Monday, 02 November 2021 13:21

How brightsolid aims to make Aberdeen the UK’s next big tech hub

Richard Higgs

After announcing partnerships with giants Dell and Microsoft, brightsolid CEO Richard Higgs caught up with Scottish Business News at Tech Trends in Energy 2015 to explain how they plan to make Aberdeen the UK’s next big tech hub.

From its newly-opened data centre in the city, brightsolid has been working with some of the biggest names in the technology industry in a bid to drive the north-east’s growing digital economy.

The Dundee-headquartered business has partnered with Microsoft and Dell to launch a future-ready cloud services platform, delivering their worldwide cloud lessons and capabilities but on a local level.

The company’s CEO, Richard Higgs, broke the news at Tech Trends in 2015, where he joined speakers including the chief executive of Elevator Aberdeen, the director of hosting at Microsoft UK, and the CEO of Cisco.

Held at Aberdeen’s Chester Hotel, the event focused on a morning of knowledge sharing between energy and IT professionals, looking at the new technology and trends set to make a positive impact on the industry in the year ahead.

Scottish Business News took the opportunity to speak to Richard about his business, and the reasons why the north-east needs facilities like brightsolid’s.

“Keeping data in Aberdeen is important for three reasons,” Richard explains. “The first is that it’s unnecessary to send data down to the Central Belt or, on occasions, down to London. It just wastes scarce capacity, frankly. It also induces risk, in terms of that communication getting all the way round that loop – so shortening the supply chain of communication is a good thing at all times.”

“Secondly, there’s no doubt that if you can hold the data in Aberdeen, you’re more likely to hold the high value jobs in Aberdeen. What we’ve seen is perhaps a shift in jobs out to Houston, because it’s actually cheaper to employ business intelligence analysts there than in Aberdeen.

“When we heard about that we thought ‘Right, we must start a campaign with the University of Dundee, and get people who are graduating involved in this industry.’ We want to turn it from a £1,500 a day exercise down to a £350 a day exercise.

“We want to bring data too; so there’s stopping the leakage, and then there’s bringing the data back into Scotland,” Richard continues. “And really, what switched us onto that was we spent a year building the business case to build the data centre in Aberdeen, and one of the things that compelled DC Thomson’s board was that over 50% of the data processing for Aberdeen is undertaken within the M25. They realised that is not a tenable position long-term purely on cost economics. It is just cheaper to operate data centres in the north-east of Scotland.”

Richard Higgs is a graduate of Warwick Business School, and has spent 25 years working in the IT sector. This includes founding a financial trading house, where he grew its market cap from $3million to $25million in three years, and joining a small consultancy group and doubling its revenues and profits.

He joined brightsolid full time in 2010 as managing director, and was promoted to CEO in 2013. Today, the company provides cloud services from facilities in Aberdeen and Dundee, with new business rates growing at over 50% for the last three years.
Brightsolid is far from the only fast-growing tech company in Scotland, with billion-dollar “unicorns” like FanDuel and Skyscanner leading the way. Richard feels the infrastructure is already in place to have even more companies of this size appearing.

“There’s something about the wider UK, and in particular in Scotland, you see a creativity and a willingness to share knowledge,” he explains. “People share ideas and have a willingness to be determined about it, and go ‘I’m going to do it and crack through that door and make it happen.’ I think that’s a lot to do with the educational system right at the start. The way people are given independence to think is quite unique to these islands.

“I think what the UK’s got, and Scotland in particular, is very fair investors. I was reading an article a couple of weeks ago about the risk of anybody in a west coast [of the United States] business. They build a business up, and then they’ve got preferential stock in it and these venture capitalists eat them. And the VCs make money but the founders, the entrepreneurs, often don’t. Whereas I think here you’ve actually got a better chance of making money as an entrepreneur.”

Alongside the creativity and culture of fairness Richard has found in Scotland, he is also doing his part to further boost the country’s businesses.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is create a channel to market for new ideas and innovation,” he says. “Because they need a second company after their innovation centre that can pick them up and say ‘Right, that is good, and now it’s in a secure cloud so enterprises can use it – here’s your channel to market.’ Then we introduce our sales team, help them with contracts, and all the things you need to actually get a product moving.

“And then, you make sure your clouds from Scotland can operate anywhere in the globe, because otherwise you’re just immediately going to the west coast of America. But if we can spin it up here, and spin up another server in California and have that entirely under our control, that starts to make it possible to make global businesses from within the north-east of Scotland.”

The company also has the ability to create peering centres, helping more businesses here to have local control of their data.

“That’s back to our data leakage,” Richard explains. “So if we can create a peering centre in Aberdeen then it just means the data can stay within Aberdeen. We just need to know the IP ranges, and companies can talk to each other provided they’re connected into our data centre.

“So they don’t actually have to host with us. They literally can just jump on CityFibre or SSE or the other players, because they’re all connected into the data. So whichever one you’ve got, you can now peer and join the peering club and peer out to other companies. And clearly we’ll have to have some rules, so they don’t start moving huge data until we’ve got huge capacity,” he adds.

“I’ve looked at comms a lot recently, because to me it’s the big fundamental constraint to a lot of the ideas. But I don’t really panic, because one strand of dark fibre would take every single mobile in the UK calling every single landline in the UK, to give you the capacity on one strand.

“There just seems to be an inefficiency of those strands somewhere within the telco industry, and the way to resolve that is to make it city-centric. So you’ve got blobs which are cities, and then clarity of backhaul responsibility, and I think the government should take more responsibility for backhaul surety and capacity in the same ways they do railways. It’s as important, if not more important.”

Already brightsolid’s new data centre in Aberdeen is proving popular, but that hasn’t stopped the company looking to ways to expand even further already.

“The board loves the fact that we’ve opened one and it’s going to be profitable by the end of our financial year at the end of March. They’ve assured me it must be, so it will be,” Richard laughs. “No, but the signs are very, very good which is very pleasing in terms of the contracts we’ve entered into.

“So I think we should be looking for further regional opportunities, particularly where there’s a strong vertical market. So we’ve picked up on life sciences as a second area we’d really like to look further into, because it has exactly the discipline issues.

“So to actually build something, or take over something down south and join up the life sciences work in Scotland with the work around Cambridge to London is an opportunity we’re looking at right now.”

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