Newcomers to the CDN Top 100 list: Crafting integrated, client-focused solutions

This year’s list looks a lot different from last year’s list thanks to eight new firms – count ’em – on the CDN Top 100 Solution Providers list.

A shifting IT channel market in Canada reflects how the pace of change is accelerating for this industry. There isn’t one common factor that neatly throws a lasso around all these newcomers, but instead many different threads that weaves them together into an emergent force.

Some newcomers reflect an international firm’s effort to break into the market and compete. Others are ascendant homegrown solution providers. A couple are organizations crafted out of mergers, new partnerships, or acquisitions.

In speaking with the top four newcomers to the Top 100, there is one common trait they share – they sell integrated solutions, often customized to a client’s needs. Reselling might be a part of their overall business, but it’s not what wins them deals. What is a different look for the channel this year could be a fashionable look for the Top 100 list in the years ahead.

Newcomers to CDN’s top 100 solution providers for 2019

 

  • #22 Sierra Systems (an NTT Data company) – $100-125 million
  • #31 Charter Telecom – $50-75 million
  • #37 Coreio Inc. – $40-$50 million
  • #61 Onica – $20-$25 million
  • #84 Sourced Group Canada – $6.5-$10 million
  • #91 CloudOps – $6.5-$10 million
  • #96 Arctiq – $6.5-$10 million

Sierra Systems – the 55-year-old ‘newcomer’

Sierra Systems didn’t suddenly jump from 0 to above $100 million to land in the top quarter of the Top 100 list. It just decided to participate in the program for the first time. Founded in 1966 in Vancouver, the firm keeps its headquarters in Calgary today and 2018 was a big year. It was acquired by Plano, Texas-based NTT Data, received media attention for an innovative project with the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre (including from CDN), opened new paths around Microsoft Dynamics, and nabbed the Most Valuable Partner of the Year Award in the Infrastructure as a Service Rock Star category at the Ingram Micro Cloud summit.

“Not that our world is focused on just winning awards,” says Paul Twigg, national technology and innovation leader at Sierra Systems. “One of the focuses internally has been around sharing stories about the work we’re doing and being emotionally attached with the client.”

Such an emotional investment exists with the Calgary Drop-In Centre, he says. The home-town homeless shelter and services centre for Sierra also happens to be the largest in North America. It came to Sierra asking for help in processing more people in need of its services. That story was detailed by CDN last fall when Sierra was awarded as the Disruptor of the Year at the Channel Elite Awards. One of the key components, a facial recognition system used to intake clients instead of a fingerprint scan, still hasn’t been implemented because Sierra and the drop-in centre decided to have an outside party do a privacy impact assessment, Twigg says. Excela Associations is conducting it.


Paul Twigg, national technology and innovation leader at Sierra Systems

“We really needed the validation that it’s not just about technology, but about homeless being able to access services,” Twigg says.

The facial recognition technology is now being pursued by other homeless shelters, Twigg says. Cognitive services have been one major growth area for Sierra. Others include Microsoft products being sold in the Toronto area. Microsoft Teams, a collaborative workspace tool, helps drive revenue to all parts of Sierra’s portfolio.

Licensing software is not the crucial part of the transaction for Sierra. It sets up consulting projects to help its clients find new ways to do things with technology. Once that’s implemented, the shared services arm kicks in to assist clients in managing and scaling their infrastructure.

“We pride ourselves on having clients for 20 plus years,” Twigg says. “We want to build a relationship that enables them to build their business and increased their revenue.”

Sierra and its about 700 employees were acquired by NTT Data Services in a deal that closed Dec. 17, 2018. That was really too late to have any revenue impact on 2018, but might bode well for its placement in next year’s rankings. At time of writing (April 22), Sierra has 76 job postings on its website, for locations across the country.

“Being able to get access to some of the innovation coming out of NTT, like IoT werables and blockchain… it’s going to have a massive impact on our growth this year,” Twigg says.

Charter Telecom – adapting communications

Network equipment manufacturers like Cisco Systems, Extreme Networks, and Juniper Networks have built their brands on making reliable hardware. But in some industries, there’s a gap between what the specific needs of the user and what the networking gear provides. That’s where Charter Telecom shines.

“We’re the babel fish between the customer and the manufacturer,” says Kelly Michell, president of Charter. “We’ve developed a solution set that fills in the void between where the manufacturer leaves off and the needs of the customer begin.”

This is the first time Charter entered for CDN’s Top 100 Solution Provider list, but the Victoria, B.C.-based firm was founded in 1997 by CEO Paul Chandler, who is still the single shareholder of the firm. Chandler oversees the strategic direction of the firm, while Michell oversee day-to-day operations.

The firm claims that it’s experienced double-digit growth every year since its founding. It’s grown to eight offices across six cities, stretching as far east as Toronto. It provides managed services to firms looking to take advantage of a newer generation of software-defined networking equipment, but lack the in-house expertise to do so.

“We’re seeing the demand to do more with less,” Michell says. “In many situations, customers may not be taking advantage because the IT team is overburdened with how to roll it out.”

For an example of the solutions Charter provides, Michell points to work that’s been done in the medical vertical. Charter adapted Cisco’s Webex to a product dubbed MedEx. It allows patients to consult with doctors remotely, saving a potentially long trip and still providing good-quality diagnoses.

“If we have a patient that’s 60-years-old and gets a link in an email, we have to make sure that’s as easy as possible to get going,” he says. “For the doctors, we’re making sure the quality is there and regardless of bandwidth, you’re getting the best possible transmission.”

The software is just one part of it. Charter provides IP-connected blood pressure gauges and scopes can relay critical bio-medical details through the internet.

Medex isn’t typical of Charter’s solutions today, but it’s indicative of the trend towards more integrated solutions. “We’re moving into lifecycle management, where we develop solutions not just to facilitate a design, but also working strategically with customers, pairing hardware and software licences with strategic direction.”

In 2019, Charter plans on opening its new headquarters building in Victoria. Merging its two offices in the city, the building is being constructed of eco-materials, with cross-laminated timber (CLT), and make use of passive heating and cooling techniques. Michell anticipates operating costs to be reduced by 90 per cent as a result. It will also serve as a “showcase lab” for customers, with a focus on enabling a healthy workforce using IoT devices.

Coreio – the MicroAge spinoff

You can think of Vaughn, Ont.-based Coreio as a spin-off of MicroAge Canada, a long-time regular on the Top 100 list. Coreio was born in 2015 when David Naiman, president and CEO, bought the Toronto franchise out from MicroAge’s ownership with the help of Rob Muroff, the chief operating officer at Coreio, and Stephen Baird, its chief technology officer. Naiman’s partners are veteran IT operators leading teams at the Royal Bank of Canada. Naiman’s firm Wherewithal Partners also joined with the management team in the deal.

“Our senior leadership team has delivered at scale as a customer and understands the true issues,” Naiman says in an interview. “We can see the issues in a way a lot of our vendor competitors can’t.”

Being based near Canada’s largest city meant that MicroAge Toronto’s office was different from the other franchisees across the country. Where others were pursuing clients in the small-to-mid size segment, its clients were large enterprises, many of them in headquarters lining Bay Street. Because those clients had locations across the country, Microage Toronto also employed workers spanning from St. John’s to Vancouver.

“It was asymmetrical to the pile,” Naiman says. “The Toronto market was different. Keeping the MicroAge banner was not the natural view.”

Coreio unveiled its new brand and management in June 2016. Since then, it’s made a couple of acquisitions. First it expanded its IT advisory services by adding The Balardo Group Inc. in November 2016. That’s helped it be relevant to clients that are working through new compliance requirements, such as the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) issued by the European Union.

“There’s no end of compliance regulations in the IT environment,” Naiman says. “We’re selecting certain areas where we have the bench – or the expertise – to assist.”

In December 2018, Coreio acquired Tony Grice and Associates, expanding its practice for IT operations software vendor ServiceNow. On March 13, Coreio earned its designation as a ServiceNow Silver Sales and Services Partner and its Authorized Training Partner Status. Naiman says he wants to eventually earn a Gold designation.

“You could say we’re powered by ServiceNow,” he says. “We see it as being one of the dominant software platforms to help run and make work better.”

More growth is ahead for Coreio in 2019. It is currently hiring for 35 positions on its website, including for service desk support and ServiceNow specialists. It’s a perfect time to make its entry into the Top 100 Solution Providers list.

“We’re very proud to be part of the larger community in Canada,” Naiman says. “It’s a testament to the business we built and where we’re heading.”

Onica – MSPs born in the cloud; match made in heaven

Onica enters the CDN Top 100 Solution Providers after acquiring Toronto-based TriNimbus Technologies in August 2018. The California-based firm is backed by growth equity, and it had previously acquired neighbouring MSP Sturdy Networks in December 2017.

“All three companies grew up in the same space, doing the same work,” says Tolga Tarhan, the senior vice-president of global customer solutions at Onica. “All AWS (Amazon Web Services), all born in the cloud.”

TriNimbus had been boot-strapped by its founders, achieving the AWS premier consulting partner in 2015. Around 2017 it saw the writing on the wall as other firms in cloud consulting space began consolidating, Kimovski says (who came to Onica through the Trinimbus acquisition). When Onica’s investment partners reached out, they agreed to a meeting.

“We felt that there’s a value-increasing proposition for all the businesses,” he says. The combination of the factors around geography, culture, and business strategy made an acquisition the right move. Now the firms are integrated and working as a single brand. One that bucks a trend seen in the data for other CDN Top 100 cloud partners – whereas more solution providers offer Microsoft Azure as their public cloud option, Onica is sticking with an all-AWS approach.

But TriNimbus once approached Microsoft about partnering, Kimovski reveals. The team decided it wasn’t the right fit.

“Azure’s approach was to leverage the existing partner ecosystem and nudge them to adopt Azure,” he says. “AWS didn’t have a partner network to begin with, so they had to build it from scratch.”

Since TriNimbus was a part of that, in benefited from investments AWS made in building the ecosystem. One that Kimovski says leads to a higher skill level in partners.

“Born in the cloud partners that have no legacy business have the right incentives in front of them to be successful,” he explains. “If you’re used to the resell margin model, you’re not really incentivized to go after the public cloud.”

Onica’s business model isn’t to sell more AWS consumption, he points out, but to provide consulting around using AWS services. Often, Onica works with its clients to keep their operating costs on the public cloud down. It also helps clients move up the stack to higher-level services.

“A lot of the work we do is as far from ‘lift and shift’ as it gets,” he says. “We’re more software engineers than IT infrastructure centric.”

No more immediate plans for acquisitions are in Onica’s future, he says. Instead, the focus will be on organic growth with the current base. The firm will focus on building business in Ontario and Eastern Canada.

Smith & Long

Formed in 1930, Smith & Long says its revenue is split evenly into four quarters among consulting, IoT services, infrastructure solutions, and IT security. Traditionally, its been an industrial services firm focusing on electrical and mechanical services, the firm has started to branch out into including IT components as part of its full service solutions. Those solutions include data centres, disaster recovery, digital signage, IT consulting, software image building, and unified communications. It also offers critical power systems and 24/7 emergency services for data centres. It works with technology vendors including Microsoft, Cisco, and D-Link.

Sourced Group

Sourced Group isn’t just a newcomer to the Top 100 list, it’s a newcomer to Canada, with CEO Jonathan Spinks moving from Australia to Toronto to open up offices in the first quarter of 2018. The international IT consulting firm focuses on cloud migration and operates offices in Sydney, Singapore, and now Toronto. In November Source Group earned its Amazon Web Services migration competency and in October it was awarded Palo Alto Networks’ Asia Pacific Cloud Partner of the Year award for 2018. ITWC hosted Spinks for an interview with our own President Fawn Annan, and also took the time to play two truths and a lie with him.

CloudOps

This Montreal-based cloud consulting and managed services firm, and owns subsidiary Cloud.ca with partner TekSavvy, where it collaborates with Cologix and other partners. The partnership saw CloudOps helping to deliver Canadian-soil cloud services before any of the Silicon Valley giants set foot in the country with local data centres. A silver Microsoft Partner, the firm recently completed its DevOps competency with the vendor. Vice President of Products Maddison Long was accepted into the 2019 Forbes Technology Council. The firm focuses on guiding clients to operate with a cloud-native mindset, using container orchestration as a key component.

Arctiq

The Toronto-based solutions provider focuses on open source solutions for its clients. In 2018 it formed partnerships with Google Cloud, Red Hat, and HashiCorp. It specializes in helping clients manage multi-cloud environments, setting up automated operations. Arctiq partner Kyle Basset was deemed the top newcomer on the CDN Top Newsmakers list.

 

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jacksonhttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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