Caroline Capper: the mountain-biking ERP consultant

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Caroline Capper is an independent ERP consultant specialising in IFS finance and project management. And she’s also an outdoor enthusiast who co-owns Do North Adventure.

When Caroline Capper isn’t project managing or advising her clients on the IFS finance module, you’ll find her getting muddy on the mountain bike trails.

Plus, she recently joined us for our Unplugged raft-building event – where she was on the race-winning team.

We caught up with the former accountant, who lives in Sunderland and now runs an adventure business alongside her ERP contracting work.

So, how did you switch from accountancy to ERP?

It was a total accident.

I was working as an accountant at a chemical company in Teeside about 17 years ago when they decided to do a SAP implementation. I got drawn into the whole implementation from a finance perspective – and got the project bug. I moved to a company in Newcastle and did an IFS implementation from the customer side of the fence.

My switch from accounting to ERP was a curveball but I’ve never looked back. And I still dabble in accounting; I like to keep my finger in that pie.

You’ve travelled a lot in your career, including to Rio. What was that like?

It was a highlight of my career.

Rio came about when I was at an oil and gas company in Newcastle on an IFS implementation. They opened a factory just outside Rio in South America, and of course the factory needed an ERP system. So, I went to Rio to do a project manager type of role and spent two years living the high life there.

It was a big cultural shock compared to Europe but I loved it. It was wild and crazy and unpredictable. It’s not something I could have kept up forever, though.

My husband Martyn gave up his teaching job to come with me. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Did you work at IFS after that?

When I came back from Rio, I got poached by IFS. I worked as a finance consultant for IFS for about three years.

I joined the company in 2011, back when IFS was probably a wee bit smaller. The UK arm was a very strong part of the business and was a great place to work. At the time they had an office in High Wycombe, and I spent many an evening in the Holiday Inn, drinking far too much.

I learned a lot working at IFS and made great friends. I still know many of them now. It’s a closeknit network.

What inspired you to take the leap into IFS contracting?

It was definitely the work-life balance. I didn’t want to work full-time. I wanted to pick my customers, and to be more in charge of the volume and type of work I took on. I now only work four days a week, Monday to Thursday, and I take a lot of holidays.

What was it like when you went freelance?

I wouldn’t have felt comfortable giving up my permanent job if Martyn hadn’t been in a secure, full-time job. He was a teacher at the time and head of a department, so making the leap was easier for me.

I didn’t know I was going to get work but I actually got loads of work from the off, through word of mouth and things like that.

Since going freelance about 10 years ago, I seem to have forged a relationship with the Irish market.

Tell us about the type of consulting you do.

I continued with the finance consultancy from my IFS days. But I also had a background in the project side because most of my customers were in the construction industry.

A lot of the companies I work with tend to be small to medium size, so they don’t want just a finance consultant. They often want someone who wears a couple of hats. So, I do both the project management and the finance for them. But for the bigger companies you need a dedicated person for each project area.

What type of projects have you worked on?

The majority have been construction, so anything from water treatment to modular buildings. I had a customer who built a lot of the Nightingale hospitals.

I also have customers in other sectors, such as renewable energy.

Another customer was over in Holland. And I did a lot of work with the company that’s involved in the operation of Teesport, close to where I live.

Do you build ongoing relationships with your clients?

Yes. A lot of consultants do an implementation and then move on to the next one. Whereas I find my relationships are much longer. I go in and do an implementation from scratch, and then do their support and continued development. And then maybe five or six years later, they might decide to do an upgrade, so I do that.

I’ve had relationships with some of my customers for around 10 years, which I think is unusual in the world of consulting.

Have you worked on IFS Cloud yet?

Yes. My biggest project at the moment is a greenfield Cloud implementation, which I’m working directly with the client on.

What do you think of IFS Cloud?

I can see there’s been a huge investment in functionality. It has a lot more to offer now than it did previously, particularly in the construction sector.

There are some areas that could still benefit from additional investment but I think there’s always continued development. If something doesn’t work quite right, you feed it back and that goes into the IFS pipeline.

The new interface is a massive leap for customers, because they went from a client-based application that looked a particular way to a cloud-based one that looks very different. That’s probably the biggest challenge, particularly for customers moving from an older version to a new one.

On the upgrades to Cloud it’s important not to underestimate the training angle. We have to wrap our arms around the users and give them loads of training and support.

What are the highs and lows of IFS contracting?

I love being able to pick my customers and being in charge of my workload.

But being freelance can be a bit lonely as I’m kind of a one-woman show. You don’t have the same support network you have when you’re employed. That said, I’m lucky to have a very close working relationship with some other independents and we really support each other.

And that’s why things like the Unplugged rafting event are great, because you get together with other people.

Are there many women working in the ERP market?

Yes! I have a lot of connections with female consultants. There’s a strong presence of women in the ERP market now, although probably not a 50/50 mix.

There’s an acknowledgement these projects aren’t just about the technology. There’s a human element, particularly with the high intensity projects. You need to get on with your customers and the other people on the project. You’ve got to train and empathise with the users.

A big part of these projects is about the people who are going to use the technology and how you work together as a team, and I think women bring a lot to the table in that regard.

Are IT careers becoming more appealing to women?

Yes, I think so. There’s the Women in STEM movement, so the sector is a lot more visible, and women do have a place in technology and engineering.

A lot of women are taking the educational route that’s more on the technical side and that’s starting to flush out into the market. I also think women support each other a lot more than they perhaps did in the 1980s, for example. This gives them the confidence to work in what have traditionally been male-dominated environments.

Would you recommend independent consulting to other women?

I would, with the caveat it’s not for everyone. There’s that element of risk because if you don’t have work, you’re not getting paid.

But in terms of having the freedom to live your life in a certain way, to maybe not work full-time, and not be bound by someone else’s pace, working for yourself is a good move for women. And it’s ideal if you’re starting a family or looking after other family members. You’ve got more flexibility than you might have if you were employed.

Do you do a mixture of onsite and remote work?

Yes. The hybrid model works well.

Things like training are better done onsite because it’s easier to read people’s body language and see if they understand what you’re explaining to them. But other things, like working on data or training material, can be done offsite.

What have you learned about the best way to run a successful IFS project?

The best thing you can do is to build a relationship with your customer. If they trust you, they’ll know you’ll get the job done and do the best for them.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about going freelance?

Think about the practicalities. It’s not just about freelance consulting. You’re running a business and all the things that go with that. You’ve got to win your own work, do your own admin and potentially manage your own staff.

But there are great resources out there, like business centres that will give you advice. And agencies like Gtech will give you great advice because they deal with consultants every day and place them in the market. You can also ask people about their experiences.

Away from the world of contracting, you’re a keen mountain biker. How did you get into that?

I blame Martyn! He’s been mountain biking since he was a teenager, and I didn’t get into it until my mid-30s. Before, I was just paying it lip service because it was Martyn’s hobby. But then I found this love of the outdoors and fell in love with mountain biking.

I used to be a total career girl, and then one morning I woke up and thought: there’s more to life than work.

I’ve been mountain biking all over the UK and most of Europe – the Alps, Dolomites, Croatia, Spanish Pyrenees, Germany, France.

You’re quite gnarly, then?

I do black routes, but I have a tendency to fall off if I go on something too daring. But I still have a go.

My favourite is a lovely flow trail.

How did your Do North Adventure business come about?

It started off as Martyn’s baby. He gave up teaching and decided to do a mountain bike leadership course. And that’s when Do North Adventure was born about two-and-a-half years ago.

I started going out with Martyn to check out the routes. I then got involved in the website, the admin, the photography.

It’s now very much a joint effort. Martyn does all the planning, and he’s the qualified one who has all the mountain biking first aid. But I’ll go with him on all the rides and help with the promotion and admin.

We specialise in mountain biking and gravel riding. We also do some tour support for people who want to take on a challenge like the Coast to Coast. And we cater for different levels.

How do you manage the two businesses?

With difficulty sometimes!

But the adventure business is typically weekend work. Sometimes I’ll be consulting in the week and then doing the Do North Adventure on the weekend. But it doesn’t feel like work because I’m riding a bike and meeting new people.

What’s next?

I’m going to ramp down the consulting and retire from it in seven years. That’s my plan.

I’d love the adventure business to become the main thing for us, in our semi-retirement. And I’d love to move to the country; somewhere where there’s mountain biking outside our front door. It will be Scotland, probably. We love its wild remoteness, and all the mountain biking trails and access, which means you can ride anywhere.

I’m 46 now, but it’s just a number. I feel better now than I did in my 20s!

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