Solnet Solutions’ MD reflects on a decade of business change

Digital is the biggest driver of business, Mark Botherway says

The days of acting as a product agency are long gone for software delivery and consulting company Solnet Solutions, says managing director Mark Botherway, who reflects on a decade of business change as the company turns 10 next month.

“Today, we focus on tough business problems,” he says. “We’re not wedded to any multinational that feels free to dictate our strategy, and we don’t accept quota. Instead, we have small, highly engaged teams.”

Solnet Solutions is based in Wellington, with an office in Auckland. The company employs around 140 people. The Solnet name has actually been around for 20 years, beginning as SolNet Ltd. But after a falling out with Sun Microsystems which led to Sun terminating the agency, the company was reinvented as Solnet Solutions

Botherway has restructured the company around seven core competencies: Digital enterprise, integration, enterprise application development, information management, enterprise support, enterprise resource planning, and agile. Though it doesn’t deal specifically in product, it retains IBM and Oracle certifications.

He says the fastest growing parts of the business are around digital enterprise, which is his focus. The company has three PhDs, among others, working in its laboratory and developing IP in domain business and business process automation.

“We’re delivering much more directly to the end user these days rather than providing the ‘plumbing’ within the enterprise,” he says. “We need sophisticated customers who understand the difference between price and value.”

Those large enterprise customers include banks, insurance companies, telcos, and big government departments. One of Solnet’s most important relationships is with the Accident Compensation Corporation. “They stood by us from the start; they’re a cornerstone client.”

Botherway says the market has become increasingly difficult for the multinationals to invest appropriately in. “They’re more concerned about driving product rather than outcomes.”

He’s also of the view that New Zealanders have fallen behind the intellectual curve. “Two decades ago Kiwis were quite entrepreneurial. Now, the best and brightest move offshore because we don’t pay internationally competitive salaries.

“For example, CIOs in Australia get three times the salary. And some of the failures in government here are due to lack of skills. We’re not as innovative as we used to be.”

That said, there’s a lot of ICT activity now. He says the industry is going as well as it has in the past five years, with digital being the biggest driver. “I’m not so sure about the cloud. However, we’re seeing some investment backlog being released.”

A few years ago Botherway set up a small outpost in Australia, largely in Brisbane, where it has done major work for insurance giant Suncorp, Pickles Auctions and RP Data (the equivalent of Quotable Value in New Zealand).

Botherway sees further opportunity in Australia, which is now facing economic issues. Its cashcow mining industry has been affected, which means the banks are not so keen to provide easy funding. “Australia has a generation which knows only how to manage growth.”

Major projects in New Zealand he is proud of include an ongoing one for Beef + Lamb, which he says has exposed valuable data for the industry, and a cancer registry for the Ministry of Health. “It’s led to incredible productivity increases and quality of data.”

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