The dos and don'ts: Adrian Di Marco's lessons to success

Adrian Di Marco's experience with multinational companies gave him a glimpse into what he did not want to become, which eventually paved the way for him to establish TechnologyOne.

After completing his science degree at the University of Queensland, Adrian Di Marco was an ambitious graduate who thought that joining multinational companies would set him up for life -- but all that changed once he was on the inside.

Di Marco, who is head honcho and founder of Queensland-based enterprise applications provider TechnologyOne, said that after working with the multinationals, his expectations of them became completely disillusioned.

"I saw just how inefficient they were, and how poorly their whole model worked, which is still the same model today. They build the software in Silicon Valley or in Germany, and then throw it over to Accenture and IBM to implement it, before getting a third party to host it," he said.

"It's a very fragmented business model, and it's fundamentally flawed."

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Adrian Di Marco, TechnologyOne founder and CEO (Image: Supplied)

He then decided that joining a local company -- and going the other extreme -- would perhaps be a different story and experience. But taking that leap didn't meet his expectations, either.

"When I started working for local companies, they were just as talented, if not more talented, but they didn't have the ability to market themselves," he said.

Having worked in both extremes, Di Marco saw there was an opportunity to take what he had learned to start what would eventually become one of Australia's largest enterprise software providers.

"I think it was the frustration, but the opportunities I saw as well. I saw that if we could build and apply software in Australia, we could do it better than the multinationals, and have a better business model," he said.

Di Marco first warmed to joining the IT industry after helping his brother, who at the time was studying engineering at university, with programming one of the first digital computers.

Now, after 26 years in the business with TechnologyOne, Di Marco said the company's story is still the same after all these years. He said the focus of the company has been, and will always be, about using technology to get a competitive advantage to transform. Fittingly enough, the company's slogan is: Transforming business, making life simple.

During the last financial year, the publicly listed company reported a revenue earning of AU$195 million, driven mainly by the company's push in the cloud platform market. In February 2014, the company committed AU$80 million to enterprise cloud.

"I often say to people when I meet them, 'It's the same story; it's boring'. Sure, little bits have been added, for example, the move to the cloud with software as a service, but it's still part of the original philosophy that we do it all: We build, we market, we sell, we implement, we support, and now we run it," he said.

"We think that's what it's all about when it comes to an integrated total approach, where one vendor takes full responsibility to sign the contract and to deliver the results, and there are no third parties involved.

"It's that sort of commitment you make if you want to be successful long term as an Australian, New Zealand business. There is a cultural cringe here that if it's not built in Silicon Valley, it can't be as good, so you have to step up to the mark and go beyond your competition to be considered."

"We did what people thought we couldn't do, which was build enterprise software here in Australia."

When asked how the company fares against the big guys, Di Marco said it is right up there, if not better. He noted that TechnologyOne is only a handful of companies he considers as being early adopters of the cloud and software as a service.

However, starting the business, especially during the early days, did not come without hurdles. Di Marco said that like most startups, the company faced issues concerning cash flow, profitability, and moments of uncertainty when it came to paying wages. However, the largest challenge the company was confronted with was trying to convince the market that what it was offering was competitive.

"People thought it was not a good idea, so I turned to a past customer of mine, Dugald McTaggart, he had an appliance factory in the outer Brisbane suburbs and I had computerised it for him. He used multinationals himself and it had been a failure. He got me to go in to fix it all for him. He was so impressed that we could actually build products in Australia and compete with them," he said.

The impression that Di Marco left on McTaggart led to him providing TechnologyOne with initial C capital funding, and he continues to be a major shareholder in the business today.

"We did what people thought we couldn't do, which was build enterprise software here in Australia," Di Marco said.

But success did not happen overnight, with Di Marco noting that it has been a bit of a waiting game. During the early days, the company frequently lost business to international companies. But patience persevered; Di Marco said the company is now picking up business that it initially lost.

He added that a large part of the business is currently focused on replacing old systems created by its global competitors, Oracle and SAP, mainly because customers have realised that these companies are not able to provide a streamlined service -- a huge satisfaction for Di Marco. During 2014, the company replaced 15 former Oracle and SAP systems with their own.

Di Marco said this is because the "gloss has worn off" the multinationals, and businesses are beginning to rebuild within the cloud.

"What they're trying to do is sell all this 'black art' and make it really complicated. But one thing people know about the cloud is that it's about simplicity; if it's complicated, it ain't right, and it's opposite to what they're marketing. All the stuff about hybrid cloud, private cloud, infrastructure as a service is totally irrelevant, because they're just making it sound complicated," he said.

"What you want to deal with is a vendor who can give you these services. You don't care how it's done. It should be a black box, as long as you get the service."

Even though the company is publicly listed -- and has been since 1999 -- Di Marco said its future growth will rely on doing the same thing over again, but better. He expects that this will help deliver a 15 percent to 20 percent growth rate annually for a "long, long time".

He also firmly believes that remaining an Australian company is invaluable, but is concerned that it may not always be, given it is a public company.

"I think it'd be sad to see it not remain Australian. I think in Australia, we should protect our Australian company," he said.

Upon reflecting on this, Di Marco said more needs to be done to support the Australian tech industry, which he believes is at a disadvantage because the playing field between local companies and multinationals is not level.

He suggested that Australia needs more companies like TechnologyOne that act like hubs for smaller Australian technology companies.

Di Marco said TechnologyOne will continue to grow by partnering with smaller companies before deciding whether to acquire them. He said that at the end of the day, these smaller companies will be joining an "Australian ship". Recently, the company acquired Icon for AU$10 million to enhance its local government offerings.

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