Presenting a cloud solution to a CIO's team is a very different experience than in the days of client-server applications, according to David Northington, CEO of leading Salesforce, ServiceNow and Google for Work integrator Cloud Sherpas.
It's not out of the question that our clients will cheer for us as we present them. They're not really cheering for us, they're cheering for the solution. But I worked in the ERP world for a long time — that never happened in the ERP world.
While cheering is rare, it's an indication of the fresh approach that cloud technologies make possible — and the hunger among enterprises to take advantage of what the cloud can offer. As Northington told me:
Every CIO wants, needs, or is trying to get, a cloud strategy. That's more than just, 'I'm going to buy a cloud application' or 'I'm going to move some of my server capacity into the cloud.' They've got to actually produce results for the business.
The CIO is at the convergence of all those business demands coming in — the need for cost savings, more efficiency, quicker projects, greater usability, enabled on mobile devices, what to do about enterprise social — all of these things are there.
Most CIOs today either have or are trying their best to get a much more robust strategy for this — so they can do it in an organized fashion, feel good about the spend, and measure the results.
Mapping a cloud strategy
Cloud Sherpas offers an advisory service that maps out a two-year cloud strategy either for the enterprise as a whole or for a specific business challenge within it. These advisory projects typically last no more than one to two months in order to keep costs low and quickly bring customers to a point where they can take a decision whether to move forward. Northington explained:
In the end, we're here to help people drive cloud adoption.
So it doesn't take a lot to approve it, and then it gives the CIO the opportunity to have a stronger strategy to take forward and to build a plan against.
In many cases it's a search for, is there a business case by implementing various cloud technologies to solve a particular set of problems?
Or it's a bigger question of, 'If I was going to start doing something in the cloud would I start with infrastructure, with Salesforce.com, with ERP?'
There's a continuum if you go across all of that. Some of the applications meet the business objectives and goals that the business is placing on the CIO more readily, more quickly than the other ones do. We try and give them a triangulation of all those points.
Million dollar dealsThe advisory service helps drive Cloud Sherpas' business with larger enterprises, which the firm says accounts for almost three quarters of its revenue, which grew sixty percent in 2014. Its top verticals are financial services, retail, healthcare, real estate and professional services, and it has a large presence in the US, Australian and UK markets, along with operations in India, Japan, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and UAE.
The emphasis on the enterprise market means that deals are often in the million to multi-million dollar range. Another advantage of the cloud model is that the lifetime spend of a customer is often far greater even than this, said Northington.
One of the things that you can do with cloud implementations is, you don't have to do everything in a big bang fashion, which you might think of if you were comparing it to an ERP solution for example.
Where we may not have a twenty million dollar deal or a ten million dollar deal with a client at one moment in time, the lifetime of our relationship with the clients can certainly range up into the five, eight, ten-plus million dollars because of that ability to roll it out. In many cases that spans multiple years.
Cloud Sherpas has calculated that around four fifths of its business is repeat business with existing clients, he added. That is helped by the ability that cloud vendors have to roll out frequent software releases without a disruptive upgrade process.
Because the product roadmap is very aggressive, the client can literally think they've implemented everything today and it won't be six months before they have something new to implement. If it's innovative enough and it has enough value to the business, the odds are very good they'll implement it.
Acquisitions and investment
Cloud Sherpas has a strategy of being either the leading partner or in the top five for each of its three strategic vendors, Northington told me. That objective has been achieved by a combination of acquisitions and organic investment.
For example, it made an acquisition in the UK in late 2013 to bring its Google capabilities in the country up to speed, while in Australia, where it already had longstanding Salesforce and Google practices, it established its own ServiceNow business to bring that capability into line. In the US, its acquisition of San Diego-based Salesforce partner CloudTrigger at the end of 2012 established its Service Cloud business, which now represents forty percent of its Salesforce revenues.
The company has also built relationships with other vendors that integrate with its strategic partners, such as Salesforce-native configure-price-quote ISV Apttus and integration vendor Informatica. This also helps to cement relationships with enterprise customers, said Northington.
The leverage of the multiple clouds or multiple solutions that we're representing is becoming a more robust conversation every quarter that goes by. The clients' footprint of cloud applications is expanding their comfort with having those multiple applications and integrating them together.
Cloud Sherpas is headquartered in Atlanta, where I met Northington last month for this conversation. Its current form stems from an initial investment in September 2011 to acquire New York based Salesforce integrator GlobalOne and Australia's Devnet. The cloud Sherpas name came when these companies merged with the then Google Apps specialist in March 2012.
At the end of 2012, the merged business acquired three more companies: Service Cloud specialist CloudTrigger, Boston-based Salesforce integrator and advisory group Innoveer, and leading ServiceNow partner Navigis, based in Denver. The final acquisition to date was UK-based Google Apps partner Stoneburn in 2013.
An interesting insight into the cloud apps integration business and the differences compared to traditional on-premise implementation projects.
Cloud Sherpas isn't as vocal as some of the other pureplay cloud integrators, probably in part because it doesn't have to be — Northington told me that it has a highly focused sales and marketing process that returns almost five dollars in bookings for every dollar it spends on marketing.
WIth its extensive application footprint and enterprise focus, it's still clearly an important player in the ecosystem and one to watch.
Disclosure: Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner.
Image credits: Nepali man, mountain and clouds © gringos - Fotolia.com; headshot by Cloud Sherpas.