Navy man’s plain sailing in the channel

With every year, Cheltenham-based PSU Technology Group just gets stronger, according to Managing Director Michael Lounton.

For as long as Lounton can remember he always wanted to be in the Royal Navy. So he studied electronic and electrical engineering at South Shields Marine Technical College before joining up in 1986. Lounton's time as a Weapons and Communications Engineer was to have a telling influence on his future career path. He supported various types of equipment including weapons, sensor, sonar and radar, yet had a particular interest in the support and maintenance of a ship's telephone systems. Lounton's predilection for all things telecoms prompted him to join a London-based comms company in 1995 after leaving the Navy, installing and maintaining the Inter-Tel Axxess and TIE EDX range of phone systems. In 1999 he was headhunted by PSU (then known as PSU Computers) where he set up and led its new telecommunications division.

PSU (Precision Second User) started out as a small IT support company operating from a workshop in Gloucester in 1986. It was founded as a repair company that served businesses looking to fully or partially outsource their hardware support requirements. "We added telecoms and mobile skills via acquisitions and staff development," explained Lounton. "Today, we're a Mitel house with IT managed services and a growing portfolio of mobile and connectivity solutions."

In 2003 a management buyout led by Lounton and Technical Director Nigel Davies proved to be pivotal. The availability of affordable broadband was also a significant development, enabling the company to support clients in new markets including VoIP telephony, collaborative remote working and cloud computing. "Our recent purchase of ICT company Hub Business Solutions is another spur of acceleration for the business, expanding our focus on our portfolio of telecoms products and services," stated Lounton.

The acquisition of local rival Hub also saw the appointment of Hub Director Stuart Baikie as PSU's Director of Telecoms Sales. Baikie co-founded Total (now Bamboo Technology Group) which he led as Managing Director before leaving in 2014 having built a £12 million business. "Joining the PSU team was a no-brainer," stated Baikie. "We share the same ideas. PSU was the right place for us to continue to create customer centric end to end solutions."

Following the acquisition Hub's Lorne Fry and Glyn Evans also took up lead roles as heads of departments for telco and mobile, reporting to Baikie. Lounton commented: "Hub has built up a reputation for its mobile solutions, rapid site deployment, wireless networking and IoT, making it the perfect fit to deliver a wave of new technology to our customers."

In another scoop, PSU won the Comms National Awards for Best Enterprise Hosted Solution and Best Customer Service in 2012-2013. Last year the company celebrated its 30th anniversary. It now employs circa 60 staff, has a UK-wide customer base mainly made up of medium to larger sized multi-site enterprises taking multiple lines of recurring service. "To meet customer demand for an ever more personalised, accessible, agile and accountable service, and to grow our solutions sales at a higher rate, we've made significant changes to our service, operations and sales structures," explained Lounton. "By simplifying and improving the structure, processes and communication between our teams we're providing the cross functional support our customers need to meet their growing service quality demands.

"Similarly, with considerable restructuring of our sales team, including the acquisition of Hub which strengthens our telco and mobile offerings, we've deepened our expertise. With more specialists across the business we've enhanced our ability to deliver exactly the right solutions for customers and grow sales at a higher rate. A strong example of this is the increase in the number of IT and telco managed services we're implementing for customers. Over the past year our customer growth and take up of multiple product lines has continued to flourish."

PSU has forged a number of key technology partnerships including Microsoft, Mitel, O2, Vodafone, Solarwinds, Gamma, Daisy, Virtual1 and Claranet. And its acquisition of Hub has prompted a sharper focus on relationships with telco and mobile partners. "As a long-standing partner with Mitel we're already helping more businesses improve customer experiences with reliable phone system support," said Lounton. "And while we offer access to all of the major UK networks our strongest relationship is with 02. With the concentration of our efforts in these areas we aim to double our turnover in the next three years."

PSU has offered mobile services for several years but not yet realised the full potential of penetrating its customer base. "With Stuart and his team on board their skills will bring a new focus to one of the relatively untapped areas of our portfolio - mobile," noted Lounton. "Our ability to offer access to all major UK networks and provide mobile device management solutions will help us to considerably expand our activity in this area."

Baikie noted that he will conduct a review of existing products and services and if necessary strengthen the portfolio by engaging with new partners and suppliers. "It's all about demonstrating to new and existing customers that we have the skills necessary to truly offer ICT solutions, and crucially, to support them," he stated. "Although the ongoing integration of technology continues to influence and shape everything we do, our deep understanding of IT and telecoms enabled us to deal with this convergence from day one. We're continuing to increase our expertise to give us the widest breadth of skills across the business technology mix, so we can meet new development trends including the Internet of Things and the explosive growth of data."

Lounton also highlighted ongoing growth in the use of collaboration tools as businesses engage more with remote working and seek to drive greater efficiencies and productivity. "This, combined with the emergence of IoT, is prompting us to shift our focus and adapt our processes to strengthen customers' underlying fixed and mobile networks," he added.

It goes without saying that all providers will need to have multi-skilled service and engineering support staff to deal with customer demands of the future. But according to Lounton a holistic approach to support is a must. "We all need cross product line thinking to manage customer issues," he added. "As the pace of business technology integration continues, more firms will be turning to providers such as ourselves. Comprehensive technology knowledge is critical to a holistic approach towards supporting the modern needs of businesses."

One of Lounton's current priorities is to upgrade to the latest ISO 9001: 2015 standard. "The strong foundations needed to accelerate growth and achieve higher standards are already in place," emphasised Lounton. "It's just a case of adding to our skill sets and strengthening our knowledge around products and service throughout the company, enabling us to grow the value of each customer through the sale of more integrated product lines. We need to ensure we're doing everything possible to maximise the sales of telecoms products into our existing customer base. These are all ambitious but achievable aims."