by Seth Fineberg

CHICAGO — Make no mistake about it: The arrival of Matt Camden — the individual responsible for founding and growing Clifton Gunderson’s technology consulting practice — at Centerprise Advisors Inc. as its first chief information officer signifies a larger plan to make tech consulting a priority at the consolidator.

In his new role, Camden will be responsible for transforming Centerprise’s existing technology infrastructure into one that will support a high-performance organization, enabling the firm to use its infrastructure and consulting as a competitive advantage.

Camden is currently based in Chicago, and reports directly to the firm’s chief executive, Jim McGuire, who did not mince words about the importance of Camden coming on staff.

“The plan right now is to create a national platform and link it to a global platform. Matt will be integral in that process,” McGuire said. “We are repositioning in the industry. I came in late last year and we are now more linked to a specific set of industries and services, filling in the white spaces, and realigning people around the organization.”

McGuire declined to reveal specifics about the firm’s plans, but stressed that Camden “will enable us to use technology as a competitive weapon. We need to first improve our own technology infrastructure, and he will also be instrumental in advising our technology consulting team.”

Camden announced in March that he was leaving his chief technology officer position at Peoria, Ill.-based Clifton Gunderson to start his own tech business, after eight years of building CG’s tech division. Two weeks after his departure, he began discussions with Centerprise and accepted the new role.

But it wasn’t the first time  that Camden agreed to take a position at the company.

He previously announced his resignation from Clifton Gunderson in the fall of 2000, and said that he was joining Centerprise as president and CTO of Centerprise Technology Solutions. At the time, he was Clifton Gunderson’s director of technology, but stayed with the firm when he was made CTO.

Even though Camden admitted that he would like to start his own technology business, he was really hoping for a more “top-tier role” at another firm. Becoming CIO at Centerprise, the 16th largest accounting firm in the country — with revenues of $151.5 million, according to the Accounting Today 2004 Top 100 Firms report — was it.

“It was a very different job I was offered back then [in 2000]. It was more of a focus on the infrastructure side of technology consulting, and they wanted to build an infrastructure practice around that,” Camden said. “It wasn’t the right time for me to move. There were several big projects at CG that needed being done and the drop in responsibility between the two [jobs] was too great. That has all changed now.”

Camden said that he was put to work his first day on the job at Centerprise, attending a board meeting where he was asked for direction. His immediate work focuses on getting the firm’s practice management systems in order. He will then work on the technology consulting practice and the firm’s overall identity as a unified technology consultant, which he admitted is a large, but critical, task.

“The firm recognizes that they can’t go where they want to go without a one-firm infrastructure, so we need to improve firm-wide identity,” said Camden. “The firm also wants to continue to invest and grow tech consulting, particularly in security, infrastructure and packaged software. Immediately, I have some work on the practice management system, but I’m not ignoring tech consulting. I can be a friend to technology consultants while dealing with internal issues.”

Centerprise is looking to add staff where it needs to, particularly in New York and Washington, where Camden said they have “more work than capacity.” The firm is also looking for strategic acquisition opportunities that are relevant to specific industries or geographies. Industries of interest would include construction, manufacturing, government work, nonprofits, banks and credit unions.

The firm has strong packaged software reselling practices in St. Louis and Detroit, where, as a Microsoft Inner Circle partner, it resells the Microsoft Great Plains and Solomon accounting systems. Camden said that the firm is not looking to add any new packaged software to its line in the near future, unless it is industry-specific.

Analysts and industry observers have already caught wind of Camden’s move, and are hailing it as one that is beneficial for both parties.

“Matt commands a lot of respect from almost all the top vendors, and I think this is quite the deal for Centerprise, as they now have their own private technology consulting consultant,” said Val Steed, a CPA and CEO at technology researcher K2 Enterprises. “Obviously, Matt knows technology, so he will make an excellent CIO as long as he does not yearn for the sales side of life. The truth is, the relief of stress from the pressure to sell is a very good natural progression for Matt, while still allowing him to immerse himself in technology.”

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