Dotcom survivor to put university in your pocket

The Salem Church

The Salem Church

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YOU may not have heard of AQL but you will almost certainly have felt the effects of its work.

The Yorkshire company started trading in the years of the dotcom boom, survived the bursting of the bubble and has grown to become a vital part of Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure.

If you have received a text message from your optician to remind you about an eye test or from a shop like BHS to say that your order has arrived then the chances are it will have been handled by AQL.

The firm, based in the Grade II listed former Salem United Reform Church in Hunslet Lane, Leeds, was set up by Adam Beaumont, a former University of Leeds lecturer, in the late 1990s.

It uses its fast and powerful data centres to route more than one million SMS messages each day and also builds the network for mobile brands and is responsible for the voice services and numbering on 42 million numbers for 20 domestic internet service providers (ISPs) in Britain.

The SMS service, known as remote workforce management, provides information for employees and customers, rather than marketing material.

Over the last year AQL has acquired new work with firms including Sky, Man Financial and satellite communications company Inmarsat and increased turnover from £4.5m to just over £5m.

It has also won a contract to provide the new high capacity data service for JANET 3G, which allows academic and support staff to remotely access vital resources such as data, virtual learning environments and library catalogues while they are away from a campus.

The service is run by JANET (UK), which manages the operation of a network dedicated to universities and colleges and research institutions in this country.

Dr Beaumont, 38, said it was an opportunity for the business to expand as today’s students, teachers and lecturers want to work wirelessly.

“This generation of students are the mobile generation. They want to upload the coursework from their iPhone. It is important we have realised how students’ experiences have changed.”

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “I am delighted the education sector is putting in place plans to provide wireless broadband for the academic community.

“This is a really exciting development and will help us achieve our goal of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015.”

The work with JANET 3G is the latest innovation in a firm which has been through several changes since it began as a domain registration website in 1998.

Dr Beaumont spent half a month’s salary on an advert for the firm in a national newspaper after which demand “went ballistic”. In those days, before internet crime was commonplace, he would register the domains and rely on the honesty of customers who would post him a cheque – which the overwhelming majority did. Today the domain name arm is still running although it forms a much smaller part of AQL.

“We are having to re-invent ourselves or we would have been dead 10 years ago – technology has changed so rapidly,” Dr Beaumont said. “Mobile messaging has is already replaced by instant messaging. There is no longevity, in any one particular technological area.”

Now AQL has 33 staff, with some of them working remotely, and data centres in the Hunslet area of Leeds as well as Manchester and London’s Docklands. It has also worked for Barclays, Deutsche Bank, the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police and sponsors several charity events around the country.

“We have a very good reputation for protecting customers’ data and privacy,” Dr Beaumont said.

The entrepreneur is also transforming Salem, which had lain empty for six years until he saw a “For sale” sign on the building. He struck a deal for the former chapel, which had been on the market for offers over £1m, and moved in.

Only about a quarter of the 30,000 sq ft site is currently in use, although this is set to increase. Crisp Thinking, the business which creates technology to protect children in online games, also rents space in Salem.

“There are a lot of people asking about what is happening at Salem Chapel. We are looking after it and trying to bring it back to how it used to be,” Dr Beaumont said.

AQL is slowly renovating the former church as the business grows and so it can host more conferences for the internet and telecommunications community.

“We are embracing the next generation of technology,” Dr Beaumont added.

“The reason I did this is because I love technology. It does not feel like work for me.”

Lifetime love of technology

Adam Beaumont, from Bramhall near Stockport, came to Leeds in 1990. He took a PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Leeds.

Dr Beaumont said that even as a chemist his office was full of computers and servers rather than test tubes.

When he began teaching, as the university’s youngest lecturer, mass computer use was becoming widespread and he gained greater access to technology through his work.

AQL was set up in 1998 as AQ, representing the chemical symbol for an aqueous solution, because it aims to provide solutions to firms’ technological challenges. Dr Beaumont also owns the Further North cafe bar in Chapel Allerton in Leeds.

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