In just over three years, the i5 Group has swollen to 50 staff members - serving some big-name financial services clients BIG FINANCIAL services institutions rarely talk about the systems they are using to serve their millions of customers. When asked about their technology deployments, they will mumble something about not wanting to give away competitive advantage.

It's a shame, because this means we seldom hear of the little guys helping to oil these enormous money machines.

The i5 Group is a good example, although they're actually not so little. The three-and-a-half-year-old Microsoft-gold certified company is responsible for the CRM deployments of First National Bank, Hollard Insurance and Sasfin, among other large organisations.

Others in the industry speak highly of Glen Ansell, the i5 founder and now CEO in charge of a workforce of about 50. The 27-year-old has built one of the most rapidly growing tech businesses in South Africa. Now there's even talk of a listing.

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Initially focusing on the deployment of Microsoft CRM, the i5 team has broadened itself into the portals, business intelligence and enterprise resource planning industries.

Ansell's shrewd decision to become - for want of a better term - a "Microsoft shop" in the CRM space has paid huge dividends.

"We've taken an embryonic product to the local market," he says of Microsoft CRM, "and we have seen truly rapid growth."

And, while i5 also initially drew business from the SME sectors, Ansell says a "conscious decision" was made to move more into the enterprise space - especially in the areas of financial services and media and entertainment.

The stellar list of big financial houses is testimony to the success of this strategy, as is the R22 million in revenue i5 brought in last year. The turnover figure has been doubling each year since i5's inception. Ansell sees no reason why this shouldn't continue.

NO BOUNDARIES

Ansell believes it is largely the attitude of the team that has made the company successful. "There is a hunger for business. We offer limitless, boundary-less solutions - we don't just want to be doing whatever is the standard."

"If you want to add speech to your CRM, we will do that, for example."

The recent acquisition of Fusion Factory brought i5 into the ERP space, he explains. Ansell admits that a large corporate client, one that has a "consistent, mature understanding of itself", often means a smoother CRM or ERP deployment.

Without this understanding, he explains, there is usually need for some pre-deployment work - including planning the adoption phase, processes, training staff, and education on the needs for and uses of CRM.

WHAT'S NEXT?

He points to the more evolved and matured attitude to CRM that many firms are starting to develop. "People are no longer trying to go out and boil the ocean, and do everything all at once. We're seeing need for a lot more departmentally-focused point solutions - suiting key business requirements.

"Show quick wins in specific areas and grow it out," he says.

In the short-term, i5 aims to continue its dynamic growth, and build a wider national footprint with the establishment of a new Cape Town office to go with the existing ones in Durban and Johannesburg.

"In the longer-term, we will be looking to develop our independent software division, Rezonance, and then spread our wings into different markets like Africa and Europe, and then further afield."

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