For Mark Riddell, managing director of m3 Networks, Perth, running a successful company is as much about people as it is about knowledge and systems. m3 Networks offers a managed IT support service to businesses, which means developing a trusting relationship with clients. It also entails employing the right people and even offering apprenticeships to the next generation.
Mark explains what m3 Networks offers to its clients, why the team enjoys what they do, and what’s great about being based in Perth.
“Everything we do is on a fully managed basis,” Mark says. We don’t just sell things and let clients go off on their own; we actively look after their IT systems as if they were our own. It’s like having us in the room next door. That allows you to have you your own expert IT department.”
Does m3 Networks also work with businesses that already have their own in-house IT support? “Absolutely,” replies Mark. “We can enhance the IT support that’s currently in
From cloud services to cabling
The services that m3 Networks offers are as varied as the clients themselves. “We install Office 365 for email, Microsoft Azure cloud solutions, backup solutions, web content filtering and email security. We’ve always done networks, too. A lot of people might see IT as sitting at a computer in a warm office drinking coffee, but we do physical network installations, such as office cabling, data points, fibre optics, 4G connectivity and fixed line telecoms. That might be connecting two buildings together with point-to-point wi-fi, or large-scale wi-fi for holiday parks.”
m3 Networks can also assess the quality of a business’ IT. “One of our largest clients often buys over other businesses,” Mark explains. “They can ask us to go in and assess the IT. If it needs £20K of investment, our client would have to pay for that the minute they buy it. We can tell them the cost of replacing it, and the client can negotiate that as part of their deal, which saves them money. Or, if a client is looking to move office, we can check the broadband connectivity for them and help to inform their decision.”
A decade of growth
This year, m3 Networks will celebrate a decade in business. How did it all start, and what’s the origin of the company name? “The three directors – Mark Lamb, Mary Brodie and I – all worked for the same company. In 2009 the company closed and all staff were made redundant. Mark and I had our customers phoning us on our mobiles, needing support, so we said to each other, ‘We can do this ourselves.’ On our last day, we left at 5pm, went round to Mary’s kitchen table, and decided to set up m3 Networks. The ‘M’ is from our names, and the ‘3’ suggests ‘to the power of 3’ as we all bring different backgrounds and skills to the business.”
The three new directors started with about a dozen support contracts from the previous business, with some saying they’d like a 3-month trial. “We were halfway through August, so we supported them for nothing through that month with the understanding they would pay us in September.” Their strategy and hard work paid off and today, m3 Networks supports 130 business locations across the UK from Hastings to Dingwall, as well as a client with European offices.
Secret of their success
In a fast-changing and often crowded market, how does m3 Networks stay successful? It’s a combination of being fully aware of changes in IT along with earning and keeping customers’ trust.
“Because we work with a range of industries, and in so many services, we are always aware of what’s around the corner, what’s happening in one year, two years. We keep ahead of the curve in a way that you couldn’t if you worked in one company. We also encourage business owners to be more involved and write their IT into their business strategy rather than seeing it as an add-on. Technology has a bigger impact on their business than almost everything else, apart from people.”
For us ordinary mortals, IT can seem a bit of a dark art. Terms such as “dark web”, “malware”, “attacks” – and even “upgrade” – can strike fear into the heart of a business owner. Mark and the team understand these fears and believe good service and communication is key. “We avoid using techie jargon, and simply give advice that’s honest and clear. If clients speak to one of our apprentices, or someone who’s been here for five years, or one of the directors, they get the same level of service and consistency. We implement tight controls to ensure that happens.”
That quality control standard has resulted in m3 Networks gaining ISO 9001:2015 certification. Why is this important? “We’re in an unregulated industry, yet your IT company has more access to your business data than your accountant, your bank or any of the staff. Every company sets their own quality levels and we want to demonstrate that we adhere to a recognised standard of consistentservice and quality.
“Underpinning all of these things are our morals and ethics. We always do the right thing by the client, even if it costs us money. Also, we don’t tie customers into a contract. We charge for our support monthly, so we say, ‘If we do what we say we will in our service level agreement, and keep you happy, and you don’t have any IT problems, you won’t want to go elsewhere.’ So we’ve got to do our best all the time. When people start working with us, they don’t want to leave. Competitors have approached our clients to offer a cheaper service and they don’t want a cheaper service, they want a good service.”
New apprentices, happy employees
Like many forward-thinking companies, m3 Networks invests in apprenticeships to teach the younger generation in a practical way. It’s especially important in an industry where things change so quickly. “I didn’t have any opportunities for IT apprenticeship when I left school,” Mark recalls. “Now theyare encouraged, with programmes such as Developing the Young Workforce Perth & Kinross (DYWPK), and there’s funding to help companies. It’s important to give them something that we didn’t have.”
Mark also knows that making their employees feel valued is another cornerstone of their success. “We encourage continuous development and everyone here has a clear vision of what they want from their career. Many recruitment consultants recommend us for that reason. As a consequence, only one employee has ever left in our 10 years of business, and that was only because he had to relocate to Wales. Every person we employ is personable and gives great customer service. We try to keep things informal, and it’s quite a flat structure, run by three directors who are all approachable and each bring something different to the business.”
Quality of life in Perth
Why does being located in Perth suit m3 Networks? “Because we work all over the UK, transport is important, and it’s easy to go in all directions from here,” Mark says. “Some members of our team travel from Dundee and Broughty Ferry. Perth is a good place to live, which makes it attractive to potential employees. Also with the Tay Cities Deal, and everything that’s going on here and in Dundee, we’ll be collaborating more across the region.
“Perth isn’t necessarily seen as a tech hub so people think they have to travel to Glasgow and Edinburgh for tech jobs but they are here, too. In Inveralmond Business Centre alone we’ve got software development and web design companies. We can’t always compete with the salaries in the bigger cities but if you don’t have to commute you get the work-life balance. That’s worth more than anything people can pay you. Perth is a great place to raise kids, with a high quality of life and good schools.”
A fast-moving future
What does the future look like for m3 Networks? Mark says, “Cyber security is the fastest-growing area of technology so we will be developing even more support in that area. The next quality standard we’ll target is ISO 27001, which involves information security management.
“A few of our team members have studied at Perth College UHI and we’ve had students come for work placements. Recently we organised a session for the Heads of Computing from Dundee, Angusand Perth schools and colleges to share the latest developments in the IT industry. We’d like to do more of that and further develop our connections with Perth College, who will soon be offering a cyber security course. In short, we try to give something back. It’s a long game but we’re trying to improve what’s coming out of education. These are our future employees and if we can help to make them the best they can be, that’s a good thing.”
A forward-thinking and ethical IT company that gives back to the wider community? That’s definitely a good thing.