C-Bridge Internet Solutions, once a fast-growing, $83 million e-consultancy, in mid-2001 had $40 million in cash in one hand and a nearly extinct services business in the other hand.
The companys CEO, Joe Bellini, knew he had to act fast to save whatever was left of C-bridge. His decision: Combine the consultancys expertise in analyzing and solving business problems in the financial-services and process-manufacturing industries, with a native XML-based platform for developing and deploying applications to run across a customers value chain. Bellinis ultimate goal was to eliminate the need for armies of systems integrators to link up disparate systems and applications.
The days of the pure, technology-agnostic, e-services firm are clearly over, reckons Bellini. "Nobody is going to pay consultants $200 an hour anymore for a two-month study," says Bellini. "The gatekeepers want you to show them you can build a workbench [solve a process work flow problem] using technology that is high-performing and persistent."
With $40 million in cash and a core group of applications specialists capable of building their own LEGO-like, service-based architecture, Bellini considered creating a software solution in-house. But the risks inherent in a 12-month development cycle were too great. And besides, eXcelon already had a flexible XML-based engine, backed by a healthy installed base of 3,000. The two companies merged in September and the business is called eXcelon.
"Users [of eXcelons XML server] aggregate information using a business document metaphor," notes Bellini. "The integration is not at the data or applications level, so its easier to use technology to make changes in a business process, which is [normally defined by] the flow of documents. In other words, its a much cleaner architecture."
Its too early to gauge the success of this new business model. So far, the merged company has focused on economies of scale and skill balancing, eliminating 27 percent of its workforce, including many unbillable consultants, and closing three overseas offices.
But Bellini eyes those 3,000 eXcelon customers like a jeweler appraising a fine diamond. He says eXcelons 13-year history of solving transactional problems will give the C-bridge minions instant credibility when they walk into those 3,000 accounts. He envisions a revenue mix of roughly 75 percent infrastructure and 25 percent services, including maintenance.
"Right now the channel is filled with all the stuff bought in the past several years, which doesnt connect to customers or trading partners," Bellini says. "CEOs have had to pull back spending in this economy, but eventually theyre going to let loose that pent-up demand for tools and business-process skills that allow distributed information with centralized complexity."
Such a goal, he concludes, represents the fulfillment of the promise of the Internet.