Sterling embraces its legacy

By his own admission, it was never Bob Irwin’s goal to become CEO of Sterling Commerce, the business software subsidiary of telecommunications giant AT&T. In fact, until the start of 2007, Irwin was “very content” in the role of head of sales for the Americas region at the company. “Career-wise, I hadn’t thought much beyond that,” he says.

The top spot at Sterling Commerce, meanwhile, was occupied by Sam Starr – Irwin’s best friend of some 20 years’ standing. All that changed, however, with Starr’s sudden, unexpected death on New Year’s Eve 2006, at the age of 47. Irwin became Acting CEO two days later; the appointment was made permanent in late February.

Supply chain management 

This turn of events, naturally, has had a huge impact on Irwin, both professionally and personally. It has also made him the custodian of Sam Starr’s vision of transforming Sterling Commerce from a company most commonly associated with business-to-business integration projects (and more specifically, large-scale electronic data interchange (EDI) deployments), to one that derives equal revenues from sales of supply chain management (SCM) applications.

That’s a huge challenge for an accidental CEO to take on. In fairness, however, much of the heavy lifting had already been done.

Between 2004 and 2006, Starr orchestrated the acquisition of three companies in support of his supply chain vision: warehouse management software vendor Yantra (November 2004); transportation management specialist Nistevo (May 2006); and e-commerce selling and marketing applications vendor Comergent (December 2006).

However, the task of preparing the fruit of those acquisitions for market, in the form of the Sterling ‘Selling and Fulfilment Suite’, has been Irwin’s responsibility.

Supply chain visibility

The product, launched in Summer 2007, is designed to enable companies to automate what Irwin and his team call the ‘inquiry-to-cash’ cycle – the process of publishing product information, taking orders across multiple channels, either from corporate customers or consumers, and ensuring the right product is delivered to them at the right time and in the right quantities.

It comprises seven key applications: E-storefronts; E-catalogue and Offer Management; Configure/Price/Quote; Order Management/Warehouse Management/Transportation Management; Supply Chain Visibility.

“This is a major area of complexity for our customers that is not adequately addressed by enterprise resource planning products from SAP and Oracle,” says Irwin. “Our track record in helping customers integrate with their partners is a great foundation for helping them collaborate more responsively with their customers, too,” he says.

The responsibility for driving sales and development of the new product will be all Irwin’s, too. Today, revenues from supply chain applications make up less than one-quarter of Sterling’s revenues.

The bulk of sales continue to flow from the company’s business-to-business integration products, which include the Connect managed file transfer products; the Sterling Collaborative Network hosted data exchange; and the company’s flagship multi-enterprise integration products, Gentran and Gentran Integration Suite (GIS).

But while both integration and SCM continue to grow, says Irwin, single-digit growth is as much as can be expected from established integration products.

By contrast, SCM offers big potential for growth, he says: “We’re hoping to achieve annual growth of between 15% and 25% for the selling applications and between 5% and 15% for the fulfilment apps,” he says. By 2012, he predicts, supply chain applications will make up half of Sterling Commerce’s revenues.

Irwin says he is “enormously grateful” to team Sterling Commerce for the support and encouragement he’s had so far during his unforeseen tenure as CEO. But looking ahead, it is perhaps inevitable that his fortunes as CEO will be closely tied to the success of the Selling and Fulfillment suite – and it will be up to the big bosses at AT&T to judge that.


Further reading


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Henry Catchpole

Henry Catchpole runs Inform Direct, a company records management software company which simplifies the process of dealing with Companies House. The business was set up in 2013.

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