This week I sat down with our Chief Strategy Officer Rajiv Bala Subramanian to get an update on how things are going in terms of recent performance and what our business intelligence strategy is for differentiating ourselves in a cluttered marketplace. Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Jessica Little (JL): What would you say InetSoft does very well?
Rajiv Bala Subramanian (RBS): As a company I think we partner very well with our clients. A client is more than a commercial transaction. We view them as leaders in their specific industry who can also help us become better ourselves. Product-wise I think there are three things that I would consider our sweet spots: real-time web-based dashboards that can be built by end users, on-demand publishing-quality reports, and a patent pending data mashup platform that is backed up by a high performance cache. Our professional services team is also particularly strong at building full-function portals with integrated business intelligence capabilities.
JL: You have made some major changes to the InetSoft sales process since joining. Can you explain?
RBS: On my first day, almost three years ago, I went to work overhauling InetSoft’s sales process. InetSoft’s strategy had always been to try to sell software to anyone who called. I considered it a waste of time and money to chase customers who didn’t hit our sweet spots, especially as the economic downturn made software a much harder sell. Our global sales team was instead trained to ask prospective clients questions about their budgets and goals and turn away clients that did not fit.
One of the best things you can do as a business is to learn to say “no.” In a recent meeting with a large bank, I was told that the bank already used other business intelligence tools. “Aren’t you just compounding things by adding another to the mix?” I asked, playing the devil’s advocate. The truth was that I was actually asking them to justify both to themselves and to us that InetSoft was really needed by the bank. I have also turned down several prospective clients because InetSoft thought another vendor’s software would be a better fit, something that would have been unheard of before.
JL: And how have these changes helped?
RBS: Firstly, since our global sales team only works on opportunities that hit our sweet spots, our revenue pipeline is now 95% accurate, which is hugely important for running our business efficiently. Secondly, our closure rate and average transaction size have both, as a result, improved by several orders of magnitude. Overall client satisfaction has also increased since our sales team doesn’t try to force-fit our software into doing things that it was not designed to do. For example, at the beginning of the year we had a prospective client that wanted to engage us to monitor their clearing and settlement journals for anomalies. It was clear after a couple of meetings that the client was looking for a real-time monitoring solution and not a business intelligence solution.
When we relayed the message to the client and provided them with alternate options, they were pleasantly surprised, so much so that they have come back to us just last week to engage with them on a new business intelligence project. Any member of the sales organization that could not or would not adapt to the new sales process has long since left InetSoft, and what we have now is an admirable team worldwide that are far more advisory than commercially-driven with our clients.
JL: What is overall product strategy of InetSoft?
RBS: Our overall strategy is to stick to our niche and provide better dashboarding, reporting, and data mashup features than anyone else out there. We are not looking to diversify wildly, quite frankly, because I believe diversification would weaken our position in this competitive marketplace. We, our clients, and our competitors appreciate that we have world-beating technology in these three areas, and we have no plans to lose sight of our target. Feature-wise, we tend to be quite coy about the new things we are planning to introduce.
I am happy to discuss this directly with our clients, but it can be quite dangerous to discuss this in an open forum as, being a small, yet nimble software company, we rely on the element of surprise when it comes to introducing new features. What I can tell you is that we’ve done this before, and it has taken our competitors months, if not years, to play catch up. Our R&D team is actively working on integrating real-time event and message correlation functionality with our business intelligence platform, data cleansing engines, and big-data support for complex Hadoop implementations.
JL: How is InetSoft typically deployed? Is a self-service solution a key driver?
RBS: The typical InetSoft implementation is remarkably simple. Using the InetSoft developer studio, IT staff get involved only in connecting to the data sources and creating the first batch of data mashups. From that point onwards, everything is self-service. Business users can pull up a blank canvas to create their own dashboards and reports using a set of widgets, and create the data mashups by dragging and dropping easy-to-understand fields, all via a web browser interface.
New mashups can also be created and existing ones improved upon by the same business users without requiring any further IT intervention. So, yes, self-service is the key driver for us. It relieves IT staff from doing work that, honestly, is better done by the business users who are the subject-matter experts in the first place. We introduced the concept of self-service dashboards and reports over 15 years ago, and now every business intelligence vendor seems to be jumping on the self-service bandwagon.
JL: How is the InetSoft business doing so far this year?
RBS: Our end of year results in 2011 and 2012 were stellar so it is fair to say that we had our work cut out for us this year to maintain our target growth of 35-40% year on year. Coming up to the end of the first half of this year, I am happy to report that we are over target, which is exactly where we want to be. Things always slow down a little during the summer holiday period so I am thankful that we have this safety buffer.
We also have a good balance between outright purchase contracts and lease-based contracts which is important for company investment and for predictable cash flow to run the day-to-day business. Overall, I am very pleased with global sales team’s performance so far this year; they have done a fantastic job in securing important new enterprise deals and maintaining a trustful relationship with those clients, which will hopefully lead to close partnerships and repeat projects over the coming years.
JL: What business changes are you looking to implement in the short term?
RBS: Organizational growth would trump everything else right now. We have historically grown the InetSoft organization based off actual performance as opposed to projected performance, and the situation is no different now. This approach is quite unique and requires a lot of discipline. I have seen too many software vendors grow their organization based off revenue projections only to terminate rafts of employees when targets are not met.
That is a trap we do not want to fall into. We are growing the organization globally with new managers, salespeople, operations staff, support staff, and business intelligence consultants, and we are looking to establish sales and support offices in Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe over the next 1-2 years. We are working closely with our business partners there and opening offices in those locales is the next logical step for us.
JL: What types of client projects is InetSoft working on right now?
RBS: The client projects we are working on are quite diverse, but, if I had to characterize them, I would say many of them are portal solutions that have elements of business intelligence requirements spanning mashups, dashboards, and reports. Depending on the industry, they have been client service portals, intranets, and sales performance portals. We are currently working on a portal solution for front office sales staff in a large bank to allow them to use their tablets to demonstrate to prospective clients the business and technology advantages of working with the bank. Examples of the things they can show in a powerful interactive presentation are historical client profits on trading certain assets and service levels of their technology infrastructure.
This is marvelous as we are directly helping the sales staff in the bank close more business by arming them with real-time visual analysis of their enterprise data on the road, allowing them to articulate why their bank can offer a better solution than their competitors. It has been interesting to see our clients migrate from their existing portal solutions to ones that integrate elements of business intelligence, dashboards, and self-service. Our developers and consultants are also being called upon by these clients to develop these portals end-to-end. Web-based business intelligence is our forte so this has been very natural step forward for us.
JL: Where can InetSoft improve?
RBS: We have to be very alert because our strength can also be a curse. We have historically been a very technical organization, and we have architected a beautiful business intelligence product. To a large extent you could say that we have been a very product-driven organization. Our motto has been to build a better business intelligence product than anything else out there. Now don’t get me wrong, this has been crucial for our credibility with our clients. They love us because the product itself is excellent. Technical architects and developers have always taken to us because of the product features, and the solutions they have developed have been lauded by their business managers.
The problem is that those business managers then ask: “Who is this company, InetSoft?” We can improve by being more sales-driven, building upon our brand awareness, with better sales execution with business managers rather than only with technical architects. Over the past 2 years we have done just that, but I think we can become much better. Just take a look at the sales and marketing machines of the bigger business intelligence players. We know that our product is far superior to theirs, but their sales and marketing presence is far superior to ours. I would say we are still playing catch-up in this area.
JL: Where do you think InetSoft is positioned in the competitive business intelligence market?
RBS: I think we are positioned as a niche vendor in the business intelligence market with three core strengths: we offer real-time web-based dashboards that can be built by end users, on-demand publishing-quality reports, and a patent pending data mashup platform that does not require a data warehouse of any kind. Our team is also highly skilled in web and end-to-end portal technologies, making us quite a unique outfit.
Practically every business intelligence vendor in the market right now claims to have invented visual analytics. The fact is, visual analytics is simply business intelligence with a different sales and marketing hat on. It has been around for years, and all business intelligence vendors do a very good job at it. But there are these three things that InetSoft is great at, and our goal is to continue to be great in those three areas.
JL: Thank you, Raj. And I’ll close by inviting anyone who is interested in speaking with Raj for a complimentary consultation of how our technology and expertise can help their organization in a strategic way to please drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form.