Network Group Celebrates 30 Years: A Milestone in Tech Cooperation

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Birthday celebrations

Network Group celebrates its 30th anniversary this year – and has just had a special event to commemorate the landmark. As David Tulip explains, the group has come a long way in that time and is still looking to the future, but with a focus on traditional values.

Wembley Stadium is an iconic venue that has seen many teams become more than the sum of their parts to succeed over the years. So it was fitting that Network Group – a cooperative community of independent technology service providers helping each other to achieve greater success – had its 30th anniversary celebrations there recently.

The celebrations, coinciding with Network Group’s 15th annual Exhibition, Gala and Awards, were held on April 25, and people from across the UK, Ireland and even as far as North America came over for the event.

Former England football captain Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce delivered the keynote speech. “He was great,” enthuses David Tulip, managing director of Network Group. “He talked about leadership, sharing stories of Brian Clough and Gazza, of when he was an apprentice electrician, lots of funny stories and leadership lessons from the grades that he’d worked in and around. There were tales of his penalties too, of course – the miss [in Italia 90] and the hit [Euro 96].” 

This was followed by various vendor-led workshop sessions, such as N-Able, which delivered content around remote management and monitoring, best practise and tools. 

Two new executives were elected to the Network Group board that day too; Steven Lightfoot from NextGen IT and Peter Strahan, from Lantech.

There was also Network Group’s largest ever Expo, which featured 48 vendors and was busy across the day, David reports.

Giving back

Also at the event, Network Group selected its charity for the year to raise money for, the Street Soccer Foundation. “We like to try and make a difference,” says David. “We’ve been doing it for many years, and we often pick
a small charity as it really makes a difference to them. 

“Our chairman, who was elected in January, Michael Morgan, wanted to support a charity that is making a real difference to people’s lives.”

Street Soccer Foundation helps homeless people and those in danger of becoming homeless, often young people. 

“At the gala dinner we had an auction and raffle and raised more than £30,000 for that charity,” says David. “It’s the most we’ve ever raised at an event, and it smashed our expectations for the night. We’re super pleased that our members, partners and vendors helped us to achieve that through donating prizes and bidding so generously.”

Also at the event was Network Group’s annual awards ceremony, which recognised partners, members and vendors for their achievements over the past 12 months. Winners included 1-Fix (MSP of the Year, sub-1,500 endpoints), Morgan & Morgan (MSP of the year plus-1,500 endpoints), Start Tech (new member of the year), Net Primates & Southern IT (member contribution to the group) and DLG Computers (retailer of the year).

UK’s leading IT community

The event showcased the strength and diversity of Network Group. Today, Network Group is a collective of approaching 90 independent technology service providers across the UK and Ireland. “It’s the UK’s leading IT community,” says David. “It is a very active community, and the members are very cooperative.”

Network Group has come a long way since it was established 30 years ago by a group of mutual acquaintances in the technology sector. “They were moaning that the pricing from distribution and the account management wasn’t very good and the little guys in the sector were not being looked after very well,” says David. 

“A lightbulb moment then happened with these guys when they thought ‘why don’t we come together to make things better?’ So they formed the Network Buying Group.”

As David says, it began as a buying group, but has evolved over the years to reflect the changing market and today it is a very different beast. “We dropped the ‘B’ 15 years ago as it had changed by then,” he says. “Now, we are the Network Group, a community of technology service providers from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and even one in Gibraltar. We come together to share best practise and leadership, to help each other to be better companies, grow and improve.”

Today, businesses within the Network Group average an annual revenue of £2.5 million and employ about 18 staff. “We’re independent but help each other to be better and we have a good reach and a good reputation,” says David. “It’s an organisation run by the members for the members.

“When I joined in 2005 there was about 30 companies and half were retail and the others were B2B resellers. Today, we’re 90% managed service provider, along with some providing retail services into solo and small businesses. Typically, most members have evolved into service providers.” 

Future

Looking ahead, the Network Group is still looking to grow, roughly to about 120 companies, David says.

“The strength of the group isn’t that members get discounts on products or rebates or whatever, it is that as an owner running a small business, it can be a lonely occupation, where do you go to for support? With the Network Group, you can come into a room of peers, who aren’t competitors but cooperators. You can talk about what you’re struggling with, anything from how to keep hold of your best staff to what to pay people to sales strategies or security solutions.

“The strength of Network Group is that it provides a trusted space. That is the key thing for me: trust. You know you’re in a movement, you’re in something where you help each other.”

With the managed service provider market thriving currently – and not showing any signs of slowing any time soon, according to David – it’s now attracting the attention of private equity and venture capital players, which brings its various pluses and minuses.

While it could mean more M&A activity in the sector – and the chance for owners to make money – it could lead to bigger MSPs. “But if you get bigger there is a risk that you get further away from customers and they end up becoming numbers on a spreadsheet,” says David. “But when that happens you lose what is good about a smaller provider. Typically, MSPs serve their local area and develop relationships with the customers and reputations within their town or city – and that is crucial.

“There’s a lot of development in technology and looking to the future with that, but it’s that good old-fashioned customer service that really does make the difference for many customers and that’s what our members have and that is magical.

“We can do greater good by growing what we’ve got in the organisation. It’s been a bit of a rough time over the past four years, but we’ve never been stronger.”