SMEs turning to big data to compete

Aquila gives us an insight into exporting

Data and analytical solutions provider Aquila Insight is a company which has been exporting since day one. MD Neil Carden explains how they made it happen…

This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' feature coincides with the annual HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is being held on 22 March in Glasgow. For information on the event, to nominate or to buy tickets, click here.


Edinburgh-based data analytics specialist Aquila Insight is a great example to follow for any business looking to begin trading overseas.

Since landing a contract to work with Sony just after launching, the business has gone on to work with companies across the globe, turning over millions of pounds in the process.

Neil Carden, managing director, explains: “Aquila Insight was launched five years ago by Warwick Beresford-Jones and John Brodie and has been exporting ever since.

“They saw a gap in the market for fast, high quality analytics with a commercial focus.  There’s lots of talk about big data, data science and analytics but it’s mostly snake oil.

“There is however a huge market for businesses who know what they’re doing and can deliver results rather than just play with data.

“We export people, knowledge, technology and results.  For most of our international clients, it’s a combination of skilled people help them to set up our analytical platform and then get value out of it.”

For the team at Aquila, akin to many other export success stories we hear, their success can be attributed to the strength of word of mouth.

“It’s been a natural pull,” he added. “Typically, we start working with the UK arm of global organisations and they recommend us to their global counterparts. It has been a very organic process.

“We worked with Scottish Enterprise in the early stages of the business and they helped us with grants to develop our technology offering and continue exporting.

“The easy part for us when it comes to exporting is matching what we do with our clients’ needs. We find that wherever we go in the world, clients have the same challenges and appreciate our experience in solving it. 

“There’s always lots of nodding of heads when we describe the problems our UK clients have and how we help them overcome these challenges.”

Working with businesses overseas has also helped Aquila secure more contracts here in the home markets, as Neil points out: “Exporting has helped diversify the business and bring in new clients.

“Most of our clients are global entities. They want to work with companies who have experience of working with large, complex, matrixed multi-nationals. 

“As well as our technical expertise, our exporting has ensured that we develop the engagement skills necessary to make a difference in big, global companies.

“Those skills are what make us successful – we’re known as a business that can deliver results in the most difficult environments.”

And the company’s growth doesn’t stop there. After being acquired by US marketing agency Merkle for an undisclosed sum, the team have ambitious plans for the future.

“In the next few years, we expect to be the leading data and analytics solution provider in the world,” he said. “We’re going to do that by continuing to make our clients into superstars. 

“We’re looking at global opportunities but also breaking into the US (where the data and analytics market is less well developed than Europe) and into China.”

Neil’s top tips for exporters: “The most obvious resources are time, money and people. When it comes to exporting, they’re not the most important – that’s management headspace. Breaking into new markets can be a huge distraction. Our “follow the client” strategy may be a bit slower, but it means that we can still grow rapidly in a sustainable way.”