Friday, April 08, 2005

Tools I use -- putting in systems at a startup

Part of setting up a company is to work on the hiring (people), processes and systems. One of the biggest challenges I have is staffing projects in a nacent industry like RFID. To address this challenge - I've taken the typical consultant approach and worked on the people, process and systems issues. I'll post on the people and processes later, but here are a few of the systems I've deployed as OAT as grown. I'm currently running the Services and Support functions at OATSystems. We use a couple of tools that are fantastic in my opinion. As an implementer, developer and manager of software tools for the past two decades, I enjoy seeing good products that deliver value. ( I own no stock in these companies.)

First is a tool for Professional Services Automation (PSA) that I can manage the schedules/expenses/timesheets of people in 4 countries (US, India, UK and China ).
This hosted tool allows me to keep a rolling 6 month forecast on a daily basis. I've been in many different companies over the years and very few companies are able to achieve this level of accuracy, consistently in their forecasts. We do have our issues now and again, but at least now we know when they are coming. Maintaining the data is about 3 hrs per week and except quarterly reporting there's little else to do but run the weekly reports for our CFO. This model allows us to run services pretty tight with a very good Sales & Operations planning process (S&OP)with the sales team. The company is OpenAir , they also have a great services and support team. I would strongly recommend this to anyone running a large (more then 20) team of professionals and are trying to make money while improving customer service.

We use RightNow for our customer support tool. Support is also great there -- and there CEO has been known to call in to check how things are going. (Disclosure: they are another Greylock funded company). We've started measuring ourselves based on these data and the customer surveys -- an excellent data set for improving customer service.

We also use salesforce which I just use as a feed to OpenAir but the sales folks are starting to embrace it pretty well. There seems to be quite a community growing around salesforce and expect them to become a "platform" vendor of choice for sales management. I know we can get more from this product but a lack of bandwidth and our current understanding limits us.

(All examples of a good Software As a Service SaaS model)

RFID - The last few years

For almost 3 years, I've been working in various roles for OATSystems in Massachusetts, USA on RFID software projects. See

We started as a small consultancy helping Gillette, MIT and others deploying the first EPC/RFID systems and have envolved into a midsize (100 person) company with worldwide deployments.

I've watched the industry mature from hardware/software that didn't work and took an extraordinary amount of effort to deploy, to something that is fairly straightforward (at least for us)and is starting to provide useful results to businesses.

It is quite exciting to see customers eyes light up when they start to understand what can be done with the data. Being able to watch in real-time what your supply chain is doing is going to allow re-architecting of many businesses. The next steps are going to be even more fun - imagine adding "rules" on top of your business that you can monitor and -- gasp -- optimize in real-time. This goes far beyond what we dreamed possible while I was at i2.

Obviously the industry has quite a few challenges to overcome first -- such as gen2 compliant architectures and lower tag costs. plus the education of a few hundred companies. The burning question in my mind -- Can you remove significant costs/radically change your offering with new processes, RFID + other sensors? If not , can your competitors? My bet is that someone is going to do this soon....

Software as a Service - Part 1

Software as a Service - Part 1: "
I can’t tell you how many board meetings I’ve been in lately where the agenda included a discussion of the merits of software-as-a-service as a potential business for the company. The one thing that is constant about these discussions...

Jeff nails it again -- after 20 years of building decision support systems, it is clearly evident to me that SaaS is something "whose time has come". I've seen a recurring pattern in my career, where once the software is implemented and the team leaves -- interest in the project starts to wane and it become part of the normal day to day business. That means all the care and feeding necessary to keep a application delivering value goes away and with it, the value disappears. SaaS fixes the incentives for everyone -- so that

1. The customer continues to get value
- let's face it, lock in from having proprietary systems is going away -- lockin is only achievable by continually delivering value

2. The software company aligns cash flow to execution rather than large upfront payments and then a smaller revenue stream. Thus behaviour across the company is aligned to maintain and grow that revenue stream. Last company I worked - the biggest deals actually were bad for the company, since once they were sold, the company had higher expectations to meet and everyone ran off for the next deal, rather than execute the deal we had just sold.

There are obviously many concerns with SaaS that Jeff touches upon but I think this will be good for the industry as the current model is busted in my opinion.