How Taran Sohal’s Cloud2 is building on the best Microsoft has to offer
By Damian Holmes
Few Bradford businesses can claim to have made as entrepreneurial a start as technology company Cloud2.
Having set up six weeks after the financial crash in 2008, its first prospective client, Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Trust, asked for a meeting just before Christmas.
Directly afterwards, Cloud2’s co-founders Taran Sohal and Simon Hudson asked to use the Trust’s offices to write the proposal.
Two hours later it was emailed to the client, accepted and they were in business.
Taran, who has owned the business outright for the past 18 months said: “We didn’t have an office at the time so we had to think on our feet.
“The Trust had a major technological headache with a document management system and we knew exactly the solution they needed. So when they appointed us we were confident we were going to be successful and it made for a great festive period.
“And we’ve worked on this basis ever since, finding solutions by utilising the best software Microsoft has to offer and making it specific to each client so they can be more efficient and successful.”
Cloud2 quickly became a Microsoft Gold Partner
This is the tech giant’s top tier and set up offices in Bradford’s Wool Exchange creating a core team of Microsoft specialists.
The aim was to quickly build and deploy Microsoft applications that solve the priority problems its customers were experiencing.
One of the main issues Cloud2 managed was providing robust support for clients experiencing difficulties with Microsoft’s web-based employee engagement and document management platform, SharePoint.
This led it to creating technology intellectual property with Hadron in 2010 dubbed the world’s first ‘intranet in a box’ product.
Since then Cloud2 has created a number of bespoke products for major public and private clients nationally and internationally including Willmott Dixon, Public Health England, Tata Steel, University College London Hospitals, Thomson Reuters and East London Foundation Trust.
It continues to innovate with Microsoft technologies such as Azure and Power BI by providing three core solution areas of analytics, automation and compliance for large organisations who typically have thousands of staff with complex business process and data requirements.
Excellent delivery of vital services for such an important client base led to strong growth and saw Cloud2 swapping its Wool Exchange home for Hope Park Workspaces in Trevor Foster Way two years ago.
“We really enjoyed our time in the heart of Bradford but the facilities we have now are incredible,” adds Taran.
“We’ve always been very innovative; we were paperless 12 years ago. We considered various criteria when choosing our new location.
“We found a lot of our people were commuting via the motorway then having to find parking and walk into the office so we decided to move here at the top of the M606 making us far more efficient and able to enjoy a wide range of improved working conditions.
“Hope Park Workspaces is run by an education charity so we’re giving something back and this chimes with one of our key values of caring about the community.
“Creating a nice environment and a positive, engaging culture in our business is also vital because happy people work better.
“As well as the commuting benefits, we have the fantastic Sugar Snap café that is run by a homeless charity. The offices are state-of-the-art, there’s a full-size sports hall and we have access to the swimming pool at the adjacent Cedar Court Hotel.
“We play badminton, table tennis and five-a-side football, give Amazon and Netflix subscriptions, offer private health and life insurance and hold regular social events such as a Bradford curry crawl and poker and quiz nights that are all very popular.
“Not being able to have this social interaction has been the hardest part of Covid-19 for us.
“Work-wise we didn’t need to adjust too much because we are well versed in agile remote working and have been since we started.”
While the full impact of Covid-19 is yet to be fully felt by the business world, Cloud2 is in an enviable position of having a client base made up predominantly of health organisations in the private and public sector.
It is going to play an important role helping the NHS become more efficient by improving technology systems to ultimately deliver better care for patients.
Having enjoyed double digit growth last year and being on track for more in 2020 despite the pandemic, Taran is now starting a recruitment drive to service clients going forward.
“We’re especially proud to have worked with many healthcare organisations over the past decade or so and in particular the past few months during Covid-19,” states Taran.
“To play a part helping them and therefore so many people who have been affected is very rewarding.
“In May we created a highly sophisticated Covid-19 dashboard for NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group in just two days.
“We also configured and deployed a crisis communications app for frontline NHS workers in one day that links all employees together from those on the wards to office-based management and care workers in the community.
“In a post-Covid-19 world, organisations will succeed or fail depending on their ability to intelligently use information and data.
“It’s been well documented how under-resourced the NHS has been in recent times and now is the time to put it right and Cloud2 can help with innovative and effective solutions.”
To service this growth Cloud2 is looking for more people with business analytical and development skills.
“The people we currently have are absolutely brilliant,” adds Taran.
“I’m not sure everyone out there realises that it’s not only geeks who work in technology these days!
“The overwhelming majority of our people have a university background with degree subjects including maths, statistics, operational research, physics, psychology and aerospace engineering.
“Although the technologies we work with don’t require rocket scientists, we actually employ people who are qualified as rocket scientists!
“We are looking for outstanding, confident people with a STEM background and analytical minds who have excellent technical knowledge and a high level of personal attainment in and out of work.
“We want people who are right a lot and can teach us things too so our high standards are always being raised.”
Taran’s passion for his people and his city is clear to see.
Born in Bradford into a Sikh family after his parents moved from Punjab, India and bought their first home in Undercliffe, he attended Hanson School before going on to study banking and finance at the University of Birmingham.
“I grew up seeing both my parents work seven days a week in factory jobs and through their actions they showed me the importance of having the right work ethic and doing things the right way,” he reflects.
In his late 20s he spent three years in Mumbai where he started a wholesale goods business that made him realise the opportunities Bradford had to offer.
“I realised how lucky we are in Bradford and the UK as a whole in that the systems are in place to enable anyone to easily start a business.
“I came back and had a fresh attitude to not take anything for granted.
“I was confident I could be a success in Bradford as I could see advantages I hadn’t noticed before. The internet meant you could start a business from here and work with customers in London and throughout the UK without needing to make big upfront investments in office space.
“For example, it’s been incredible to see first-hand how companies like Microsoft are making huge investments in areas such as data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation all built on their global Azure cloud infrastructure.
“And what I really love is we’re sitting here in Bradford and building on the best Microsoft has to offer the world, making it better still with our own innovation and applying it to solve real business challenges.
“I did wonder how global technology partners like Microsoft would react to invitations to come to Bradford for joint customer meetings and workshops but like us they’re very customer-focused and it probably didn’t hurt that we’d be taking them out for a curry and some drinks.
“They are regular visitors and really love the city.
“It shows it’s all about delivery and creativity. Microsoft is one of the most valuable companies in the world and like Cloud2 they are results-driven.
“I think a lot of other businesses in Bradford should take heart from this and be more confident especially when operating outside of the district.
“We are actually very proud of our position and feel comfortable in our own skin. By adding our own innovation to the technology wave we’re seeing globally, we expect to grow massively over the next five years.
“While doing so, we’re going to create many highly-skilled jobs in and around Bradford and Yorkshire.
“As a Northern Powerhouse partner, we’re all very passionate about helping Bradford be at the heart of it. I love the Yorkshire spirit and the incredible work ethic in Bradford that I observed growing up.”
As well the Northern Powerhouse, Cloud2 is gearing up as a partner for Bradford Tech Week this autumn.
“This gives us yet another fantastic opportunity to showcase the creativity and innovation in the city.”