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Grow a company
from 20
to $200 million dollars

In 2000, Buhrmann Nederland Holding acquired a family-owned local business in St. Louis, MO, and headhunted a new executive team to grow the company.

 

The St. Louis office of CMA Global provided individual and team assessments, interestingly invoking the Full Benefit Mindset of Navy SEALs for executive selection. Likely, none of us had the physical prowess. Still, we probably had the character, as the team withstood the test of time. It affected how we coordinated, collaborated, individually contributed, and used protocols in high-pressure situations.

We went to work.

Corporate Express PM (CEPM) Story

As the CIO of Corporate Express PM, I was responsible for technical thought leadership, facilitating business scale-up using technology, and reducing time to market. We developed new systems, streamlined integrations, and shipped hundreds of web solutions. We grew the business from lows of $20M to over $200M in 7 years, leading to the acquisition by Staples.

The team did many things, strategic and tactical, to reach this success, and one day, we may all get together to write the story. Below are a few engineering initiatives. They are not necessarily the most essential contributors; they were simply a significant change in thinking, from how a family-owned business is managed, allowing the company to scale.

Comversa eCommerce platform

We built Comversa, a web eCommerce platform for building and hosting B2B websites for our customers and their customers. Comversa had a deep integration engine with our customers' ERP systems (of which there were considerably many) and Ariba. It exposed services using SOA architecture.

On the ERP side, optimization algorithms minimized the number of packages and their dimensions. This provided better customer service while endowing our company with a new (and significant) revenue source.

Key technologies

  • .NET

  • Microsoft SQL Server

  • SOA

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SOA: Integration of legacy with modern technologies

Over time, we had thousands of integrations. Engineering processes were not the longest, but we had many new ones every month, and it looked for ways to do more without increasing headcount as the company accelerated its growth. The solution in this case was to abstract the legacy ERP system (which ran on VAX VMS) using Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) BUS. Initially, it was necessary (psychologically) to mandate that all new systems and features communicate only via the BUS.

This architecture yielded tremendous flexibility and service reuse. Each system could be developed in its own release cycle. Surprisingly, even though the development of new features had to think about their consumers (and not just about the feature), the development cycles of providers and consumers both shortened, and quality increased due to isolation.

Dave Brown is credited with the SOA project idea during my tenure with CEPM. This project drastically changed the company, and he envisioned it when most people thought SOA was only a TV show.

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