After watching the painful dismantling of MarchFirst, the company's former CEO, Bob Bernard, is back in the consulting game. His new company, Form & Function Consulting, launched a few months ago on Bernard's own dime and earlier this month scored its first significant partnership, an outsourcing relationship with Sysix Technologies LLC.
The Chicago-based Form & Function will focus on consulting, and Sysix will handle the implementation and support work. It's a simple plan that Bernard hopes will lead to success and help avoid the complexities that brought down MarchFirst, which filed for Chapter 11 in April.
Form & Function is a supply-chain and customer-relationship management technology consulting firm targeting mid-sized companies, those with annual revenues between $100 million and $1 billion. Bernard's new firm most closely resembles Whittman-Hart, the consulting firm he helped found more than 18 years ago.
Like Whittman-Hart, Form & Function will focus on the mid-market and seek to cultivate long-term consulting relationships with its clients. Also like Whittman-Hart, Form & Function will provide business and supply-chain strategy advice. But Form & Function goes a step beyond by adding CRM consulting and developing relationships with vendors such as E.piphany Inc. and APAC Customer Services Inc.
"Although business and IT consulting has reached a low level at this point in the economy, it's still a good time to start a consulting company because a lot of clients need advice regarding how to restructure or re-evaluate their business models and objectives," Bernard says.
Tom Rodenhauser, lead analyst with Consulting Information Services, agrees with Bernard's assessment of the market. "The way the world is moving, boutique services firms are the way to go for today's consulting entrepreneurs because you don't have to sell a lot of contracts to sustain a smaller business," he says.
Bernard says the greatest lesson he learned during MarchFirst's brief life was focus. MarchFirst, formed on March 1, 2000, by merging Whittman-Hart with USWeb/CKS, tried to combine the very different worlds of consulting, systems integration, and hardware reselling. The company chugged along at first, operating more like two companies than a single, merged unit that could handle its clients' needs from initial strategy through implementation and finally to ongoing support. Ultimately, pieces of MarchFirst were acquired by SBi Inc. and Divine Inc.
"The hardware side didn't have enough knowledge of the software we were recommending, so we wound up just selling solutions," Bernard says. "We didn't present a consistent face to clients."
Rodenhauser says MarchFirst fell victim to last year's expectations for unmitigated growth. "Whittman-Hart found itself caught up in last year's growth hype in merging with USWeb/CKS," he says. "When you become a bigger IT services firm like that, you have to drift toward outsourcing because that's where the continuity in revenue lies."
With Form & Function, Bernard appears to be getting back to the basics of consulting and handing over implementation and support services to his partner, Sysix, a 13-year-old hardware and infrastructure services company. The two companies signed an agreement earlier this month that brings Form & Function into Sysix's two-year-old Solutions Consortium and makes Sysix the exclusive provider of integration and support services to Form & Function clients.
Sysix created its consortium of software and service providers to act as a unified services organization for its midsize customers, says CEO John Scheaffer, who invited Form & Function to become part of the consortium in order to fill the group's need for supply-chain and CRM consulting. Other members of the Solutions Consortium include Symmetry Corp., et alia llc, and Sysix Financial LLC.
With Form & Function's specialization in CRM and supply chain, Sheaffer is looking to complement his company's experience implementing Unix and Windows NT servers, storage systems, networking equipment, and applications. He says, "The missing arrows in our quiver were CRM and supply-chain consulting."