When IBM talked to Eric Berridge, the CEO of cloud consulting firm Bluewolf, about buying the company earlier this year he had to persuade one sceptical contingent – his kids.
“They were actually ‘what are you doing selling your company to IBM?!’ My kids had grown up with Bluewolf as an identity and me bringing schwag [promotional items] back home with Bluewolf branding so that they were my biggest critics and I had to convince them more than I had to convince IBM.”
Six months on from the close of that deal Berridge says he has no regrets.
“It’s good,” he says, speaking by phone from the US where the company is headquartered. “It’s probably been everything we expected. When we were first approached by IBM they made it clear to us they wanted to aggressively jump into the Salesforce market where they were late entrants, and they wanted to use Bluewolf as the engine to go to market.”
Living the blues
Both companies are from the New York area and both are known for their blue branding but the bigger connection is that Bluewolf has the boutique skills in cloud and digital experience consulting that Big Blue and other consulting giants covet as they wrestle with the new world of corporate computing.
IBM provides Bluewolf with “eye-opening scale”, Berridge says, adding opportunities that the company could never have as an independent:
“It’s like walking into the chocolate room. It’s a very positive strong culture and people see Salesforce in a very positive light.”
While cloud consulting rivals like Appirio diversified into consulting on other applications such as Workday’s employee performance management/HR cloud, Bluewolf has remained a pure-play, aligning itself with Salesforce.com throughout just about all of that company’s history. That won’t change despite the new ownership.
“We’ve been tempted into diversifying into a portfolio of SaaS and cloud offerings but we’ve always avoided it,” Berridge says. “Even when it was a sales force automation platform we always felt the real value [of Salesforce consulting] was enabling the customer experience. Salesforce continues to grow, you have lots of customers who are embracing cloud for the first time and Salesforce continues to acquire companies and add functions.”
As Salesforce continues to grow, opportunities fall in line.
“The thought of building an ERP practice around NetSuite or an HR practice around Workday went away [but] Salesforce is an extremely acquisitive company and if history repeats itself they may own a portion of ERP cloud apps… who knows?”
The acquisition of Demandware in e-commerce, as well as moves into data analytics and artificial intelligence show how Salesforce can act as a beacon for followers but Berridge says Bluewolf also differentiates itself from technology consulting companies by focusing on business outcomes over bits and bytes.
“We want to help our customer base grow revenue, reduce churn, increase share of wallet and introduce cross-selling and upselling. Most companies have approached it from a technology [angle] and have missed the opportunity of a strategic tactical business outcomes approach.”
The new world
Berridge says the cloud sector is “still the wild, wild west in a little bit of a way” and says that many players there “don’t know what to make of services”.
Is that because the old system integrators view cloud as Nemesis for their big-ticket consulting days and the end of the line for a decades-long journey on the gravy train?
“I wouldn’t call it being on a gravy train,” he says. “The big consulting services firms learned how to do it around the technology of the 1980s and the back-office. They jumped on the opportunity and drove a tremendous amount of revenue and profits by driving resources into the technology stack.”
The new world of cloud consulting is about taking readymade services and driving opportunity in the business, for example by creating strong digital experiences for customers, he contends.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has recently been in the news over institutional shareholders not liking his (now extinguished) interest in a possible Twitter acquisition but Berridge remains predictably bullish on Benioff’s Salesforce and its buccaneering approach.
“I don’t think they’ve ever done anything that gave me pause,” he says. “Say what you want about him, he is out there trying to grab markets and you don’t do that through a spreadsheet; you do it by buying your way or innovating your way, and he never acquires for cash flow. I can’t speak for him but he’s a true believer that the purpose of his and any company is to make the world better through philanthropy and corporate success.”
It might not be a partner but Berridge also praises Zach Nelson the CEO of cloud ERP firm NetSuite (currently being sold to Oracle) who he says “did an incredible job”, and he also likes FinancialForce, the finance management cloud apps company that he says could benefit from NetSuite being sold.
“We use it ourselves and we want to do more [consulting on it]. [The NetSuite sale] might help them and they’re probably [going to be] nimbler.”
As for Berridge himself, he says he is not tempted to earn out and quit IBM. Operating as part of one of the technology world’s biggest brands is a fascinating project, he says, and one that as a seasoned entrepreneur suits his current state of mind.
“As much as anything it’s an intellectual exercise and that’s what fascinates me,” he says.
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