"What Infosys has really done for us and what they provide is that ability to scale, that ability to have a presence outside of the current market that we’re in, to a market where we want to go."
Paul Rutherford, Founder,Rutherford & Associates
To document the growth of Rutherford and its eoStar product is to tell the story of the little guy who thought big and grew big – but who never forgot where he came from. In the last 30 years, the company has become very successful, but its focus still remains on providing the products and functionality that smaller customers need, at a reasonable price.
The company began life in the 1980s as a tight-knit group of developers who began making software for vending machine operators. Stocking vending machines meant handling cash, and the people who operated them wanted accountability, as well as the most efficient way to get the goods to the machines. Paul Rutherford and his team gave them smart software that met their needs. It was a simple function and was continuously refined as technology moved on, until eoStar was soon used by other related industries, such as office coffee supplies, bottled water, and eventually, the soft beverage industry – helping smaller distributors take advantage of the direct store delivery (DSD) model. (Paul Rutherford explains that ‘eo’ stands for ‘easy ordering’ – but also admits with a smile that the ‘star’ was added because the name was too short without it.)
Began operations as a tight-knit group of developers who started making software for vending machine operators
Rutherford began development on eoStar, its highly successful ERP route accounting software solution
With an intent to grow 100% year-on-year, Rutherford partnered with Infosys to soon operate on a larger scale
Always keen to leverage the latest technology, the company rewrote the software to move away from its proprietary database onto MS .net and SQL Server. This provided more interoperability – helping companies who needed to tie together disparate systems – and opened the door for more business. They were selected by both Coca-Cola and the Miller Brewing Companies (as MillerCoors was then known) as a strategic partner, and began working closely with their distributors and bottlers, developing the features and usability that they asked for, and became one of the fastest growing companies in their space.
The technological development continued at pace. As iOS began to dominate the mobile market, the team developed the product to integrate mobile technology, and soon drivers, managers and sales reps were able to not just access crucial routing and inventory information on the move, but also place orders and take payments. They also integrated with MS Dynamics GP and partnered with a Microsoft specialist in order to offer a full suite (essential in pitching for the Coca-Cola business). They offered the full package, but in a way that suited the smaller independent companies that made up the distribution networks for giants such as Millers and Coke.
Yet, with success came complication. Rutherford & Associates had earned their spurs as software innovators. But were they able to scale? Paul Rutherford, the company's founder explained: "As we grew, we were being dragged into the professional services space. It became all about implementation, when what we were best at was product development and support." The company was constantly recruiting and building up its resources, but it was a slow process. "To achieve real growth, we needed a way to scale the business – but we weren't sure how."
As we grew, we were being dragged into the professional services space but what we were best at was product development and support.
Paul Rutherford, Founder, Rutherford & Associates
Rutherford’s emphasis on supporting independent bottlers and distributors helped them to carve out a strong competitive advantage against the main market player, SAP. While SAP was well known, it was not a DSD specialist, and few independent distributors had either the money or the will to invest in the whole SAP ecosystem. By focusing on the specific needs of its customers in the beer and beverage space, Rutherford gave them a smart, simple alternative that worked the way they wanted it to.
The executive group charged with solving the problem included Paul Rutherford, Thu Schoenberg and Fred Dobrowitsky. Dobrowitsky had worked alongside Infosys earlier and suggested that they might be the answer.
The first meeting took place in 2015, when the team met a senior Infosys specialist in the manufacturing, logistics and retail sector. It became clear to Fred and the team that Infosys could help, but also that the company needed to sit down and plan their future more carefully. Despite their success, Rutherford were still a reasonably small organisation with around 40 staff and a turnover of $15 million – and Infosys was more used to mobilising its resources in partnership with larger organizations. The team considered their situation over the next 12 months and then met once more with the specialist, but this time armed with a more aggressive growth plan. With Infosys’ support, they declared that they wanted to grow 100% year-on-year – and to soon operate on a scale that would make best use of Infosys resources. Yet to do this, they would not be changing the way they worked. That would be Infosys’ job.
For some time, the increasing volume of business had occupied experienced Rutherford staff in customer implementations – meaning that they had less time to focus on the development of the product itself. The new strategy was that Infosys would use its strengths as a professional services team to handle the implementations. The Rutherford team could therefore focus on what it did best and ensure that eoStar continued to be the product that best met the needs of the independent distributors and bottlers who used it.
Everything that goes into our application really comes from ideas that our customers have, about what they need in the market.
Paul Rutherford, Founder, Rutherford & Associates
Even though this solution meant that many at Rutherford could remain in their comfort zone, this was a bold step for the management to take. “It was a leap of faith”, explained Paul Rutherford. “We knew all about Infosys – not just from Fred’s earlier experience with them, but our research told us they were hugely experienced in taking on this kind of project. But it’s different when it’s your own baby.” Some long-term staffers were initially worried too, but their fears of being replaced were quickly allayed when Paul and the team explained the plan.
The main obstacle was one of knowledge. Rutherford staff had spent years working in the industry and had grown up with the product. But how easy would it be for outsiders – no matter how smart – to get up to speed?
The first pass of training began almost immediately, with a 24-hours-a-day schedule designed to train the first eoStar implementers – who were selected for their previous experience in supply chain projects or knowledge of the beverage industry. This 24-hour schedule was made possible by time-zone differences: sharing the load between the seven staff in India and the five who began working on-site with Rutherford in the US. The six-week training course was inevitably intensive, and featured common training on product functionality at first, followed by division into two specialist streams focusing on supply chain and finance. Quickly, the Infosys team reached a level of understanding where they began working alongside the Rutherford team on implementation projects.
From Infosys' perspective, this training was not without risk. It is unusual to invest such time and effort in learning a non-transferable skill: knowledge of eoStar is only useful to eoStar customers, yet such was Infosys' confidence in the joint enterprise that they accepted the challenge enthusiastically. "There is definitely skin in the game", explained a senior specialist from Infosys. “But we were willing to take the risk because we see significant potential growth in a venture that brings together the best of both organizations.”
Infosys were not the only people who needed training. As more customers came on board, the need to train users became more onerous – since this training was a key part of the implementation itself. The drivers, warehouse managers and supply chain professionals who would use eoStar every day needed to know how to get the most out of it. Infosys helped to develop the eoStar University – where all training material was made available. This is an essential resource that needs to be constantly updated as the product evolves, and the process of bringing Infosys up to speed highlighted the importance of this resource. In this way, the Infosys students were very soon helping others to learn more effectively and therefore speed the implementation.
After just two years, the results are clear. Infosys has taken onboard a lot of learning in a short period of time and has significantly expanded the pool of expertise available to customers. The Class of 2015 is now out in the field, managing 30-40% of implementation projects. This increase in the company's 'bandwidth' for bringing onboard new customers is starting to accelerate the company’s growth and delivering a significant uplift in revenue.
With the company’s core team of developers able to focus on the core software, the company is not only getting bigger, the product is getting better. The team continue to incorporate new features and technologies as they become available, and has an agility that is beyond larger competitors. In this way, Rutherford & Associates has all the agility benefits of a small team, whilst enjoying the scale and resources that Infosys brings in order to manage an ever-growing client base. This suits the company’s style.
We're an innovative company that likes to write code. That's the heart of what we do. At the end of the day, you have to stay true to who you are.
Paul Rutherford, Founder, Rutherford & Associates
So – where next for Rutherford and eoStar? With its new-found ability to scale, it has its sight not just on new sectors within the US, but also on expanding overseas. The focus on mobile computing and the plug-in architecture makes it a refreshingly flexible option for many distributors, and the large base of customers using MS Dynamics presents a lucrative potential market. Whether the next customers come from non-beverage domestic players or from foreign markets, one thing is sure: the company has the resources to meet their needs and a product that will keep pace with the market.