A Failure To Launch: Is It Too Late In The Game For Elcom And Companies Like Them? by Jon Hansen

Posted on January 14, 2015


We have all heard of empty nest syndrome, which is associated with feelings of loss when our children leave home for the first time.

We have also heard of the crowded nest syndrome, which occurs when those same children return home later in life.  Also known has the boomerang generation, this later in life encroachment can present many challenges for parents.

There is of course a third “syndrome,” which is commonly known as the failure to launch. According to countless articles, and studies, the failure to launch moniker is used to describe an adult who seems to be “stuck,” not “moving forward” or “maturing” in a way that seems appropriate for his/her age and expectations as well as the expectations of parents.

Why, you might be wondering, am I writing about these various syndromes in a blog that focuses on procurement?  It is a good question, for which there is a good answer: Elcom!

Back in October 2013, I wrote a post Substance over sizzle: Can Elcom replicate its success with Scotland?.

That post was followed up by another in April 2014 titled The Elcom enigma; A case of unlimited possibilities and unrealized potential.

The latter article, which was based on an interview with a senior member of their executive team, caused a great deal of angst within company headquarters.  Specifically, and despite my cautioning the executive with whom I had the interview, that I would tell it as it is, they did not expect me to be as factual and as up front as I was when I wrote the post.

You can read my commentary exchange regarding the second post with the company’s VP of Finance, at your convenience.

All this being said – and here is where the failure to launch comparison comes into play – Elcom has repeatedly failed to gain the kind of market traction that is commensurate with their success as the engine behind the highly successful eProcurement Scotland initiative.

In fact, if you visit their website, their press releases have a somewhat voyeuristic undertone to them, suggesting that they are more spectator than participant in the rapidly evolving cloud-based eProcurement world.  Note the vague name-dropping references of the November 2014 news/press release below. Ironically, and despite my brutally accurate April 2014 post, the company makes suggestive references to my coverage of them in a positive light.

Elcom Failure To Launch Post2

As someone who has been following Elcom for a number of years, and has witnessed first hand the numerous executive changes that have been made in an effort to get them over the hump, it is time to once again call it as I see it.

If one were to use a North American football analogy – which I will – let’s look at the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

After losing the Super Bowl last year, the Broncos acquired expensive new talent to improve the team, with the expectations that they would return to the championship game this season and win it all.  Instead, and after a dismal playoff loss to the Colts, the Denver Broncos fired head coach John Fox.   There is no doubt more to the story than is being told however, in the end, if the team had made it back to the Super Bowl this year, chances are Fox would have still been at the helm when the 2015 season started.  In short, the team’s failure to live up to expectations, resulted in his termination.

When it comes to Elcom, their first “championship appearance” came in the form of a lucrative, long-term relationship with the Scottish Government. That was many years ago.  Unfortunately, and besides small steps forward in terms of landing new clients, the company has repeatedly failed to replicate that initial success in any meaningful way.

The question is, who do you fire?  Who is Elcom’s head coach?

Having met in person a number of executives – both past and present – I would have to say that Elcom should fire its Chairman William Lock.

I have over the years spent some time with Bill, and there is no doubt that he is an affable enough fellow.  That being said, since being named Chairman in August 2007 he has, despite making several changes to “his” management team, failed to launch Elcom from a one hit wonder status, to becoming a notable player in the eProcurement world.

To be even more direct – would you expect me to be anything less – Bill lacks both the depth of insight and understanding relative to the main business of his company.  I am talking about the emerging cloud-based P2P eCommerce driven marketplace.  In a number of the discussions that I have had with him in the past, he has at times seemed like a deer in the middle of the road with headlights in its eyes.  He just doesn’t get it.

What Elcom really needs now is a proven leader who can wrest the shackles of Bill’s limited vision from the wrists of the existing management team, freeing them to perform to their maximum capabilities.

Unless this change is made, and made soon, I fear that Elcom’s once promising future will not be that of a has been, but a never was . . . a true failure to launch.  This would be a shame, because the company does have a solid offering that positions them well to serve the public sector, including the education market.

What other eProcurement companies do you feel have failed to live up to their promise?


Posted in: Commentary