Today Surbiton ...

A British online service provider is poised for expansion in the US and Europe, writes Roger Trapp

Conventional wisdom has it that success in the helter-skelter world of the internet is largely connected with being based somewhere like Oxford or Cambridge, if not California's Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas.

But that sort of logic appears to be be confounded by Compulink Information eXchange (CIX), which operates from the south-west London suburb of Surbiton. Claiming to be Britain's longest-established online service provider, the company is in the midst of an ambitious growth initiative aimed at making it a player in business's most exciting sector.

The organisation recently bought IP Warehouse, a Florida-based business that has developed a software package which allows a comprehensive search of the internet for infringement of intellectual property rights. Now, through the recently acquired InfoNetworks, it has received accreditation to issue the internet domain names that enable companies to use the ".com" suffix.

The company believes this is just the start. It is poised to take a significant share of the recently deregulated - and potentially lucrative - domain-registration market in Europe and elsewhere, and is looking for further acquisitions.

Graham Davies, CIX's sales and marketing director, attributes a lot of the progress to the enterprise's long-standing reputation in the information technology market.

Founded in 1984 by a husband-and-wife team, it quickly became well known among other British electronic communications pioneers through its introduction of an e-mail system and a conferencing service that attracted 17,000 users by the early 1990s.

However, it did not have enough money to fund developments. And it took the arrival early last year of new management backed by finance from Legal & General Ventures to give the company its impetus. The management buy- in put in place a board of three executive directors and a non-executive led by Douglas Bitley, the managing director, and Niels Gotfredsen, the finance director. But it is Mr Davies, the director with prior experience of the information technology industry, who is playing a fundamental role in setting the strategy.

Much of his thinking has been conditioned by his experience with a company that set out to provide internet and intranet solutions for companies. He could see that the key requirement was to have a platform on which to build other services, which is what his previous company lacked, he says.

Moreover, many companies are realising that the websites established for them by design companies with little information technology experience are not sufficient. CIX, Mr Davies believes, is well positioned to help out. But he is also convinced that success in such an area is about getting the opportunity to demonstrate what you can do - and that is dependent on having sufficient presence to be taken seriously by the larger companies in the vanguard of such developments.

It is this realisation that is also behind the desire to raise the company's profile in the US. Not only is this the place where much of the technology is developed, it is also where the fresh applications tend to appear, adds Mr Davies. He and his colleagues say that recent monthly revenues have been up about 70 per cent on last year and they are looking for a similar jump in the coming 12 months.

A key factor in achieving this will be the acquisition of another internet service provider in the US. Such a move should help the company attract what Mr Davies calls "more interesting things to work on", and help set it apart from other players.

To illustrate the sort of service CIX is looking to provide in an age when not just technology specialists but people in all professions are seeing the potential of the internet, Mr Davies points to DoctorsNet. This is an information service run by doctors with which CIX is looking to work to offer members an internet connection. This kind of thing "fits very well with what we are trying to do for the company", he says.

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