The 2016 VAR 100 list of top value-added resellers and solution providers know what they’re good at, and are digging deeper into their cache of expertise to fuel growth.

Guiding customers into the cloud and expanding their reach into underserved industries provides focus, while new opportunities via talent or technology acquisitions provide inspiration and opportunity.

Key executives from three of the most successful of the VAR 100 shared their insight into what helped them achieve growth.

 

THE OLD BECOMES NEW

RSM

Audit, tax and consulting firm RSM, No. 5 on Accounting Today’s Top 100 Firms, underwent a notable image change in 2015, rebranding from McGladrey. The firm had 70 years of name recognition in the U.S. behind it, but in the interest of creating a cohesive international brand, changed to a name by which it was already known in several international markets. The change has made for more “seamless” cross-border business operations for the firm’s midmarket-focused technology consultancy arm, said national business applications leader Steve Ems.

A major driver behind RSM’s remarkable growth in the past year — it ranks No. 1 on the 2016 VAR 100 with 34 percent growth year-over-year — was the December acquisition of technology consulting firm Junction Solutions. The buy added 200 employees to the ranks, as well as Junction’s ERP software and solutions.

“That acquisition helped fuel significant growth and also accelerated our industry program around our business applications,” Ems said. “We already had an existing Dynamics AX practice, but this accelerated our industry capabilities, our growth into that market, our footprint, and presence with Microsoft.”

Another “critical area” of growth, Ems said, is RSM’s technology management consulting, or TMC, approach. “We have a term we call our integrated delivery model. When we go and talk to a prospective or existing client, we don’t approach it from a single point of view — meaning we don’t just go and talk to them, for example, about Dynamics AX. We talk to them about all of their TMC needs. When we implement a new ERP system, it’s not just about going in and configuring and installing the system, training and walking away. We do a lot of ‘business process improvement.’ So even before we start implementing the system, we’re looking at their business, how they conduct business, and we go in from a consultancy perspective and look at ways to optimize the business before we implement the software. For us software is just the tool.”

RSM’s future growth strategy for its technology consultancy does not focus on exploring new markets, but rather digging deeper into the industries it already serves, such as food and beverage and retail. “We strategically believe that the markets we’re already in are still underserved,” Ems said. “We are actively developing new, innovative solutions and IP around those industries.”

 

20/20 VISION

Columbus

Columbus’ laser focus on clear-cut strategy has proven successful for the company, which grew profits by 24 percent from fiscal year 2014 to 2015.

Last year marked the end of its “Columbus15” strategy, a five-year plan that, according to the company, was the driver behind its growth.

Columbus15 was an “internally focused strategy, which was mostly about increasing our efficiency and profitability,” said U.S. country manager (U.S. CEO) Keld Olsen. The new strategy, Columbus2020, is “much more growth-oriented.”

Columbus, No. 5 on the 2016 VAR 100 list, has already embarked on its growth journey, with multiple acquisitions under its belt since Columbus2020’s launch. February last year saw InterDyn BMI join the fold, which according to Olsen was a very important win for Columbus. The buy grew the company’s U.S. employee pool from approximately 100 to 270, a significant bump. Then in July, Columbus bought the Phoenix-based consultancy Sherwood Systems.

In July 2016, Columbus acquired Microsoft Dynamics ERP-focused consultancy Client Strategy Group.

“Microsoft is bringing their entire business model to a more subscription-based or cloud environment,” Olsen said. “We’ve been reacting to that by certifying ourselves in cloud, as a cloud service provider, etc. — and also acquiring Client Strategy Group. We did this solely to be better prepared for this subscription-based model, where you need to deliver constant value to customers. Because if you don’t do that, customers can in the future more and more easily just migrate to a new partner.”

A major goal of Columbus2020 is to take care of customers “for life,” Olsen added, not just from a project delivery standpoint, but in every phase of the value chain. Part of that goal, Olsen said, is to bring Columbus’ customers into the digital space well beyond just ERP services — “which has been our playground so far.”

“Being an IT consultancy company, it’s all about people,” Olsen said. “We are what we sell. As well as investing in technology, we’re also investing in developing our people into better consultants.”

To that end, Olsen’s vision is to see Columbus’ 300 U.S. employees grow to 500 in three years. “We’ll be doing that by continuing to grow organically, but we also plan to continue to acquire more companies in the next couple of years as well,” he said.

One other change in the past year that Olsen did not mention himself was his own appointment. He joined Columbus headquarters in Denmark in 2014, and was appointed head of Columbus U.S. in May 2015. He was instrumental in developing the company’s growth strategy at headquarters, so he hopes his U.S. appointment will help “bring the strategy to life.”

 

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Socius

“Digital transformation” is the name of the game for 2016’s No. 17 VAR, Socius. According to CEO Jeff Geisler, Socius — which in Latin translates to “partner” or “ally” — sees its role as a partner to its clients, helping them “transform their business through the smart use of technology.”

Socius achieved 21 percent growth in FY 2015 partly through “a conscious effort to grow [our] Dynamics AX and CRM practices specifically within AX to provide an agile implementation approach that better suits the need of middle-market companies,” Geisler said. This effort included the acquisition of IBIS’s Microsoft Dynamics GP consulting and development teams and client base. The buy expanded Socius’ presence into the Southeast United States, in regional terms completing the company’s national footprint.

But the company is not done expanding. Socius is “consciously growing its number of locations,” Geisler said, and in June opened its 29th U.S. office, located in Atlanta. “With each implementation, we roll up our sleeves and partner with our clients for the common purpose to grow their business, which in turn helps us grow Socius.”

Socius has also seen growth across all practice lines, “especially in our Socius One Cloud services, both through new clients deploying our solutions in our cloud and previously on-premise clients moving to the cloud, specifically taking advantage of data analytics practices by providing pre-configured dashboards, leveraging Microsoft Power BI for a variety of business roles,” Geisler said. “We look for ways to help our clients take advantage of the Microsoft stack and aid in that digital transformation.”

And the future is — unsurprisingly — cloudy. “The proliferation of the cloud is probably the biggest technology advancement we’ve seen in some time, and it will have the broadest impact on both business and individual users,” Geisler explained. “From a business perspective, while for customers it may seem that the cloud is just a new way to purchase their software or access their data, to really make the cloud reach its total potential you need to think in broader terms — not just licensing, but about security and how to utilize your staffing more effectively. Then you can focus your resources on more strategic initiatives for your businesses.”

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