MessageLabs' Star sets its sights on SME-focused success

It's only been a little over a month since independent internet service provider (ISP) Star Technology announced its intentions to fly away from the nest it has historically shared with MessageLabs and already the company has confirmed plans to join forces with one of the big mobile operators and launch a raft of new products starting this October.

To support its aggressive targets for growth and innovation push directed at solutions for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the company is installing an Oracle-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, costing millions of pounds. The system is one designed for an organisation 10 times Star's size, but that's precisely how big the company aspires to be, according to its chief executive Ben White.

"The time had definitely come [to spin off] as Star was living in MessageLabs' shadows," he said. "Also the internet and mobile applications technologies are coming together. Star is traditionally an ISP but of our 4,000 customers, more than 75 per cent take at least three services from us, very rarely just connectivity. So we can say that we genuinely have a very high penetration of multiple services [take up].

"We are effectively re-launching the company now that we are independent and will be launching two or three shrink-wrapped in the next 90 days, one will be a hosting package and one will be MPLS."

As part of its renewed focus on giving smaller businesses what they need, Star has set itself some ambitious targets for growth.

"In 12 months time, I hope that we will have reinvented Star. You'll probably see us partner with one of the major mobile providers like an Orange or a Vodafone or whoever in order to bring together a data, fixed line and mobile bundle and will have maybe signed up to 1,000 associates [partners or resellers]... We have four thousand customers at the moment and we are currently putting a plan together so that all will become clear [in terms of how the new company will look] by the end of the calendar year," said White.

"We have several launches planned that we expect will increase our customer base by 50 per cent over the next 24 months. Someone in this space is going to build a really big company and be aggressive and take on those SME customers," he said.

Star has clearly set its sights on it being the front runner as the company that can best takes advantage of the perceived market opportunity, a market that White believes will be very managed service-oriented.

"The market is crying out for someone who's actually innovating again and adding value," he said. "You'll put very little equipment at the customer's site; it will all be about managed services. But, just because someone takes something as a service rather than loading on software and then sticking a machine in a broom cupboard doesn't mean they don't need a partner to make sure that make the most of it. We see Star as aggregating all the best technical services you can find and putting them together."

He added: "I can't believe that in five years' time SMEs won't be buying email as a service or customer relationship management (CRM) and financial packages as a service. Web 2.0 is about all of this coming together and there are some amazing possibilities as a result of being able to buy all these fundamental business processes and systems as a service."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.