Data protection pays off as cyber security intensifies
Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies
DataSolutions is a leading distributor of specialised IT products and services. Set up by Michael O'Hara and Francis O'Haire in 1991, the company employs 20 staff between its headquarters on the Nangor Road in Dublin and its office in Bracknell in the UK. Having experienced steady growth since its inception, the company now turns over more than €35m, 20pc of which now comes from the UK.
"We are essentially the sales and marketing arm in Ireland for many leading multinational IT brands including Citrix, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Checkpoint, RSA Security, Nutanix, Commvault and ShoreTel," explains Michael, the company MD.
"Our market can largely be divided into two pillars. Firstly, we supply data centre solutions to companies who store data either on servers on their own site or in larger stand-alone data centre facilities.
"Secondly, we provide a wide range of IT security solutions, including both hardware and software, to enable companies to manage their data safely while providing secure access to this data to their staff or customers, including providing firewalls and secure wi-fi access," he adds.
Protecting data in particular has become increasingly more important given all manner of potential breaches, hacks and viruses that may compromise a company's vital information. Such solutions include locking down access to only authorised personnel across a company's entire network or by restricting access to certain levels of data depending on the person's role and responsibilities within a company.
Acting as a type of wholesale arm for these global brands, DataSolutions sells to IT resellers which in turn sell to their end users. Among their own many reseller customers are leading IT firms such as Integrity 360, Zinopy, PFH, Ergo, Evros and Novosco.
It's an impressive achievement, made even more so by the fact that Michael did not start his career in IT but as an accountant.
Having grown up in an entrepreneurial environment in Granard, Co Longford, where his family ran a local bar and grocery as well as a farm, Michael went on to study business and accountancy in both the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Athlone Institute of Technology before going on to sit his ACCA accounting exams.
He then joined a small Dublin accounting practice before moving onto Farrell Grant Sparks where he specialised mostly in auditing. During his time there, he was regularly sent out on secondment as acting financial controller for a number of IT firms.
"One of these was a company called Data Code Electronics. After about eight months there I was enjoying the role that much that I realised that I wanted to get out of practice and into business," explains Michael.
"Audit was enjoyable but it is really about looking back and analysing your past performance and what has already happened while business is about looking to the future. I learned that I found the unpredictability of business more exciting and the idea of maximising opportunities more appealing," he adds.
In 1993, Michael joined the company as financial director. Over time he bought out other shareholders, leaving just himself and Francis O'Haire as owners.
"At the time the company was a distributor for modems and had built a strong reputation for delivering cutting edge technology matched with excellent customer service. This was a time when most pc users in companies had a screen, keyboard and a CPU (central processing unit) at their desk. However in 1995, things changed for us when we became the distributors for Ireland of Citrix systems.
"These systems freed up users to only need a screen and keyboard at their desks because the data processing could now be done by a shared server either in a central location within the company's own premises or remotely in an off-site independent dedicated data centre site. And because there was nowhere for users to plug in floppy discs and key fobs, it also had the added benefit of helping to reduce the risks associated with viruses and data theft," explains Michael.
"In addition, these solutions meant that any upgrades to software could now be loaded directly onto the central server instead of having to be loaded onto each individual pc/CPU. This development really helped our own business to grow."
In 2001, and with concerns about security of data becoming more important than ever, the company took on a number of new vendors of security software, set up a new specialised division and expanded its team to exploit the gap that was emerging in the market.
Further growth followed as a result with the company's revenue now coming equally from both of these divisions.
Having established a strong foothold in the Irish market, Michael decided to expand further and opened an office in the UK.
"My challenge is to balance running an established business in Ireland and a new, almost startup-like business in the UK," admits Michael. "We have built a great team who are really key to our success. Our goal now is to grow the overall business from its current level of turnover of €35m to €80m in the next three years, " he adds enthusiastically.
As he reflects on his move from accounting to business, Michael is glad he made the switch.
"I get a greater kick from being at the coalface of business rather than just looking at the numbers. I particularly enjoy the challenge of growing the business.
"While the products and services are continuously changing, our job is to anticipate what's coming around the corner and be able to bring these solutions to our customers to help them and their customers improve their productivity, security and ultimate profitability. That's where I get my greatest satisfaction."
Michael O Hara could easily have settled for a stable and financially rewarding career as an accountant and auditor.
However, like most entrepreneurs, he found the draw of running his own business a more appealing proposition.
With a growing customer base in both Ireland and the UK, the risk of taking the road less travelled seems to have paid off.
Business Sector: Technology
Set up: 1991
Founders: Michael O’Hara/Francis O’Haire
Annual Turnover: €35m
Number of Employees: 20
Location: Nangor Road Business Park, Dublin 12 and Downshire Way, Bracknell, Berkshire, UK
Sunday Indo Business