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Cortell's working retreat adds a little work on the side

Cortell's working retreat adds a little work on the side

Strategy meeting also injects elbow grease in Rarotonga community

Business improvement and analytics specialist Cortell held its annual planning meeting in Rarotonga and turned the working holiday into a working-working holiday.

The company flew its staff to the most populated of the Cook Islands in mid-February to discuss the year to come, and in their spare time, they helped to restore a house for an elderly couple in the village of Rutaki.

“The house was a real mess,” says Cortell director Belinda Johnson. “The roof was leaking and the windows were broken. They have none of their children around them and because they are retired, they were in a bit of dire straits situation.”

Johnson says the company as whole, and many of its 40 or so staff individually, volunteer time and money in the community where they hold their annual meetings. This year’s meeting included discussion of a five-year aggressive growth plan for the company, an IBM business partner, followed by painting, digging trenches and restoring windows. (See photos in the Out and About section).

“It was tough because everyone was sort of exhausted after all the manual labour,” Johnson says, light-heartedly. “We’re all IT guys, so manual labour is kind of a novelty for us.”

The project began months ago when Cortell contacted Tom Marsters, a deputy minister in the Cook Islands government, to find areas where Cortell could make a contribution.

The minister’s office identified two schools that needed supplies, such as stationery, pens and backpacks. Johnson says Cortell asked the staff to contribute $20 a piece or more, and delivered the purchased supplies over the four-days that Cortell was in town.

But Marsters also told Johnson about the old couple, who were identified to Reseller News only as Mamma and Pappa.

“He said their bathroom facilities were far away from the house and the gentleman can’t move and the lady has to carry him on her back to the facilities whenever he has to go,” Johnson says.

Cortell agreed to underwrite the purchase and installation of a new septic tank, and worked with a couple who run a dive school on the island and who had fallen in love with the project to manage it, getting quotes and hiring labourers to do installation work.

The company’s 45 guests then did the last of the grunt work, and delivered the stationery to the school.

Johnson says the staff managed to hold their planning meetings in spite of the volunteer work. The company is embarking on what Johnson calls an ambitious five-year plan, following two years of substantial growth already, doubling their business in the last 24 months.

In business intelligence and analytics, Johnson says her customers are still reluctant to take up cloud service offerings, and called IBM’s recent datacentre outage a huge disaster for customers.

On the flip side, however, the organisation is seeing growth in predictive analytics, with many of her clients moving away from Excel spreadsheets for budget planning and into doing more complex forecasting.

“What’s been happening, after the global financial crisis, is you can’t just rely on the numbers that used to rely on,” Johnson says. “Clients are looking at the market, looking to incorporate CPI, all sorts of temperature guages.”

She says IBM has made it easier for clients to use its SPSS modelling with Cognos, which means her clients can employ better information for modelling without the need of a statistics degree.


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