IT from 1969 to 2020, Tales from the Coal-Face!


I started off in the wonderful world of telecommunications back in 1969, it was all pretty basic, standing on the bridge wing of the above Aircraft Carrier holding two sticks with flags attached to them, ‘Semaphore’ must be one of the shortest distance green methods of communication from point to point…but it worked !!. We have come on quite a long way since then, our methods of communicating using information technology means we can literally span the World in seconds using voice & data, computer to computer, person to person.


We no longer have to congregate in offices in order to communicate, we just need an internet connection, laptop, phone and away we go. I’m one of the very few, who not only believed in the ‘green dream’ of lower carbon footprints but actually set out a business plan to achieve the status of ‘home working’ way back in the early noughties. It’s taken a long time to convert our business from office dwellers into home-workers, we achieved this fully in 2008 for real. So how did I move from Morse tapper to home worker ? …… with difficulty !.

I left the sea around 1980 setting up a telecom’s company with my brother, going limited in 1981. We were only allowed to sell two-way radio and intercom systems as the Post Office held the monopoly on telephone systems. Mrs Thatcher changed all that when British Telecom was incorporated allowing independent businesses to supply telephone systems albeit restricted by BT who insisted on inspecting all our installations prior to connecting to ‘their’ phone lines !.


Over these many years rules have been ground down, allowing anyone to fit a phone system, these were usually produced by the likes of Panasonic, Mitel, NEC etc…until broadband really started to develop to the point where packages of voice could be transported about the Internet without becoming too corrupted.

We (Portel AV Ltd) had an in-house two-pronged attack, first refine a CRM system that allowed all staff to work remotely but also be 100% connected. Secondly to produce a phone system that used the same broadband as our computers allowing us all to work from anywhere. The expense for a small 4 person business was quite hefty, there were no grants to develop software, hardware or anything. We did try but it seems all the EU grant monies were designated for setting up grant systems rather than handing funds out to we taxpayers !. I guess it gave lots of folks a job where they could wear a suit and put their degree in media studies on the wall but it didn’t help us one tiny bit. I reckon the CRM system cost about £16k to set up and refine, the development of the Voice over the Internet Protocol phone system (VoIP) about £60k over the years……it’s still a moving target !. From an idea back in 2000 to hitting our target took around six to seven years, remember there was nothing available in Great Britain back then, we were probably the very first people to become true home-workers using CRM and VoIP. So after this long rambling explanation why the heck did we bother ?? Quite simply we were passionate about reducing our personal and company carbon footprints !. If I don’t need to visit a client in person this week I don’t need to put my car on the road, if we all did that just one working day of the week that would take millions of vehicles off the road every working day, imagine if everyone worked from home every day …the mind boggles.

A client I was visiting in 1998 said to me (as I sat on the M25 car park calling to say I was going to be late due to a traffic jam),

“you are not in a traffic jam Steven, you are the traffic jam !”….and that’s when our ‘green’ journey started !


Well done for making home working such a priority in your company despite the lack of support and additional cost. I hadn’t actually thought of the potential environmental impact of working from home but it makes so much sense!

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