From tinkering with computer parts as a teenager to running thriving technology services firm Tecala Group, a love of technology has been an unwavering constant for Pieter DeGunst throughout his life. It’s a commitment that’s remained strong as the digital revolution has gathered force, transforming the industry beyond recognition.
Pieter has kept pace with the changes afoot, learning to swiftly adapt to remain relevant – an approach that is clearly reflected in the trajectory of Tecala itself. When he joined the company as Managing Director back in 2006, it was a very different organisation to the one it is today.
At the time, Tecala was purely a consulting business, helping companies enhance their digital capabilities. Until that point, Pieter had worked in a number of facets of the technology industry in retail and wholesale roles. “I decided I wanted to work with businesses to help improve their utilisation and deployment of technologies,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “I joined Tecala because there was a huge opportunity to become a comprehensive technology partner to our clients.”
Time to reboot
Pieter had worked with several of Tecala’s original founders in various other businesses in the run-up to their decision to give the company their full-time attention. “We decided there was a better way of doing things, and we wanted to reboot Tecala from its previous existence purely as a consulting business into a fully fledged technology services provider; something we’ve spent the past 15 years building and refining,” he explains.
The transition from boutique consultancy to full stack provider came as a huge revolution was sweeping across the technology landscape; one that only added to the allure of taking on such a mission.
Having undertaken such a complete transformation of our own business gives us the credibility to talk to our clients about business transformation and how technology can help empower and accelerate those ambitions.
“The early days of virtualising infrastructure, the rapid expansion of online and digital services and the growing reliance from businesses on technology to be successful was an attractive combination – and we knew we could do a great job of helping our customers successfully navigate the waters of those challenges,” Pieter recalls.
According to Pieter, overseeing the shift and seeing it become a success is his greatest career achievement to date. “I feel like having undertaken such a complete transformation of our own business gives us the credibility to talk to our clients about business transformation and how technology can help empower and accelerate those ambitions,” he says.
“We bet the business on an approach that fundamentally shifted our commercial/financial model from capex to opex. That’s a simple phrase – but any organisation that has done it understands that it takes a profound commitment to the model and isn’t a place for the faint-hearted.”
Tecala’s 2008 addition of managed services and IT support services to its consulting portfolio and the deeper shift in the business’s core purpose had a “profound impact” on the company’s ability to stay relevant and deliver value to its clients, according to Pieter. Now on its new track, the company remains dynamic, staying attuned to the constant shifts in the industry and responding accordingly.
“In order to stay relevant to our client base, we have to remain constantly vigilant around what we have to offer them and to ensure we map our services to their shifting imperatives,” Pieter stresses.
“Business innovation isn’t a project; it’s a continuum. And throughout the years, we have continued to evolve the business in a number of different ways to meet this goal.” In recognition of this continuum, Pieter and the Tecala team made another big move in 2010, just a couple of years after it originally expanded its portfolio.
“We lit up our initial private cloud offering to enhance the managed services that we had introduced,” Pieter recalls. “This made us one of the first adopters in Australia – we’ve been in the cloud for a lot longer than the hyperscalers and public offerings.”
A new way
In an increasingly cluttered space, the company’s focus on providing innovative solutions to small and medium-size enterprises is what sets it apart from the competition, according to Pieter.
“We like to say that we democratise technology,” he shares. “That is because we commercialise and de-risk technology investments that might otherwise be out of reach of our SME clients, normally the realm of large enterprise only. We believe there is incredible competitive advantage available from the world’s greatest technology platforms, so providing that is important to us and our clients.” Maintaining this focus is critical to Tecala’s future success.
“We got really focused on our purpose and our values, and we live them every day,” Pieter says. “Our brand is founded on the premise that we will be the pre-eminent tech partner for progressive growing businesses.
“We’ve managed to assemble a crew of people who are fanatical about customer service, and it’s at the forefront of everything we do.” Unsurprisingly, technical excellence is also a top priority, with Tecala taking its commitment to deliver on its promises seriously.
“There is a fierce pride in our broad and growing base of subject matter expertise,” Pieter asserts. “But the road to building a credible and relevant brand is derived from an aspiration to create enduring partnerships with our clients, allowing us to navigate technology and deliver brilliant outcomes together.”
The result of this approach is a client retention rate that is greater than 95 per cent. On top of that, Pieter shares that a growing number of Tecala’s clients have been with the company for 10 years or more. It all comes back to a “genuine desire” to share responsibility with clients in keeping IT innovation aligned with their core business outcomes, Pieter explains.
“We are far from a transaction supplier and really set ourselves up to co-innovate and continuously improve their technology platforms and, therefore, their businesses. “The range of capabilities we have in-house from consultancy advisory to transformation services, managed services and cloud services is also very unique, as organisations are often going to two to three different providers instead of just one, which results in a lack of accountability to an outcome.”
Moving forward, Pieter is getting excited about the transformational impact that he believes automation technologies are going to have on businesses all around the world in the next decade.
“We fully believe that Australia is at the forefront of leveraging these technologies to be competitive on a global scale,” he says. To help Tecala get ready for this evolution, the company is implementing a strategy made up of three key pillars.
First, the team is looking to scale its core business across new regions throughout Australia and New Zealand, and helping more clients on their digital transformation journey. Second is to expand its cybersecurity capabilities and offerings specifically in the managed security services space.
“We have a broad range of solutions today. As the security landscape evolves, we continue to enhance our portfolio to remain one step ahead of the game,” Pieter adds. The third and final pillar centres around helping Tecala’s customers improve the efficiency of their business operations through what Pieter describes as “intelligent” business practices. “These are technologies such as automation, digital workflows, data insights and application integrations,” he says.
“When designed and deployed correctly, these are truly game-changers in how an organisation can operate and scale, and also make significant improvements to its profitability.” Partnerships will also play an important role in the company’s future success, with Tecala already firmly tied to many of the world’s leading technology providers.
“We work heavily with titans like Microsoft, VMware and ServiceNow,” Pieter shares. “We also have some deep and strategic relationships with more specialised vendors such as Pure Storage, Juniper and Rubrik, who support many of our cloud and communication platforms that our customers consume.”
Such relationships are maintained through a range of commercial engagements with partner managers and product owners, as well as technical engagements in research and development, training and co-development of services.
Rising to the challenge
In the rapidly evolving technology sector, there have naturally been numerous challenges along the way, Pieter admits. So what has been the greatest up to this point? “I would say the balancing act of funding both scale and growth of our own business with the massive investments we’ve made in our technology platforms to provide services to our clients,” he replies.
“We’ve overcome them with disciplined strategies and robust execution combined with rapid commercialisation of new technologies once they are proven.” Then there was the onset of COVID-19 last year, which saw the pandemic accelerating many of the shifts that were already underway in the technology landscape, as well as creating some new ones.
“As COVID-19 evolved, we took caution in some areas until we understood the economic impact, but overall, we grew throughout the pandemic and continue to do so,” Pieter says. “While we support some clients going through financial challenges with turning down services and optimising costs, other clients grew at rapid rates and undertook mergers and acquisitions activity, so it’s been an incredibly busy period for us.”
When quizzed on the best piece of advice he’s received over the years, Pieter is quick to respond. “Surround yourself with people smarter than you,” he smiles, adding that they’re words he, indeed, tries to live by.
“We have a truly world-class team of people at Tecala. I’m very proud of the crew we’ve built, and I’m thrilled I get to work with such talented and passionate people every day.” For Tecala, its organisational culture is a “cornerstone” of its success and none of its wins would have been possible without the right people in place, Pieter insists.
I enjoy working closely with the team to solve our customers’ problems.
“We only have passionate, driven people who are proud of what we do. Our culture is about delivering on our promises and having fun along the way. We hire to these parameters very diligently, and we leverage our culture and values in reward and recognition programs and also development programs. It’s very deeply embedded across the business, which takes time but offers a huge payback.”
However, the importance of Tecala’s culture doesn’t end there, instead it extends out to its client base through those carefully nurtured ties. “When we engage in an ongoing partnership, we become part of that client’s team,” Pieter reflects.
“So it’s imperative that we have a meeting of the minds with respect to culture and values. As a mid-market business ourselves, we are solely focused on working with mid-market customers. When we really ‘get’ each other, we really ‘get on’.” In terms of Pieter’s own leadership style, he aims to be democratic.
“I engage very deeply across all areas of our business and have the ability to span conversations through technology, service operations and then out to sales and marketing,” he says.
“I enjoy working closely with the team to solve our customers’ problems, and I really enjoy engaging with our clients as I believe it’s the only way one can truly understand what the market needs and wants as it continues to change rapidly.” Placing emphasis on continuous innovation also helps to give the company and its employees momentum, he says.
“We have entire teams that consistently research upcoming technologies; they test, validate and curate those products to ultimately bring them to market,” Pieter shares.
“We also engage in innovation workshops with our clients to both present what’s coming down the pipeline and to hear what they are thinking and working on. I’d say co-innovation is the most successful model we have with our clients.”
The world of technology certainly looks very different to how it did back when Pieter first joined Tecala, and it’s an entirely different ball game to what it was when he used to build makeshift computers for his family and friends in his childhood bedroom. But that is exactly the thing that’s kept Pieter hooked all these years.
“I love the dynamic nature of the technology industry and that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” he says. “The team I get to work with every day and the clients we have are truly exceptional, and it makes the challenges of solving complex problems together extremely rewarding. I’ve been at Tecala now for over 15 years and have never found myself without challenges or ideas on improvements or expansion of our services – it feels like we’re just getting started.”
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