Sapient enters Canadian IT service market

IT outsourcing shop Sapient Corp. has expanded into the Canadian market, laying roots with an office in Toronto. The firm feels its offering of fixed prices for IT projects sets it apart from a space filled with larger competitors such as IBM Global Services and Electronic Data Systems Corp.

According to Jerry Greenberg, co-chair and co-CEO with Sapient, the firm is committed to completing a project on time, to exact specifications, for the agreed-upon price. Solutions can be created quickly by utilising its employees from various time zones to create a round-the-clock development and implementation cycle, he added.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based outfit has been in operation since 1991, when Greenberg and Stuart Moore formed it with the focus on providing business and technology consulting with a different approach. Sapient also has offices across the U.S., as well as in Europe and Asia.

Canadian client Union Gas is sold on these two principles since it began its working partnership with Sapient in August 1999, stated Wayne Andrews, Chatham, Ont.-based manager of customer support for Union Gas.

“They (Sapient) make a promise, once they fix a price and fix a term, then they manage all the risk around that,” Andrews explained. “That gives me great comfort, because I had to testify before a regulatory tribunal (Ontario Energy Board), and so I was able to do this with a great deal of comfort, saying this project will cost this much money and nothing more, and that’s a tremendous, tremendous advantage to us.”

The working relationship began after Union Gas decided to create an e-business solution to improve customer service, Andrews said. Sapient was recommended by Atlanta Gas Light Co. in Georgia, who praised its work in assisting them adjust to retail gas deregulation.

“The history of large-scale IT projects is littered with cost overruns, budget overruns and systems that don’t necessarily work the way you thought they were going to work,” Andrews said. “But we’ve managed to deliver some very sophisticated and powerful customer-facing applications, and our customers just love the fact we work with them, and Sapient was very instrumental in facilitating that.”

Union Gas was “a driving force” in bringing the company to Canada. The new Canadian office will help Union Gas to save on travel costs. During its first project with Sapient, Union employees had to travel to the company’s head office in Cambridge; for the second project employees travelled to both Atlanta and Boston, Andrews said.

“It’s going to represent a really nice cost savings, in terms of working with them in Toronto,” he said. “It’s now convenient for them to come to Chatham, being only three hours away.”

The utility’s latest project was just completed to streamline its direct purchase operations and improve service to retail energy marketers. Called Unionline for Direct Purchase, the new system gives Union’s customers the opportunity to self-initiate transactions and provides 24/7 access.

The business approach for Sapient is to target enterprise in the energy and financial sectors, said Dennis Giokas, Toronto-based vice-president and managing director of Sapient Canada Inc. Financial services businesses have historically represented about 40 per cent of the corporation’s revenues, according to Greenberg.

Some of Sapient’s other Canadian clients include Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank and Enbridge Consumers Gas.

Giokas says the Canadian market trends he has observed include systems integration, specifically with legacy systems and unlocking their business value, as well as using the Internet as another presentation layer.