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07 March 2004
Sunday Herald
Spowart bounces back as IT angel

ENTREPRENEUR Jim Spowart is back in the hot seat of a rapidly expanding early-stage company.
The erstwhile driving force behind Intelligent Finance has joined information technology support group Adventi as its director of business strategy and as a major investor.

Spowart and managing director Graham Bucknall aim to boost the business, formed in June 2002, to a £20 million turnover company employing 300 people in the next few years. Spowart led a successful first round of angel investment, taking a personal equity stake with an undisclosed six-figure sum.

The aim is to make the Edinburgh-based business into the “RAC” of IT support organisations. It will offer small to medium-sized businesses a “virtual IT department” providing backup on demand.

The key to Spowart’s involvement is “commoditising” the service that Adventi currently offers so the business can be rapidly scaled up.

Spowart explained: “People said that mortgages couldn’t be commoditised and I did that. In doing so we created a new market and we aim to do the same again here.”

The plan will then be to scale up the business which currently operates from sites in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, to run across a large number of other sites. Already Adventi is looking at expanding into the market south of the Border, with possible sites in Leeds and Newcastle.

Spowart said that many small and medium-sized firms only had ad-hoc arrangements for dealing with IT support.

He said: “Businesses that have vehicles have them covered by the RAC or AA but when it comes to IT systems they have nothing in place – if there is a maintenance problem they phone a friend.”

He maintained there was a market for a service that would guarantee delivery of all the IT skills required within four hours.

Bucknall said he was delighted by Spowart’s decision to sign up.

He said: “Jim’s immense experience in creating major new UK businesses from scratch is unequalled in Scotland today. He will help to take Adventi to another level and I am also very pleased that we have been able to conclude a successful round of investment from our angel investors.”

Bucknall saw the opportunity after he returned to Scotland when he had a very mixed response to a computer problem he encountered. He decided to test out the market by replicating the problem and said that he found a very poor standard of service.

He said: “Some firms just didn’t arrive or they sent an engineer who stayed for hours and didn’t tell you what he had done. I began to see a space in the market for a reliable, quality service that would supply all the backup that people who work for big companies take for granted.”

Bucknall worked in investment banking with Kleinwort Benson before he went on to work for Angus Macdonald’s Edinburgh Financial Publications running the company’s Australian operation.

One of immediate growing market areas is in the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) market. From October 31, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) will oversee regulation of mortgage sales. Part of its new regulations will require improved IT security.

Spowart said: “One of the biggest challenges for IFAs will be in the area of IT. The FSA will be tough on any IFAs who are not compliant. There is a need for more transparency, there are issues with online information and data protection and there is a need to keep accurate customer records held on secure storage.”

This immediate market will be followed by a scaling up of the business to serve the small business and domestic market.

Spowart said that the key was to offer a quality, value for money service. The challenge would be delivering that in a way that was scaleable and would allow Adventi to become a major operator.

Ken Symon, Business Editor

07 March 2004

 



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