Filling the Gaps

Jonas Software CEO Barry Symons discusses the creative culture at one of Canada’s largest software companies

CEO Barry Symons has helped Jonas Software become a leader in the construction industry, thanks to its Premier software, whose cloud-based technology provides anytime, anywhere access to job files.

Corporate missions are sometimes expressed with buzzwords and fuzzy concepts. Not so with Jonas Software. CEO Barry Symons is both direct and succinct when he says that “Jonas strives to be the premier supplier of software and services for each vertical in which we participate.”

Jonas Software, based in Richmond Hill, Ontario, was founded in 1990 by Gary Jonas, who has a background in programming for the construction industry. “He’s an entrepreneurial guy,” Symons says. “He decided he could produce software that was better than current market versions, and that’s why he started the company.”

5 Questions
with Gary Jonas

1. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Cloud technology. Buying, maintaining, updating, and backing up their own servers is sometimes onerous, especially for smaller companies. They don’t always want, or need, to pay for that IT expertise.

2. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
Jonas Premier utilizes sprints in an agile development environment. At the end of each sprint, we freeze the code while the product is tested; this allows the developers to try new things. The ideas don’t always succeed, but there is more success than failure. This environment encourages innovation.

3. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
We used to think of it as the building of new products only. Now we see innovation as part of the work cycle; it encompasses all aspects of what we deliver to our clients.

4. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
Through “productive paranoia”—we constantly look over our shoulders for who or what might replace us on top. The whole team thinks about new ideas, and the best ideas are investigated further. Everyone focuses not just on what is there now, but also on what could be there.

5. How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
By incorporating it into your schedule. It encourages innovative thinking, draws employees into the development process, and has little additional cost. The benefits can be tremendous.

More than 20 years later, Jonas Software is a major provider of innovative enterprise management software solutions. Having a presence in such markets as construction, private club, food service, education, fitness, leisure attractions, moving and storage, radiology information systems, and metal distribution centre, the company maintains a global presence as well, with offices in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Caribbean.

All in all, Jonas Software services about 20,000 clients in more than 15 countries.

“We’re the premier supplier in most of our markets and, over time, we plan to be the leader in every market in which we participate,” Symons says. “Our ranking in a particular vertical is usually a function of how long we have been investing in those markets.”

And a key factor in that quest is innovation. For example, in a business world where users commonly pay for every upgrade, Jonas offers “software for life.”

“We realize that buying our products represents a significant investment,” Symons says. “Remember, we offer enterprise-wide solutions, not single-function products. And we understand that implementing system-wide change can be painful, even when everything goes well. We want our clients to know that we’ll maintain and support their investment indefinitely.”

The company is currently working on a cloud-based version of its enterprise management software, Jonas Premier. Aimed at the construction trades, Premier offers fully integrated accounting, administration, reporting, job costing, purchasing and inventory, time entry, and document storage modules.

“We recognized the dynamics of that industry, and current trends in innovation, and are focused on developing the first true cloud-based offering for the construction market,” Symons says.

Cloud computing offers many advantages to smaller businesses, Symons says. There’s little investment in on-premise hardware, which obviates complex setups and on-site IT support. Off-site workers, such as in construction and landscaping, can access company data from any computer, at any time, via a simple Internet connection. And Jonas maintains all of its servers 24/7.

“If there’s a functional problem, we’ll fix it right away,” Symons says. “That eliminates a big headache—if your on-site server goes down, you wait for assistance, or pay plenty for emergency service.”

At the same time, the company is working on Jonas Enterprise, an on-site client server system. Seems to run counter to emerging cloud technology, doesn’t it?

“There are advantages to cloud computing, but sometimes people are quite comfortable with their existing client/server technology,” Symons says. “In those cases, we can provide a better-performing software package that is fully compatible with their technology platform.”

And the corporate culture at Jonas encourages employees to be innovative. “We’re fond of saying that success is celebrated; failure is a great try,” Symons says.

But it all comes from focusing on practical ideas. For example, “businesses generate a lot of electronic documents that aren’t always readily accessible,” Symons says. “So we developed Jonas Digio document management software. It enables accounting staffers to quickly search by contract, customer name, dollar-value, and other parameters, review contracts, and retrieve other information.

“If you want to stay on top, you need to be innovative,” Symons says. “That’s why, even though we had little expertise in document management at first, we set out to develop a solid product.

“Our employees are encouraged to explore new concepts; some of them work, some of them don’t. But each one is focused on making a better product.”