Archive for the ‘Running a software company’ Category

Shop Direct “self-serve” process automation

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

More Blue Prism customer press coverage in British IT journal, Computer Weekly today. This time Shop Direct.

Two things leapt out at me from this article:

1. Shop Direct initially evaluated Blue Prism as an alternative to human beings and, specifically, to avoid offshoring.

2. An internal capability has been set up where business operations teams automate processes with minimal IT support bringing a new agility to managing the back office operation.

In short, Blue Prism will not appear on your integration or middleware architecture chart because it is a business application that is used by operational teams to automate their own processes: The “long tail” of process automation that is never going to make it onto the core IT program because of resourcing, economic or temporal reasons.

If I told you that Blue Prism was a software company with an “integrate anything” platform linked to a scalable and secure orchestration and execution engine, I’m sure you would glaze over. By listening to customers we are understanding how to express more simply what we do. Our website has changed quite a lot recently to help reflect this.

Death of Enterprise IT startups?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I had been mulling over writing a post about enterprise IT buying behaviour in relation to smaller vendors.  Then I spotted Joe McKendrick’s piece Why are enterprise IT startups vanishing?

Joe is bang on the money that enterprise IT has become so complex that startups are disincentivised.  With my CEO of Blue Prism hat on (we are not one of Joe’s big five), I thought I would add my thoughts to the debate.

Large enterprises like buying IT from large vendors.  Minimise the number of suppliers, and negotiate hard.  Reduce management and procurement costs.  Nobody really wants tangential relationships with small suppliers that might go out of business (or get bought by Computer Associates).

So enterprise activity, driven by corporate IT, has created rules and procedures.  A frustrated startup might think of them as guard dogs, fences, sentries and barbed wire, with the sole objective of keeping new vendors at bay.  IT calls this a supplier consolidation strategy and you can see why it makes sense on the face of it.

Even when a small vendor gets some limelight in a corporate account, they have to fund increasingly long and expensive sales cycles.  Free Proofs of Concept, deferred licence fees, an intricate (and near infinite) maze of decision makers to negotiate, and pressure from enterprise procurement to “recognise the reputational gain of working for us” – in other words drop price.

This is all bad for innovation because large vendors are not innovators.  They are not incentivised to innovate, nor agile enough to do so.  Quite the reverse.  So the enterprise actually loses out.  The lost opportunity of delivering real benefits by simply acting and delivering change quickly. Acting in this way may produce a small number of failures, but I believe that the overall benefit to the enterprise from increased agility and speed to deployment for the successful projects will more than compensate.

Nonetheless, startups need to acknowledge and accept that selling to the enterprise is much harder, much slower, and much more expensive than it used to be.  Investors have already realised this and diverted their funds towards companies in the Cloud, SaaS and virtualisation spaces because there is an apparent shortening of the sales cycle, partly by bypassing IT and selling straight to the business.  This leaves “traditional” enterprise IT startups struggling for funds, struggling for sales and struggling for recognition.

The good news for enterprise IT startups is, that it is now an underinvested space.  This, I believe, will create fewer but more exciting, and less competition bound, innovation opportunities.  In the end the economic case wins out.  If startups can find the most compelling of propositions, then corporate IT will ultimately adopt the innovation or have to find an alternative.  If I was investing right now, I would be looking for enterprise IT innovation.

Joe argues that most enterprises don’t have “anywhere near” the agility promised by SOA, cloud and Enterprise 2.0.  I agree that there is plenty of room for innovation and smart startups are the sparks that will create new fires in this space.

Blue Prism website

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Blue Prism is about to launch a new website based on an operational agility message.

It’s amazing how much hard work goes into designing and building a website and, not least, writing the copy.  We have also taken some important design decisions such as dropping the prism widget from the logo:

blueprism_logo

Personally I quite liked the old prism and sorry to see it go, but I was the only one who held that view.  Democracy eh?

On more serious matters, working out who you are, who your customers are, and what the message that connects those two things is weighty stuff and takes time in the world of enterprise software.

We are not 100% there yet, but we are moving in the right direction and we are hopefully taking steps to look like a larger, more serious company as we are emerging from early stage into growth mode.

What used to worry me is that I expected to crack all these problems overnight.  Learning with our early customers, listening to them, getting independent people to listen to them, and taking a bit of time to think both introvertly and extrovertly has been most helpful.

Talking to customers teaches us not only about who we are and how to connect, but also enables us to examine how we deliver.

This is not just benefiting our sales team, but also our new customers coming on board, who can take advantage of previous experience, methodologies and working practices, and new ways in which Blue Prism software can be used.

The website is in final testing and should go live next week at www.blueprism.com.

Talking of website upgrades, I have moved this blog to a new ISP and upgraded to WordPress 2.5.1 – big improvement!

Mashups, the new ETL?

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

I suppose there are some similarities between mashups and ETL tools, as pointed out by Jacob Ukelson, in that they can extract data from a variety of different systems, play around with that data and then write it somewhere – a web page, an aggregated UI, another target application etc.  This offers a new perspective on data cleansing, process automation and orchestration, screen aggregation and much more, but without the need to access the back end systems.  No database transactions here, and no coding either.

Jacob wonders whether IBM can seriously launch into this space next year, as they state.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I welcome IBM’s efforts.  The very fact that they are even trying to enter the space, validates a market that it is very difficult for the smaller vendors like Blue Prism to build alone.

Radio Silence

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Don’t panic.  I am not thinking of joining in with the potential bloggers strike.

It’s just that things have been so busy, which has prevented me from posting for a while.  Lots of change going on at Blue Prism.  A new mood is emerging in the industries we work in.  In line, chronologically at least, with the start of the credit crunch, there seems to be a great deal more short-termism.  Capital budgets are being slashed, especially in IT.  There is increased demand for results PDQ.   Urgency is increasing.

As an enterprise software vendor you might think the IT budget cuts are a threat, but the opposite has occurred.  We fit in quite well to the new mood and our sales pipeline has never been busier.

Apart from sales (which is always the first priority) my time has been demanded on investment and recruitment matters, which anyone involved in running any sort of company will know is time draining, albeit highly interesting and often entertaining.  I hope to reveal more in due course, subject of course, to the usual array of confidentiality clauses 🙁

Giants vs Dolphins

Monday, October 29th, 2007

I was at Wembley last night for the first ever NFL game hosted outside the US and it got me thinking about competition.  It was a tremendous occasion and thoroughly enjoyable.  I guess the Dolphins, who are having a dire season, (an eight game losing streak keeping them firmly planted at the bottom of the AFC East 0-8), had little to lose by giving up home advantage.

NFL Wembley

In fact Miami were no pushover.  Their opening drive, based almost exclusively on an aggressive running game, put them in a promising position only to run out of steam with a 48 yard field too much to ask in wet and windy conditions.

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The difference between IT specification and business requirements

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

I had a rude awakening this week when visiting an important customer.  We were trying to persuade this customer to buy more Blue Prism software to automate new processes, and early in the meeting we were stunned to hear a really negative reaction.  “Of course, I am really keen to do some more work with your product but we will have to persuade the business users who are very negative about your current solution”.

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Thoughts on running a software company

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

I was pleased to read From vision to execution by Ismael Ghalimi.  I’ve spoken to Ismael a few times and I know how much of his life he has put into Intalio.

In this post he comes across as an exhausted inventor who has finally seen his new gadget rolling off the production line.  It is hard work launching an enterprise software company.  I know because I have tried it.  Many of Ismael’s comments could apply to Blue Prism equally.  The issue of market timing resonated in particular.

Does this mean that there is a degree of serendipity about the chance of success?

I wouldn’t pretend for one moment that Blue Prism has yet reached “success” whatever that is (and it means different things to different people).  Like Ismael, I am very encouraged by progress, especially in the last 6 months, albeit the first version of Automate was released in 2004, some 3.5 years ago and, let’s just say that meeting our revenue forecasts was much harder than anyone expected.

It can be lonely at times as a Managing Director (try not to weep).  When I used to work in a bank as a middle manager I had any number of peers I could relate to, and discuss ideas and issues with.  Since that is no longer a route open to me, I try to find peers outside the company.  As a result I know quite a few people who either run (or used to run) enterprise software companies.

This got me thinking.  What are the key characteristics that determine a successful MD or CEO?  Obvious requirements that might spring to mind might include:

  • A keen aptitude for marketing
  • Technical vision
  • Ability to inspire people
  • Financial astuteness
  • Ability to sell
  • A propensity for making customers happy
  • The gift of the gab

Looking across the successful people I know, the most important characteristics are none of the above.  They are energy and determination.  Fortunately, both characteristics that Ismael has in Spades.

Software Product Maturity

Friday, August 24th, 2007

I asked our CTO, Dave Moss, if he fancied writing a few guest posts on this blog, on the topic of developing a software product.

I think blogs should represent the views of the author and that there should be a single author.  However, you may recall me saying that Dave is the “techie” I respect the most of all I have met.  So having read his first effort (below), three comments sprung to mind:

  1. I totally agree with his views in this instance and, therefore, since they exactly match my own, I am happy to put them on this blog in my name.
  2. Dave is one of those rare CTOs who has acute commercial focus and places the highest emphasis on customer need, when evaluating product development objectives.
  3. The writing is in Dave’s hand and his analogies stink!  So I refute responsibility for the way the message is communicated.

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Small ISV takes on the enterprise……

Friday, June 15th, 2007

…….and loses (more often than not).

Why is it so hard for small companies to sell to enterprise customers?  Ed French has an interesting insight in relation to vendor financial stability, and the high failure rate of enterprise implementations generally, pointing out that:

“A vendor that’s still around for a project that failed is perhaps no more useful than having a successful implementation where the vendor has gone out of business!”

However, financial risk is only one of many buying criteria and, whilst this is largely outside the control of the vendor, other criteria are more addressable.

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