Telling a trusted, large SAP systems integrator and consulting firm it no longer fits with the company’s strategic goals and that you’re going with a smaller, niche provider is a lot like splitting with a longtime girlfriend, according to Don Whittington, chief information officer for Florida Crystals, a maker of natural and artificial sweeteners based in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Breaking up is hard to do,” Whittington said.
Capgemini had been Florida Crystals’ partner for the last six years or so, implementing a broad range of SAP applications and systems. It helped launch their global instance of ECC 6.0, BusinessObjects, SAP Business Warehouse, the SAP NetWeaver Portal, Customer Relationship Management, and Supply Chain Management, among others, and served as Florida Crystals’ data center and maintenance provider.
But business just being business, Whittington said the company began re-evaluating its status with Capgemini, a global IT services company based in Paris, wondering if it could find a smaller firm with which it could forge a broader, more strategic relationship.
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Florida Crystals was also looking to cut costs by moving everything to the cloud. The company eventually went with Virtustream, a smaller provider based in Bethesda, Md., which specializes in cloud and virtualization services and now hosts Florida Crystals’ entire landscape in their public cloud.
Back to where it started
The move isn’t all that surprising, according to Whittington. After all, Florida Crystals would still be with a niche provider if it wasn’t for constant acquisitions in the IT industry. The company originally started with Adjoined Consulting, which then got bought by Kanbay, and then Capgemini bought Kanbay.
And with that, the small service provider morphed into something much larger over time.
“There was a really good relationship, and one that worked really well, for five to seven years,” Whittington said of Capgemini, which employs roughly 120,000 people across 40 countries.
But it came time to move on, he said.
Moving from a project-focused approach
One of the key reasons Florida Crystals left Capgemini was that despite all the many things the integrator did right, it didn’t have the depth of understanding of Florida Crystals’ business and culture that niche firms can provide, Whittington said.
Florida Crystals was looking for a more long-term, strategic relationship with its implementation provider, instead of the more project-focused approach that Capgemini and other big firms employ.
“Their idea is to come in and deliver on a project. Typically they’re very good at doing that,” Whittington said. “[But] folks would come off a project and go on to the next project, the next customer, and we’d lose some of that knowledge.”
By going with Virtustream, the two sides were able to come up with a framework for short-term as well as long-term strategic goals. “That’s a much more enriching relationship,” Whittington said.
Technology is secondary
The choice to go with a smaller SAP systems integrator also comes down to Whittington’s belief that even in IT, the technology is less important than the people that deploy and use it.
“As CIO, I tend to downplay the technology,” Whittington said. “It’s a key factor, but the key factor is the way you apply it. You really have to focus on the business.”
Moving to Virtustream’s cloud has a few advantages, Whittington said. For one, it’s far easier to test SAP applications in a cloud-based test sandbox. Testing something in the cloud takes days, instead of weeks compared with a traditional hosting environment that relies on physical servers.
“We can spin something up, just try it and see if it works, and then take it down. The only cost we had is the cloud [services] that we consumed in that instance,” Whittington, referring to Virtustream’s consumption based model.
Costs too have gone down he said. By using Virtustream’s cloud, Florida Crystals now pays 30% less in infrastructure costs than with Capgemini.
‘It might take a while to get that staffed right’
The disadvantage of going with smaller SAP systems integrators is that they don’t have the breadth of skills a project sometimes requires, Whittington said.
“[Large systems integrators] typically have a much broader bench and available resources than a niche company,” he said. “They typically have someone on the bench or someone that’s done that, someone they can put on [a project] right away.”
In those cases where it doesn’t already what Florida Crystals needs, Virtustream is able to pull in additional personnel through existing relationships with those larger firms, he said.
“With a niche company, it might sometimes take a while to get staffed right. I think you trade off.”