. It used to be our biggest challenge but we’re finally solving it for good.

Until I built PaT, the most common issue I saw was that the trainee was yet another victim of the ubiquitous ‘tick and flick’ solution most companies use, we’d gone further than most companies and actually built most of the training modules that were duly signed by the employee/student confirming they had read and understood the training content…except they hadn’t really read and/or had read but didn’t really understand it to the levels needed to replicate the outcome needed. They would say they had, to get it off their To Do list, and I couldn’t afford a team of full-time auditors running around to challenge this compliance (spoiler alert – PaT now manages this for us).

As I was looking to solve this issue, I looked at e-learning/LMS (Learning Management Systems) and determined that they were all just glorified versions of the manual systems I had already created, basically, electronic libraries of SOPs and Policy documents that may or may not have a test that may or may not be read and none of them had any automation of the learning workflow or escalation process needed to manage non-compliance in a meaningful way. 

Training is the core foundation of any successful business that needs to scale and the margins were so skinny at SCS we had to no choice but to scale, all my competitors were larger than us and they were all losing money because they all sold below cost in the hope they would win business to recover as much as they could to contribute to the huge facility overheads they had signed up to thinking 3PL was next gold rush (it never was in NZ) and to replace lost clients that they were continually loosing (still do) because they failed to perform because they never invested in their businesses (still don’t, nowhere near what SCS does and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise) because they couldn’t afford to because they were always (still are) losing money – a vicious cycle that has been prevalent in the 3pl market in NZ since its inception in the 90’s (thankfully its different in the other global markets we trade in). We couldn’t charge a premium because we were a nobody and our biggest claim to fame (still is) was that we were better than everyone else (which was hard to prove when you are nobody and your competitors who have proven freight networks and tenure in business are telling you they are awesome (they aren’t)) so we needed to become a low cost producer whilst paying our staff well so the only option was to scale to gain efficiencies (we were 9 years in and 20,000 pallets before we had our first profitable year).

To help us scale I determined to build my own training solution (necessity is the mother of invention), once you get beyond the highly invested attitude of the founders and initial leaders of a company you need to keep the energy flowing and create new superstars which you do through training and systems. I learnt this building 9 figure businesses overseas where I held senior country level roles and learnt about governance, I was successful because I spent 20% of my time training, once you crack the code on how to do a thing better than the other guy it then becomes a matter of duplication (think McDonalds) and the person with the best IP that can duplicate it wins! They become dominant in their market. When I was working for domestic freight and domestic and international courier companies (materially less complex than 3PL) applying this “crack the code and duplicate it’ philosophy, in my career I was able to deliver seven and eight figure results to the bottom line rapidly. I’ve also been able to apply this thinking to advertising and product-based businesses (B2B and B2C) with similar results.

When you think about it, anything that ever goes wrong in a business will always come down a person or a process or a person miss-managing a process and the answer is always back in the process (system) design and/or training (not all people can be trained, actually that’s not true in my experience anyone can be trained to do anything – given enough time) the challenge is time which is why I love our ex-All Black coach Steve Hansons’ saying “change the man and if you can’t, then change the man”. Wish I’d heard that in my 20’s I’d be 10 years ahead of where I am now and have added more value to my customers, staff and shareholders.

I wish I had PaT as my training platform in my earlier days, every country I worked in I broke and set records but with a system like PaT I would have grown twice as fast with half the pain. I would have been able to train my salespeople much faster to deliver to the standards I needed, trained my operation to deliver higher standards consistently and get there faster, trained my AR people to execute collection strategy’s with ease and training my CS teams to deliver to the standards I required for us to be successful, invaluable to our clients and build our credibility in the market would have been soooo much easier.

At SCS I needed to be able to train people fast, as a family owned business with minimal capital we had basically 0 time and 0 budget (welcome to NZ) for training to ensure we all sang off the same hymn sheet so I determined to achieve this via a database supported app (which would automate much of what I needed) I was lucky to have Daniel and Bruce at SCS (IT gurus) who quickly elevated my understanding and appreciation of all things IT. I resolved that I needed to learn how to code (our IT dept was/is always flat out and we didn’t have the spare money nor did I want this distraction for them away from our core business, so my evenings and weekends started being consumed with my new job, learning how to write code and developing PaT). In my first year I built the first version of PAM – PAM stood for People Asset Management as I built it I had ideas to systemise and automate a number of other HR systems we used to manage our people that were currently manual, including our training needs/system.

As we continued building PAM what became apparent early on was that the LMS system needed to be supported by a task management system that both triggered a supervisor to get personally involved with a student that was struggling (on their self-learning journey) and it needed an auto-escalation capability so that if the supervisor didn’t jump in (lots of people are “too busy”) and support any learning GAPs, I’d find out as the CEO and I could jump in and fix it. That epiphiny triggered the idea that we needed to develop an integrated Task Management System to breath life into and actively manage the learning journey of our people. Again I looked at the market but couldn’t find anything I thought was robust enough and intelligently replicated digitally that which represented real-world task management challenges such as deadline negotiations, and managing conversations as tasks evolved across expanding functional workstreams and grew to need other stakeholders that then required sub-tasks and the evolution of tasks into projects that required their own tasks and linked everything together. Nothing I found managed this or provided the performance measurements, or ability to auto-escalate task delivery and deadline compliance issues automatically to Project Managers and Sponsors, people in the business where the buck stopped – and I couldn’t find anything to work with PAM, so I started building TIM (Task Integrity Management). I had been exposed to a definition and a philosophy of Integrity at the age of 27 that blew my mind (still does and I think it is the answer to everything) so I resolved to bake this thinking into TIM. PAM and TIM were too much of a mouthful so it got shortened to PaT which stood for, you guessed it, PAM and TIM! 

Since building PaT I haven’t seen anything like it on the planet, I have seen apps that have similarities to pieces of PaT that are awesome but nothing that aggregates the suite of commonly used business apps needed to run an entire business in one platform. The more I dived into PaT and thought about how I could apply the database automation capability to support HR business requirements the wider the scope became, the scope ended up (atm) encompassing 14 business-critical applications into a single digital platform, of which the PaT LMS is one key app.

I love building systems and businesses, I love developing people and solving problems and I guess that’s why I was the right guy to lead the epic team building SCS and my other businesses, it’s probably why I feel my thinking is worthy of consideration regarding the business and system philosophies I’ve baked into PaT.  As a kid I was always pulling my toys apart to see how they worked and modifying them to make them better/faster. I enjoy building, renovating, cabinet making, metalwork, working on cars, electronics (I’m working on some cool robotic solutions for SCS) and boats, I am fascinated by what makes people tick and I enjoyed math (I know, I’m a nerd but I was inspired by a teacher so blame Mr Storey) and I loved chess, trying to predict 3-5 moves and counter moves on 2-3 possible move options then try and hold all these scenarios in my brain (I was lucky to befriend, play and learn off a gold medal chess player in my late teens); so my brain is wired for problem-solving. I am by no means exceptional at any of the above and constantly meet people who specialise in an area that make me feel plain stupid however my enjoyment across a wide range of logical and creative endeavours makes me useful (I think) when looking at problems, chasing down multiple levels of causality that consider different scenarios concurrently and then building solutions that may require a creative or logical or combined creative and logical lens to solve. At 25 I was working in Dubai and I met a guy who was the Vice President of Sales for Pepsi Europe and he said something profound that stuck in my mind ever since, it was a truism then and everywhere I see it, it is a truism now, he told me “Brad, systems are the soul of a company”. Fast forward nearly 30 years, whenever I see a company with poor systems I see a soulless company that eventually fails, unhappy staff which results in increasingly high staff turnover, which leads to loss of market share and eventually liquidation if it’s not addressed. Conversely the strongest companies I see with the best cultures unanimously have a strong focus on systems and a constant drive towards systematisation and automation. People like to win, and great systems (which include training systems) create a sense of belonging (call it a tribe, call it a team, call it a family) to a winning team and help us in our battles to win!

The genesis of the scope creep (which was encouraged), was actually rooted in my observation of the rise of ERPs, I was there at the dawn of that evolution where companies like SAP, Oracle, Greentree, Pronto, Navision and a handful of others took over and dominated the finance business application market, they looked at the “accounting system” of the day and all of the associated apps (Inventory management, Forecasting, NPD (New Product Development), MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning), countless spreadsheets, etc…) and took on the mammoth task of bundling them into a single database-driven app that integrated all these complex business apps together, then they leveraged the automation and reporting power of a SQL database in a unified, single system. Instead of business leaders having to go and find info across a Frankenstein patchwork of disconnected systems and try and make sense of the data they programmed these now singular apps to push reports to the people that needed them when the data was needed, they pulled data across a suite of integrated apps to provide umbrella views enabling significantly more powerful insights which resulted in superior decision-making…so they could win more battles. Sure, all of these systems are complex to learn initially, they require significant training and steep learning curves but winning in business today is an increasingly complex problem and if you want to win the long game you need complex solutions to solve complex problems.

As I was building my business, I noticed that no one had bundled the multitude of HR apps that businesses need into one unified platform so I set out to fix that problem for me with an eye on commercialising this for other companies if I thought it could be good enough, I’ve been developing PaT now for 9 years. We’re well into 7 figures of self-funded investment but the value we are now starting to get is providing returns well in excess of the investment (maybe 9 is my lucky number).

One of my visions for PaT is that a company will eventually only need two or three core systems (all companies are suffering from app fatigue), one system to manage their numbers (ERP), a specialist Operations System that supports their core operation (often already bundled with their ERP but not always) and one to manage their people, their most important asset. That’s why I think PaT has the potential to be a billion-dollar play (plus hey, you gotta have a goal right!).

What a journey, as people that were not formally trained in IT we have had to learn multiple coding languages – on the web side we’ve had to learn HTML5, JavaScript and CSS6, on the database side we’ve had to learn SQL, to get the web side to talk to the database side we’ve had to learn the languages of BASIC (like Python) and JSON, we’ve had to learn C+ Microsoft languages syntax for the companion apps we need to build when our existing stack of technologies didn’t cut the mustard, we use three different database technologies, we’ve had to learn about data housing options and we host databases locally and overseas and then we’ve had to learn connectivity technologies which is crazy when you think all we want to do is get a thing done brilliantly (to our high standard) on time, every time and communicate any deviations to the plan before it becomes an issue. If we had infinity money I’d hire an army of people to constantly train, monitor and develop our people to achieve this outcome or I’d pay so much money I could buy in what I call the 5%’ers that don’t need all this extra support but these are not options so it’s off down the automation via database and web technology route we go…which is complex. The beauty is once it is built and it’s working the major costs all but cease because the actual management and maintenance of data is cheap once the framework is built and life becomes easier, a huge part of the cost is the time needed for the critical thinking that’s required to consider workflows then cause and effect attempting to be cognisant of code and process impacts across multiple systems concurrently then the iterations, building out the technology and then navigating through outcomes we were unable to predict or realising a better way to do a thing when you get there…I have always found it fascinating how apparently simple outcomes (flick a switch and a light come on, click a button and a message appears instantly on the other side of the globe) sit on top of astonishingly complex systems and technology.

PaT is beautifully complex (complex problems require complex solutions), I am lucky to have people supporting PaT that have brains bigger than Texas and far smarter than me to help us pull this off.

Mike is the lead developer of PaT based in KatiKati, he has a strong history in innovation in fact at one stage he ran an innovation business unit for Fonterra commercialising ever new ways to sell dehydrated milk, he invented the motor for the Fisher and Paykel split drawer dishwasher (which was thought to be impossible until he cracked the machine code and how it worked with a new motor design). Mike spent years selling complex business management software solutions to large telecommunication companies around the world. Mike is passionate about software (self-taught) and learning, he dedicates around 20 hours a week of his personal time supporting the most disadvantaged kids (mostly Maori) in his Katikati community that their own people, parents and schools have given up on (he learnt to speak fluent Maori and is the second Pakeha Maori warden in NZ) he teaches them life skills and gets deeply involved in coaching them to problem solve, provides training to help them manage their family and environmental issues and break free of the generational and environmental poverty/abuse mindset chains they are raised with. His current group of kids (who had all been expelled) are now looking good to pass UE under Mikes’ tutelage which has the community in a tailspin as it’s an unprecedented result.

Alex is another key player on our team who is based in Perth, he is an Accountant by trade that got into programming, he is the guy Xero (NZ’s global accounting systems success) calls when their 100-ish software developers can’t figure some really complex problems out (there are points where accounting gets stupidly complex and programming gets stupidly complex, try mixing those two together, that’s where Alex thrives) he also contracts to Alpha5 which the is the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) application software provider we use to build PaT (based in Massachusetts, USA) where he helps them also with their more complex core code challenges. PaT is the most sophisticated app that has ever been built anywhere in the world using the Alpha5 IDE, we’re very lucky to have him on our payroll.

And we’re getting there! PaT speed has improved exponentially over the years, most of our key database-driven web pages that used to take 6-60 seconds to load now all load mostly under 2-3 seconds and we only break down once or twice a month with outages usually only lasting a few minutes as we get better dealing with database locking issues, multiple licensing and a plethora of potential connectivity challenges as well as fixing bugs we weren’t smart enough to predict might occur under use cases we hadn’t considered…ggrrrr. We are increasingly experiencing instances where our uptime is now weeks on end and if we do have an outage, it is usually only a few minutes. We’re becoming world-class.

Alex thinks we’re crazy, he informs us that all of the software development companies he works with around the planet spend all their time, effort and money trying to develop one good app, he was initially stunned that a couple of Kiwi’s had taken on the task of building an entire suite of advanced business-critical apps, all at the same time but also gets that single apps, whilst they can be and are often awesome, they all eventually run out of capability runway and whilst the challenge of integrating multiple business apps is infinitely more complex, as we get it right it unlocks unique and powerful capability to support a business that single apps which are not built/designed in consideration to complimentary business process in other apps, will ever achieve. No matter how good the singular app is – a good example of this is Xero, the initial architecture design for the accounting systems essentially replicated a General Ledger, it wasn’t designed to appreciate the complexities of a product-based company that needed to manage the insane complexities of SKU…

Example of SKU complexities: Multiple Pack sizes (gross and net weights, net and different shipping dimensions and packing/stacking configurations), expiry date and batch number management, picking algorithms, SOH management across multiple locations and stock allocation management across multiple sales channels and locations in-country and overseas, multiple levels of barcode symbology and different symbologies, model number complexities (as well as OEM versions which conflict as they are not standardised), multiple description levels (web, brochure, price ticket, invoice, pick slip, packing slip), mind-numbingly sophisticated pricing tables that deal with multiple currencies, selling offers (MOQ, EOQ, discounts (early payment, bulk buys, promotion based, special one-off deals and the biggie – best price calcs across all the customer tiers, deals, channels and promotional windows)) then there is all the different number and date format/data types of these data fields required to work with other systems, it goes on and on…

…so by the time they realised they needed to manage all of this (a number of integrated marketplace apps that purported to do this, proved to do it poorly, which initiated the project) when they tried to build it themselves they quickly discovered that it would prove too hard and they disestablished the division and shelved the project within a year, as they got deeper into the project they realised it would require a massive rebuild of major parts of the core system which was too complex as there were too many interdependencies to other parts of the app and other apps that were too complex to consider, they were too far down the track to unwind it and put the thinking in that would have needed to be done at the ideation phase to make it SKU capable, to reset and rebuild the app now would have ended up prohibitively expensive and would take too much time. This was told to me by the manager of that division. Luckily, Alex loves what we are doing and provides significant value helping us, like us it’s become a passion (plus he reckons accounting systems are boring).

I’m planning to commercialise PaT this year and SCS clients will get preferential rates if they are interested i.e. hosting costs and discounted support costs only, no user-based licence fees which will save thousands and tens of thousands per annum depending on the size of the business. If any SCS clients are interested in being part of our BETA cohort of foundation customers drop me a line ( whilst we are in this commercialisation launch phase these benefits will persist in perpetuity (as some of my earlier SCS clients know who have enjoyed preferential rates for nigh on 20 years as my thanks for supporting me when I was getting started) so get in now if you’d like to secure this capability for your business at a founding customer price.

I personally believe PaT has the most sophisticated and capable LMS and Task Management system on the planet. The integration we have created is beyond anything we are aware of, and we have seen significant value in our business that is now starting to explode benefits across multiple areas as a lot of the PaT apps now reach a commercial maturity. PaT is elevating the way we communicate (we use a sophisticated chat app (PaTchat) that is currently learning how to play nicely with Outlook and Gmail (we think we are the first chat app in the world to do it to the extent we are), it is materially improving how we manage customers and our commitments to them by making sure nothing falls through the cracks anymore (which happens constantly with email). Through TIM we are bringing automation to our Sales, CS, Operations and Admin functions, we are finally plugging holes – forever, we are herding cats and locking them in for good, we are moving past what was a constant cycle of fix, fall over and fix, problems are finally being fixed forever. I can’t tell you how good this is.

The ability to train your standards to your people better than the other guy and the ability to deliver on your promises better than the other guy are two key requirements for any company that wants to be a serious player and/or dominate in their market, these are two foundational capabilities that the PaT system enables.

Ok so that’s a big preamble as to what PaT is; what I am excited to share with you now (that you have some of the background) is a video explaining the philosophy that supports the architecture that supports the LMS portion of PaT so if you’re ok to lose 25 minutes of your life and you have an interest in peeking under the hood of the best LMS on the planet I hope you enjoy this.


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