First published in Coventry & Warwickshire In Business Magazine
For the past eleven years, Paul Blore – who runs Coventry-based IT company Netmetix – has been working hard to get businesses and organisations to understand the benefits of cloud computing to replace physical servers and storage in an office.
He, and others, were doing a pretty good job in changing mindsets around the cloud but with Covid-19 forcing millions of people to work from home, the payback has become even more obvious and has led to some very satisfied and relieved customers.
“All of our clients that were in a cloud-based environment transitioned very easily to working from home,” he said.
“We were busy for a month or so, while people moved to homeworking. That was with simple stuff like setting up local printers and home Internet connections but, in terms of the operational aspects, it was smooth and seamless.
“We have had great comments back from customers. We had one architectural client who we’d just completed their migration to the cloud the week before lockdown so they just went home and carried on working. That really saved their bacon.
“We’ve helped businesses get up to 300 people working from home in the space of a few days and it was all very smooth and it meant they could just carry on with their work.”
Blore started Netmetix in 2001 as a reseller of CAD software but shifted to networking in 2008, before, as he puts it, going feet first into the cloud in 2010.
Not everyone was convinced, as business owners and organisational leaders felt comforted by the fact that they could see their IT servers in their office rather than based in, as they saw it, a mythical cloud.
“I was absolutely convinced that cloud was the way to go,” he said. “But it’s only in the past three years where it has really started to pay dividends. The uptake was very cautious early on and, while we were growing, it was growth on small numbers, whereas between 2020 and 2021 we grew by 23 per cent year on year.”
In pounds, shillings and pence, it’s been a jump from around £700,000 turnover four years ago to over £2 million in those 12 months – while the world was in the eye of the Covid-19 storm.
“The plan is to keep growing,” he said. “We are tentatively looking at possible acquisitions. That’s not to acquire technologies or skills, it would be for their client base. I’m not tied to a region either, it would very much depend on the opportunity.
“We’ve rolled out systems all over the world without leaving Coventry so geography isn’t an issue. There are around 60 Microsoft Azure data centres all around the world and we just pick the nearest one to the client and provision services from there.
“So, depending on acquisition, I’d like to be looking towards being a £10 million company in five years. What we do scales really well. We couldn’t have reached £2 million working the way we used to and doing what we used to do. We are now much smarter with our resources in a cloud infrastructure which allows us to scale up.
“We also support a small local charity called Alex’s Wish, which raises funds for research into a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy by donating a share of our revenue every month. So, as we grow, so does the amount we donate.”
In terms of headcount, the company has grown to 12 but size isn’t everything and investment in expertise and training is what continues to set Netmetix apart.
“We are now recognised as one of the UK’s leading specialists in the field,” said Blore. “We’re not the biggest but Microsoft recognise us as real experts in this area.
“We do a lot of consultancy work for some of the big UK players and we do all of the Microsoft Azure (the company’s cloud platform) migrations for the UK’s largest software company.
“Our client base is spread all over the world – from the Queensland Government in Australia through to South America, North America, Middle East and all over Europe.
“We work through partners and a lot of that is through software vendors around the world. They might have an application that they would host in the cloud but they don’t want to become experts in cloud services so they will sell their products and we’ll provide all of the hosting services and support for them.”
Blore believes more organisations will follow suit and that there will be even greater uptake of the cloud as the world begins to return to normal.
He said: “We’ve not seen a sudden uptake in migrations to the cloud in the past year as most companies have been battening down the hatches and weathering the storm. What I suspect we’ll see is a significant pick up when the brakes come off.
“A lot of people will have recognised over this period of time that cloud computing offers significant benefits. So, where they might have been struggling to log into office-based systems over this period, we might see them looking to cloud-based services in the future. Cloud computing provides fantastic flexibility, which I feel will be hugely important in a post-pandemic world.”
Skills, expertise and levels of service will be the driving force behind Netmetix making the most of that growth in take-up of the cloud.
Every Netmetix engineer sits an external examination every quarter as part of their contract to ensure they are true experts in their field and keep all of their skills up to date.
“We’ve got one of the most qualified workforces per head in the country,” said Blore. “We’ve got seven Microsoft Gold Certifications in a 12-person headcount. Most Microsoft Partners aspire to get one and some larger companies might have three or four.
“We live or die by our technical competence. We’re not big enough in size to just keep going and getting new customers so it’s our technical expertise that brings in new clients.”
“A fundamental part of our business is that we don’t have long term contracts with clients. The only time we do is when it is dictated by third party suppliers. This means our customers are free to walk away whenever they want. It keeps us on our toes when it comes to providing the best possible service” said Blore.
“All of the services that we provide are done so on a rolling monthly basis and our client retention over the past year has been 100 per cent. Which is in a period where most of our team have been working from home. It proves that customer service is ingrained in the team. We haven’t been able to watch over their shoulders, and yet everybody has just done it because that’s what we do. It’s habitual.”
However, people with the right skills are few and far between in the jobs market. So the company has begun a policy of growing their own.
Blore said: “One of the challenges we’ve found is getting people with the skills we need. We are ahead of the curve which means people with ready-made skills aren’t out there.
“Our strategy now is to develop skills through apprenticeships. We take them on. Put them through our training programme and that’s our conveyor belt now for bringing our skills level up.
“We’ve got two who have come through the apprenticeship already and we want to keep them and develop more. We don’t lose staff!”
February will mark the company’s 21st anniversary and after the Covid-19 crisis put paid to any plans for 20th celebration, they may be able to celebrate this one.
On a personal level, the past 24 months has also denied Blore the opportunity to enjoy one of his passions away from the office.
“Somebody told me when I started the business that it takes 20 years to become an overnight success,” he said. “So, I’ve been waiting for that moment to come along! We wanted to have a celebration but we’ll make sure we do something as the regulations relax.”
He added: “I run the Cobra Register, a classic car club, and it seems such a long time since we’ve been out in our cars. We normally do quite a few events each year but they have all been cancelled due to Covid, so we can’t wait to get back out there.
“I’ve had a Vincent 500 motorbike for 40 odd years and I bought a Vincent 1000 last October, which is the one that I’ve always wanted. I’ve still got a Cobra and we bought a Dino Ferrari too, but they’ve been nowhere for a year.”
So, instead, he’s been honing his driving skills in something a little slower paced at his home near Lutterworth, Leicestershire.
“We bought a tractor in the past couple of years,” Blore said. “We’ve got about ten acres and we were killing the ride-on mower by trying to mow the paddocks with it so we decided we needed something a little bit bigger.
“Like all these things, you start off modest, so I was thinking I’d buy an old-fashioned tractor and ended up buying a brand-new John Deere, with all the whistles and bells!”. Spending three or four hours in the early morning sun cutting the grass is a real antidote to the pressures of everyday life.
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