Bath-based information experts IPL offers business consultancy expertise and bespoke software solutions. The company has worked with global giants from Google and American Express to local companies such as transport operator FirstGroup. This week we caught up with Andy Cox, the Innovation and Solutions Director to find out more about the company and its new Innovations & Solutions Unit.
TechSPARK: Can you give us some history on how IPL was formed?
Andy Cox: IPL was founded 35 years ago by Clive Jones, Mike Johnson and David Embleton. The founders wanted to create a company that was doing high quality interesting work, good fun to work for and in a great location – hence Bath was selected as the city to start the business.
Starting out as a software development company specialising in mission-critical systems, particularly in the aerospace and defence markets (this was our founders’ background), IPL established a reputation for building high-quality, secure applications. Over time, the company expanded into other areas, notably telecoms, where we wrote the software that sits at the heart of several of the UK’s mobile networks. We also have extensive background in banking, healthcare, oil and gas, and Government.
The ethos of quality and interesting work continues to this day and we are now one of Bath’s largest privately owned employers and employ well over 300 staff.
“Our Innovations & Solutions Unit is an incubator for great ideas: it has a startup mentality that enables staff to come up with ideas… and spend some time developing them.”
TS: So what’s the aim of the company today?
AC: We’ve expanded beyond our traditional software development roots to provide full end-to-end IT services. Our consultants and business analysts assess people’s business problems and recommend how best to solve them. Our Delivery teams build the solution, which is then maintained and enhanced by our Services team.
Underpinning all of this is our Innovations & Solutions Unit, which looks after research and development, ensuring our customers benefit from the latest technology.
AC: Our Innovations & Solutions Unit is an incubator for great ideas: it has a startup mentality that enables staff to come up with ideas, and where these are relevant and viable, spend some time developing them.
It also presides over our unique in-house store of reusable assets – everything from code to images to frameworks. This means we’re never re-inventing the wheel, and can focus more of our time on new, cutting-edge tech.
TS: How can people get involved? What kind of people are you looking for?
AC: Because we’re growing, we’re currently on the lookout for new people, particularly developers. But we’re keen to speak to anyone techie who wants to be part of a vibrant and growing company – or indeed business consultants and business analysts.
We like self-starters – we’ve got people who research and play with technology in their spare time, or give up their weekend for one of our in-house hackathons (which we’ll soon, hopefully, be opening up to people outside IPL too).
There’s also our apprentice scheme, which is a great way for ‘A’ level students to get started in IT while working towards an NVQ.
“We’re keen to speak to anyone techie who wants to be part of a vibrant and growing company”
TS: What are your biggest successes to date?
AC: UCAS brought us in after the problems they had on A Level Results Day in 2011, when their Track website went down. It was IPL’s recommendation to transfer the service to cloud hosting, and after our temporary system that we built for 2012 was a success, we built their permanent, Windows Azure-based Track service, which played a key role in UCAS winning ‘Best public sector cloud project’ at the 2013 UK Cloud Awards. We’re immensely proud to have played such an integral role in this high-profile project.
Nationwide is another big success story: we’ve worked with them for well over a decade on more than 170 projects, helping design and build their acclaimed digital delivery platform. This underpins the award-winning online bank, mobile banking apps (both of which IPL built) and various other services.
Another thing that we’re immensely proud of (and our customers love) is that staff like working at IPL, so they stick around.
TS: Tell us about your latest products/partnerships.
AC: Mobile is a big growth area for us, and we’ve built a platform that will enable organisations large and small to roll out high-quality mobile services. What makes our platform different is that it looks after all the behind-the-scenes stuff you need to get right. We’re talking to some really exciting big names about this, and hope to have an announcement to make soon.
We’ve also just launched our Business Analysis Academy for graduates, which is a three-year graduate programme that will guide up-and-coming business analysts through a series of training courses and project work, culminating in recognised qualifications. The first intake has just started.
We’re also working on the Environment Agency’s brand new national flood defence asset management system and we’re building the system that will sit at the heart of the UK’s rail ticketing system.
TS: You are quite active in the community – can you give us some examples?
AC: Corporate Social Responsibility is very important to IPL, and we recently did some work for the Transformation Trust. They needed a website that would enable schoolchildren to connect with companies offering work experience placements and other activities, but in a way that ensured the safety and security of the young people. We built this website at no cost to the Trust, and are now looking after it for them.
We’re also an active supporter of Bath Rugby, having been their main sponsor and now Official Partner – the stand at the south end of the Rec pitch with the executive boxes is called the IPL stand. We also support the Bath Rugby Foundation, the local charity that aims to enhance the lives of young people by getting them involved in sports.
We regularly recruit from the University of Bath and University of Bristol, and have an apprenticeship programme for local school leavers from rural backgrounds who want to get into IT.
On top of this, we work with and for a number of other Bath- and Bristol-based organisations, including Buro Happold, Eduserv, ORX, the Highways Agency, EE, A-Gas, BMT, BAE Systems, Babcock, JLT and Nokia. Our work helps these organisations thrive and provide further jobs for local people.
TS: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were setting up the Innovations and Solutions Unit?
AC: Your first plan is probably not the right one and you need to be prepared to change. Mike Tyson once said ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ – you need to remember that when you’re setting up something new. It can be a struggle, and you need to learn when to play by the rules and when to cut through the red tape and just get things done.
“Mike Tyson once said ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ – you need to remember that when you’re setting up something new”
And remember that an idea on its own isn’t worth anything unless you’re willing to put in the hard work to back it up and make it a reality.
TS: What’s the advantage of being based in Bath?
AC: There’s been a lot of great press recently about the significance of the Bath-Bristol tech cluster, and as one of the driving forces behind the city’s status as a tech hub, it’s great to be surrounded by so many like-minded people and organisations. Being in Bath means we’re also close to the tech companies in the Thames Valley and London, many of whom we work with or for.
On top of that, there’s the great university, which has consistently provided us with a stream of quality graduates, and the fact that it’s a beautiful city: people love to come to live and work here (and never want to leave).
Thanks to Andy for taking the time to speak to us.