Software firm finally making name for itself: Fusion quietly becomes giant in local tech industry

Doug Brown might not know how to name a company, but he sure knows how to grow one.

CEO Brown, 46, co-founded Fusion Alliance Inc. in 1994 along with Tim Shaw, who is no longer active in the firm. The company has since blossomed into the Indianapolis-area’s’s largest software developer, with 196 staff and contract software engineers and programmers.

Much of the growth coincides with the decision in 2000 to rechristen the northwest-side company from its original and less glamorous name of InfoTech Consulting. Brown still receives a fair amount of ribbing over the old name from fellow employees.

What the mundane moniker lacked in cleverness, the firm compensated for in originality. To be sure, the company entered the market providing software application development. But its expansion into computer network infrastructure and Web site design, as well as its expansion into the Cincinnati market, has provided Fusion the fuel to more than quadruple revenue, from $6 million in 2000 to an expected $28 million this year.

Brown said the firm’s recent growth and initial survival are due to a company culture that demands honesty, integrity and trust above all else, even if that means passing on the latest technology craze. The mantra especially held true during the high-flying dot.comdays, and after the tech bubble burst.

“Our model is to do what we do well,”

said Brown, noting the firm declined all

Y2K work because it wasn’t one of its core services. “Those fundamental values helped carry us through the down markets, because we had trusted relationships and those relationships reciprocated.”

One of Fusion’s larger supporters is Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines, which has weathered its share of turmoil, too, following 9/11. Despite the rough patches, ATA retained the firm to develop its ecommerce Web site and frequent-flier system, and build its revenue data warehouses, said Glen Baker, ATA vice president and chief information officer.

“We have been a demanding customer because of the turbulence we have experienced since 9/11, but they have consistently provided superior customer service,” he said. “We have needed them to step up, and they really have.”

Yet Fusion focuses mainly on the energy, financial services, life sciences and health care sectors. A large contract with the former Cinergy Corp., a gas and electric utility acquired by Duke Energy, helped give Fusion its footprint in Cincinnati.

The Kroger Co., headquartered in Cincinnati, and Toyota are also among Fushion’s clients.

It didn’t hurt either that Chicago-based MarchFirst, a major competitor in Indianapolis with a large presence in Cincinnati, folded in 2001, presenting Fusion with an opportunity.

Fusion’s Ohio office, which opened in 2003, now has 25 consultants and accounts for $4.5 million of the firm’s total revenue.

Additional expansions could be in the offing as well. Outside of Indianapolis, the firm does consulting work in Chicago, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio.

While no announcements are imminent, Brown and co-owner Tom Wood are considering the possibilities. Wood joined Fusion 10 years ago and is in charge of local operations.

Utilities integral

The two met several years ago during Brown’s tenure at PSI Energy Inc. in Plainfield, an affiliate of Cinergy that opened several avenues for Fusion. Brown earned a degree in computer science from Tri-State University in Angola in 1982 and later ascended to manager of PSI’s applications group before leaving to launch his company.

Cinergy sprung from a merger between Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. and PSI in 1994 shortly after Brown left. It hired Brown’s firm to develop technology for its commodities trading system, which tracked at least $12 billion in transactions annually. The job required so much attention that he and roughly 20 others essentially lived in Cincinnati for 2-1/2 years, he said.

Gary Caldwell, assistant vice president of corporate services at OneAmerica Financial Partners Inc. in Indianapolis, also formerly worked at Cinergy and was involved in the Cincinnati project. He later recruited Fusion for projects at OneAmerica, including a redesign of the corporation’s Web site.

“When they started their company, it was at a time when other companies were hiring everybody and anybody to prepare for Y2K,” Caldwell said. “They didn’t take that bait, and it’s really paid off. They have their core set of values and they’ve stuck to them.”

The affiliation led Cinergy in 2001 to help fund ComTrac, a commodities tracking product produced by FusionSoft LLC, a sister company of Fusion that manages all facets of contracts for utilities. The division recently has landed three new clients: Madison, Wis.-based Alliant Energy, Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power and Southern Co. in Atlanta.

That’s encouraging, considering the utility industry has been slow to make new investments following the fallout from the Enron scandal and the rush to deregulate electricity, said Andrew Bartels, a utility analyst at Massachusettsbased Forrester Research.

Bartels is unfamiliar with Fusion, but said it likely is among a handful of software developers catering to the segment. The giants are Germany-based SAP AG and California-based Oracle.

“[Utilities] have been very conservative and cautious in spending,” Bartels said. “But in the last year or so, we have seen the utilities coming out of the bunker, so to speak and saying, ‘There are some things we could be doing here.'”

Overseas competition

The 49-year-old Wood, meanwhile, attended Indiana University and received his MBA from the University of Indianapolis in 1997, the same year he started at Fusion. The consulting veteran began his career at the local office of Paris-based Sogeti in the early 1980s and later helped build two consultancies, Theoris Inc., formerly known as Software Synergy, and the local office of New Jersey-based Computer Horizon Corp., both in Fishers.

Wood was tabbed to be the third partner in the disbanded tech consultancy Onex Inc., with co-founders Joe Huffine and sister Sally Huffine Breen before locally based Inrange Consulting purchased it in 2001.

Brown, however, knew Wood when PSI was a customer of his and, along with former Fusion owner Shaw, convinced Wood to join them.

“[Onex’s] intention was to sell or go public, and [Brown] and [Shaw] wanted to build something sustainable,” Wood said. “I wasn’t into the ‘churn and burn, and let’s sell’ mentality.”

It’s a good thing because, after 13 years in operation, Fusion has no plans to relinquish its stake as the city’s largest software developer. The segment is quite competitive, but Brown and Wood insist much of their competition these days comes from companies in India and China, as a result of corporations under pressure to cut costs.

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