Richard van der Knaap, reflects back on the company he founded as MCS, celebrates its 30th year in the hire software business. Here a series of blogs that recounts the early years in the hire software business and how it has adapted to fit the ever evolving technology landscape.
Where it all started ...
I was born in South Africa and my interest in computers started way back during my Chemical Engineering degree, when 'geeks' were offered a free summer course learning elementary computer programming. At the time programming was a new concept and the powers that be wanted to test the water to see whether there was enough interest to run a full degree course in computing. This gave me my first taste of computers and the world of programming.
I came over to Britain in 1975 and had to get a job urgently as I was broke. I remember boarding a train on arrival in England and rather nervously travelling to meet a man who offered me a job on the spot, and who became a lifelong friend as well.
Moving forward in time to the mid-eighties, with a few computer programming jobs and a Masters in Business Computing under my belt, I became a freelance programmer, writing a variety of bespoke proprietary software programs for small businesses.
A pivotal moment
One day a hire company came knocking on my door. They wanted somebody to execute a simple program that would automate some of their contracts and invoicing procedures. Minicomputers were the fashion and programs had to be rewritten from scratch because what worked on one machine wouldn't work on another without a great deal of laborious code conversion.
Incidentally, our company name dates back to this era: 'Minicomputer Commercial Software'. Fortunately, we became known more catchily as ‘MCS’. We’ve added the ‘Global’ tag in more recent years to reflect the increasingly international nature of the industry and our own business.
Growing by word-of-mouth
After I developed this initial bespoke program, the news spread to a number of other local hire companies that recognised how the program could simplify some of their administrative tasks. It could help them to manage their stock more effectively, produce invoices and link both these processes together. This was then the only way a hire businesses with a few depots could keep a track of its stock and business activities. Bear in mind that in those days there were no data or communication lines, other than the telephone, to communicate and record activities.
Momentum and demand for this rental package grew and we soon realised that the customers had similar processes. So our software morphed into a software package which initially worked on Digital Equipment’s PDP minicomputer. This package was called Insitu. From 1985 to 1990, there was real momentum for this solution and it sold quickly by word of mouth. From that point, MCS has never looked back.
Read part two of my blog, where I consider how MCS and the hire industry both have had to embrace the onslaught of computerisation and the convergence of technology standards.