Sunday, 10 April 2016

Positive Disruption - Want to be Really Successful in the Oracle Cloud? The Secret Is Simple…


So two weeks ago we signed our first ever office lease – something we have put off for as long as possible, but due to our growth this has now become an absolute necessity. Building for growth and scaling is one thing, building a sustainable business is a completely different matter entirely and not a day goes by when you remember that “cash is always king”. In my opinion you build a sustainable business first and then build out. You can’t grow if you have no foundation. So as another milestone is hit and the company faces the challenge of further exponential growth it seems like a good time to share how we achieved our success to date but also remind ourselves that we keep our feet firmly on the ground albeit whilst I’ll heads are always in the Clouds.

So here’s another 2 part special, but fundamentally “the ability to Execute and Deliver is Absolutely Everything”. If you cannot deliver or you get a reputation for poor quality and non-delivery frankly you're dead! As Warren Buffett said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”.

I am often asked as to how we built a modern day consultancy cloud practice and as many of you will know Certus today is an award winning Oracle Specialised Platinum Partner, with a business model dedicated to Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud. So if you want to know the secret to our success then please read on…and hey don’t be to surprised if a lot of what now follows appears to be lifted from the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Sir Allan Sugar, James Caan amongst others! It unashamedly has…but let me try and put the Oracle Cloud practice positioning on this…

The Principals of Certus' industry reputations were always based upon the maxim “they get the job done, in the right way and they always deliver”. We were and still are the people you come to when you have an ERP project in distress. The problem with reputations is as the jobs get bigger so does the risk profile, and the knowledge that regardless of what you have achieved in the past you only need to screw up once and that is what everyone remembers!” – So for Certus to be successful it had to be seen as an extension of our own reputations and based upon a strong sense of delivering value to the customer. To achieve that you first need your own strong value set. Employees need to buy into that value set for the company to grow, and the easiest way to do that is to build a “brand”, and that is what we did and from that gained the reputation for “being a safe pair of hands”.

The Equation of Digital Disruption
Even in the era of “Digital Disruption” which without doubt is very real and tangible it’s still all about People! It’s a two sided equation, it’s about the people we employ and it’s about the people we deliver to. If you cannot deliver sustainable success for your customers then regardless of what you sell them you won’t survive long in the Cloud game. Whilst investors are chasing Unicorns (“Emperor’s New Clothes” is the term that comes to mind. Someone please explain to me why you would invest large amounts of money in continuous loss making businesses in the hope that they are supposedly going to one day generate a fortune?), the fundamentals in any service based industry remain; without customers you are nothing, and in the Professional Services industry you need to find, develop and protect your talent as they will look after your customers.

 “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers” - Sir Richard Branson

I still would para phrase Digital Disruption quite simply as  “better, cheaper, faster” – albeit a quote if any readers have ever heard me speak I always pay homage to Colin Fisher, IT Director of Lloyds Bank in the 1980’s and trusted lieutenant to Sir Brian Pitman when asked by an 18 year old who at the time was under strict instructions from his line management to keep his mouth shut asked “How do you deliver shareholder value mean?” and his answer was “better, cheaper, faster” (I’ll leave you all to guess who that was!). Today, 30 years on the principles are exactly the same, but what we did and continue to do with Certus I like to see as “Positive Disruption” to the Oracle Partner landscape.

1. “Build a Brand”
From day one we didn’t just want to build a great company we wanted to build a “brand”. We could see where the Oracle Cloud was going (even before Oracle!) and we also leveraged our experience and knowledge as to what the traditional market players (our “future competitors”) would do, betting and knowing they wouldn’t move fast enough to invest in the product set. This would create the space that a small nimble start-up could fill and by establishing a brand early on, our prospects, customers and the industry itself would remember us! Quite simply we wanted to be a new breed of Oracle partner.

Extend the brand, not only is Certus a brand name today in its own right – its engage® services – engage® Implementation Services, engage® Business Support Services and now (launching this month) engage®.gov is intrinsically linked to Certus. We also protect this with the Intellectual Patent Office! – So Imitators Beware. 

2. Be First and Become The Leaders in the field – the Recognised Experts in the Product
Timing in business is everything, from seeing the opportunity through to day-to-day cashflow. We sort introductions and networked into Oracle Development and then invested heavily in training gaining product knowledge and experience. We continue to do so today and feel we play a significant role by feeding back to Oracle our ideas and findings of implementing the product set. We want to be seen as an extension to the development team. For many years we have been known as the partner that trains other partners, but at the start Oracle asked us to train early adopter customers and the larger tier 1 transformational partners - this in effect became paid pre-sales as we were front and centre demonstrating our knowledge of the product set. The bi-product of this was it created implementation and consultancy opportunities for ourselves. Remember when starting out you need to get highly creative to generate cash to reinvest. This laid the bedrock of the business and we still do it today. Being first is great, you make a lot of noise and it gets you noticed but then you have to stay there! and that's harder. For many Certus came out of nowhere! 

3. Be different!
Oracle Cloud was a new market trying to establish itself in 2011, early 2012. In our opinion the Oracle Partner Landscape was “tired” we couldn’t see any new innovation and there was a high degree of status quo in the UK. That in itself was opportunity and Cloud was just the enabler. As James Cann often says he builds great businesses “Observe the masses and do the opposite”. That’s exactly what we did. We worked out how to implement Cloud differently and then we started to market ourselves; instead of UKOUG and Oracle (not saying that these channels aren’t effective), but we went directly and set up stand at the CIPD – The biggest HR Event in the UK – back then there wasn’t a Cloud insight!, especially an Oracle one. 

4. But…You don’t have to Redefine The Wheel
And here is the contradiction.…do look at the past, learn and reapply from those that have been truly successful. Edenbrook was (in my opinion) the last great Oracle Consultancy Practice in the UK before it was acquired - that was of course until Certus came along (smile). I went and met Mark Robinson, Serial Entrepreneur who now runs one of the fastest growing tech companies in the UK – Kimble. I talked through our ideas, the challenges and listened to the journey he went on with Edenbrook, and its predecessor Fulcrum. No point falling into the same bear traps if someone has kindly done it for you already, albeit in another era, but he has and always is been willing to share his experience with me. As for me I just shut-up, listen and learn. 

5. Buy into the Market, this is the risky part – in-effect we had to find (difficult), convince the first customer we could deliver the project (very difficult) and subsequently turn the customer overtime into an advocate (very very difficult with the early versions)
Finding the first project, buying into the market and putting your money where your mouth is demonstrates to a prospect your level of confidence in delivery. It took us the whole of 2012 to find the first customer, and we have many hilarious stories (especially the one about the Gold Mining Company in Africa! – catch us in the bar sometime and I will tell you) that today we still look back and laugh at. This however is very much the risk part. Yes it was completely loss making and for a SME it kills your cashflow and you have to be highly creative in resolving that, but from our “investment” and successful delivery we got reference-ability and customer advocacy

6.  “Walk the Talk” - Establish Credibility through Reference-ability
Reference-ability is everything when dealing with new technology, new implementation approaches and new markets. The Cloud takes you to new and different markets, but the rule is the same. If you don’t have happy satisfied customers, then you don’t get the reference-ability. Those that follow you will find it harder to establish themselves as well as gain reference-ability. To get reference-ability you have to earn the right to ask your customers and you only get that through successful delivery. So whatever you commit to make sure you deliver it!  

 Part II to follow soon…