Network: IT Contracting - The Porsche may have to wait

Lynne Curry meets the founder of an IT training company who's staying true to the spirit of the Net
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David Murray, founder of his own IT training business, has not yet acquired the company Porsche. But will he ever? His latest venture is enabling everyone with access to the Internet to download all his company's training literature without paying a penny. True, each page comes with an unmissable paragraph in capital letters overlaid on the text: "Sample only. Not to be used for training.'' But it is in pale grey, and the text can be viewed through it anyway, and the company receives e-mails from people it has never heard of, saying things like, "Thanks a lot, brilliant!''

This way, anyone with a modem delivering at 28.8Kbps can spend only 15 minutes downloading instruction in up to 30 applications, including Microsoft Office, Windows, OS/2 and Lotus, written by Mr Murray's company, Cheltenham Computer Training. Shortly, they will be joined by CCT's first Internet- delivered instruction in programming languages, including C, C++, Java and Unix.

How can this work? A call from Dundee University provides the answer. Most users will not want the pale grey paragraph on their training materials, and they will pay for legitimate use. Even so, institutions such as universities will pay only pounds 500 for a site licence to reproduce as many copies as they want. For company training departments, the charge rises to pounds 1,500, but for schools the cost goes down to pounds 160, and although individuals are not the main market, one did ask successfully to be treated as a school - and countless others will just take the stuff and live with the overwriting on it.

Mr Murray, 40, and his wife Lou, 41, who run CCT from a beamed converted coach house behind the grand Lansdown Crescent in Cheltenham, are not worried about those who abuse the system. "There's an awful lot of people who'll just rip it off, but if there's a company willing to use this in a training room, (a) we don't want to deal with them, and (b) they've got no money, so we can't lose what we were never going to get,'' Mr Murray says.

"Originally, the Internet was totally non-commercial, developed by people who just wanted to communicate, and this method fits into the ethos of the Internet. If people download our stuff without paying, what have we got to lose? Apart from the fact that we have our materials in circulation, which they may possibly show to people. It helps being a small company, because if we were a huge conglomerate, we'd have to have meetings and endless discussions about this sort of thing.''

CCT has four full-time staff, including the Murrays. It was set up when Mr Murray, who had started as an IT trainer with Olivetti after gaining a degree in physiology, decided to go out on his own from QA, one of the major training organisations, in Cirencester. Four years later, his company is appearing alongside QA in reviews of its services, comparing extremely favourably.

Its Web site, developed at the old coach house, was declared "Euro cool site'' last year, and on a typical working day is visited by more than 4,500 Internet users. The site is fast and simple - a reaction to Mr Murray's own irritation at material that takes half a day to download - and customers log in from all over the world.

From a position of pure ignorance three years ago, CCT's mastery of the Internet has enabled it to ensure that its name comes up in the top 10 with the major search engines when the the key words "computer training'' or "computer courseware'' are typed in. It is registered with 900 search engines worldwide. Coming up near the top of the list, every time, can bring huge benefits. "It's a bit like the top 10 in music - you go up and down and have to keep working at it,'' Mr Murray says. "Of course, this is the worst business to be in for this sort of thing - it's full of experts.''

CCT still conducts training courses in the coach house and externally, but the Internet project has taken off with such gusto, especially in the United States, that it has rewritten the manuals in American English. A US newspaper has used it as a case study.

Offering your wares on trust is a minority way of doing business, but having been through more than one business downturn, Mr Murray is disinclined to sweat. "We started out purely as a training house, then developed into a training/courseware house, and now we do far more courseware ourselves than the actual training. We're a long way from the Porsche, but we think this is the right direction"n Cheltenham Computer Training -