Hi-tech firm’s growth is defying the gloom

A HI-TECH company in Ipswich has a strong claim to being one of the fastest-growing businesses in the county.

Smart 421, which is based at the Felaw Maltings complex, has grown its workforce in each of the past two years, despite the recession and the sluggish recovery across the wider economy.

The information and communication technology (ICT) company, which specialises in systems integration and works for a string of household names, was founded in Ipswich in 2000 and was acquired by KCOM Group in 2006 in a deal valued at �24.24million.

KCOM is currently in its “close” period ahead of its annual results for the year to March 31, which precludes statements on recent trading.

But Smart 421 managing director Neil Miles said that during the first half of the year, to September 30, the Ipswich company achieved 33% growth in revenue, to �10.8m.

And from a headcount of 151 a year ago, recruitment currently in progress is expected to take its total workforce to around 230 by the end of this month, representing annual growth of more than 50%.

It represents an accelerating growth curve for the company, with the headcount having risen from 134 to 151 the previous year, even before the end of the recession.

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“This is considerable growth in a difficult economic climate and we are very proud and pleased,“ said Mr Miles.

The Smart 421 name is pronounced “smart for twenty-one” and was chosen by founder Julian Harris to indicate “Smart solutions for the 21st Century”.

New jobs have been created across the board, in areas including sales, marketing, finance and HR, but the key growth has been in the area of technical and consultancy skills.

The company is in the process of expanding into additional space within Felaw Maltings, which will result in it having desks for around 130 people. However, a substantial proportion of its workforce at any one time will be working on clients’ own sites around the country, or at other KCOM offices.

Smart 421’s client list includes a host of top names, including O2 and Orange in the mobile telecoms sector, Aviva, AXA and Willis in insurance, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and UBS in finance, Emirates, National Express, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains in transportation, energy group E.ON and supermarket group Morrisons.

The company provides a comprehensive service which assesses the overall “architecture” of a company’s ICT, its infrastructure, applications and processes, and how these “talk to” each other.

It then develops software to achieve full integration, by “filling in the gaps”, and provides on on-going 24/7 back-up service.

The objective is to increase the flexibility of clients’ ICT structures, enabling them to respond quickly and nimbly in fast-changing and highly competitive markets. This includes what Mr Miles terms “thought leadership”, in helping clients to benefit from new technology as well as optimising their use of existing systems.

“Thought leadership is a key part of what we do and, being independent, we can look across the full range of technologies available,” he said.

However, he believes it is the “people” factor which is key to the company’s success.

“I was born in Ipswich and it pleases me that this business is very much about the talent of the highly-skilled consultants we have here,” added Mr Miles.

The company also supported further and higher education locally, as an investment in sustainable growth, he added.