Jason Stamper talks to David Mitchell, CEO of business process management firm Global 360. How has he returned the company to growth, what does the firm mean by ‘Persona-based BPM’, what is its strategy in cloud computing and what does he make of IBM’s acquisition of rival Lombardi?
Q. You took the helm at Global 360 two years ago. Were there things that you identified early on that you needed to change fast?
A. Companies don’t tend to bring in new managers because everything is perfect! There was a tremendous amount of under-leveraged assets at Global 360. The company is the result of a number of acquisitions, and in 2003 TA Associates had become a private equity investor. They’re a growth investor, and they weren’t seeing growth. They wanted to build something that could eventually go public.
Q. So what do you think were the problems before you joined?
A. The company had a good perception amongst analysts but it lacked a clear strategy to drive growth. It found itself with some legacy products and some that were strategic. The legacy products are important though because they are fertile ground to sell new products into, and of course they give you a maintenance revenue stream. Although the company was profitable when I joined the investors wanted to see growth as well as good EBITDA.
Q. And have you achieved both of those despite the economy?
A. In fiscal 2010 BPM revenue grew by over 30%, and EBITDA was up about 20%. That’s not been easy in this environment. We did about $100m revenue, had about an 18% positive EBITDA and we have about 300 staff.
Q. Is it too early to be thinking about that public listing? The IPO market is obviously not that strong right now.
A. It’s probably too early to take it public until we have consistent growth quarter after quarter. That’s going to need another year to 18 months. But the IPO market is starting to see some IPOs again, of companies in the $200m [revenue] range and with two to three years’ solid history of growth.
Q. Will you achieve that growth solely through organic means?
A. No, we will also use some M&As. The investors could go after strategic things and combine them together. It will be things that are ancillary to our BPM platform.
Q. Different vendors have come at the BPM space from different angles: the J2EE stack players, integration firms, workflow. What’s your positioning?
A. BPM is still quite widely defined as you say. But the thing about BPM is that it comes down to the fact you need to do something valuable with it: you need to process a claim, for example, so there’s the need for workflow, which is why the worlds of BPM and content management overlap. We try and sit at the intersection between BPM and ECM. We don’t do machine to machine – we think that’s largely done.
Companies are taking SharePoint and using it as a central repository for their content. We sit on top of that: we are native to SharePoint. We think offering case management for SharePoint is really hot. SharePoint went from zero to $1bn very fast, but nobody has built case management for it, except us. Nationwide Building Society, the Wellcome Trust – that’s why these companies chose Global 360. We’ve moved from SMB to the enterprise.
Q. Case management isn’t especially new though, is it?
A. We’ve been doing case management for ten years. It’s still difficult to get from [rival] BPM technologies because of the unstructured elements in the process. For example in a claims process you may have email, or video, that you want to associate with that claim. Case management gives a very intuitive metaphor for that, which is why we think it is the killer application for SharePoint.
Q. It’s not unheard of for Microsoft to expand their footprint, for example adding their own BPM to SharePoint…
A. Yes sometimes they like it so much they build it too, and you just have to move up the stack. There were 7,000 people at the SharePoint conference in Las Vegas, it was 25% over-subscribed. This is a huge opportunity for us right now.
Q. I understand you also have tight hooks into Microsoft Visio with analystView 3.0?
A. We’ve made it simple to use Visio for modelling and then we handle the orchestration. We can suck the models right in. There’s also the ability to simulate what events might look like in the future thanks to our simulation engine. There are over 15 million Visio users out there that we can aim this at.
Q. What’s your strategy for cloud computing?
A. When Microsoft gets Azure [its cloud computing play] into the mainstream we will natively support that. Think of a firm wanting to do a rental car comparison site: IT has to test it and develop it to ensure it scales, all of which needs a lot of hardware and configuration. On Azure you can turn it on, on Microsoft’s platform, and turn it off when you’re done with testing.
We’re also looking at analytics in the cloud — business activity monitoring in the cloud. We also have companies using our software and then offering some or part of that to their own clients as a service, for example Citibank Global Transaction Services and Unavida.
Q. Tell us about your recent launch of ‘Persona-based BPM’.
A. We spent almost $1m on user interaction consulting. We wanted to understand how users are using the system. What we found is that they were quite happy with the way it scaled, but didn’t feel it accounted for every ancillary element in the process, so they were having to use other systems to capture those, even down to Post-It Notes.
We say that ‘we want you to love your work again’. Research has shown that while many salaries are up productivity has gone down in some cases.
Our approach is visionary but also pragmatic. Because we involve process participants in the design and development of process improvements, we deliver systems that address the way that work gets done.
Q. Do you support the latest standard in this space, Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) 2.0?
A. We’ll have it throughout our suite by the end of this year. People are getting serious about it.
Q. Finally, I should ask if you have any comments on IBM’s acquisition of one of your rivals, Lombardi, or the acquisition of Savvion by Progress Software?
A. IBM needed a departmental solution, but the question now is how they integrate it. The Buddha is in the detail, as they say. It made sense for Lombardi though – if they hadn’t been bought they would have had to invest heavily in sales and marketing. It’s absolutely the case for Savvion too, they were just too small. We’re in the fortunate position of not having to rush to find a buyer; we have some time to see our strategy take hold and look at acquisitions of our own.