Stantive: In the cloud together – Doug Girvin
Not long ago, there was a big divide between techies in white coats and ordinary consumers. Technology was carried out by the white coats, and while the end result was occasionally skirted by consumers, it was rarely confronted head-on. That's all changed now: the internet gives ordinary people control of very complex solutions, despite little previous experience.
"That means we have these hugely complex interactions that need to be made not just easy, but also fun," says Doug Girvin, CEO of Stantive. "Yet, you still need the people to write that code behind it. IT was traditionally tightly controlled, but with the internet, we had to build an infrastructure that was scalable. There are no training classes on Facebook or how to buy a book on Amazon. But behind the scenes it's very, complicated."
Girvin should know. He's fronted Stantive Technologies Group since 1992, a company standing at the forefront of high-end business tech solutions, having delivered more than $300 million of them. The maturing technological relationship between business and consumers means that an increasingly tech-savvy public now takes ease of use - plus huge sophistication and bespoke control - for granted.
"They're more demanding and more educated, and they want speed in spades," says Girvin. "In the old days, you might spend up to two years gathering requirements and then spend 12 months writing the software, sometimes ending with a high degree of failure because of changing conditions. But the expectation now is that is that functionality is available within a week."
Fear of flying
That's when a decision from the top to move forward has been made. Yet many businesses are standing still on the technology front, either through fear of change or investment worries - or both. Girvin says Stantive sees real bifurcation in the market.
"Looking at the present, there are businesses that are pursuing a low-risk hedging approach to change," he explains. "We're also seeing organisations aggressively adopting technology, investing heavily in that agility. By the time the technology matures, the nature of the competitive landscape will have moved on."
But aren't some companies simply being naturally cautious, waiting for technology to mature, especially in an environment of greatly weakened consumer confidence?
"Maturity is an interesting idea," says Girvin. "There are a lot of mature cloud technologies around now. They have matured so quickly, in fact, that if you're not tracking them actively, your ideas would be outdated very quickly."
Meanwhile, many companies are amassing more data on their customers than ever before. So, how to monetise this information effectively? First of all, according to Girvin, this data just doesn't get dumped.
"It amasses over time," he says. "It can be passed and analysed discreetly, and turned into actionable, valued intelligence and acted on immediately. There's tremendous value in being responsive; for example, someone comes to a website and we know who they are because they log in. During their 15-minute session, they might visit a variety of content. They might subscribe to alerts on a specific topic, even buy something.
"That discreet interaction has value to sales and marketing intelligence, if analysed properly and promptly. So, if someone looks at pages related to a product many times, we can tell the salesperson to talk to them immediately."
Spurring the connection between business and consumers is social media.
"The explosion of social media has had a major impact on the customer journey - particularly for companies with a young audience," adds Girvin. "But social media is probably not as valuable at low-level clicks. So, if someone likes your fan page on Facebook, that may not mean much unless they buy your product. But as that social media analysis is extended to a larger population, those trends become valuable."
Tools like Salesforce.com's Radian6 allow an organisation to listen to the spectrum of social media in real time, spot trends and make decisions on what they're going to do with those trends, drilling deep inside them to understand how these trends are influenced.
"The other side of social media is that it's another interaction channel with the vendor, particularly for younger people," Girvin says. "They're more likely to tweet the vendor or write on their Facebook page, rather than call or email them. The listening bit is a complex process: you need to be able to deal with millions of interactions at one level, but at an individual, personal level, you need very robust interaction tools."
Yet most companies cautious about cashflow will wonder how all this technology can be integrated cost-effectively, with as few legacy issues as possible. It's the 'elephant in the room' for many: fear of cost and integration gremlins, and fear of making a decision before finding out that technology - yet again - accelerates forward, or swerves hard in another direction.
"If one looks at the traditional breakdown of an IT budget, up to 80% can be spent on existing operations," says Girvin. "A huge challenge is that most business applications are based on individual business needs. The business has the budget and the requirements, and the IT department, typically, is there to implement it. But as a result, a lot of IT organisations now look like a collection of application silos that need to be integrated in order to facilitate and make good the analytics. It's daunting and potentially expensive to remove them."
The good news is that new technology, like Stantive's Orchestra CMS, effectively puts a wrapper around a lot of those old IT legacy systems, creating a robust point of integration and interaction between them. This means new applications can be built without going back to the old legacy system, as well as providing tools for rapid implementation. It's a big chunk of what Stantive's business does, day in, day out.
"The daunting thing is that, yes, it's a big step sometimes," explains Girvin. "But I don't believe there's much choice. I hate to use the expression, but the current environment is not a recession; it's a restructuring. Everyone needs to respond to that."
A good example of how change is being delivered is Stantive's development of Orchestra CMS, a web-based content management system, 100% built natively on top of Salesforce.
"As such, we provide that web face to our customer's customer," explains Girvin. "It enables CRM and analytics for employees in an organisation. We sit on top of that, facilitating communication between partners, customers and employees."
What about cloud technology? Many enterprises still don't take full advantage of the benefits - why?
"Firstly, there are many vendors with vested interests in not seeing the cloud succeed in its true form," says Girvin. "The cloud essentially is a multitenant, shared service across many organisations, rather than a straight hosting of traditional applications."
The second reason is that cloud technology requires a very different thinking from traditional approaches - and overlying traditional thinking can inhibit some of its benefits.
"Platforms like Salesforce are the result of thinking that emerged 12 years ago," says Girvin. "It's still evolving, but was a completely new approach to delivering IT services and many originations are trying to apply the cloud to traditional systems."
But it will evolve, Girvin is sure, in a positive way.
"Cloud systems are so robust now, and many of the competing visions are starting to converge," he says. "We'll see a very strong cloud ecosystem evolving across vendors, such as from Salesforce.com, Google, Amazon, IBM, Oracle - all very different.
"This is providing a whole ecosystem for growth, offering customers an opportunity to integrate best-of-breed solutions from multiple vendors at the speed of today's business cycle."