Few businesses hit the market's sweet spot immediately. It often takes a lengthy process of trial and error, and hard lessons before a business can safely consider itself a success. Microsoft partner i5 is an exception.
The current CEO, Glen Ansell, launched I5 in 2003. In the first year of business the company did R600 000, and then grew that by 600% and then the following year 550% and continuing to grow very strong in the most recent fiscal and will continue to do so into the future.
Ansell says the success of i5 is due to a constant drive to set high standards and expectations. This ethos is part of the culture of the company and everyone is driven to continually exceed expectations, whether working internally or for customers. He also credits the fact that i5 is a '100% Microsoft partner' as a major factor in the company's success.
Using Microsoft's technology, i5 operates in four areas:
Information worker: the company supplies and supports portal, collaboration and content tools from Microsoft.
Customer relationship management (CRM): from a seat and revenue perspective, i5 is the leading Microsoft CRM supplier in South Africa. CRM is also i5's flagship product.
Dynamics: i5 is also a Microsoft Dynamics ERP partner that supports financial management, inventory management, warehousing and like solutions.
Business intelligence: as a result of the three focus areas above, adding BI to the product mix was a natural addition for i5.
Ansell says i5's competitive advantage, the reason it has excelled over the past few years, is that it is not merely a reseller of Microsoft products but uses them as a foundation for its own development and customisation. In the CRM space, for example, i5 offers variations on the standard package designed for supplier relationship management or investor relationship management etc.
"We have created a relationship management business as opposed to simply offering a vanilla CRM solution," he says. "We use the Microsoft base and build on it to ensure our customer gets the best product and full value out of the system."
i5 entered the market at a good time. The CRM market is entering a mature stage and so customers know what they want and what will make an impact on their business. The old idea of buying a package and installing it to get CRM is no longer accepted. "And i5 arrived at the time business realised it needed a tailor-made solution adapted to meet each company's specific needs."
The sentiment that Microsoft competes with its partners is one Ansell does not buy into. He says it is up to the partner company to keep itself updated as to what Microsoft is doing and keep on advancing. Certain functionality that i5 offers may end up as part of the Microsoft package, if that happens then the company will either end its development on that component or offer something better. The drive to keep advancing in terms of what value can be added to customers is critical to the success of i5 - and of any software company.
i5 is intricately involved with Microsoft and its development plans, travelling to Seattle twice a year to speak to the people involved in product development. It knows therefore what is happening with the product and can adjust its own software accordingly, if needed. "Communications is key," states Ansell.
Because i5 focuses on business applications and not technology, Ansell is bullish regarding the next few years.
The company is not resting on its South African laurels. Over the next few years, i5 will push into the African market where it has already started establishing a presence. He also notes that New Zealand also has potential for future expansion. Ansell is additionally making a large investment into the hosting and software as a service (SaaS) market.
He says that even though these architectures need better bandwidth than is currently available for mission critical business applications, it will not be long before that bandwidth is available. When that day arrives, Ansell plans to have a head start in doing what i5 does best, providing excellent services and adding value to clients.