Wow, 25 years!
Looking back – as one does on landmark anniversaries – it seems difficult to comprehend how much has happened since 1998.
The Millennium Bug; the financial crisis of 2008; Covid.
There have certainly been some challenges along the way. But there have also been some fantastic opportunities.
And as you can imagine, quite a few technological changes (remember dial-up modems?!).
Anyway, before I indulge in a little 25-year reflection, I just want to say ‘thank you’.
Thank you for your custom. Thank you for your support. Thank you for helping make this past quarter century so meaningful and memorable.
Now, indulge me while I take you on a potted history of ActiveIT.
Back in the beginning, there was one company, Active Group Ltd.
In light of the booming popularity of Personal Computers, the company – which was formed in 1990 – started building bespoke systems, both normal desktop PCs and more custom rack-mounted industrial computers.
I bought out the owner and directors in 1998 and formed two new companies: Active Information Systems Ltd and Active Instrumentation Ltd.
Active Instrumentation traded for several years before the product range was sold off to one of the distributors with a manufacturing facility, leaving just the computer business.
ActiveIT became the trading name of Active Information Systems Ltd.
The business continued to build bespoke computers and developed a solid reputation in the UK broadcast radio industry.
In fact, ActiveIT was the sole IT provider for Virgin Radio and Heart FM for many years, providing equipment and expertise integrating broadcast and office systems.
Internet use was much more restricted then, and expectations were lower.
Most people connected using a dial-up modem with a 28Kb/s connection speed – 56Kb/s if you were lucky!
(When Virgin Radio got their first leased line installed, it was 1Mb/s which was considered incredibly fast, even shared between 50 users.)
A key partner at this time was RCS – Radio Computing Services.
RCS were the number onw provider of radio station automation systems that play music and adverts live on air; they chose ActiveIT as their hardware partner, building and installing the computers for the radio studios.
More radio stations came on board, and Active were involved in building and maintaining many of the new FM local and regional stations, which started up around the late 1990s and early 2000s across the UK from Redruth to Glasgow, Ireland and even Amsterdam!
Alongside the radio work, expertise in providing the 24/7 support demanded by radio stations was put to good use. We started providing reliable IT systems for smaller local businesses that were also becoming dependent on their IT.
In the early 2000s, ActiveIT introduced ‘Support Contracts’ for SME customers, a rarity in those days (most support being provided on an ad-hoc basis).
We started introducing things such as “Free IT Health Checks” and “IT with Guarantee”, which were otherwise not heard of for SMEs.
Smaller clients were using Windows 95 and 98, with some more progressive ones using Windows NT4.
Email was being used more heavily, but the low connection speeds that were common meant that it was better to have an email server on-premise so that internal emails didn’t have to be transmitted externally to be then downloaded again, using up precious Kb/s of connection bandwidth.
Microsoft introduced their “Small Business Server Suite”, which was based on Windows NT4. This provided the necessary email connection and file storage and allowed several users to connect to the Internet at once using the same dial-up modem, as well as receiving fax messages and converting them to emails!
During the mid-2000s, the current ActiveIT began to take shape.
Major customers to come on board included: Chichester Golf Club and Middleton Insurance in 2005 and Tateossian in 2007, all of whom are still with us today.
Argyll Insurance was another large customer (3 sites, 100 staff) taken on board in 2005 until the Jelf Group later took them over.
Ex-Argyll owner Kevin Young then joined ActiveIT as Chairman, investing in the business to assist with growth. Sadly, Kevin was taken from us late in 2014 by cancer, which affected the whole business quite badly.
The broadcast radio and TV side of the business continued to do well.
ActiveIT became the sole UK distributor for AEQ, the Madrid-based manufacturer of broadcast mixing consoles and communications equipment, followed by ENCO, a Michigan-based broadcast software developer.
We exhibited at several broadcast shows, including SBES at the NEC and Excel, and were represented at the massive IBC exhibition in Amsterdam’s RAI exhibition centre.
We also became active members of the Hospital Broadcast Association, supporting their work by providing radio in hospitals throughout the UK and attending and sponsoring their annual conferences.
The focus at this time was still split between broadcast and more local SME IT support.
However, with all the mergers and acquisitions taking place within broadcasting, SME IT support became the mainstay.
Cloud services were becoming more popular, although many of our clients were still using their own servers as well.
Connectivity was improving, with ADSL broadband now the norm, which made supporting clients remotely much more manageable.
The stalwart and well-liked John Bunday joined the team in September 2011, bringing several clients from his previous business as a sole trader.
Strong links were formed with both Worthing and Adur and Billinghurst Chambers of Commerce. I became Chair of Billingshurst Chamber in 2011 and joined the Exec Committee of Worthing and Adur Chamber in 2013 (ActiveIT have also provided IT support services to Worthing and Adur Chamber since 2010).
Cybersecurity has become much more critical over the last decade.
Before this, having anti-virus software and some anti-spam was considered adequate. But the ever-increasing cyber-threat and the prevalence of Ransomware meant that a more proactive approach was needed.
So, ActiveIT started to transition from an MSP (Managed Service Provider) into a MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider), partnering with other providers so that we could offer a full service.
Microsoft recognised us as a Silver Partner because of our work managing Cloud Services successfully for our clients.
In recent years our Help Desk Team has been expanded, with offices in both Crawley (West Sussex) and Auckland (New Zealand), enabling us to offer true 24/7 support.
This team is well-integrated into our operations, with John Bunday managing the team overall.
Telecoms services were added to the business offering, which meant clients could now come to ActiveIT for nearly all their business technology needs. If we couldn’t supply it ourselves, we would work with a partner who could.
With the proliferation of mobile devices, securing managed Wi-Fi systems became important, especially in the hospitality sector, where providing guest access across a site while keeping business systems secure became important.
Once more, ActiveIT worked with partners to provide the best solutions for their clients, including high-availability systems using combinations of leased lines, broadband and cellular communications.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw a big switch to home-working, with many of our clients closing their offices whilst some hospitality clients shutting down to skeleton operations.
ActiveIT supported (and continues to support) its clients, providing flexible solutions to keep their businesses as operational as possible. We even deferred costs for those hardest hit.
Post-Covid has seen many customers retaining a level of home-working. The focus has been to ensure this model can continue whilst also maintaining data security, which was easy to overlook in the rush to work from home.
Many clients also delayed projects during the pandemic, so over the last year or so, a catch-up has been needed, with many projects still in progress.
ActiveIT is continuing to adapt and expand its portfolio to meet the needs of its clients.
We passionately believe in our Mission Statement:
Technology should enhance business and make it easier to deliver a service or produce goods.
IT should be seamlessly integrated into business operations so that it is an asset rather than an overhead and certainly not a liability.
Our role is to be the Trusted IT Partner for all our clients.
The business operates with integrity and honour at the forefront; we do what we believe is right and hopefully earn the trust of our clients, who know that they can trust us “without scruple or diffidence.”
Here’s to the next 25 years!
– Chris Sewell, Managing Director