AN OXFORDSHIRE IT company that began at the dawn of email and has installed a Wi-Fi transmitter in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral is celebrating 30 years of innovation.

Neill Lawson-Smith set up Computing Information Systems (CIS) in a back office in Witney with £100 from his parents after British Gas declined his offer to set up its first email system.

Today, CIS employs 28 people in Faringdon and provides outsourced IT support to organisations across the UK and internationally. The team are experts in IT, including infrastructure, cyber security, cloud solutions and managed services.

“The 30 years have been fantastic,” said Mr Lawson-Smith. “It’s like being at the dawn of the aviation era with the pace of innovation and transition. The job never gets boring because it’s constantly changing.”

While at university, Mr Lawson-Smith was asked by British Gas to join its management-training course, but his suggestion that the firm install email got a frosty reception.

He said: “I’d been on the British Gas apprenticeship as part of my degree and they said I needed a project to work on and then come back on the management-training course.

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“I told them there’s this thing called email and you’re going to love it, but they looked at it and said it wasn’t really for them!”

Mr Lawson-Smith turned down his place on the graduate scheme as a result and went it alone with a 12-month “sink or swim” loan of a room in his dad’s office in Witney.

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“It was the era of fax and telex,” said the 53-year-old. “Email was virtually unheard of and I had to convince people. They said it would never catch on, or it’s going to be a fad.

“It was also the very early days of Microsoft with Word and Excel, and even Windows was very new, so we were out there trying to get people to come off typewriters.”

Off the back of a successful first year securing contracts with Oxford University and businesses such as local architects, CIS prospered until the dot-com boom around 2000.

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Mr Lawson-Smith said: “There was such enormous growth with tech companies like Microsoft in Reading that a lot of smaller IT companies lost their best people and it was very difficult to retain or recruit.

“I’d got the business up to a certain size, but we lost really good staff and I had to close the doors and go back to it being just myself at my house in Buckland with my top 20 clients.

“After a couple of years, the dot-com bubble burst and I’d become very successful again and was able to hire more people.”

Now thriving once more, CIS has evolved with the ever-changing technology world and is looking ahead to future growth.

Current and former clients include the Force India F1 team, the Reform Club in Pall Mall, University of Oxford and PD Hooks, who are based near Bampton and supply poultry nationwide.

The company has worked with businesses in the UAE, USA, Australia and Europe, and likes to meet clients in person, wherever they may be.

Mr Lawson-Smith said: “We can work remotely but you can’t beat face-to-face meetings as well. It’s the human touch that sets us apart.

“All our tech staff understand people and what makes us successful is that we listen as much as we ‘do’.

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“We look for personal qualities when recruiting. You can always train technical understanding, but you can’t train somebody’s personality.”

Reflecting on three decades in IT, Mr Lawson-Smith said: “My favourite project has to be building a data centre at St Paul’s Cathedral.

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“It’s located in one of the crypts and we’ve actually installed a Wi-Fi point in the dome of the cathedral which beams to the bishops’ residences. It’s the traditional world meeting the not-so traditional and they are a lovely bunch of people at St Paul’s.”

Looking ahead, CIS is hoping to launch a 24/7 cyber-security centre to alert businesses to potential problems before they escalate.

“I think in the next 10 years data security will become crucial,” said Mr Lawson-Smith.

“The tech to prevent digital theft is so good now that hackers are using psychological tactics to trick people into giving out information or allowing access. That’s the big threat we face now.

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“As the recent Travelex hacking showed, hackers don’t always smash and grab, they can be inside your systems for months without you knowing, so we will be using things like artificial intelligence to spot unusual behaviours and activities so we can prevent as much as fix problems.”

CIS is based on the RAC Estate in Faringdon.

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