Fast firm in it for the long haul

1 Dec 2005

Tenacity was a common thread that connected the disparate technology companies that gathered in Belfast last week to hear where they were placed in Deloitte’s Fast 50 Awards, the annual event that honours the fastest-growing IT firms in Ireland.

On-stage video clips from business gurus such as Alan Sugar extended congratulation to the assembled winners with short sharp messages about the importance of keeping going and not being afraid to fail. There was evidence to suggest that this was old news for many of the firms.

A few years ago, blow-in dotcomers might have been among the winners of an event that has become an interesting barometer of trends in the Irish tech sector. Not any more. Seasoned veterans of the industry now take many of the plaudits and it was a 30-year Dublin firm
that scored first place.

A data centre operator that survived the sticky period of 2003 when a deluge of hosting specialists set up in Ireland with an unhealthy haste that was only matched by the speed of their departure, Data Electronics is clearly built on sound business practices, not fads and fantasy. Talking to last year, chief executive Maurice Mortell (pictured) was insistent that companies needed to think more about managed services and the role that service providers such as Data Electronics can play. “I’ve been pushing the message that IT is a service rather than an asset,” he said. “You don’t need to own all the IT, all your hardware, all your people. It’s crazy.”

Clearly someone’s been listening. The company has seen aggregate growth in revenue of 4,376pc over the past five years and has leapt from 40 in last year’s Deloitte listing to the No 1 spot.

At the awards, which took place in the Belfast BBC Studio, he explained how a recent growth spurt in the firm’s disaster-recovery business was prompted by companies having to rethink how they handled their data in the wake of new compliance legislation. He also paid tribute to his employees for the contribution they made. “Running a business is difficult but retaining business is probably more difficult and it couldn’t have been done without the team of people we have,” he said.

Hard work and endeavour were also reflected in the words of Tony Richardson, managing director of second-place company Alltracel Pharmaceuticals. “For a number of years we were researching and researching. There was no revenue for quite a while,” he told the audience, “so it’s great to be finally delivering on all that work.” The company, which made its first appearance at the awards, develops consumer wound care, oral care and coronary health products and achieved a growth rate of 2,771pc over six years.

Third place was taken by broadband provider Digiweb, which enjoyed a growth rate of 2,384pc. The Rising Stars category recognised younger companies with the fastest growth in turnover over the past three years: three from Northern Ireland — Fusion Antibodies (1,074 pc), ASIUDA (386pc) and (53pc); and three from the Republic — Smarthomes (1,578 pc), Zamano (781pc) and EXPD8 (155pc).

By Ian Campbell