ITWeb Article: Bedding down a partnership

Altron Karabina picks and chooses opportunities following acquisition by Altron.

It seems 2018 was a busy year for Altron Karabina, as it dealt with the complexities of bedding down its acquisition by Altron, merging systems, rebranding and fully aligning with the Altron group vision and culture.

But 2019 is set to be an even busier one, as the company gears up to pursue the new opportunities now available to it as the newest division of the Altron Group. “I feel bit like a kid in a candy store,” says MD Grant van der Wal. “We’ve moved up to a whole new level; as part of the group, we now have new regions and markets open to us, and we need to choose which opportunities we should pursue first.

” Van der Wal founded the company in 2001, and he believes the acquisition ushers in a new era for the company. “We started out as information systems partners with no customers and no staff, working from home,” he recalls. It was early days for Microsoft in the BI space, but Van der Wal, with a background as a CFO, was a firm believer in Microsoft’s potential to change the game for businesses. The first customer was at Dell, with a ProClarity 1 installation, and the company immediately went after bigger challenges.

“We won a bid for AutoZone’s business, which was huge for us. We were so hungry, we set unrealistic timelines and worked all weekend on their sales analysis.” The efforts paid off, giving the client new insights to improve business, and leading to even larger contracts. Over the years, IS Partners CRM was launched, and in 2010, ISPartners group was formed and the Karabina brand was launched. As the company grew, Van der Wal found himself asking ‘tough questions’.

“It wasn’t always easy, and about 10 years ago, I started asking myself why we were doing this. We considered our values, and concluded we weren’t just an IT shop, we were about helping people in business to succeed, using Microsoft solutions.” Duly focused on this mission, the company grew to a staff complement of around 200, became a Microsoft Gold Partner and earned numerous Microsoft partner awards, including 13 Data Analytics Partner of the Year awards, eight Dynamics CRM Partner of the Year awards, two Cloud Productivity Partner of the Year awards and 2018 Business Applications ERP Partner of the Year for the company’s newest division. Van der Wal is gratified by the recognition, but even more encouraged when he sees measurable improvements in the business of his customers’ businesses as a result of their work. “The leadership at Microsoft often say to us, ‘There’s something different about Karabina: you’re not a consulting firm and you’re not just a technology firm’.”

The company declined a number of potential acquisition offers, but when local IT veteran and Altron chief executive Mteto Nyati opened talks on an acquisition in late 2017, Van der Wal believed the opportunity was the right one, at the right time. “Microsoft has been in a really good place in recent years, and Altron was looking to expand its capabilities in this space, while from our side, we had a lot of respect for both Mteto Nyati and Altron as a whole. He outlined his One Altron vision to us, and our shareholders were unanimous in their support of the proposed acquisition. Altron’s values and purpose is our new cornerstone and we have embedded them fully.”

The deal went ahead last year, setting in motion integration, a rebranding exercise and new ways of working. “Nobody was left behind; in fact, we hired more people,” Van der Wal says. Having had the final say for nearly 19 years, he concedes that becoming part of a listed corporate is a change. “There is a sense of handing over your ‘child’; plus, I haven’t had a boss for over 18 years. But I think I’ve chosen well – I look forward to discussions with Mteto and (Altron group chief operations officer) Andrew Holden. This level of interaction is something I’ve never had before,” he says.

Level up

Van der Wal believes becoming part of the Altron Group has taken Altron Karabina’s engagements with Microsoft to a new level too. “We need to be careful not to set expectations too high, but as part of Altron, we now have access and opportunities in markets we never played in before – such as the public sector and across Africa.”

The company now has business units focused on data, planning and analytics; customer engagement; digital workplace; dynamic operations; and apps and infrastructure, all under a broader digital transformation banner.

With Altron, the company is looking to scale both its markets and its solutions, leveraging Altron Group resources to offer more Microsoft-based services and solutions to customers across their cloud and analytics systems. Altron Karabina is now expanding into sector-specific solutions, such as its new insurance accelerator solution harnessing Microsoft Dynamics 365. Altron Karabina has grown to over 300 clients across financial services, insurance and investment, retail, manufacturing and mining, and it plans to expand these markets.

Being number one

Atron Karabina is fully aligned with Altron Group’s 2-5-1 goal, which aims to double EBITDA in five years, and for Altron to become number one in the market. The group’s purpose – to deliver innovation that matters – will see it growing aggressively into cloud services, Internet of Things, data analytics and security. Altron Karabina, currently the smallest division, is set to grow out the group’s Microsoft offerings. “We have an awesome impact roadmap to target new industries, and we are also looking at acquisitions,” he says.

“We’re excited to be working towards enhancing our leadership in the game,” says Van der Wal. “But what really excites us is the impact we can have on our customers.”

This article was originally published in the ITWeb Publication, The Margin, Q1 2019. The article was written by Tracy Burrows

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