For eight years, Eccentex has maintained its goal of allowing organizations to automate business processes using cloud services to reduce risk, increase efficiency, and improve customer service. The founders cut their teeth as pioneers of business process automation and electronic document management when the cloud was still in its infancy. This year, according to Gartner, the aggregate of cloud services is expected to hit the $150 billion mark, while annualized Software as a Service growth is now over 40%.
The Eccentex business model is based on its proprietary service platform, AppBase, which allows rapid development and deployment of enterprise business applications in the cloud. I talked with Glen and Alex about how their business is changing, and the specific value of having a platform like AppBase as a starting point.
10 Questions with Glen Schrank, CEO and Alex Stein, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Eccentex – Knowledge Worker Apps
# 1 Jeff: With a business whose clients are regularly repeating their decision to renew subscription-based services, as opposed to the multi-year, high-commission sales pitch, licensing purchase model, how do you evaluate ongoing customer satisfaction?
Alex: Our primary success measure is the number of users we have benefiting from the system, but we do also track specific customer benchmarks on an ongoing basis.
Glen: Our IT clients’ executives have the ability to analyze objectives based on business intelligence built into each of our dashboards. We set custom ROI objectives for each business, like normal services uptime and SLAs for availability. For more specific feedback, we also do detailed quarterly surveys of all our users both on the customer side and for us internally, polling a different set of employees each quarter.
#2 Jeff: What does your typical customer look like, and how has that been changing over the last couple years?
Alex: Within the area of dynamic case management, our job is automating workflows for the customer. That is typically going to be a midsize company with regular processes that require knowledge workers to organize data and make some kind of complex decision based on that data, such as insurance or financial information. It’s often a company that uses technology broadly all through the stack to the customer, but not always.
Glen: Honestly, businesses in every industry can use this next-wave family of applications we work with to manage service requests from work orders to employee onboarding to fraud investigations, which all have a great deal of knowledge worker input. If you look at the classical core applications like ERP by comparison, they are much more structured and automated, and don’t require as much employee interaction.
#3 Jeff: With the downturn in the economy and the general uncertainty of developments like the fiscal cliff and changing benefits requirements, has there been a reaction in terms of a reluctance to move as quickly?
Alex: The primary effect has been a greater need for efficiency among technology companies and knowledge workers. In a tight financial climate, demand has become even greater for increased productivity.
Glen: One of the drivers has been the productivity of the knowledge worker with this family of applications. The cloud affects everything from delivery to maintenance and the cost to make changes, particularly in getting the applications up and running faster. The old way is more expensive, more structured, and takes too long. At the knowledge worker level, people are happier because they have a tool that is more like a consumer product. At the business level, management is glad that the workers are more productive. The IT department has an easier job managing all this on the cloud because it is much more dynamic and accessible.
#4 Jeff: What has been the effect of offshore outsourcing, where the knowledge worker jobs are being done from a distance?
Alex: Case management systems make it much easier to distribute task assignments or even entire parts of the process broadly among workers in remote locations around the world, in India, Ukraine, or Russia.
# 5 Jeff: In terms of business metrics and ROI, do you see the IT department being run more like an independent profit center than it has been in the past?
Alex: The cloud has made the biggest change in the direction this is taking. In mid-size companies where the cloud is more accepted, the solutions are now driving the requirements. In the future, with companies using platform as a service and acquiring more soft technologies, there is a trend toward IT becoming the link between the business and the solutions because they don’t need to worry about the infrastructure. They need to know that it can meet the business requirements for managing this project.
Glen: Personally, I don’t believe the role will change that much in terms of what IT was evolving toward before the cloud. It really is a service center for the lines of business. That is under pressure in terms of delivering the solutions more quickly, with greater flexibility, and with lower costs. With any one of our projects, we might start off talking with the line of business manager and then IT gets involved or vice-versa, but we see them both collaborating toward the same goals. I don’t see the cloud changing that aspect of the relationship. The value to IT is that they are able to deliver service to their internal constituents more quickly, and at a lower cost. Even more importantly, they can prototype solutions very quickly, and say, “Let me just build something for you right away and show it to you.” So in other words I don’t think cloud is affecting the need for IT as much as changing the rules.
# 6 Jeff: Among the customers you work with, do you see more interest in the public cloud or private cloud or in a hybrid?
Alex: It depends on the size of the business and on the particular solution, but most clients we work with are more interested in private cloud. Right now, it can be contingent on whether the application is mission-critical. I see that changing and moving more toward the public cloud over time. Government agencies are the ones more consistently interested in public cloud right now.
# 7 Jeff: Are most of your clients already aware of the costs and benefits, or do you find yourself educating them on those things?
Alex: I have to say it’s much better today than it was two years ago, but we still need to educate on the specifics. A lot of companies are already well on their way in the adoption process. For smaller companies, it is much easier to communicate. The larger companies are always going to require more proof points around things like infrastructure and security, especially when the applications are mission-critical.
Glen: These days almost every company has adopted some type of cloud solution, whether it’s Salesforce or SAP’s Success Factors or Workday, so the conversation is not so much around doing cloud or not. It’s more around the added value of case management being delivered through the cloud.
#8 Jeff: Where does that type of offering make the biggest difference?
Glen: Forrester’s Wave Report on Case Management applications describes them as a wrapper around other types of core applications like ERP. The organizations that need this kind of wrapper and have a high number of knowledge workers are the ones that see the biggest value; industries like financial services, healthcare, government agencies, and energy and utilities. The opposite of that is an industry where every piece of work is completely automated, from the factory worker down on the floor to accounts receivable, more and more machines are doing the work. What’s left there is the work where you need archive tools, application templates, and libraries, and those are the jobs where there is an immediate and significant return on their P&Ls.
A major impact is the change in mobility going on and that has to be a big part of our solution. Work when, where, and how you want is our mantra in terms of how we address business. At one point a few years ago, the enterprise was saying, you can’t bring that smartphone or that laptop to work. I don’t see that so much now. I see organizations establishing policies around it, but allowing these devices and they are primarily empowered by cloud technology. They don’t really work very well through the old client-server arrangement.
# 9 Jeff: What kind of impact on information management do you see from government control, for example, since Sarbanes-Oxley? How have you seen regulation changing the way you do business?
Alex: That is a major reason companies need our solutions, because regulations are only going to do two things: increase and change. They are never going to go away. The technology has to be dynamic because of the frequency of change in regulation and the need to comply with things like the housing of data or data encryption. Those are the things that affect all vendors. The cloud becomes a huge advantage when you need to adapt quickly.
Glen: In the world where some of the alternative solutions were architected in the mid-90’s, the knowledge workers were sitting behind a firewall and on a client-server system. That’s not the world we have now. We are a litigious society, and that can create precedents in an industry. When we use the word regulatory, it isn’t necessarily limited to government. It’s everything that goes into corporate governance. For example, there are new expectations in the social media world, where if a customer gets angry it can immediately affect a brand. It becomes more important for the ability to support changing requirements in your audience to drive the solutions.
# 10 Jeff: When you look at the three- to five-year window and the changes we are seeing now, what kinds of things do you see coming about that will be the potential business drivers?
Alex: The first thing I see is analytics playing a major role in applications in the near future with quicker analysis, prediction, and resolution being possible with enormous amounts of data. It’s already playing a role, but I think this is becoming one of the key components. Also creating a metasystem to allow all of these SaaS applications to work together is very important –I would say in the next two years or so. From our perspective, it is important to be able to link both internal and external resources to our solutions for critical tasks.
Glen: To build on what Alex is saying, bring your own device and the social enterprise are big trends right now. What we create are knowledge worker applications, so what we are experiencing on the consumer side is the ability to look for the thing that will help you to be more productive, click to find it on my smart device, download it, and start using it. That’s a trend that’s going to happen in the B2B world, and we are enabling that. Where someone who is looking for a certain purchase now goes to Amazon because they have what you are looking for, we want to be the company where a knowledge worker goes for the apps he needs. There are three different kinds of cases we describe: investigative work, incident processing, and service requests. Let’s say a customer wants to build a solution around one of these areas. Our platform allows you to build and configure each of these types of application from the ground up, or to go to our application library and find a solution germane to your situation that has already been built. It is completely dependent on the skill level of the person and how much customization they are looking for.
Glen Schrank and Alex Stein are CEO and Founder & Chief Strategy Officer of Eccentex, which offers its platform-as-a-service, AppBase for the development of enterprise case management solutions related to incident processing, investigative work and service requests.
With its AppLibrary of knowledge worker apps and pre-built templates, similar to salesforce.com’s AppExchange, Eccentex combines all input media with collaboration and technology into milestone, business rule and meta data-driven tasks. See more about the company at www.eccentex.com