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Updated: Oct 3, 2023

In this podcast episode, guest Mike Dorhmann- Vice President of Atlantic Technologies, speaks with Jonathan about navigating a consulting business during the pandemic, how to look after his employees and managing customers through a turbulent time.

Atlantic Technologies is an international IT consultancy firm, offering premium ERP, CRM, HCM and analytics. With over 200 skilled consultants spanning across their Milan, London and Denver offices, Atlantic offers their clients a local service with a global reach.

Some key learnings include:

  • Governing how you keep Salesforce not just moving, but evolving

  • How the remote environment impacts the world of consulting

  • Importance of education, training and communication for an agile workforce

  • How the consulting industry can adapt to current times

You can listen to Mike's podcast here.


Jonathan: Hi everyone, welcome along to the next edition of Precursive Perspective. I’m delighted today to be joined by Mike Dohrmann, who is the managing partner, hi Mike, thanks for waving, of Atlantic Technologies. Mike, thanks for joining us.

Mike: Thanks for having me today, really appreciate it.

Jonathan: Absolutely. So tell us, where in the world are you today?

Mike: I am based out of my home office in Denver, Colorado. Left the UK three and a half months ago thinking I was coming back for three weeks.

Jonathan: Yeah, because you commute once a month don’t you?

Mike: About that, yeah.

Jonathan: Well, thanks for coming on. So in these conversations, Mike as you know, I spend some time speaking with executives and leaders of a range of different companies, technology businesses, professional services organizations, really about how they’re navigating this new remote reality that we’re all working in and exploring some of the topics in and around it. So, let’s just begin with a bit of background to you and Atlantic Technologies, so for those of us joining today, give us a little bit of background on Atlantic and the scope of your role there, and then perhaps a little bit about your career prior to that if you don’t mind.

Mike: Sure, so Atlantic Technologies is a Salesforce, Oracle and Tableau consulting firm that’s based out of Milan, Italy. I am a managing partner along with one of my partners, Fred Walker, in the UK. So we’ve been in business for over twenty years. We’re the largest platinum partner in Italy outside of the big four, and then we’ve done a lot of work in J.D Edwards, Oracle, and then Tableau which has fit nicely with the turn of the events in the last year. Prior to Atlantic, I came from Blue Wolf, which was acquired by IBM, and spent five years there as an associate partner and led the team of engagement managers for the United Kingdom, so we had a book of business of about $100 million in direct revenue for IBM. I’ve been in the Salesforce space for about fifteen years. Fred and I moved over to Atlantic at the same time and originally had grand ideas to go out and do something on our own in the UK and we met Marcelo Di Rosa who is the CEO of Atlantic to see if he would be willing to invest in us, and he wanted to and just a little bit before we were going to get moving, he said “hey I have a better idea, how about you, under my banner Atlantic Technologies, get the UK up and running for us and start a practice there. That’s kind of how that came to fruition, so in the UK we’re really focusing on Salesforce and surrounding technologies and applications as a platinum partner.

Jonathan: Well I’m glad we got Fred’s name in because he’d be super disappointed.

Mike: 100%.

Jonathan: Marcelo, if you’re watching I wore this shirt for you. Cool. So I think the world’s radically changed since when you and I first met a number of years ago. Talk to us a little bit about how you guys at Atlantic had to adapt given the new circumstances.

Mike: I run the UK, and one of the first things I had to do at the beginning of March was decide, “my family’s based here, do I need to go back? Ok, I’m gonna go back.” And then it became, how do we work that, not just for me but then with all of our employees because they’re dispersed throughout the UK, with everybody who came into an office like everyone else. We were already using Zoom, just for client meetings and other remote working tools. It changed very very quickly in terms of people getting onto video calls, which is key. I think that face to face interaction is what people need out of the gate, but one of the ways we dealt with it immediately, and I know a lot of other companies have and I’m sure we stole it from somebody, but we started quiz nights and zoom drinking, just things to try to keep employees engaged. Those have come off a little bit, other than the quiz night just because of the competitive spirit of our consultancy. And then we took some other measures and realizing that people were going to be from home, we came up with a budget, and allotted a certain amount of money for all of our employees to purchase home office equipment, whatever they needed. Some people did want a chair, some people wanted a desk or a new monitor or whatever. It was, I think, pretty organic like every other company, it wasn’t really something that any of us had any foresight into so it was a little bit from the hip, but we’ve hired enough people that we trust them so it was never an issue of getting their work done and it just became a way of establishing ways of working with our leadership team and then cascading that down to our employees, so even now we’ve opened the office. We built an application on Salesforce just internally for tracking who wants to go into the office, and tracking things like, we’re asking our employees that want to go in that they don’t take public transportation right now, that we cap it at about four or five employees in the office at a time, they have to wear facemasks, they basically sign all this in Salesforce. But we’ve also in the UK extended our timeline for working from home indefinitely, because it has worked.

Jonathan: Well here’s a little tip for you, because we have our own Wine Wednesday’s at Precursive which is very popular. There’s a game called ‘Fibbage’, I will send it to you, and basically what happens is it’s like a little game show online and you’ll have a statement and you’ve got to insert a word and get everyone to believe your lie and you get points. It’s very amusing.

Mike: Fibbage, it’s a very English word, sounds very English.

Jonathan: It’s an American game, because there’s an American accent on the game, Fred will love it. So looking at your customers then and your clients, you serve a range of midmarket and enterprise, manufacturing businesses, technology companies, biotech, healthcare. So what have you seen in terms of the changes for them and really how they’re adapting to this and the change that they want to achieve.

Mike: It’s been interesting, the clients that we’ve been working with, and I’ll take this outside of the manufacturing clients, which have been a little bit different because they’ve been impacted more than some of the technology clients that we work with. The technology clients we work with, it’s as if the infrastructure was already in place to handle this type of crisis, and so for them it became ‘crack on, now we don’t have to waste any time’. Two of the clients we have right now, I think they view this as a time that moving along in a much more rapid and iterative fashion makes the most sense now. So what we’re seeing is companies that traditionally might have been more, and I hate the word ‘agile’, where they really take a big bang or a big picture approach, are starting to become more receptive to iterating in an agile fashion just because you don’t have to coordinate a huge meeting space and fly a bunch of people out, and people are now accustomed to working on virtual whiteboards via Zoom and other audiovisual technology. The impact for our clients and the change that they want is really, ‘let’s move forward, let’s do it a little bit faster than we have in the past’.

Jonathan: So the speed of engagements can actually potentially increase for you guys.

Mike: Ironically, that’s what's happened. When we started out from the offset, we thought this was going to have an impact on how fast we could actually accomplish work with our clients and it’s actually turned out we can do this potentially a little bit faster because we don’t have to wait in terms of making people travel, on our side and on their side. It just comes together. And obviously we don’t care about how we dress for anything anymore!

Jonathan: Yeah well you’ve always been a fan of hoodies, so you’re living your dreams! With respect to how, you’ve been in consulting a long time across a range of businesses. How do you see this impacting the consultancy market and that environment longer term?

Mike: I think it does a couple things, I think that first, it opens up the door for resourcing, more so than we’ve had before. As it stands, primarily in a London office you’re hiring London talent or people in the surrounding areas, with not a lot of people commuting again. I think what we’ve proven, we actually onboarded a new employee one month into the crisis, and it worked well. Other than his interviews back in February, none of us had ever met him in person, none of us had worked with him in person. So I think from a consulting standpoint, it’s opening up the potential to hire people that are outside of London, or outside of a country in particular. So you can start attracting the best talent from almost anywhere now, because you don’t have to go into a centralized office all the time. I think that allows for companies to get a little bit more value because clients are looking for the best and brightest which is what we’re looking for, so us being able to hire outside of a box will allow us to more effectively consult with our customers which means that they’re going to be looking for speed and other areas. It’s really the second point that speed. I mentioned this earlier but eliminating the need to travel out to client sites to coordinate huge meetings, it not only takes that time away but the money that’s invested into getting resources out to meetings and running workshops can be put into other areas, so an extra resource to develop faster, or perhaps purchasing another technology. Consulting has adapted already, most of the folks I know that work for competitors have said the same things, everybody got on board right away of using virtual technologies for whiteboarding, virtual workshops, recording sessions, using more collaborative tools like Microsoft teams and Google. I don’t think the face to face is ever going to go away, and definitely the handshake is still something that is not only gratifying but it is still a way of doing business, I don’t think that’s ever gonna go away, but I think the need for it on every single engagement is moving away to what we’re at, it’s really allowed us to be responsive to our clients and to the wellbeing of our employees, and myself as an example and a couple other folks, you’re prime too, we’ve spent a lot more time with our kids, because for me I’m not spending 10 hours on a plane to commute to work, or taking a train or whatever. So I think from a productivity standpoint, not from a client side, but from a consulting side and from our company, our employees’ happiness is a little bit better. Now I mean, everybody still wants to go to the pub.

Jonathan: That is a really good point. If people are happier because the balance in their life is there and they’re bringing that into their conversations with you. I’ve noticed it, a lot of the time you would meet people sometimes in meetings, people are having a bad day, they’ve had a horrible commute, they’ve got a two-hour train ride to get home, it’s a factor so no, I totally get it.

Mike: Now it’s just hitting a mute button for a minute to tell your kid, “I promise I’ll be done with this call in five minutes.”

Jonathan: Switch off the face and put your fist in your mouth! So you talk about wanting the best and the brightest, and talent’s a critical piece of building a great consulting organization and being able to create value for your clients. Looking at some of the different components on how you think about building a more agile team and business, and we talk a lot, as you know in our research, about what companies are doing to build an agile workforce. So what are some of the components of that for you in terms of how you think about growing Atlantic and making it into a more agile workforce?

Mike: I think a lot of that comes down to training and education and communication .The ability to work in a more agile fashion, pie in the sky we would do it with every client, a lot of it comes down to educating our clients on what that actually means. One of the benefits of Salesforce is that you can really quickly build anything on it. That’s also one of the downfalls, is that you can just build something and keep iterating and iterating without having a gate. The education piece is having proper governance structure in place and working with the clients to really understand how much more disciplined developing and deploying in an agile fashion is because you have to have people that are in power to make decisions that are working with a set of outcomes that everything is built against, where you’re not just building to build, where every piece of criteria is put into play against a measurable outcome. So if you’re building X, it’s because we’re trying to achieve five minutes back in our day for our service reps to talk to other customers, or whatever the case may be. And then communication, I think what we found in here, having a workforce that’s quickly and easily able to be agile just with their own work and adapt. Communication has actually gone up. I actually feel like our team right now, and anybody that we’ve been bringing in, we have much more effective and frequent communication than we have in the past. Even when we were face to face in an office, which is great, there’s a lot of banter and chit-chat that happens, but that’s also detrimental sometimes where it can take away from some of the effective communication in getting to the point. So from an agile standpoint, we’ve been able to move I think a little more quickly because we’ve been more effective at communication, we’re hopping on calls a lot more often, we’re having face to face more often. And the same with clients, there’s no “hey let’s wait a week until we can find out if everyone can get there”. It’s almost like everybodies gone to “let’s see if we can get on the phone in the next half-an-hour”.

Jonathan: And then you’re scheduling your banter in the form of drinks or a quiz. It’s almost like you’ve got this productivity slot and then you can have a release.

Mike: You have your banter hour and that’s it.

Jonathan: You’re operating across a range of technologies and a range of industries and I think that the scrutiny on investment and spend inevitably in this macroeconomic climate is much higher than it has been. In your industry, skills and knowledge are such a critical element for your customers. How do you see that evolving or to begin with maybe, what’s the importance of it really from the client’s perspective?

Mike: Oh skills, we’re going into clients to be not only experts in the technology, but also if you think about the things that make up a Salesforce implementation, you’re starting to talk about governance, and not just project governance, but overall governance of how you keep Salesforce evolving and moving forward. Change management. So the way that communications go out about the platform and training and education. You also have people that understand process, not the technology, but sales process and service process, that have had experiences with other customers. It’s really challenging finding that right mesh of skills because the approach that we’ve taken is not “everybody has to be up to speed, certified, and an expert in technology” dependent on the role. There are intangibles, so the smartest person in the room isn’t necessarily always the best person to go and talk to a client. So we are trying to find that mesh of ‘do you have the chops? Yes. And from a cultural fit, sense of humor. It is little things for us like sense of humor, are they a little bit self-deprecating? Are they afraid to get in front of a room of five or six people from the offset? So when we look at talent, the skillset is a checkbox, they have to know Salesforce. So for a solution architect, they have to have a certain number of certifications at a minimum, they have to have a level of experience with customers but then when we go through the interview, we give them case studies that are very vague and ambiguous, and then they have to come back unbeknownst to them and present to five to six people and walk us through it, we’re gonna have questions, because that’s oftentimes what happens with our clients, so it’s us finding those right people. We built an application in Salesforce to help us manage that and all that, and as you know, we use Precursive internally, but all of that then, as we bring resources onboard, is related back to that Precursive user, so then long term we start talking about their certifications and ‘this person can lead a room, this person can talk to C-level executives and the like. Those are things we want to know as we move forward.

Jonathan: It’s pretty common now for the customers to be putting in automations where the work that people are undertaking, the type of technology that they’re working with, the industry experiences all being automated and pushed into that profile of that staff member in Salesforce via Precursive, that’s more and more common. I guess just a follow-on question, you talked about things like understanding process improvement, understanding change management. I think some times in some of these larger enterprise companies, they think they understand those things but actually it’s a bit more chaotic than one might hope. I’m curious to know, do you actually actively train people on things like that, on process improvement, on change management, with specific methodologies, or is it that you’re using a combination of things. If you haven’t worked client-side for example, if you haven’t been a practitioner, if you haven’t worked and delivered or done those projects internally in the vendor business, sometimes it’s pretty difficult to have that real world experience so tell us about how you try and develop some of those skills a bit more if you don’t mind.

Mike: So internally with customers, oftentimes it will depend on the level of maturity they have. There is a governance framework in place, but as it relates to managing a technology like Salesforce where you continue to iterate in a rapid fashion, they aren’t necessarily set up to do that, so a lot of what we would do is go in and recommend approaches, recommendations on why it works, how it works and then we will help guide them. The same thing around the change management side, there’s often pretty strong change management organizations and training organizations, especially within the larger midmarket to enterprise customers. Oftentimes there’s just a little bit of guidance around execution, so that’s where our consultants will come in and help them with putting a strategy together and execution of that. At the end of the day it does become incumbent on our clients to actually do a lot of that work and we’re there to help guide them, we are consultants. But without those, the value of the project is often lost. From our side it often feels like people look at is as a line item, and we embed it with all of our projects, everything that we can around change management and around governance because typically when those aren't present, that’s when you start to see projects fail, and so there’s an education with the clients from the offset with why we include those services, how we help them execute on the strategy. It’s a very vague way of saying it.

Jonathan: No no, not at all.

Mike: It’s often taken as that line item.

Jonathan: Yeah I get it. Because you’re constantly, day by day mobilizing people, both in your business and your customers’ business and therefore capacity, and your organizational capacity, your individual capacity to deliver is a very important component of any consulting business, and in fact for any customer. In this new remote environment, how has capacity planning changed? A backdrop to this question is, I remember a meeting with a head of operations for a services business and he said “I know we’ve got a problem because when I look over at the office, at five o’clock half of the office got up and left and at eight o’clock, the other half got up and left, I knew I had a problem because I could see it. Talk to me about this more distributed approach, does it make that capacity planning different, more difficult, what are you seeing there?

Mike: If anything, I think it’s made it a little bit more effective. We can look at it from resources on a page so we can definitely tell from an allocation standpoint on our side where our shortfalls are, where we may need to hire more headcount, which of our extra resources are tied up if we’re trying to sell another deal. But it doesn’t take out some of the human aspects of resource capacity, finding out how people are doing and checking their workload. So if anything it’s actually increased the amount of communication we have with our employees and that’s not only from our head of delivery and head of consulting talking with all of their employees and Fred and I talking to our direct reports, but I find myself reaching out to our employees more, just really trying to understand how they’re doing, where they’re at with their projects, what’s coming up for them. I think it’s really helped, necessity is the mother of all invention, but it’s really helped me from a communication standpoint try to get down to understanding really our resources’ bandwidth outside of numbers on a page and understanding from a human level what their actual productivity is in a day. It’s been a little bit different to manage because it’s not just quick interactions in an office, it’s really now turned into making sure, because there’s mental health stresses that have come with this for our employees and making sure, and checking in with them on that because some of them don’t have a family right with them, they might be living alone and going a little bit crazy.

Jonathan: Yeah they could have outdoor space, yeah exactly.

Mike: So it’s changed managing our employees in that manner, and then trying to say, ok, there are other mental considerations we need to take. What do we consider full-time capacity now, because before, it’s an eight-hour day, but now it’s kind of six hours is a full capacity for someone in a given day, and trying to figure out, some of our employees work on multiple projects and then really trying to figure out if it’s half and half, is it really actually too much just in the current environment. I don’t have a full answer other than if that’s the way it is in terms of managing it, it’s checking in more with our employees and trying to be more proactive in terms of how we take care of them.

Jonathan: I think there is a formula emerging in the sense that as you say, you’ve got an opportunity whereby you can bring people together maybe more easily so therefore that two-week gap you might’ve had between an interaction on a project because you’re trying to schedule something and then someone can’t make it and then you cancel it, and then it’s another two weeks and suddenly your project’s delayed by a couple of weeks or four weeks or however long, if you’re able to pull stuff forward and deliver more work in less time, not only timeline wise but productivity wise, as you say, you can get it done in a shorter amount of time. But balancing that against, as you say, both the homelife pressure, people still with children at home, homeschooling, the pressure that comes with that. I think for some mothers who are bearing the brunt, the boredom that can come with that, because it is a grind, and then I think, as you say, for those members of the team that don’t have people around them and all they’re doing is working. The nuances to all of this has tested people and companies like never before. So with regards then, finally, just looking at some tips to take away, we’re both working a lot with our customers who are working on, in and around the Salesforce platform, what advice would you give to people who are maybe earlier in that journey of Salesforce about how to think about how you can use Salesforce as a platform for growth?

Mike: For us internally, part of it is if we go out to a client, we like to be able to show how we actually use Salesforce in our pitch, because it’s actually helped us from a, what you’d expect, a sales and opportunity management aspect, but then also resource planning, and then we’re using Precursive for our timesheets which feed into billing and everything. Using Salesforce as a platform, it really can be leveraged for a huge variety of business functions. I think the best advice I’d have is, and we do this for a lot of our clients, start simple. Don’t move over complex processes that people haven’t used or are complaining about because ‘garbage in, garbage out’, so where we go in is, if you look at a Salesforce sales process, see if this works for 80% and then iterate on top of that, and really make decisions that are based on achieving business outcomes, rather than ‘hey, this is gonna work for Bob’.

Jonathan: It’s always Bob isn’t it.

Mike: There’s always a Bob. Start small and iterate. I look at Salesforce no different than some of the apps on my Iphone, so I fly… When I used to fly.

Jonathan: When you used to fly, yeah!

Mike: I fly United Airlines, that’s just what I do, and the first iteration of the app, I could check a flight and book a flight. It didn’t have anything on there about my loyalty, I couldn’t scan it at a gate, none of that, and it was the base amount of functionality I needed, and it iterated overtime and they continued to communicate with me on, “here’s what’s coming in the next release, here’s what’s coming in the next release.” Salesforce is no different. You’ve got to establish that baseline, keep it simple for all intents and purposes, and then move from there, and that’s with a good governance structure in place, good communications and change, that’s how you keep the platform clean and you keep people engaged with it.

Jonathan: Simple does not mean simplistic, I think that’s perhaps underappreciated.

Mike: That’s right, it doesn’t necessarily mean simplistic, it just means literally take the path of least resistance.

Jonathan: Don’t boil the ocean, yeah excellent. Alright thanks Mike, it’s been great having you on, final questions then, so are you also then a budding musician or is this the kids’ music studio? We’ve got keyboard, drum kits.

Mike: The two wooden guitars back there, my wife and I made as an anniversary gift back in Shoreditch or somewhere cool, and it was a workshop where we’ve got to make our own guitars, it was cool. And then my kids play piano, and I am a drummer.

Jonathan: Oh excellent, alright well maybe we can get a video followup on that one at some point.

Mike: Maybe not!

Jonathan: Thanks for coming on Mike, been awesome having you, really appreciate it.

Mike: Thanks for having me, thanks Jonathan.

Jonathan: Take care, man.


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