by Carly Lombardo
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Jeff Rudolph has the best of two worlds. An alumnus of AT&T Bell Labs, he opted to strike out on his own, and founded ICS Advantage in 1990. Eight years later, ICS was purchased by Sikich Group, which—lucky for Rudolph—makes a habit of allowing entrepreneurs to continue running the successful business that has been acquired.
Aurora, Ill.-based ICS Advantage is a specialty Microsoft Business Solutions house. Product lines include Great Plains, Solomon, Navision, and Microsoft CRM. Computer infrastructure services encompass planning, procurement, implementation, software development, and network management.
Rudolph has never been afraid to tackle huge jobs. He recalls that ICS’s first project involved designing, developing, and deploying a system that would fulfill the order entry, inventory control, purchasing, manufacturing, and accounting needs of a sporting goods company. As Rudolph explains it, he wanted to provide clients with an end-to-end solution that would give them (to borrow a phrase from Michael Dell) “one throat to choke” when problems arose or new needs developed.
This approach is very much in keeping with Sikich Group’s own self-description as “one source for integrated business solutions.” Starting out as the Sikich Gardner CPA firm, the group has expanded through mergers and acquisitions so that it now provides a wide range of complementary services. These include accounting and consulting, asset management, entrepreneurial and investigative services, information technology, corporate finance, insurance, human resources consulting, marketing, and e-business.
Under the Sikich umbrella, ICS has enjoyed its own expansion. It acquired a Navision practice in 1999, and last year merged with Softbite Solutions, a Great Plains VAR. ICS now employs 45 in Illinois offices, in Springfield and Aurora. Annual revenue is $7 million.
“As the IT consulting arm, we brand and market ourselves as ICS Advantage, a member of the Sikich Group,” notes Rudolph. “We’ve good relationships with other group companies, and benefit from cross-referring services. In a given year, we can attribute 25 percent of our revenue to companies that were referrals from group companies, with the lion’s share coming from Sikich Gardner.”
On the flip side, “We have been able to help group clients out of sticky situations,” says Rudolph. For example, one client’s IT support was out of town when their own Linux-based firewall went down, and they had to connect a remote user that day. ICS configured a NetScreen firewall and established a Virtual Private Network for the remote user.
The Microsoft Advantage
Rudolph estimates that as much as 80 percent of ICS revenue stems from the sale of Microsoft products and related services. “There is little we do that doesn’t touch a Microsoft product,” he says. For example, integration services now include IT infrastructure design, support, and security on the Windows 2000 Server platform, as well as software development built on the .Net platform and component architecture with XML Web services.
All this goes a long way towards explaining why, this past March, ICS was named a Microsoft Gold Certified Business Solutions provider.
Rudolph estimates that a 20-user Great Plains implementation typically costs $60,000 in software and $40,000 in services. A comparable Navision install might run $50,000 in software, and $50,000 to $80,000 in services.
Lately, Microsoft CRM has been very hot for ICS. Rudolph has two CRM-dedicated engineers on staff. They have already chalked up five clients for the practically brand-new product, representing about 100 licenses. ICS has scheduled a slate of CRM seminars to get the product out in front of even more clients.
To further promote CRM sales, ICS is forging a new partnership with Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya, a specialist in voice/data communications whose Office IP product for small and midsized companies links to Microsoft CRM. “When a user gets a phone call, the contact information of the person on the phone maintained in CRM pops up on their computer screen, so they know who they are speaking to, what relationship they have with the company, and so forth,” explains Rudolph.
Carly Lombardo is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at email@example.com.