In an interview with CIOReview, Lee shares insights on the rapid success of his company, which specializes in enterprise-class project, Professional Service Automation (PSA), and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software.
What changes do you see in the way technology is being consumed now as against the past?
If you look back 20 or 30 years, technology purchases were almost all done by the CIO. Back then, software lived in a physical box installed on a physical rack. This monolithic on-prem software was expensive to build and expensive to buy—think 6 to 7-figure CAPEX purchases.
Then, along came the cloud and SaaS became a thing, and all of a sudden you have your non technical execs, such as the VP of Sales or Marketing, making technology purchases based on criteria like KPI reporting, and how the product will help the exec make their goals, leading to the rise of a new breed of company, like Salesforce.
Now, as the workforce changes, your younger team members are demanding the same levels of usability from the tools they use at work as the ones they use to play and socialize, leading to another shift in the way we need to think about software.
So how does a company design its solutions to meet these changing challenges?
Well, I think we need to first concentrate individually on what is important to each of those three stakeholders mentioned above, then pull all those differing requirements together.
OK so what is important for the CIO in 2020 and beyond?
Well, the CIO needs, above all else, security in the solutions that they choose. They need to know that their data is safe and that the vendors that they engage with meet all the important compliance metrics. It’s their neck that is on the line if there is a security breach.
They also know that one technology solution alone will not run all their business, so it’s important that the systems that they do choose will talk to one another. Finally, the CIO knows that the business will need to change and adapt over time, so they need a solution that is extensible as the business grows.
How is the need different for the Execs?
No matter if you’re the VP of Sales or VP of Operations, the KPI dashboards and reports you get from a tool are key to letting you perform your job.
More important is making sure that the data to populate those reports is of the highest quality, that’s where the importance of best practice process comes in. Best practice process helps onboard new employees quicker, makes the quality of data higher and has the benefit of driving efficiency and cost savings throughout the team, which has a significant impact on the business’ bottom line at the end of the year.
And the millenial team members?
Your millenials and team members want the tools they use at work to have the usability of the apps they use in everyday life.
We’ve architected our interfaces to be interchangeable according to the type of project being run
Tools need to be simple to learn, and the data entry needs to be intuitive and not overbearing. And to let users get their work done fast, interfaces in the solution need to be consistent and perform at the highest levels.
That’s a lot of different requirements. how do you bring them all together?
Essentially, you have three overlapping circles, the first being the ‘best of breed technology’ circle for the CIO, the second being the ‘best of breed process’ circle for the VP’s and Execs, and the third circle being the ‘best of breed usability’ circle for your end users, and at the point where those three circles overlap or intersect is where the successful solution providers of the future need to be.
what does the path to success for Cloud Coach look like so far?
Well, the first step for us was to make sure that we were building on solid foundations, while we looked at several platforms to build our solutions on, none came close to Salesforce from a data security standpoint, so selecting Salesforce as a partner was our first step.
Next, we built best practice processes into our solution design from the ground up. From the initiation of the project, task & timelines management, documents, controls, resources and finances, we have areas of the solution for each process area, giving us a consistent way to look across projects at their performance.
"Projects are a container within which to run your best practice processes"
At the same time, we re-imagined our user interface with the target of making 80% plus of a user’s daily actions incredibly quick to complete, involving less clicks on the user’s behalf. This helps drive adoption of our solution and saves significant cost for our clients. As an example, we have a client that we are currently helping save over $2 million a year in costs by using our solution.
Finally, in our latest release, we added the ability for partners and customers to add in their own lightning components within each process area, making it easy for them to extend Cloud Coach for the more unique or edge use cases.
So are you planning to rest on your laurels?
Not at all, we’re only just getting started. We feel that the project management space is ripe for major disruption right now.
Well, if you talk to five different departments in a business about what tool they use for project management you’re likely to get five different answers. Your marketing team might talk about simple task management tools like Trello, your development team will talk about tools like Jira or TFS, while your IT project managers will mention MS Project, and so on.
So why so many opinions, why so many different project management tools?
That’s a great question. When you break it down, all those departments and users have many of the same requirements, they all need to track tasks, tickets and timelines, they all need to capture and share documentation, they all need to assign work out to people and they mostly have, to some extent, a fiscal component to the project.
However, when you dive deep into the details, what really sets all those use cases apart is the need to visualize and interact with data differently.
We’ve architected our interfaces to be interchangeable according to the type of project being run, so for instance how an IT team sees and interacts with its projects can be completely different from how the professional services team does, and it can be different again for the PMO team.
With such broad use cases, what does a typical Cloud Coach client look like?
That’s a tough one to define. Because of the nature of our solution, we are industry agnostic, so we work with all types of businesses from all industries. It’s even hard to break it down by size as we work with many of the largest companies in the world but because of our unique multi tier approach, we also have solutions deployed at many smaller organizations.
Can you tell me more about the four solutions in your multi-tier approach?
We originally had two tiers, what are now our Enterprise and Ultimate tiers, which were designed from day one for handling thousands of users in large deployments. What we found was that there were lots of companies out there that loved our interfaces but didn’t need the same depth of requirements in certain areas. For instance, if you are managing a team of 1,000 people you need to be able to filter your resources by locations, skills, and certifications. However, if you’re managing a team of 10 people, then you already know what everyone can do, and just want the quickest possible way to assign a task to a person without filtering down a list.
Is there a progression between your tiers?
Yes Starting out with our Cloud Coach Fundamentals tier, we provide a fast, user-friendly way to do all the essentials of running a project, from managing tasks & timelines, storing documents and assigning work to the team. As all our tiers share the same user interface, as you move up through the tiers, we enable additional capabilities at each tier step up.
So your free entry level Fundamentals tier is actually quite powerful?
Absolutely. It has the features of many of the paid tools on the AppExchange but with none of the price tag! While Fundamentals won’t work for every business, for over 80% of use cases it will. You would be crazy to purchase a paid tool before you have given Fundamentals a hands on trial.
How do you help companies get up and running with your solution?
We offer free support and onboarding help for all of our customers regardless of which Cloud Coach tier they are using. This includes our knowledge bases, open office hours, version upgrades and issue support. We then supplement this with paid implementation offerings by either ourselves or our consulting partners.
What time span does it take to implement your solutions?
That obviously differs according to tier, and on the short side, we’ve seen people stand Fundamentals up in under a day, while on the long side, an Ultimate implementation including a lot of process definition work might span nine months or more for one of our consulting partners to work through. Enterprise implementations typically take 3 months in elapsed time, but again, we’ve seen them much faster (1 week) and much slower. The client has a huge impact on the speed based on their internal resource availability.
If you could give any advice to someone looking for a project management solution what would it be?
Make a very clear distinction between your must haves and your nice to haves. Your must haves should have a direct quantifiable impact on the business goals.