ONLINE education specialist ICS Learn is eyeing acquisitions and investing close to £300,000 in software and systems upgrades to prepare it for a period of accelerated growth.

The Glasgow company, which employs 60 and has a turnover of around £5.5 million, also has backing for acquisitions and is looking at moving into more export markets over the longer term.

Chief executive Colin Kennedy joined in January this year and has overseen part of a period when the business has more than halved the number of courses it provides.

However he said that will not see turnover reduce dramatically but is allowing the business to focus more closely on areas offering better profit margins.

Mr Kennedy said: “We are ahead of where we wanted to be at the half year. Starting to generate growth, are now in profit and are a very cash generative business so the bank are happy with us.

“This year will be £5.5m [turnover] but bear in mind we are selling half the courses. That will give us a real launchpad to give us double digit growth next year.

“As we are focusing on things we are good at our margins have increased.”

Mr Kennedy, formerly an executive at Thomson Reuters and with a background in software and technology, said ICS is seeing strong growth in the accountancy and business management sphere.

ICS already has a large share of the market in CIPD courses, in areas including human resources and marketing, as well as the provision of online GCSEs and A levels.

Mr Kennedy said: “The bulk of our competition is down south and the awarding bodies are down there. We have to work harder to make sure we stay on the radars of these awarding bodies. This year we have made a big play on that.

“We want them to understand we are here and we sell a lot of their courses.

"I think they have become a lot more aware of how important we are to their success.”

Alongside organic growth Mr Kennedy said the company’s board has indicated it would back acquisitions if the right deal opportunities come up.

He said: “A lot of acquisition strategy is timing.

"In the UK there are a number of owner managed businesses who have been on the go for a reasonable amount of time and whose owners might soon think ‘I don’t want to do this forever, how do I exit’.

“We are already starting to see evidence of that in the sector. I think there will be a number of opportunities for ICS Learn but we will be very thorough in our analysis and to make sure anything would complement what we are doing.”

The investment in systems has seen its virtual learning environment overhauled as well as the installation of the Salesforce marketing and sales software. A new content management system for its website and the installation of an enterprise resource planning package is also in the pipeline.

The business is also in the early stages of building a more joined up export strategy.

Mr Kennedy said: “We are taking tentative steps to look at international market as at the moment 88 per cent of our students are in the UK.

“One of the benefits of making our courses more online is they become more portable.”

Mr Kennedy said the company would need to add jobs in the future if the anticipated demand for its courses comes through but indicated there was room to grow from the existing staffing levels.

ICS Learn was bought by an investment syndicate led by Par Equity in 2012.

The company provides courses to around 10,000 people each year.