If you want to know how to turn the IT chaos that afflicts so many small businesses into competitive advantage, ask Philippe Seguret. He quit his partnership in a southern French regional accountancy firm to found his own auditing and advisory business, PCE, in October 2005.

He bought a second house in the small, quaint market town of Saint-Affrique, in the department of Aveyron, where spectacular countryside separates infrequent towns, and sheep are more numerous than people, and transformed it into an office.

The hallmarks of PCE would be to offer a top quality service to small and medium businesses, and to individuals, distinguished from its sluggish rivals by quick access to partner advice and rapid response to problems.

In 2006, he spent €30,000 equipping the firm with computers, and as much again the following year, purchasing from a local vendor. But keeping everything working was “a nightmare”, he says. The irony, was that many of his SME clients were suffering similar problems with their IT and accounting systems.

“If your clients have problems, you have to find solutions,” says Mr Seguret, aged 37. So he did, not just for his own firm, but for the clients too.

In January this year, he recruited Olivier Capel, 27, an IT technician who worked for PCE’s technology vendor, and whom Mr Seguret had come to know and respect for his advice on trying to solve PCE’s technology travails.

Together, they set up a company, 2ISP, owned 40 per cent by Mr Capel and 60 per cent by Mr Seguret. They created a clean-room in the basement of PCE’s offices, protected by video surveillance and high-tech security systems, and recruited a second technician.

They signed a partnership agreement with Report One, a small software company in Paris and Albi, in the neighbouring département of Tarn, which had developed a business management and analysis programme designed for small firms.

In effect, 2ISP acts first as a sub-contractor supplying systems services to the accountancy firm PCE. Using three servers, including its own mail server, PCE’s secured systems and a virtual private network enable Mr Seguret and his seven staff to access client systems from afar and avoid any sensitive data being stored on laptops.

But 2ISP also provides hardware and software to clients, with or without accountancy and advisory services, and systems that run on their own servers in 2ISP’s clean-room.

It’s an elegant solution for all. Mr Seguret has slashed his technology equipment spend to €3,000 a year, and leap-frogged the hundreds of kilometres that separate his firm from many of its clients – a feat rivals in the region have yet to match.

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