Aston Group expands Canadian presence

A U.S. consulting firm is expanding its Canadian presence to take on ERP projects with mid-sized enterprise customers.

Aston Group Tuesday said it had appointed former Deloitte & Touche partner Lynn Cooke to lead its recently-opened Toronto office. Cooke, who spent 15 years at D&T, will also take over Aston’s Vancouver office, which was established in the late 1980s. The privately-held Aston Group, which also operates in 12 other with 1,400 employees and 44 offices, has its U.S. headquarters is in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Cooke said she expects the practice to grow to between 15 to 20 people in the next eight months. Aston’s Vancouver operation includes its centallized programming group, its implementation arm and large accounts team, which handles projects for big engagements. Besides Cooke, the Toronto office includes an account exec the director of technology for Aston North America responsible for growing the infrastructure service line.

Cooke said Aston will continue to focus on customers in the $10 million to $500 million revenue range. Vertical markets include manufacturing, distribution and professional services.

While there has been a considerable push from the vendor community to implement customer relationship management (CRM), Cooke said she expects to spend more time concentrating on its predecessor.

“I think they’re still looking at (enterprise resource planning),” she said. “There’s going to be few companies that want CRM as a standalone. As the products become more robust, you’re going to see CRM embedded into the ERP applications. People who want CRM are going to be very specific type of industries — entertainment, maybe — but everybody is going to want a front- to back-end supply to customers.”

Cooke said there was a danger in allowing CRM to become just another administrative task, rather than something that adds value to the customer.

“It’s tying in the back office applications — ie., being able to call up orders on your iPaq or your Palm on a customer site,” she said. “It’s the integration through the entire system, and that’s why there’s been such a struggle in getting CRM accepted in the organization.”

Cooke said Aston offers everything from sourcing hardware right through to full support services, which will give it advantages with mid-sized companies despite the economic downturn.

“We’ll develop a niche,” she said. “It’s an alternative to the Big Five without being a boutique.”

Aston Group’s vendor partners include Microsoft, Great Plains and Siebel.

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