Thirty years ago in September 1985 the Office Productivity Centre (OPC) opened its doors in the Canberra CBD as a retail outlet for Canon and IBM typewriters and printers. Brett Norton, the then Branch Manager and now OPC’s MD, sat on a furniture-less floor with a telephone and a copy of the Yellow Pages and started making phone calls. The first call he made was to Engineers Australia, to whom he sold a typewriter, and they are still one of OPC’s largest clients.
A lot has changed for OPC since then, including its name. Brett comments, ‘our family bought OPC back in 1989, but by 2006 with dramatic changes in business and the demise of retail it made sense to rename. OPC it better reflects where the business is today while still retaining our history, although a lot of people are still curious about what the ‘OPC’ stands for!’
The name and location aren’t the only things that have changed over the years for the company. ‘I still remember selling our first PC back in 1991’, Brett smiles. ‘It had a 5.5 inch floppy drive, a 10MB hard drive, a huge 512k of RAM for the bargain price of $7,500! When the next model arrived it even had a CDRom drive. We sold NEC portable phones – bricks that weighed over 3kgs and of course Canon Bubble Jet printers by the hundreds – Little Squirts as they were called. I can even remember when our Technical Services Director started with us – he had black hair back then!’
During the 90’s, OPC was among the leading Canon and IBM dealers, was on the old PE40 Contract for government, managed an international multimillion dollar contract with Austrade and worked with many agencies and departments in Canberra. But ‘in the late 90’s the introduction of InTACT, now Shared Services effectively pulled the rug out from under our feet in ACT Government. It presented a monumental challenge for us and forced us to rethink absolutely everything’, says Brett. OPC rallied to re-engineer its business model and diversify its customer base with a stronger focus on the commercial business sector.
In 2000 OPC acquired a company called SafetyWeb and this was the start of yet another major transition for them into the world of web and internet services. Brett comments ‘there is no disputing the impact the World Wide Web has had on our business and IT generally.It was another major turning point for us and being able to offer web services to our clients turned us into a true end-to-end IT solutions provider.’
‘The speed of change in our industry ever since, on every level, has been exponential,’ Brett continues. ‘It hasn’t been the only impact though. We have experienced firsthand how changes at a Federal level have bearing on our city because the first thing that generally happens is a swing gets taken at the public service. Canberra is a public service city and there’s no denying that when the cuts and changes occur it has a sometimes catastrophic ripple effect on business.
‘That means we have to stay on our toes. We’ve seen a lot of big players come and go in the IT space, and sadly we’ve seen a number of local businesses fold as well. Our flexibility and our aversion to risk have stood us in good stead but we learned long ago not to put all our eggs in one basket and never rest on our laurels. Cloud is a new challenge for business but we will manage this carefully as it is not a panacea for all businesses and can be a costly alternative.
Core to OPC’s re-engineering process over the past ten years has been to invest energy and focus in the development of Managed IT Services. Having fixed monthly fees for proactive services has proved invaluable to OPC’s clients, many of whom have been using these services for over 10 years. This along with Drupal web development, Dell Premier Partnership, and strategic alliances with VMware and Microsoft have become the cornerstones of their business today; they have some fantastic success stories to tell.
The next evolution is rapidly approaching with their inclusion on the department of Finance’s Whole of Government ICT Hardware and Associated Services Panel which came into effect on 24 September. It was a great birthday present and will open up a whole new range of opportunities for them.
But what’s OPC’s real secret to not just survival, but success? Brett says ‘at the risk of sounding clichéd, it is our team. We have many employees who have been with us for over 10 years – some 15 and 20 years. We invest a great deal in them and it is paid back in loyalty and passion. Our team has built relationships with a rich and diverse mix of clients and they have stood the test of some pretty turbulent times. Clients really can ‘leave it to us’. It’s something to be proud of, and we are.’