Business profile: TechOP Solutions Ltd, Cheltenham
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
When it comes to protecting your business from cyber attacks, there’s one name at the forefront of the fight: TechOP
Unless you’ve been living in a vacuum, you’ll be no stranger to the frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks on UK businesses large and small.
From the ransomware attack in 2017 that brought the NHS to its knees to the British Airways hacking in the autumn, they’re as high profile as they are deadly.
Experts now suggest it’s more ‘when’, not ‘if’, hackers breach your systems.
So the question is, how do you protect your business?
And when the inevitable happens, how quickly can you recover your data and get your business up and running again to mitigate your losses?
They’re questions the directors at TechOP Solutions Ltd in Cheltenham have been asking, and answering, for thirty years.
What sets this unassuming Charlton Kings company apart from its competitors is the agility which comes from decades of big business experience combined with the personal touch of a small firm.
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It’s a rare bird ,and Managing Director Sam Wilson is justifiably proud of its credentials.
In the beginning, TechOP was focused on electronics design work and test equipment for Gloucestershire aerospace giants like Smiths and Dowty.
It was these high-integrity projects, led by Technical Director Waldemar Osicki and fellow founder Dr David Poole, which grounded the company in the discipline and attention to detail which still underpins its operations today.
Back then, the order book read like a Who’s Who of aircraft and defence: software for the Airbus 310 and 320, landing gear electronics for the Tornado, and so on and so on.
But in the late-90s, as PCs became more mainstream,TechOP shifted its focus to networking, working with companies which needed to link their PCs and set up the new comms technology - email.
All that software expertise led to high-profile contracts in the justice sector, which Sam says propelled TechOP into a new phase of success and is still fuelling one half of the business today.
Government outsourcing of prison and court transport and tagging services, along with immigration contracts, set TechOP on a new course.
“These companies have a lot of requirements around the data the software has to capture,” says Sam, who quickly secured contracts with big players like G4S, Capita, Mitie and Circo.
“They need an IT system to coordinate their workforce which might be spread across the country. They’ve got people in courts, they’ve got vehicle bases, they’ve got to coordinate all those vehicles with people leaving prisons and the courts, recording what’s happened at the court.
“We just developed expertise in that area.”
Reliance was TechOP’s first justice sector contract, moving prisoners in the south west and Wales.
Back then, modems sent files to each court and back to the central office, telling staff which prisoners had to be where.
TechOP adapted the system to make use of a remarkable new technology: the internet.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the company is now building software systems for the likes of Broad Spectrum, an Australian company contracted to move prisoners across western Australia. It’s hoping to expand the justice sector contracts into the rest of the continent and into New Zealand.
“Our background in the aerospace and justice sector means we have the broad range of skills required for IT-managed services operations,” says Sam. “Even companies that have their own IT departments are now looking to outsource part of their IT support services operations because everything is getting so specialised in terms of cyber security and patching…”
Waldemar interjects. “They’re not the things normal IT management would have come across,” he says. “You wouldn’t have to deal with various security standards that the different Government bodies require. We’re transferring knowledge down to our clients.”
Simon Leonard is TechOP’s fourth director. He explains there are two arms of the business that have grown from those roots.
One, the software development for companies that contract to Government bodies like the Ministry of Justice and border agencies.
Two, proactive IT support for companies large and small.
“That’s moved incredibly fast over the past 10 or 15 years, helped by our engineering background and our credibility,” he says.
An early break was a contract with Staverton-based Bond Air Services, now owned by Babcock, where TechOP took responsibility for the systems keeping police helicopters and air ambulances in the air.
“We had to do all this remotely,” he says. “There were CAA requirements and information which had to be available to staff 24 hours a day, 365-days a year. And this was before we were all in a mainstream cloud environment.
“Using our expertise, we started looking at systems where there was always a bank of servers with all the data available. We were early adopters of virtualisation technology and we were able to create a solution whereby we could fail that over on to another bank of servers if one failed.
“Using experience from the old Reliance prisoner movement contract with remote data centres, we had all this knowledge that typical IT support companies didn’t have.”
It’s that multi-sector knowledge which sets TechOP apart from other IT companies - knowledge which led to the management of a project which oversaw live migrations of 3,500 mailboxes for helicopter company Avionics, Babcock’s predecessor.
TechOP is a long-time Microsoft Partner, a status of which the directors are justifiably proud.
Much work is done with Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-based system, migrating clients - where appropriate - to the new cloud software.
“It’s not one size fits all,” says Waldemar. “It’s a case of doing the right thing by the client. We’re passing on our expertise from bigger companies to our customers.”
Key to this, Simon insists, is moving away from reactive IT support to being a managed service provider, offering a proactive service.
“Over the past three years we’ve moved the business systems and solutions we offer to a very strong focus on predicting issues on the network,” he says.
“When we take on a client, we’ll look at the age and condition of their system and the capacity; predict if there are going to be any failures - so we’re able to mitigate before things go wrong. It eliminates all those Monday morning worries.”
It’s all about road maps, says Sam. Not asking businesses what they want their IT systems to do now, but where they see the business in five years time.
“We’ll quickly identify where the weaknesses and problems are, and we’ll take steps to put things right quickly, to get the user experience as good as it can be,” Simon adds.
“And then we’ll concentrate on where they need to be to improve their business, their systems, their network.
“I’ll get involved with the customer’s business to work out what their challenges are, what they want to achieve over the next so many years. And actually then, how an IT solution is integral to that.
“It’s the most important thing for most modern-day businesses.”
Improving the efficiency of a network alongside its security is fundamental to TechOP’s work.
Because of the directors’ background and the changing landscape in terms of GDPR and cyber risk, the company is dedicated to finding the most functional, yet secure, solutions for clients. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is the new kid on the IT block, removing the need for a physical PC which has to be configured separately for each user. It’s a virtual desktop, a kind of cloud PC, where if you’re at home or in the office, at a hotel or hot-desking, you‘ll have all of your files, programmes and operating systems at your fingertips. Given good internet connectivity, VDI is more secure, convenient, faster.
The team has already installed the technology at an NHS Trust in Bath which has increased efficiency and cut costs significantly.
Another success story is a large environmental planning company, which was struggling with a high-cost, unreliable IT system, which the TechOP team quickly transformed. Other clients, many along the M5/M4 corridor, are manufacturers working in the space sector.
“We’re doing true consultancy,” says Simon. “Looking at what that business needs, what’s in the marketplace and what the new technologies are that can benefit that company. It’s building a road map for the customer in terms of what’s right for them, and when, and how that fits with their budgeting and growth plan.
“That’s a relationship where they grow and we grow.”
TechOP offers two distinct solutions for companies.
Complete Care works for small and medium-sized businesses across all sectors.
TechOP will manage the whole IT environment from monitoring equipment to providing user support, troubleshooting remotely and on site visits and implementing disaster recovery.
Expert Care focuses on monitoring, compliance and patch management for larger organisations, many of which have in-house IT departments.
It’s about information security and protection - TechOP is an ISO 27001 company and certification body for the Government’s Cyber Essentials scheme.
As part of the package, the team will offer strategic advice and run regular vulnerability scans across all company devices, identifying weaknesses. It is, says Simon, a running commentary on the performance and security of the company’s network. A bit like an Experian credit score, Sam jokingly likens it to “painting the Forth Road Bridge”.
“It’s getting people to use technology to their best advantage,” says Waldemar. “So if there’s something we’ve picked up from another industry or in best practice, we can say ‘why are you doing it that way?” or ‘have you thought of this?’
“We can give that advice. We’re not the biggest business, but in terms of our experience, your average IT department just won’t have that experience.
“They’re not ever let loose on the new technologies because you need funding and big budgets for that. But we get exposure to that through our clients and we can help, advise and transfer that knowledge down.”
In case of attack
How to mitigate losses in the event of a cyber attack is one of the big questions facing businesses of all sizes. What can companies do?
Education: Educate your team, make security part of the workplace culture
Protection: Ensure you have a mesh of protection around your systems, various solutions from an intelligent firewall to up-to-date anti-virus software
Recover: Have a sensible, documented, controlled procedure for recovering the business securely and quickly