Turning stone into Marble
Ingrid Gattari talks to Ray Cockshell, managing director of systems integrator Marble Information ServicesARN: How would you describe your business?
Cockshell: We run four divisions and do consulting at all levels as well as working in co-operation with larger system integrators. We consult to the SME business environment and provide a complete business needs and site analysis as well as running a technical support division. We are also an MS Solutions Provider as well as being tied up with Cisco, Symantec and Hewlett-Packard.
What type of customers do you tend to cater to?
Small-to-medium businesses across a broad industry base. At the tech support level our focus would be a client who has somewhere between five and 150 seats. We have some specialist skills in the medical and local government areas.
What differentiates your company from others in the same field?
Providing expert, very professional and ethical services. Ethical is professional here because we will go out of our way to make sure everything is correct. I also insist that my staff have high qualifications such as being MS-certified Systems Engineers.
Which vendors do you partner with and why?
Microsoft, because that's where most of our accreditation comes from and we know their products intimately. We are acquiring Novell skills but I currently outsource that to contractors. We also do a lot of Symantec work and have formal relationships with Cisco, HP, Compaq and IBM.
What do you look for in a vendor partnership?
Quality product and excellent support. As integrators we don't know all the answers to all the questions so we rely on our suppliers to give us those answers. In the sort of business we're in, we can't afford the long time delays for support. Small business customers don't appreciate that. They need to be up and running quickly. I have dropped suppliers that treat us like small fry and don't give us the support we need.
What new or emerging technologies offer your business the best opportunities?
E-commerce. It is relatively easy to sell in a business-to-business sense but business-to-customer is a different kettle of fish. Giving credit card details over the Internet is still an issue for customers. Many of our small customers haven't yet fully seen what the Internet can do. We are constantly introducing clients to the Net and because we service all of South Australia, remote support is a big issue.
Where does your company excel most in its business methodologies?
The broad knowledge we have acquired prevents us from making mistakes up front. That leads to better deployment procedures and maintenance.
We listen to our clients. We are flexible and we have the ability to take a standard solution and adapt it to our client's needs.
What is the key buying motive amongst your customers?
At the moment its Y2K. It's been quite amazing and I think it has artificially increased our sales. Other buying motives include business growth or frustration at ageing IT systems and the lack of connectivity with each other and the Internet.
What major challenges are faced by your company at the end of the century?
Managing our own growth. We are moving into new areas of business and we have to be careful not to get caught on the bleeding edge. GST is also a big opportunity for us.
What are the major inhibitors to your business development plans at the moment?
I need to increase my management resources and staffing. Good staff are very hard to find. I need to control growth and to define what our specialties will be although I don't really want to focus on just one thing.
What piece of advice would you offer to other IT integrators and resellers?
Honesty should be standard business practice, but it isn't. Always expect to be caught out with mixed product solutions because no matter how well you know a product, there will always be something that can turn around and bite you. Meanwhile, research your solutions thoroughly.profileMarble Information ServicesBased: AdelaideStarted: 1995Other offices: Port Augusta (opening December 14)Staff: Six full time - part time contractorsTurnover: $1Ð2 millionGrowth: Better than 200 per cent in the last year