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Thriving in Uncertain Times: An Open Letter to Sparkrock Partners

May you 'live in interesting times', they said. It'll be 'exciting', they said. Sigh. As we read the headlines these days, I think we could all do with a little less ‘excitement’ in our lives.  


As I think about where Sparkrock is today, I feel deep gratitude to the many Clients, Partners, Employees and friends who – every day – are proving themselves to be loyal, steadfast, and dependable through these difficult times. It is my hope that you feel the same way about Sparkrock. We strive to prove ourselves worthy of your trust, by continuing to reciprocate in kind. I recognize that Sparkrock is quite fortunate, compared to many other firms: our business model is designed around a Mission Critical product (ERP), used by smart, dedicated Clients, in counter-cyclical industries (Nonprofits, Human Services Organizations, K-12 & Education, etc.), typically funded by governments, in Microsoft's Intelligent Cloud, that allows our Clients to access our product from wherever; whenever. Having pivoted 3-4 years ago to a subscription-only business model, our main challenge right now is to try to help support our Clients and stay out their way, as they work, during this pandemic, to keep our communities safe or reinvent their delivery model for a new 'social distancing' world. We didn't always have the assurance of recurring revenues, and I can recall vividly the difficulty of having to continually find and service new clients to ensure that we could meet payroll. Those days don't seem so long ago, and I thought I would share some thoughts on how we've dealt with similar (though less acute) challenges over the past 17 years. We made the difficult transition to a subscription model in 2016, and while the first few years were a challenge as we shifted away from the larger upfront revenues provided in a perpetual license model, I wouldn't change a thing: its better for the Client - substantially smoothing their cash outflows - and better for those of us servicing their needs - the long tail of the subscription payments provide a level of certainty in challenging times.  


Having dealt with numerous difficult environments over the past 17 years - most of them as a Services-centric Microsoft Partner - I can say that there are a number of similarities to what we face today. Pivoting a Services-centric business has a certain playbook: 1. Focus on your Clients: it's a truism to say that its easier to sell to a client than it is to an organization that doesn't know you, but NOW is the time to turn to your Clients. They know you; you've been there for them through their biggest challenges and helped to solve them. Now is the time to see how they might be able to revisit their requirements - a number of our clients are on the front lines working to keep us safe, but others are at home and are looking at this as the perfect time to clear their docket of the new scope they keep wanting to add to their system. Could you help your clients use this time more productively? What about packaging your services into discounted bundles, helping your clients better afford these improvements and helping you keep the lights on during a slower period? 2. Focus on the Cloud: Every organization who is On Premise today is struggling to figure out how to pivot to the Cloud. You can help them! In this new WFH world, the old ways of on premise servers, VPNs, etc. are not flexible or scalable enough for the challenges we're facing or for the new normal that is to come. Many of your Clients are likely struggling with similar challenges that we are: too many asks, too little time. This pandemic period is teaching a number of hard lessons about the need for speed and flexibility – essentially proving out what technologists like you and we have been saying for some time. Now is likely the time to help your Clients understand that a migration to the Cloud will help them solve these (now more urgent) challenges around remote work, etc. Could having a ‘cloud migration in a box’ package help them solve some of these issues? 3. Focus on the Future: As you think about what's best for your Clients, it's important to position them for success for the long-term, and not just for the next year or two. The ‘lift and shift’ of an older product to Microsoft’s Azure Cloud will provide some relief for the challenges of today. But what about the next crisis? How do you actually help them future-proof their technology backbone? Likely the answer to that question involves a platform that is architecturally positioned to enable them for years to come. The last thing you want, as you're trying to unlock a potential engagement is for a Client to get cold feet at the last moment and say "why would we do all that work just to be in the same place, 3 years from now." You need to be able to point to the proposed solution and say, with confidence, this is where Microsoft is going and this will set you up for the next decade. With a more modern platform, all benefits of the Microsoft ecosystem - Teams, Power BI, Power Apps, Data Analytics, etc. - become available to your Client.  


Here at Sparkrock, we have a number of Clients Live on our Sparkrock 365 SaaS ERP product, powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central platform, including a large multi-national organization, with Programs in 15 countries across Asia and Africa. For the right type of Client - we focus on organizations in the Nonprofit, Human Services, K-12 & Education sectors - our Sparkrock 365 product can UNLOCK Upgrade Engagements, because it contains a substantial amount of functionality not included in the base Business Central application, including Fund Accounting, Mobile Procurement, Scheduling and Time Entry, HR, Payroll, etc. Many of our current partners - firms just like yours - are using Sparkrock 365 to provide their publicly-funded clients with an Upgrade Path that doesn't currently exist - from an existing on-premise solution (often GP) to a future-proofed SaaS-based ERP platform - thereby unlocking, for themselves, the professional services that go along with that transition. We're keen to assist, however we can, through this challenging period. The next month will be like nothing we have ever seen. These times - and what we do during them - will live on collectively in our memories for decades.  


I talk to our Clients, Partners, and employees about the importance of being able to look back on our behavior through this challenging time and being ‘quietly proud’ of the contribution we made – no matter how small. Today’s challenges are forcing our clients to respond. We need to ask ourselves how can we help empower that change? How can we make sure that we are partnering with them, to help lessen their burden through this period? Engaging them in a conversation that begins with a simple Ask is a good place to start: “How can we help”? I hope the information above demonstrates our commitment to this space and a certain level of expertise, and I would ask the same of you: “How can we help” you best navigate this period and to strengthen the bond you have with your Clients? Over the past week or two, I’ve had calls with CEOs at a number of our existing Partners and I’d be keen to connect with you to compare notes on what we’re seeing and how we can help each other emerge from this period “stronger and smarter” than we were before all this began. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay disciplined, stay smart.   Let us know if you’re interested in learning more about the Sparkrock Partner Program.

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