Investing in the Future

In good times and bad, SCG banks on employees and relationships.

In an industry that frequently undergoes turmoil and turnover, Solutions Consulting Group (SCG) deliberately offers employees and clients an oasis of calm and level-headedness designed to help the integrator and its customers ride out any financial or technological storms.

The 12-year-old, family owned and operated software integration and consulting firm provides clients "Risk-Free IT" solutions and services in areas such as business intelligence (BI), customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and e-business. SCG gives clients the option of a fixed-fee payment plan that ensures it will resolve their IT challenges on time and on budget.

In order to achieve this, company management continually invests in itself and its employees, says William Edmett Sr., who co-founded the company with sons Jonathan and William Edmett Jr. Even during the late 1990s, when the IT market followed the stock market's descent, SCG continued to put money into its business, he says.

"In 2000, we grew it to 65 employees. The market was on fire. We were on track to do about $6 [million] to $7 million in services—this was after only five years in business," says Jonathan. "After the downturn in the market and 9/11, we realized if we were to stay in business and to keep our legacy intact, we would have to begin to invest even though the market was going down. We thought the best [thing to do] was to invest in sales and marketing and in keeping our long-term employees on the payroll so we'd have continuity when the customers did come back."

The company, which today has about 30 employees, continues to invest in itself. Recently, SCG hired more sales and marketing personnel and retained a marketing and public relations firm to increase its visibility. SCG has about 20 consultants—some engineers, some business consultants—and about 10 personnel involved in sales and marketing, says William Jr.

The strategy appears to be working, as the company achieved more than 50 percent revenue growth in 2004.

Invest for Success
SCG prides itself on hiring full-time employees rather than subcontracting individuals on an as-needed basis. "If we don't have the talent, rather than find a contractor to do the work, we will engage another partner," William Jr. says.

"We're careful not to hire a new person unless we know we really need him and we can make a substantial commitment to him, so he knows he has a home," adds William Sr.

Having full-time consultants allows SCG to comfortably promise that it will complete projects within a client's specifications, says William Jr. "If I don't know who's going to be on that project, I'm not going to know whether I can deliver."

Clients, too, benefit from working with not only the same company, but often, with the same consultants, he notes. Because SCG offers solutions based on a range of Microsoft technologies, this relationship approach often results in multiple projects for the same customer.

William Emmett Sr.
Investments in its people have paid off for William Edmett Sr. and Solutions Consulting Group.

"Because we use the entire stock of Microsoft technology, we have literally gone back to the same customers three or four times and delivered on different projects," explains William Jr. "We may start out doing a .NET development project, which then leads to an ERP implementation, which then may lead to a CRM implementation. Ultimately, they always lead to some type of business intelligence solution that ties that data up for their executive management team. It's because of the continuity of [our] team. The team understands their different lines of businesses, we're able to articulate that value to the customer and, quite frankly, it's relationship-driven with customers today."

Forging a Tighter Bond
The investment in staff also bolsters SCG's crucial relationship with Microsoft. Last year, the company became a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, in part because many of its staffers have earned Microsoft certifications while employed at SCG. That, in turn, makes them more loyal, William Jr. says.

And of course, the Gold certification creates a better bond between SCG and Microsoft, both at the corporate level and with local offices, says Jonathan. "There are individuals inside Microsoft, locally and regionally, that we've developed relationships with that continue to look after our best interests, because they see we are using their technologies the correct way, we're using the Partner Program the correct way," he notes.

Solutions Consulting Group

Headquarters: San Diego

Web Site:

Phone: 858-455-0777

William Edmett Sr., President and CEO

Established: 1993

Microsoft Competencies: Business Intelligence; Microsoft Business Solutions

Annual Revenue: 2004 - $3 million; 2003 - $2 million

Number of Employees: 30-plus

Top Verticals: Food services, construction, real estate, health care, insurance

Achievements: Microsoft Gold Certified Partner; member of Microsoft's Business Intelligence Advisory Council

Clients Include: Rhino Linings USA; Harcourt Brace; Providence Systems;; Team Health; Kenwood; Chicago Pizzeria

In fact, it was SCG's Microsoft Partner Account Managers (PAMs) who encouraged SCG to become Gold Certified, William Jr. says. The company works with one PAM for the Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) portion of its business and another for non-MBS sales, explains Dave Brown, SCG sales director. It also partners with locale-specific PAMs for clients in Orange County, Los Angeles and other areas of California, as well as Microsoft Account Executives for large accounts, he notes.

"One of the things we were told by our Partner Account Manager was, 'Tell me what differentiates you from other partners because I can use that to promote you within Microsoft.' We realized if we couldn't answer that question very quickly, neither could they," says William Jr.

Toward that end, SCG earned two Microsoft Competencies: Business Intelligence and MBS, and is only one project away from earning its competency in e-business, he says. In addition, William Jr. heads to Redmond at least four times a year to participate as one of 30 companies globally on Microsoft's Business Intelligence Partner Advisory Council.

"SCG is having a significant impact on the growth of its customers' businesses by delivering innovative solutions to increase their operational efficiency and productivity," says Joel Mountain, one of SCG's Microsoft PAMs. "We're proud to be in a relationship with a company that is so centralized on the success of its customers."

It goes without saying that successful solution providers strive to meet their clients' requirements. But integrators also must make it easy for their vendor partners to work with them, says William Sr.

Solution providers should not expect a laundry list of qualified leads, money and other perks, he notes. By working within the parameters of Microsoft's program, SCG has been able to leverage Microsoft's reputation and technologies to garner sales and customer loyalty.

Providing Payment Options
In an industry that has seen its share of broken promises and failed technologies, SCG often finds itself fixing problems created by other solution providers, William Jr. says.

In order to provide another level of comfort to wary clients, SCG offers a choice of hourly or flat-fee pricing to its customers, many of which are in food services, construction and real estate.

For example, SCG won a project with an insurance company worth between $800,000 and $900,000 in services, William Jr. says. "The client had already wasted close to that on another project. When they brought us in they were very clear, to say the least, and said, 'We will not do this project with you unless you agree to do it on a fixed-bid basis and you can give us references where you've done fixed-bid, complex projects'—SQL Server projects, .NET development projects," he says. "We had a reference that met those criteria. We won the engagement and, in the process, we developed our Fixed Fee Framework."

About 50 percent of SCG's clients now use this fixed-fee approach. "It's caused us to tighten up our service delivery because you can't make money doing a fixed-fee project if you don't have great project management," Jonathan explains. "It's made us better across the board for all our projects."

While some clients initially are attracted to the fixed-fee approach, customers must do a lot of preparatory legwork in order for it to succeed, says William Sr.

"It requires tight control from their end," he says. "A lot of them opt out of fixed-fee, and go by the hour. The only reason they decide to go by the hour with us is because, by that time, they've known some of our other clients, they've learned more about our history and they know we'll do the job for them."