Trustmarque is “right up there” on the Microsoft Copilot leaderboard, its CEO has told IT Channel Oxygen as he opened up on how “unrealistic” valuations prevented it from entertaining more acquisitions in 2023.
Having spun out of Capita in January 2022 (with backing from One Equity Partners), the York-based outfit acquired 150-employee software asset management consultancy Livingstone in February 2023.
Simon Williams took the CEO reins a month later.
Talking to IT Channel Oxygen, Williams said the business – which notched up gross sales of £499m in calendar 2022 – comprises four main units focusing on volume resale, Microsoft, Cisco, high-end testing (Acutest), plus now Livingstone.
“Unrealistic” cyber valuations
Williams branded the chances of a further M&A manoeuvre in 2024 as “pretty likely”, noting that M&A valuations have fallen to more viable levels amid a cooling in private equity-backed activity.
“We will do more,” Williams said.
“There’s a massive slowdown, particularly in terms of private equity driving acquisitions. But from where I’m sitting, that enables more accurate valuations of businesses.
“When you have a whole bunch of people with cheap money running around buying things, valuations go up. We looked at a number of cyber acquisition opportunities last year and the valuations were just unrealistic. You’d look at them and go ‘well, I think they’d have a massive value to our business, but we’ll never get a return on investment.’”
“We’re number two on the Copilot leaderboard – Microsoft is pleased“
All the major Microsoft partners are readying their midmarket customers for the arrival of Copilot, but Williams claimed the addition of Livingstone gives Trustmarque an important edge over the competition.
“I think we do [have a differentiator] because Livingstone is 150 consultants who spend all their time giving advice and looking at how to optimise the business. And the greatest use of Copilot to start off with will be around automation and optimisation of basic tasks,” he said.
“Is it about getting ready for Copilot? Yes. Is it about making sure you’ve got the data in the right place? Yes. Is it about getting onto E5? Yes. But that’s a hygiene factor.”
“What it’s really about is understanding what’s the journey you’re going to be on in terms of exploiting it, and it’s about making sure that the right people are engaged with it at the right time.
“But, also, it’s about understanding how to get the money to invest in it.
“One of the things we’re doing a lot with our clients at the moment is using either Livingstone or Prism, which is one of our IP tools, to look at how we can optimise technology spend in an organisation. So the client’s not spending less with Microsoft, they’re just spending it in a different way – optimising away from things they’re not using to save some money to then be able to invest in Copilot.”
Trustmarque has appointed Livingstone Founder Simon Leuty as Chief Innovation Office to spearhead its AI efforts, Williams stressed, adding that the firm is one of 15-20 UK partners on Microsoft’s Copilot accelerator programme, Jumpstart.
“We’ve already sold our first Copilot project, and are right up there on the leaderboard of generating leads into Microsoft. I was with them the week before last and we were number two, which they were very pleased with,” Williams said.
A business of five parts
Trustmarque was historically known as a Microsoft partner and VAR, but what does the York-based outfit look like now it’s emerged from the other side of Capita?
“I think of the business as being five major things,” Williams responded.
“There’s the value-added reseller part, where we’ve got 2,000 partners and an e-commerce portal – and we’re on Lot 8 of TePAS 2. We’ve done a kind of version one upgrade of our portal and are about to kick off the programme to do version two. There are a lot of clients who use us for their long tail, but we go all the way up to very much large-scale product infrastructure – we are a Dell Titanium partner and a very senior partner with IBM, VMware and Hitachi Vantara.”
Williams described Trustmarque’s second heritage practice, around Microsoft (where it holds all seven solutions designations with the software giant) as a “thriving and growing part of the business”.
“Then there’s the Cisco part, which was called Enterprise Connectivity – that came out of Capita at the time OEP acquired Trustmarque. It also does Aruba and Gamma and other network elements,” he added.
“And then there’s Acutest, which is a high-end testing part of the business, and then Livingstone.”
“The plan is to grow top and bottom line organically, and then any M&A will sit on top of that“
Williams’ tenure to date has focused on integrating the various businesses together under one leadership team, one set of back-office functions and a consolidated go-to-market approach, he said.
This includes rolling out CRM platform Hubspot across all of the sales teams.
“There’s always more work to do, and there’ll be some back-end integrations of different systems, but all of the core systems are in place,” Williams said.
Trustmarque also opened a new office just outside Glasgow, focused on Cisco and Gamma work, while its inaugural ‘Fusion’ event in June was attended by all 600 of its staff alongside partners and customers.
Having turned over £499m in calendar 2022, Trustmarque’s core business grew in 2023, Williams said.
“We’re up reasonably significantly. The plan this year is to grow top and bottom line organically, and then any M&A will sit on top of that,” he concluded.