Through wit, grit and determination, one couple has succeeded in establishing a winning value proposition.
Grace and Gordon Brimble have a "thing" for lateral thinking. Look into Grace's reasons for working in the male dominated world of information technology, and you will find the very seeds of lateral wisdom that have made Edward De Bono the late 20th century equivalent of a tribal sage. Ask them about their company, Igatech, and they say their most prominent contract to date - building real time systems over Oracle databases for the Australian Department of Defence - was won, well, the "lateral way".
"Most defense systems, and more specifically surveillance systems, have a data management problem at the back end. A system collects data that has to be stored and analysed at the back end and, traditionally, software people would sit down, analyse their specific application and hand write a whole mass of C-code or whatever.
They would occasionally test out some database products, but they wouldn't use it for the real time operationally critical data," says Gordon, the company's managing director, explaining the rationale Igatech had to challenge in order to win the deal.
"We questioned that belief and through some lateral thinking - in terms of the way an Oracle database is designed and implemented - we got some bright ideas on how to set up and configure a database for this specific client application, showing them that a configured database solution we offered would outperform any coded-to-purpose application used at the back end," he says.
Igatech's management believes this solution, as many other things concerning the way this inventive company does business, can be described as unique.
Founded in 1983 by Gordon and his three partners, the 100 per cent Australian-owned Adelaide-based consultancy has always been about challenging the established order of things.
For starters, they're a successful husband and wife team in the field that is often described not only as a boys club, but as distinctly family unfriendly too. They don't hire the best in business simply because they are best, because their prospective staff have to prove open mindedness and commitment to creative thought is as much a part of what they do as their IT expertise. And then they have Grace who, apart from being the company's chief information officer (CIO), is a visionary whose passion for information technology has never been exclusive or dismissive of the rest of human endeavours.
"Information technology is nowadays pervasive through every part of everything we do. But, really, I never had any interest in IT in its own right," Grace confirms.
"Both Gordon and I have interests in many different areas of life and in my case I chose information technology because it was the only type of work that I thought allowed you to be involved in many different areas of study of the world around us."
She also chose the type of work that she did really well. So well, in fact, that the Department of Defence decided to speed up the former Oracle consultant's citizenship approval process so that she could work on that "think lateral" real-time project.
Yet, if you believe Grace, it wasn't her expertise, but the company's admirable capability to build good client relationships that influenced this high-level intervention.
"We have a different sort of relationship with our clients which truly involves being on a team footing with them - it's not talking about it, it's doing it all the way. That means sometimes things will be difficult and the only way to manage such a relationship is to be up-front, so that we don't find ourselves in a situation where someone will say "this is out of scope" or "we didn't talk about this. It also means that we have a lot closer relationship with our clients than many companies care to build," she explains.
Igatech's rapid growth is one indicator of how successful their "build-a-relationship" strategy has worked. According to the Brambles, last year Igatech's growth rate exceeded 100 per cent and they expect to continue full steam ahead in 1999, establishing new offices in Australia and overseas.
And like it or not, Igatech's success is all about relationships - Gordon's and Grace's, and 30 Igatech staff's collective commitment to offer their very best to clients.
The company's love relationship with database vendor Oracle has also played a crucial role in defining their philosophy of excellence.
"Through all of my years in consulting, I felt that there were some very important things missing in what services organisations were offering to the end-user community. It was my feeling that that was based on a certain amount of cynicism about how competitiveness in different markets worked in respect to clients' needs," Grace reveals.
"So, when I left Oracle in 1994, it was on the best of terms and because I wanted to realise my dream of building a company which was to be the best services organisation on the planet in terms of services."
But she didn't have to build from scratch, because Gordon, whom she married two years earlier in 1992, already had a company ready to expand into Oracle consulting.
"We focused on Oracle for a couple of reasons: firstly, because it's best of breed and second, because we saw there was a need in the marketplace for a professional organisation that focused on Oracle products in a sense that there are plenty of organisations out there who do database work, but not many have this value proposition that IGA bases its business operation on," Igatech's MD offers. More importantly, Gordon shared Grace's vision.
"When Grace said she wanted us to grow into the best services company in the world, it doesn't mean that we were going to be the biggest services company in the world, it means that we were going to be the best at what we do," Gordon says.
And in many ways, they are the best. One can hardly believe one's ears when one listens to Nick Aronson, Oracle Australasia's marketing manager for channels and alliances, when he sings the praises of Oracle's South Australian partner. Oracle appointed Igatech as a "mentor" to provide education and training services to the vendor's channel partners.
"If Igatech wasn't an Oracle Certified Solution Partner (OCSP), I would probably be on the phone to Adelaide right now trying to recruit them. And if they were a Microsoft or Sybase partner, we would be doing everything in our power to change that, because the way they are structured and the way they do business is a perfect match with the way we do business," says Aronson.
"From an Oracle point of view, Igatech is important to us for two reasons. One is that they were one of our first certified partners in Australia, and therefore in the world. It is very important to us that we maintain the integrity of the program by making sure that our certified partners are really outstanding and Igatech is one of the very few who have been recognised in this way," he says. "From another angle, that is the mentor angle, IGA is a perfect description of "little Oracle" that provides a service to the channel marketplace that Oracle couldn't hope to provide on its own."
"Little Oracle" agrees: "We're lateral thinkers who take a view that is different to 99 per cent of consulting and services-type organisations in the world, but we know exactly what we're doing."