Jul 18, 2023
Natuvion is a great company for partners, says Ben McGrail. The managing director of data transformation startup Xmateria says the combination of excellent technology and great support has helped his new company to hit the ground running.
With a little more than a year under its belt, London-based Xmateria is seeing its order book fill up fast. It specialises in software-led data transformation and selective data transition for SAP customers. The projects are often part of a carve-out process or a migration to SAP S/4HANA. Ben McGrail, Xmateria’s founder and managing director, is a seasoned SAP expert – he’s been immersed in SAP projects since his university days. He was still in the throes of founding Xmateria when an opportunity arose to take on a carve-out project for West Burton Energy, a power utility. There was only one issue: the customer wanted the whole project wrapped up in under six months. Partnering with Natuvion, Xmateria completed the project using Natuvion technology within the deadline – and the customer was impressed. Here’s Ben’s story.
Ben McGrail: I’ve always been around SAP as I started my career in the graduate scheme at PwC and worked with it there. For the next ten years or so, I worked on SAP projects for various companies throughout Europe, including Shell, Coca-Cola and EDF Energy. Most of these were data migration projects. In 2010 I cofounded Harlex Consulting with my colleague Mitch Collinson. We grew the company successfully and it was acquired by SNP in 2016. I managed what was then SNP’s UK operation for over 4 years and left in 2021 to found Xmateria.
Ben McGrail: We help customers with data migration – that’s our 100% focus. They’re either acquiring an external business and need to bring data into SAP; or divesting a business and need to take data out of SAP as a carve-out. Some customers are looking to upgrade or modernise their systems, usually involving a move to S/4HANA. We’ve always wanted to specialise in software-led transformations, such as carve-out situations and data transitions. It’s becoming a hot topic now in the UK as the support cut-off data for SAP legacy systems is approaching fast!
Ben McGrail: It’s a little different to the German market in that SAP isn’t quite so widespread in the midsized market – the equivalent to your Mittelstand. The main customers are larger companies, especially in sectors like manufacturing, local government, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), utilities, oil and pharmaceuticals. The landscape transformation market is less mature than in Germany – and that’s naturally good for us! There are still quite a lot of companies that have never heard of landscape transformation and are unsure what a carve-out is. Others are aware of greenfield and brownfield strategies but don’t know that there’s a third alternative – selective data transformation – that could suit them better. There’s certainly a need to educate the market.
Ben McGrail: We needed a software partner to be able to offer specialised data transformation services in the UK. I’d heard of Natuvion and had a couple of calls with some contacts at SAP in Germany, and they then suggested talking to Patric Dahse. A former colleague of mine mentioned Patric as well, so I met him and soon afterwards my tech team started discussions with the Natuvion tech team. It was all rather theoretical at that stage because we were such a new company – we just really wanted to take this transformation idea to the UK market. We got on very well with Patric and everyone else we met – we found Natuvion a very easy company to work with. Aside from the great people, we thought it had solid technology, a really good background and lots of good customers.
“Natuvion was always available whenever we needed help. That was incredibly important to us in the early days and still is. We’ve been really happy with the relationship side of the partnership since the very beginning.”
Ben McGrail, Managing Director, Xmateria
Ben McGrail: We just wanted the best landscape transformation partner. I know a lot of people at SAP and asked some of them – they recommended Natuvion too. We only had two criteria: that the software responded to customer needs reliably – that was critical. The second thing was the culture of the company – whether we could work together well and get the support we needed. With Natuvion, we were able to tick both boxes. The Natuvion team supported us and was very involved, both before and during the onboarding process.
Ben McGrail: We officially launched Xmateria in autumn 2021 but most of the team came on board in January 2022. Within a month or two we were approached by EDF Energy about helping them with their divestment of subsidiary West Burton Energy (WBE). EDF was selling one of the WBE power stations to external investors and needed to undertake a carve-out of its SAP systems. EDF Energy had decided to use the divestment as an opportunity to help WBE migrate to SAP S/4HANA. It’s pretty unusual for the seller to do that when there’s a divestment.
EDF’s idea was to restrict the data migration to active data, but the WBE site pointed out that they really needed the historical data too. They’re managing a very complex plant, so the historical asset management and maintenance data is very important to them. They needed to separate all that out and move it over to SAP S/4HANA. EDF contacted us to ask if we knew of a way to resolve this. We explained the principles of landscape transformation, how to separate and migrate data, how to move from on-premise systems to the cloud, do the conversions of business partner and accounts data. There were lots of things they needed to do that fitted perfectly with the selective transformation approach. As such, we saw this as a great opportunity to work with Natuvion and our collaboration kicked off in March 2022. I worked with people at Natuvion on the commercial side. Stefan Karaivanov, our head of technology, worked with the tech team at Natuvion to understand the technology and do some initial training.
Once we officially won the WBE project we worked together more intensively, with our head of project delivery Michael Svensson leading the engagement. We went to Natuvion’s Berlin office twice and the Natuvion tech people came over to London as well. Then we got started on our 6-month window to deliver the project. We achieved that on time and the customer was able to complete the separation as planned. Working with Natuvion, we all saw that it was exactly the kind of software we needed to offer an efficient transformation service to customers in the UK.
Ben McGrail: One thing was that all the Natuvion people were really generous with their time. We were (still are!) a small company compared to you and it would have been easy for you to keep us at arm’s length until we grew bigger. Yet everyone we’ve worked with is really good at what they do and also very willing to work with and help us. Some companies say they want to partner with you, but then you find that they want to do the work themselves – and that’s not going to help us grow. At Natuvion, you were happy to let us manage and deliver the project and were always available whenever we needed help. That was incredibly important to us in the early days and still is. We’ve been really happy with the relationship side of the partnership since the very beginning.
Ben McGrail: The Natuvion Data Conversion Server (DCS) is an incredibly complex piece of technology but actually very straightforward to work with. Some software (especially German!) is built by engineers for engineers – powerful but difficult to learn. We were really impressed with how Natuvion DCS manages that complexity. It has a light touch – high-performance but very easy to work with. That aspect of it has been really helpful actually, especially with the WBE carve-out project as we had to deliver it in under 6 months. In my view, Natuvion DCS will encourage new partners to join Natuvion because it just takes so much time and effort out of the project. It’s a man-day eater!
Other than Natuvion DCS, we are also looking at Natuvion Test Data Automation (TDA) and Natuvion Intelligent Data Store (IDS) and other Natuvion technologies to help with the steps leading up to a transformation, like checking data quality. We’ve started talking about these with customers already and there’s definitely some interest.
“In my view, DCS will encourage new partners to join Natuvion because it just takes so much time and effort out of the project. It’s a man-day eater!”
Ben McGrail, Managing Director, Xmateria
Ben McGrail: We’re already working with you on a number of other projects – the success of the WBE project has proved to be a great springboard. It’s also interesting that you’re now part of NTT Data Business Solutions (NDBS) because they’re quite a big player in the UK. Together with NDBS, we’ve just won a customer with a divestment project. What we bring to the party is a great team of data migration and transformation experts combined with powerful Natuvion software. The opportunities are looking really good in the UK and I think we’ll continue to do a lot of work together!