Mairi Graham, managing director Graham Technology (GT-X): We wanted to become a global company and did some research in the Asia-Pacific region. We knew that the Australian market hadn't gone through deregulation yet, and since a lot of our UK customers are utility companies that have already travelled that road, we felt we could leverage off the experience we had gained with, say, Scottish Power.
This approach has been very well received; the Australians seem to have a good knowledge of what Scottish Power is up to and they're very interested to know how it was done what issues Scottish Power faced in the deregulation process. We've been able to leverage off that very successfully.
What are the major challenges in setting up an Australian branch?
MG: One of the most significant issues would have to be the skills transfer to the Australian office. GT-X was new to Australia and nobody here had any knowledge of it. There were a couple of people involved initially who facilitated getting a couple of deals, but besides that it was a fairly raw operation.
Dave Harvey and I came over for the initial set-up; Dave did the project management at MBF, which was GT-X's first rollout in Australia. It was [Dave and I's] job to ensure that the project was successful and to transfer the company culture from the Scotland office. All the other staff were selected locally. GT-X spent a lot of money sending people to Scotland to get hands-on training, but we now have a totally self-sufficient branch.
How do you get your foot in the door
for tenders when your product isn't
MG: Our lack of contacts here was definitely a major hurdle. I didn't even know what the major banks were! Obviously that situation had to be rectified pretty quickly. Things are a lot easier now, but the importance of getting your name out there never really stops. Being a technology-driven company rather than a sales-driven one, GT-X focuses on putting profits into R&D as opposed to advertising, so we're not as well known as we should be given our size and the number of customers we have. This is something we are looking to modify. Also, we are still a privately owned company and, although we make excellent profits every year, we don't have the vast pool of venture money to spend on publicity.
Are there advantages to being a multinational in the Australian marketplace?
MG: We've been able to utilise a lot of the experiences of our European rollouts, like digital TV, which hasn't really taken off here yet. Everyone in CRM is talking about multiple touch-points for customers, expanding the traditional call-centre to multiple channels including the Web, e-commerce and WAP. This means integrating into the back end to enable a company to put its process out through any channel it wants.
GT-X has already built on the multi-channel aspect to include digital TV, which is really big in the UK. So, even though digital TV hasn't really taken off in Australia yet, when the time comes we're ready.
You mentioned GT-X has secured go-to-market agreements with Fujitsu and is fostering relationships with the Big Five. What's it like approaching the Big Five on a cold-call basis?
MG: It's not easy. There's a bit of "big man, little man" syndrome which goes on because they may not necessarily have heard of Graham Technology. It can be quite frustrating, especially when we have relationships with them in the UK, where they take us seriously because GT-X is a known name. But it's worth pursuing.
There is an attitude that if you're not in bed with the Big Five as a software vendor, then you're running the risk of not making it. I buy that to a certain extent, but by the same token if your technology can stand on its own two feet the relationship is not 100 per cent imperative - though it's obviously desirable.
On that score we're getting a lot more traction from Fujitsu and other middle-tier systems integrators and consultants. At the moment we can only manage so many partners effectively and if one of those is a Big Five then that could take 100 per cent of the commercial director's time - managing that relationship, not using it as a sales channel but as a joint go-to-market.
We found that the Big Five were not willing to talk to us until we'd beaten them on a couple of deals. When we phoned them after that, they knew who we were, knew that we'd bid for deals, and were more willing to listen to what we had to say. I think by the end of the year it will all be done and dusted; we'll know exactly who we're going to focus on out of the Big Five. More than likely it will be one, perhaps two, but no more than that because they're not going to get value out of the relationship and neither are we.