Optimation celebrates 20 years
The words change but the tune is the same for a system integrator born out of mainframes and minis
By Simon Eskow, Auckland | Monday, October 15 2012
Optimation was born in 1992, when IT departments looking for less expensive alternatives to their legacy mainframe and MINI systems started looking at open systems to solve their server infrastructure problems.
The company started with four people, including founder and current chairman, Neil Butler, who had been a consultant working for Sun Microsystems.
“There was a high growth opportunity to replace the eixsting systems with that new, lower cost Unix technology, and that’s how we got going,” Butler says. “By the end of the year we had 15 working for us, so we assembled our intiial team pretty quickly.”
Optimation today employs 220 people and encompasses practice areas beyond system integration. This includes test and development, managed services and, with the 50 percent stake it took in cloud startup, Barbador, in July, a Google practice that gives the Kiwi company a foothold in Australia.
While Optimation has expanded to accommodate an ever-increasing complexity brought on by such “megatrends” as mobility and cloud computing, the essential questions posed to a system integrator have not changed, as far as Butler is concerned.
“I think every enterprise tries to become more homogenised, but that’s no easy feat,” Butler says. “They all have sunken significant investments in assets and platforms and they have to make the best use of those. While the things you’re integrating and combining have changed, the scenario has pretty much stayed the same. Today it’s that mix of cloud and on-premise. For smaller companies, having a fully-cloud IT infrastructure is a viable proposition. As yet, for most of the enterprise, it’s not and they might have some mix of solutions.”
Butler says this is partly the reason for Optimation’s stake in Barbador.
“They have a team of people with very deep knowledge in expertise in Google technologies,” he says. “We were keen to work with them and having a team with a degree of autonomy sort of ensures that we are exploring the potential of the cloud and that we’re not being blinkered by the old way of thinking, with potential bias for on premise solutions.”
The Barbador deals comes amidst three years of significant growth for Optimation, which achieved 300 percent revenue growth between 2009 and today, according to Butler.
Over the years the company has maintained strong relationships with vendors, including Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and SAP among others, especially where a particular vendor’s solution matches a client’s needs. Butler says the majority of the organisation’s staff have accreditation in various technologies.
Teaming up with global outsourcing giant HCL can potentially add up to 150 personnel on a project basis, particularly for development and SAP work, Butler says.
That ability to scale to task, combined with Optimation’s technological flexibility, in the age of virtualisation and mobility, helps explain the company’s recent three-year growth spurt.
“I think the reason is we are helping organisations with their key IT transformations, which is business-change enabled by IT-change and those are substantial undertakings,” Butler says.
Butler adds that any new reseller establishing their business and looking to grow needs to think in terms of company values and culture, and demonstrate that to their clients.
“Perhaps it’s a spirit of you’ll do whatever it takes to get the outcome the clients want from a project, and that’s something we’ve prided ourselves on: never walking away from even the most challenging projects,” Butler says. “Having a technological capability is nowhere near sufficient to being successful.”
Butler says Optimation has been able to win the kinds of business that multinationals typically dominate, because “we’re able to be commerically and contractually flexible in the way we engage with our clients.”
Butler seems to put maintaining business with existing clients on a par with bringing in new business.
“Enduring relationships are core to our philosophy doing business,” he says. “But I think that first and foremost if you’re not well regarded for the services you’re providing, it’s not going to give you the platform to grow new clients and you probably don’t deserve to either.”
Butler says that partnering with other IT consultants and resellers is becoming part of the Optimation business model, when expertise in a particular domain is necessary. He calls the reseller business in New Zealand “co-opetition”.
This may be important for startups getting up and running today, as well as having a clear idea from the start about what it is a reseller is going to specialise in.
“Focus is key to understanding what you wish to be good at and known for,” he says. “Then make sure you’re good at those things and known for it. If you’ve chosen well in an area where there is a need in the market place the opportunity should be good. The mistake people make is trying to be good at too much.”