December 9, 2013 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Business Solutions for Corporate Performance Management
About Solver, Inc.:
In today’s fast-paced environment, Solver is a proud leader
in delivering innovative, business driven solutions for Corporate
Performance Management to the market place.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – December 9, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Rasmussen, what is the focus for Solver today?
Mr. Rasmussen: Solver started as a consulting company that sold and implemented Business Intelligence (BI) software back in 1996 and we did that until around 2007, which is about eleven years. We went through various BI software packages that we jointly sold with our ERP partners in the Microsoft and SAP space. Finally, in 2007, we realized that there were few BI solutions that had easy to use, modern interfaces and that were affordable and well-integrated with the accounting system. Therefore, we felt that it was time to take our expertise from these eleven years in the BI consulting business and create a brand new BI suite that would be ready for the business needs of the decades ahead. That was the decision we made in 2007 and it resulted in the BI360 suite we have today, which we released at the very end of 2009.Now, late in 2013, four years after the initial release date, 100% of our focus is to bring our own product, BI360 to the global market place through our partner channel. We are specifically focusing on the mid-market and focusing on companies that are comfortable with- or have in place the Microsoft SQL Server platform.
CEOCFO: Why the mid-market? Why do you like that space?
Mr. Rasmussen: We like it because with some exceptions, I would say that about 90% of our customer base and pre-integrated ERP systems are in the mid-market. Of course, we have customers in the multi-billion dollar revenue range, but the vast majority, even our old consulting-focused business in the past, has always been in the mid-market. It is pretty much based on the ERP systems that we work a lot with and the partner channel that we have recruited over the years that sell our products, all are pretty much focused on the mid-market and the Microsoft platform. Therefore, that has become our home and it is where we have really good expertise. Also, mid-market organizations typically could not afford full-blown business intelligence solutions. When I say business intelligence, I define that as financial reporting, consolidations, operational reporting, budgeting, forecasting, dashboards and data warehousing. All of that goes under that our definition of business intelligence. What I just said under that definition usually has not been affordable for a mid-market organizations and they have been stuck with legacy applications and manual spreadsheet reporting and budgeting, versus now we have been able to make it automated and affordable with our BI360 solution.
CEOCFO: What are some of the common areas that BI360 would help a company with? What might be something a little more unusual that perhaps people do not realize could be available for them?
Mr. Rasmussen: That is a great question. The common areas are, of course, the ones that we market the most. That tends to be financial and operational reporting and budgeting. That is our bread and butter because pretty much every organization needs a budget and needs reports and everything else is often gravy in BI. Outside of that, another area of quickly growing popularity is with our data warehouse, which is the core foundation of BI360. We have the capability to bring in all kinds of other data other than financial data and budget data, so that could include statistical data and operational data sources. If it was a university, it could for example be student information data. If it was a healthcare organization, it could be patient records or statistics based on a patient system. Industry-specific systems that have highly valuable data, but it is not the organization's accounting system. You can easily bring that into the BI360 data warehouse and make it part of what you report on. Then combine it with their financial data for powerful dashboards and management reports. These additional uses of the data warehouse that customers sometimes do not think about until the sales process or after they have brought the tool and they start growing the usage of it.
CEOCFO: What do you understand about reporting and budgeting processes that provide a superior solution?
Mr. Rasmussen: It helps that we were doing consulting in this exact same area for eleven years before we built the software. What we have come to learn over all those years is that the world is changing a little bit. In the '80s and '90s, it was perfectly acceptable that you had sometimes fulltime people in an organization, in the finance department for example, that were technical reporting experts. Meaning they were formal experts. They were the power user that could do the magic to create reports and budget models and so on. It was usual to have user manuals full of syntax describing how to build the reports and models. However, that has changed. That is something we understood by being in the industry for all these years and observing new trends. When the 2000s came along with the dotcom era and so on, there were more focus on usability and great user interfaces and ease of use. This means that tools that were built in the '90s, which is still probably half or more than half of the well-known BI products out there, are from companies which created software architectures for the '90s before the “ease-of-use” requirement become prevalent as business users wanted to own these tools and related processes. These vendors still have that legacy platform under their user interfaces and they still require a great deal of technology to be put in place before the end-users can enjoy their tools. Understanding that when we planned the blue print of BI360 back in 2007 and as we started the development, “ease-of-use” was number one on the list and every time we would build a feature in the product, we asked ourselves if this is going to make is easier to use or harder to use. Therefore, finally when the product was finished in 2009 and we put it out there, customers would quickly come to accept that it is a new generation BI tool that actually normal business users can take ownership of and create useful reports, budget models, dashboards and even manage the data warehouse. You can have business people do that. This concept of usability is the one single biggest thing that we learned from the past. Apart from just features and functionality, usability is important for today's business world so that customers and partners can quickly bring your software into action and they do not need a year of implementation services or to have experts on staff to run it.
CEOCFO: What was the biggest area of change when you rolled it out and got customer reaction?
Mr. Rasmussen: In our specific case, we are partner-centric, so our tool comes out to the global marketplace through our partner channel. Although we had worked as consultants in the past with the same or similar partner channel and we understood the difference between direct sales and the partner channel, it is still the reason we got into high-volume business with BI360,with a lot of new deals happening every day. We definitely have learned over the last four years since we launched BI360 that you have to look at your partner channel as part of your own organization, just a natural extension, and treat them like your own employees. We do not look at it as a third-party object or organization that is a nuisance or a necessary evil. The biggest thing we have learned is if you are taking your product out to the world through a partner channel, there are some beautiful things that can happen. First, they can be local everywhere in the world. Therefore, we do not need to put offices in every country. They know local cultures, they know local transactional systems we integrate with, and so on. But, if you are going to succeed with a channel strategy, you need to consider your partner channel part of your own family. Invest in them and treat them like your own employees because they need to same type of training. They need the same type of access to resources and everything else as you would with your own staff. When you achieve that, then you have achieved nirvana with the partner channel. We are not even there yet after four years, but I would say that we are well above most other partner channel-driven organization in this space, I believe, because it is like a science that you think about every day and every year when you make your strategies. Always asking; How can I better enable my partner channel?
CEOCFO: Many people claim to have solutions and do not. What are you finding when you talk to prospective clients and what is the competition like?
Mr. Rasmussen: You are right in what you just said. It is something that we meet out there every week in the field where you have customers that they say, “Yeah, you're saying that you can do this, but prove it to me because I've been mislead so many times in the past by different vendors. ”However, there is so much technology so it is almost impossible for a customer to prove out every little feature, so that in the past that has opened up for a great deal of vendor exaggeration in capabilities or mismatch between customer expectations and available features. That has trained today’s customers to be much more careful with checking references and to make sure the vendor is already operating in their industry, that they understand how to make- or already have the right integrations, etc. We are a BI vendor so we integrate to a customer’s accounting data. They already know that you already integrated to their system. Nobody wants to be the first customer you do an integration for. There are now a lot of checks and balances that were not there ten, twelve years ago to the extent they are today. We focus in on a lot of specific things so that we can be scrutinized heavily and provide the proofs in the sales process. It is like we talked about earlier with the mid-market. If you are a tiny company, you should not be talking to us and if you are a Fortune 50 company, we would love to talk to you, but we probably will not have a lot of similar sized references for you. In the broader mid-market, you already know that this is where you are going to find most of our customers. We have integrated some of the most popular accounting systems including from companies like Microsoft, Sage, SAP, Intacct, Acumatica and Netsuite. This means, since that is also where we do most of our marketing, the prospective customers that come to us tend to run the same systems where the integrations are out of the box and we could show it to them in the sales process so they know it works. There are a whole slew of things that we get for free by being super focused and that makes it easy for us to prove out that we have a great solution early on in the sales process, whereas you will see many competitors are all over the board. They do not want that super focus because of course you are giving up a chunk of the market where you are not focused.
CEOCFO: You have been on the Inc. list, so I know that business is good. How do you continue with the growth that you have been achieving?
Mr. Rasmussen: That is also a fantastic question. First, as a CEO, I am part of several CEO-type of networking organizations in our target markets, and of course you have a board of directors and a core executive management team as well where you can get ideas around growth. Various networking organizations of course put you in touch with peers that are in the similar position that they are growing and they are trying to figure out what is the magic behind growth. Of course, there are numerous books and so on about this topic. It actually surprised me a little bit. These are not things that you learn in school. How to grow a software company 50% every year, year over year, for many years? I believe I have never seen that as a subject in business school and there are not really any crystal clear answers. One of the things that we are figuring out along the way as a high-growth company is being able to scale without enormous capital investments. We found that to be going right back to the example I gave you of dealing with the partner channel and making it your own family, because that means you do not need to hire people every time you grow. You can recruit more partners and treat them really well so having good partner channel strategy is one way that we enable growth. The other way, of course, is in infrastructure, especially with today's internet-enabled world. It is amazing the types of economy of scale that you can get from what you put out on the web. Especially if it is done right and it provides value. Anything you can digitize and make electronic like training videos, training material, web-based customer portals, etc. allows customers and partners from around the world to network and gets ideas and answers. Enabling sharing of training material and technologies that relate to the solution becomes easily accessible and of course things like software downloads and everything else that used to be manual processes ten or fifteen years ago can now be automated. It is that mix for us of scaling through the partner channel when it comes to sales and consulting of our BI360 solution and the back-end automation of processes that keeps information flowing out to customers and partners. It is built into the infrastructure, and it is always a goal to make sure everything is online and digitized and whether you are in Vietnam or you are in New York, you can access the information just as easily.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to Solver? What sets Solver apart as an exceptional company?
One of the most important things in this game that we are in, in addition to
hiring and retaining great employees, is that in the game of business and
technology, longevity can be key. It allows for a certain amount of
stability in a rapidly changing world and it allows for proper strategy
execution. This is very exciting personally to me as a CEO. In other words,
if you look at our marketplace as a technology company, and specifically as
a business intelligence software company, two-thirds of the vendors that
were here ten years ago are gone. Not that many vendors have gone broke
because it is been a great growth market, but the amount of mergers and
acquisitions that happened is just amazing. The amount of large companies
like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and the amount of acquisitions they have
done with smaller and bigger BI tools is astonishing. What often happens
when these big boys are acquiring a smaller software company is that it for
a few years continues its life within the much larger company and then it
tends to die a long slow death over the next decade. This is because there
is suddenly not the same entrepreneurial spirit and experts behind the
product often leave these big companies. In addition, there are new people
and they do not have the heart and soul and the original vision for the
product. So it evaporates out. To answer your question specifically looking
at that, I think to have longevity, to have a very long-term plan, in
Solver’s case, we operate with a ten-year plan so that right now we are
looking out to 2023. We are asking ourselves, “What can do we need to do
right today and tomorrow to best provide value for our customers over the
next ten years as society, industries and requirements change?”. Because the
years go by fast and if you are good to your customers, you are sitting with
the same customers a decade from now. They become very loyal. If you have a
long-term roadmap so that you can already today have your new customers or
your customers to-be that understand that: A) we are going to be here, B) we
are going to work in all of these areas to keep up with their requirements.
Of course, it becomes a more general vision when you look far out, but today
obviously trends like web-enablement/cloud, mobility, connectivity,
usability, require key features that you do not just pop into a software
overnight. It takes years to fine-tune it, but it is important to
communicate to partners and customers that these are the things we're going
to be working on, and then you need to deliver and make things faster,
easier and more powerful as you go along. We will just keep doing that year
after year after year and we are not going to disappear into some huge
corporation along the way. One of the biggest things you can provide back to
the customer and partner community; it is that vision, the stability and
longevity so they in turn can align this with their own plans.
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