CDS: 50 years of powering customer success  

CDS has been delivering innovative software, technical support, and customer service to the downstream oil and LPG industries for 50 years.

CDS: 50 years of powering customer success.

Claudia Weeks, content editor for Fuel Oil News, visited the CDS head office in Manchester and spoke with Graeme Lea, CEO, and Simon Clayton, business development manager, about the history of the business, current operations, and exciting plans for the future.

A potted history

CDS is proud to be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023; it was founded in 1973 at the University of Liverpool by a lecturer, Arthur Britch, and Bill Lea, a post-graduate student.

Graeme Lea, CEO, explains the beginnings of the business: “It has been a long journey which we are incredibly proud of! Bill was a civil engineering and computer aided architectural design graduate, so CDS started out as a company writing CAAD software.

“After a period of research, Bill and his lecturer set up an office in Manchester which happened to be next door to a Chevron Oil distributor, Keburn Oil. This was the 1970s, so when this huge and mysterious looking computer appeared, visible through the traditionally fronted shop window, it attracted attention from the owner of Keburn Oil!

“He was interested in procuring a computerised sales order processing system for his business which, unsurprisingly, did not exist. Working with this distributor, Bill wrote software which would allow the creation of customer records, entry of orders, printing of stationery and posting of financial transactions; the seed of what CODAS would become, was planted.”

Milestones of growth and change

Graeme reflected: “A lot has happened in 50 years. The business has adapted to match demand and has taken advantage of new and evolving market opportunities and advancing technology, and we have also survived the odd recession or two!

“Following the company’s inception and those first steps writing software for fuel distribution, CDS really started to take off and software sales followed to the Authorised Distributor networks for UK oil majors Shell, ESSO and BP. Occupying much of our time through the 1970s and 80s, the work we did writing and implementing software for those businesses stood us in good stead for partnering with independent distributors.

“By the late 1990s, the commercial adoption of the internet had happened, a development that was truly world changing! Vast improvements in communication coupled with the ability to offer remote support enhanced nearly every aspect of our partner relationships. And, of course, CODAS itself benefitted enormously from the ability to interface to a multitude of now web-connected systems.

“Moving into the new millennium, growth continued in terms of number of employees and customers, and CDS today is a product of succession plans we’ve implemented across the whole business.”

An understanding and supportive employer

Graeme looked back on his introduction to the business: “I joined CDS in 1997 at 21 years old as a trainee in the support team, a team which 10 years later I was promoted to manage. Back then we had around 25 employees, 8 of whom are still with us now. Most of those who no longer work with us saw their careers at CDS through to retirement, which we like to think is, at least partly, due the culture we foster here.

“We work hard to be an understanding and supportive employer and to provide the best working environment possible for our people; after all, they are CDS and CODAS!

“CDS provides both the software and associated services required by CODAS users, so in 2010 we began building an organisational structure aligned with recruitment to support our growth. We did this by appointing department heads for each business unit, favouring internal promotion wherever possible. As part of these changes, I was appointed to the Board as operations director in 2013, then to managing director in 2015, with Bill taking up the role as chairman (a role he still occupies now).

The number of employees has continued to grow at CDS: “We currently stand at 70 people,” Graeme explains. “That’s having recruited to meet the requirements of our growing client base and to resource development of our next generation CODAS platform, CODAS 7. In 2020, we also moved premises, for the first time in 35 years, to a modern new office space in Exchange Quay, Salford Quays.”

Business growth doesn’t come without hard work, and Graeme was keen to acknowledge the effort and dedication of his team: “CDS now has a group of people which combines decades of industry expertise and experience with detailed knowledge of new technologies, cutting edge skills and modern, adaptable ways of working. It is a group I feel fortunate and enormously proud to be a part of.”

The big 50th celebration

To give back and say thank you to the team, a huge celebration was planned in December last year: “CDS turned 50 in January 2023 and, since it was so close to Christmas, we decided to combine birthday celebrations with our 2022 Christmas party. Everyone in the company, including their partners, celebrated together at Cranage Hall in Cheshire.

“We hired rooms for the night too so everyone could really let their hair down without worrying about needing to travel home late at night. We started the evening with a champagne reception, speeches and long service awards for employees who have been with CDS for 20 years or more – there were 14 of us!

“We then celebrated in the time-honoured fashion of a meal and drinks together followed by throwing shapes on the dancefloor into the small hours!” It sounds like quite the celebration!

Word of mouth is key

With such a deep commitment to its customers, it is no surprise that CDS is highly praised and spoken about warmly.

“We have fantastic customers who we work hard to look after, and they look after us in return when we’re introducing a new product to market or trying to win new business. Word of mouth is key for us.

“Many of our customers have gone to great lengths for us by talking about their CODAS journey, inviting prospective clients into their business, and demonstrating areas of the system to them.

“There are too many to mention here but I really can’t thank our customers enough!

“We have become better at marketing ourselves in recent years through our website:, email bulletins, LinkedIn and advertising in Fuel Oil News, plus we have our stand at the UKIFDA Expo where we get the chance to meet our customers, partners and friends face to face.

“We also visit our clients at their premises at least once per year to check-in and get valuable feedback, regardless of whether we are actively working on any new projects together.”

Client relationships are paramount

“In terms of customer base, CDS has gained 18 new customers over the past 5 years, with fleet sizes ranging from 5 to 100 vehicles. Most importantly we have made sure we retain all our existing clients too.

“Our customers usually tell us they choose CDS and CODAS due to a combination of factors: reputation, longevity, stability, expertise, professionalism, and commitment to them and the industry. Again, this is down to the fantastic CDS team and the relationships we nurture with our clients which are of paramount importance. I like to think our customers are in safe hands with us.”

CODAS 7 – more great software

After lots of planning and development, there is much excitement in the CDS office about the launch of CODAS 7.

Graeme explains more about it: “The most important core CDS operation is, of course, making great software. The whole business, particularly our development team, has been heavily engaged in building CODAS 7 over the last couple of years, our major update to CODAS.

 “Since it is such a comprehensive suite of software, we are following the tried and tested roll out approach of delivering discrete areas of functionality in CODAS 7 as they are completed and ready to deploy.

“We are also developing this new product in conjunction with our clients, inviting them to quarterly demonstration workshops where we show what we’ve built and seek feedback from our users prior to release. This has been enormously beneficial both to our process and the product and has already produced great ideas for our development roadmap.

“Our principal marketplace will remain the provision of software and services for downstream fuel distributors in the UK and Ireland; however, our new architecture dramatically improves flexibility and agility, allowing us to explore options in other markets previously closed to us. The inherent ability to provide multilingual support is a perfect example of a step change in versatility for CODAS in the near future.

“Being a clientless web app, CODAS 7 brings with it dramatic improvements to the user interface; it will also be much easier to deploy, maintain and enhance moving forwards.

“The development program for CODAS 7 will run for an extended period; however, the first iteration of CODAS 7 functionality will be installed and in use at our beta site by the time your readers have this edition of Fuel Oil News – another considerable success for us!”

A time of transition as an industry

As we all know, the industry is in a transitional phase and Graeme was full of praise for the industry and how everyone is responding.

“The industry is in a period of transition and a great deal of uncertainty remains around future fuels and the electrification of heating, transport and more. Like everyone, we try to keep abreast of new developments and changes in the law so we can make informed decisions about the future for our business.

“I’ve been seriously impressed by the way the industry has responded to the government’s net zero challenge, demonstrating the ready viability of liquid fuels like HVO as a drop-in renewable alternative to fossil fuels, presenting the scientific, financial and political arguments for their much wider adoption and pinpointing the legislative obstacles to doing so.”

CDS and CODAS will be there to support the industry now, and in the future

“One thing I can say for sure is that CDS and CODAS will be there to support the industry now and in the future, come what may. We still see a very strong appetite for our software and services year on year.”

The best parts of the industry

And finally, we had to ask Graeme what he enjoys the most about working in this industry: “How to choose, there are so many things! Definitely catching up with clients, especially face to face, to share news and learn about upcoming plans or changes in our respective businesses. Working together for such a long time we have many contacts in the industry we can call friends now, so it’s nice to catch up with them in a social setting too when we get the chance.

“At CDS we offer many opportunities for promotion through learning and taking on new challenges and responsibilities, so I also get a huge kick out of seeing our own people develop and grow.

“As to your question about the future, it’s difficult to predict where we might be in another 50 years, but we certainly aren’t slowing down; we have plans to do much more, so we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon!”

It was an absolute pleasure to meet with Graeme, Simon, and the team. Fuel Oil News wishes CDS a very happy 50th anniversary and looks forward to covering the centenary!