Richard Dendle, founder and managing director of Guildford-based Britannic Technologies, talks to Tim Wickham about the transformation of voice communications, integrated telecoms and call centres.
The UK telecoms sector in the pre-privatisation days of the early 1980s didn’t make life particularly easy for businesses in terms of choice. Limited phone handsets, limited options on exchange systems and extensions. If you wanted an answering machine, you probably had to rent it from one of the very few companies offering them – at a high cost.
Richard Dendle was keen to exploit opportunities in the UK market by setting up Britannic Technologies in 1985, shortly after cartoon character Buzby had successfully convinced the British public to buy shares in newly privatised BT.
Dendle had been working half a world away in Saudi Arabia for a telecoms company that invested in only the best, most advanced telecoms technologies available. “I thought the experience would be a good opportunity to amass some cash and learn about the technology – at the time the UK was pretty poor in what was available,” he said. “It was a good learning path for me.”
With his background in electronic engineering he worked in Saudi Arabia for Bin Laden Telecommunications (yes, really). He returned after three years, when two colleagues from the telecoms industry suggested they start their own business in the UK. Shortly afterwards Dendle took over Britannic and is today the main shareholder.
“We started by signing an exclusive deal with a German company to sell an exchange system in the UK to small businesses and the residential market,” he said.
Britannic Technologies: No 61
As the market became more liberalised, Britannic began selling bigger systems, including a key system from Nitsuko with push button controls for lines and extensions. Crucially, Britannic made sure the system gained BABT (British Approvals Board for Telecommunications) approval – “a hell of a job to achieve,” according to Dendle – and was the product’s sole UK distributor.
“A commodity product like a phone will always come down on price, so you have to be able to provide other value-added services,” he said.
Britannic added in-house engineers and software developers, rather than outsourcing, to differentiate its offering. In 1990s, it developed Callstar, a live phone-in system for broadcasters that was rolled out to the BBC’s regional radio stations.
“We provided the first private phone system to the BBC (back in 1986) and the first to transfer calls live on air,” he said. “Presenters could talk with and view caller details on-screen on shows like You and Yours, Money Box Live, Call Nick Ross, and Radio 1’s Breakfast Show.”
Britannic was an early mover into Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technology, offering voice calls over data networks displacing ISDN. One customer was the office of the deputy prime minister, which connected 11 regional offices and hundreds of lines. “The IT director told me that from a financial point of view it was one of the best things they’d done, saving hundred’s of thousands of pounds,” said Dendle.
This year, Britannic launched the next generation of its SIP platform, with 100% encrypted internet calls. Other innovations include billing packages, where customers can save 20% or more on their call charges. This provides Britannic with an important repeatable revenue stream. The company also offers a toll fraud service, which prevents unauthorised users making calls on your lines.
Business continuity expertise
Offering security and business continuity services are among Britannic’s key strengths and the company holds ISO 27001 Information Security Management and ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management accreditation. “We have invested massively in data centre services and are introducing secure credit card transactions on our platforms,” said Dendle.
Britannic currently supports over 300 call centres for customers across all sectors. It has a presence in 30 countries and employs over 80 people. Turnover of £14.4 million for the year to March 2018 was up from £13.4m in 2017.
Dendle has never had an exit strategy for his business. “I’m still totally motivated; I love what I do. I’m always looking where we can add value in our operations.”
Despite having around £6m in cash on the balance sheet, he isn’t interested in acquisitions. “I don’t need the distraction of acquisitions. My aim isn’t to build the biggest company – it’s about quality and customer service. Organic growth is fine and I don’t see any limitations to what we can achieve.”