Ascent Technology, Ltd., began its relationship with SAP in 1996 as one of the first Value Added Resellers (VARs) in the UK, supplying complete business solutions to mid-market engineering companies. Founded in 1982 by current CEO Peter Lloyd, the company – which also develops customer relationship management software – employs 230 employees and achieves a turnover of £24m.
Its SAP customers range from independent organizations with a turnover of £10m, to larger subsidiaries of major groups. A good example is Claverham, the leading supplier of actuation systems for aircraft, a £50m turnover subsidiary of Hamilton Sundstrand, which in turn is part of American-based UTC.
Ascent Technology grew to about 100 people as the premier VAR for the Tetra Chameleon (now SageLine 500) ERP software. Lloyd takes up the story: “The Sage ERP software was very effective in the £10-50m organizations, but we were finding an increasing number of potential customers in the more sophisticated or larger engineering businesses who desired a greater level of functionality. This presented a major opportunity for us to grow our business if we could identify the right product and partner.”
Partnering with the Biggest and Best
Ascent Technology was drawn to SAP as the market leader. Potential customers wanted the functionality and best practices that SAP could offer – but they also wanted a fast return on investment. “We didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel with every implementation”, Lloyd explains. “Consequently, we were looking for a templated, packaged, and repeatable formula where we could sell the benefits of previous projects and cross-fertilize the different skill sets within engineering.”
SAP’s clear goals in the mid-market, along with its strategy of helping partners develop such pre-packaged solutions, matched with the Ascent Technology vision. Combined with the Ascent Technology track record in the sector, it would make a winning combination.
To become an SAP solution partner, Ascent Technology underwent a rigorous accreditation process. First, the company had to demonstrate its credibility and track record in its chosen markets. Next, it had to ensure that its key delivery staff had the necessary consulting and configuration management skills.
Lloyd acknowledges that it was tough: “As we were the first reseller SAP had brought on board it was a learning experience for both of us. There were a lot of long hours and review sessions to see how we could improve the process and relationship. But, of all the people we partner with, SAP is the most keen to make it all work.”
Focus, Focus, Focus
From the start, Ascent Technology had created a tight profit model – the business was profitable in its first year and has been ever since. Lloyd credits this to a management team who were focused on the key objectives, with long-term incentives to build the value of the business: “The tail-end of the 1990s was a volatile, high-growth market. We created sales pretty early on, with help from SAP. The implementation of the first few was tricky, because we were learning as we went along. But in the last few years we’ve really been able to take advantage of our experience to grow the business.”
Lloyd is adamant that the key to success in the mid-market is the “template” approach. For a company that knows a particular vertical market well, understands the terminology, dynamics, culture, and business pressures, mySAP All-in-One – based on mySAP Business Suite best practices – offers a rich environment for configuring a product to meet specific vertical-market needs.
“We’ve taken best practices from SAP’s industry business units and combined this with 20 years of real-world experience to produce a series of pre-packaged or templated solutions that deliver a very high degree of functionality for their target sectors”, he says. “But most important, they can deliver a fast implementation with a very quick return on investment, because the packaged solution is not just about providing out-of-the-box software, it also includes pre-packaged documentation and training materials.”
This approach brings benefits to both Ascent Technology and its customers. First, the customer can see and play with the solution before buying it. Second, it dramatically lowers implementation risks for both the customer and Ascent Technology, because both know the extent and cost of the project upfront. It also dramatically reduces implementation time – down to four months in some cases. And, notes Lloyd, “it has enabled us to create a value-enhancing model. The more implementations we do, the deeper our skill set becomes, so we can offer a wider portfolio of expertise and services. That, in turn, makes us even more competitive.”
The Importance of SAP Support
Lloyd is extremely complimentary of SAP support. “We get more support from SAP now than we ever have. They committed strongly to the mid-market from the outset but, today, they see it as a central element of their growth strategy.” SAP helps identify market opportunities, make contact with individuals or companies who can help them, and provides training programs, conferences, and technical support.
Ascent Technology’s SAP account manager is an important part of the equation. Aside from oiling the wheels of communication between the two companies, he plays a significant role with Ascent’s customers: “When we visit customers with our SAP account manager it gives them an awful lot of confidence in the overall solution.”
Marketing involves combined initiatives aimed at existing customers and prospects, including events, advertising, and direct mail campaigns. Lloyd sees these as great for creating awareness, but “nobody buys a system as a result of an advert or cold call. They move into the market slowly, step by step. What SAP is good at is creating long-term relationships with us and our customers, and I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
Looking Beyond the Horizon
Ascent Technology is now looking to offer its templated solutions to a wider audience, branded as mySAP All-in-One solutions, comprising functionality pre-configured to address the target industry sector, together with pre-packaged documentation and training materials. Essentially, these are Ascent Technology’s templated solutions with a range of additional information, including technical design, how to implement them, how they relate to other SAP product sets, and how to market and sell them.
SAP has certified Ascent Technology’s mySAP All-in-One solutions, giving them a seal of approval but, more important, opening up new market opportunities. As Lloyd explains: “Having our solutions certified by SAP makes them accessible to a wider audience. It could be SAP partners in other parts of the world or SAP’s own sales force. It’s a win-win situation.”
Ascent Technology offers mySAP All-in-One for Sophisticated Engineering, mySAP All-in-One for Aerospace and Defense, and mySAP All-in-One for High Tech Manufacturing. But Lloyd sees the opportunity to grow its SAP partnership dramatically.
“SAP’s product set has no problems in terms of acceptability”, he says. “It is recognized as the best product, with the deepest functionality and the capability to meet the most advanced requirements. Through our packaged solutions, we have a fast way to deliver that functionality and a compelling ROI. Partnering with SAP was one of the best decisions we made for our business, and I think the next five years are going to be very exciting.”