Interview: Douglas Jeffrey on the journey from Kubrick to his own Renfrewshire-based tech firm Consenna

Douglas Jeffrey is the founder and chairman of Consenna, a partner services agency that helps global IT companies grow business through their reseller channels.

It is a “very niche” company, he says. “But the niche that we're addressing is one of the biggest industries on the planet, namely tech.” Consenna is now a multi-million-pound operation, with clients including major names HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Dell, and a global reach, after being founded in 2009.

However, its roots extend back to when Jeffrey as a ten-year-old went to see Stanley Kubrick’s landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema, an experience rendering him totally transfixed. “I was fascinated not just by the eloquence of Hal 9000 – the film’s malevolent artificial intelligence – but by the world of possibilities it hinted at,” he explains. “That defining experience ignited my lifelong quest to transform the stuff of science fiction into tangible business solutions. I realised that my future was in technology, and my ‘love affair’ with IT was born.”

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His decades-long, tech-focused career path has seen him enjoy a front row seat at many key moments in the sector, for example he was so inspired by the 1981 launch of the IBM PC, which he now describes as a “machine that would lay the foundation for the personal computers we know today”, that he became an authorised reseller of the pivotal product. That was followed by witnessing the “dawn of the desktop publishing revolution”, and he became part of a management buy-out of one of 25 specialist AppleCentres in the UK.

The Consenna chairman says seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema as a child was a key moment, sparking his love of IT. Picture: contributed.The Consenna chairman says seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema as a child was a key moment, sparking his love of IT. Picture: contributed.
The Consenna chairman says seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema as a child was a key moment, sparking his love of IT. Picture: contributed.

But it was his relationship manager role at HP, aka Hewlett-Packard, that provided particularly key. He was tasked with one client, Royal Bank of Scotland, as it was undergoing a period of fast-paced growth. And it gave him a windowseat for the “transformative” impact of technology on modern banking, from the inception of ATMs and the rise of online banking, to the meteoric growth of e-commerce and the advent of mobile computing”.

RBS was also looking to adopt virtualisation, the creation of virtual computing environments rather than physical versions, and asked Jeffrey to help make its business case “for something that was more expensive than traditional ways, but much more productive in terms of the use of the resources and reducing risk”.

He adds: “Almost by accident, I created some tools that enabled the bank to model their situation in a tool and create a business case... That proved successful with the bank, but also got visibility in HP. And on the back of that I started to share these tools with other people in pre-sales, consultant roles and sales roles in HP.”

Jeffrey laughs that in a moment of “arrogance and stupidity”, he decided he would leave HP, and focus on translating technical products into a business case. “I made some sales tools, and Consenna was formed.”

The move also came as he realised that due to the emergence of the internet, the role of salespeople was changing, no longer the main font of knowledge for customers who could now source product specs and other information themselves. The name Consenna came from his bid to “empower salespeople to build the 'consensus' amongst customer stakeholders that is essential for approving investments in the products or solutions they sell”.

The business now offers various tech tools including Proton, which it says enables the user to share pre-approved campaign assets, templates, sales guides and tools that their channel partners sales teams can co-brand and personalise for use in their sales engagements.

Consenna was based in Edinburgh, but relocated its headquarters to The Old Mill in Renfrewshire's Houston in 2019 to accommodate its growth. That year also saw Jeffrey move to the chairman role from MD, saying wryly that the switch “was supposed to be doing less work – and it ended up being more”. But “I do really enjoy the work and making a difference in this space”, he stresses.

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Turnover for the current financial year ending in March is set to exceed £7 million amid reinvestment, having grown from £2m in 2019 to more than £10m two years later, while headcount has now reached about 20, with Consenna in June of this year announcing the appointment of tech veteran Charles Quinn, formerly chief commercial officer at network-provider Commsworld, as non-executive director.

Jeffrey says that hire is “already bearing fruit – it’s very helpful having that extra hand on the tiller as we look to build on the foundation we've created in already being international”. Hoping to provide this aim with rocket fuel is a product that is currently in development, harnessing artificial intelligence (AI). The release is earmarked for early next year – “2024: An AI Odyssey”, Jeffrey jokes.

"The introduction of AI into the portfolio just makes it even more relevant and even more capable and attractive to our target audience [of big international tech brands],” he says. The firm is eyeing tools with the language capabilities of AI, but the accuracy of data behind the scenes to be able to look up really accurate information, merging these to “empower salespeople to have a better relationship with customers”.

That echoes Martin Dowson, MD consulting at data science specialist Optima Partners, saying data and digital technology are no substitute for emotional intelligence, but can be used to support interactions with customers, while a report published by recruiter Hays encouraged businesses in Scotland to embrace AI with open arms, amid what it found to be low uptake and usage.

Jeffrey also makes the point that Consenna’s set-up means its end customer wouldn’t realise it’s involved – “they think they're dealing with Lenovo or Microsoft or Dell or HP or whoever”. It sounds a bit like Kubrick’s unseen but crucial role directing and masterminding A Space Odyssey. “I've never likened myself to a genius like Mr Kubrick,” laughs the Scottish businessman. “But he did orchestrate things – and that’s we're looking to do.”



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