Creating a new impact

FluidOne CEO Russell Horton discusses how the broad effects of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted him to revise his strategic approach and create a bigger impact.

Over the past two years FluidOne has grown 100 per cent with three more acquisitions under its belt, and transformed from a network aggregator into a connected cloud solutions provider. It now has 240 staff, 200 channel partners and 1,100 direct clients. “For organic sales, flat is the new growth during the Covid-19 pandemic,” stated Horton. “However, thanks to acquisitions we’ve doubled in size to £60 million. Although the pandemic’s effect on our market, customers and connectivity has flattened our organic growth, it’s pushed us to adapt and accelerate other areas of our plan and given us some real clarity as to what we want to achieve and how we plan to get there.”

Before the pandemic FluidOne was heavily focused on connectivity, including mobile. Its strategy was to acquire skills in over-the-top services to give joined-up solutions from end user to the application, which Horton calls the connected cloud. “The pandemic made our customers review or pause their office activity, but they needed urgent help getting their home workers up and running,” he added. “This showed that having combined services for UC, CC, IT over the top of connectivity and with a cyber security wrap is what customers require. It also gives us multiple routes to win business. The pandemic made me wish we’d moved faster: We would have gained many more opportunities in 2020 if we’d had the wider connected cloud products already in place.”

Digital transformation has been driving change for several years, noted Horton, so leaders need to be able to embrace change, set a clear vision and goals that staff and customers buy into, and ensure they work with the right people to support them in delivering their vision. “Make sure you have a strong team around you with each person more knowledgeable in their area than you, who buy into the vision and are passionate about it,” added Horton. “Together, you will cope with all changes and outperform the rest of the market.”

The pandemic made me wish we’d moved faster: We would have gained many more opportunities in 2020 with the wider connected cloud products already in place

For Horton, self-development is an ongoing process. He learns from networking and reading business books. “One book I’ve read this year was Good to Great by Jim Collins,” he said. “Given our scale and my long-term vision to 2030, the book has influenced my approach and plans for my senior team. As for networking, an old friend and colleague has been in the SaaS market for several years now, and his career growth has been phenomenal. Hearing from him about his approach to sales and customer pitches has inspired me, and I’ve been passing on his key lessons to our sales and marketing leaders.”

Another major priority is bringing FluidOne’s connected cloud solutions to customers, and increasing its services and wallet share per customer or partner. “We plan to build this out by acquiring quality businesses that bring in the required skills and experience, and we’re also ramping up two key areas of opportunity that we’ve been investing in – cyber security and flexible space,” said Horton. “Another area of change and opportunity is, as long-term leases expire, that we’ll see a big change in the proportion of office space that’s used as a flexible space rather than leased for the long-term.

“Business home worker services aren’t yet mature. Because of the rush caused by Covid-19, the market to create combined office-in-a-box solutions for different personas of home workers will become a major growth area, particularly for jobs such as home working call centre agents. The fact that our clients were forced to accelerate their digital transformation has provided a massive opportunity for our industry.”

Despite the opportunity, there are challenges, noted Horton. “On the connectivity front, the carriers are being more aggressive on price and everyone in the market is defending their bases,” he added. “It’s key to add value to the channel and not rely on it as a commodity sell. In terms of opportunities, we’re finding that the ability to have wider conversations, thanks to the connected cloud solutions set, is allowing us to engage at a higher level with our customers and become more of a strategic partner to channel resellers. This allows many more touch points to become the potential first sale from which to land and expand.”

With IT services moving to the public cloud, such as Azure, the skills to migrate and repurpose servers and then manage them and O365 are becoming more commonplace, observed Horton. “I can see this area for IT managed service providers becoming more commoditised, so looking at how to add value to that stack, to differentiate and increase margin opportunity, is a growing market,” he added. “Automation, big data, AI and how to leverage all of these to bring value to the customer over their Azure estate is an area we’re looking into. More immediately I see an explosion in the need for cyber security, especially when it comes to the Microsoft cloud stack.”

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