Welcome to an on-going series of interviews with the people behind the technologies in Cloud Computing. The interviews provide insightful points of view from a customer, industry, and vendor perspective. A full list of interviewees can be found here.
Adam Rogers – Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ultimate Software
1. Tell me in 2 minutes or less why Cloud Computing is changing the world for your customers
Adam Rogers (AR): Ray, let’s call it like it is. Cloud isn’t really disruptive – it’s already disrupted – and we’ve made that transition over the past 10 years. The new frontier for enterprise software is building systems that conform and cater to the user and how they want to work. Let’s use Amazon as an analogy. A core difference between Amazon and the dozens of other e-commerce sites that competed for mind share in the 2000’s is that they realized early on that doing great work on behalf of the PERSON was more important than the URL or the consumer product segment.
Our customers benefit from cloud computing by taking advantage of business solutions for managing their people, instead of dealing with the cost and expense of IT. Second, because we handle all upgrades, they gain access to the latest functionality and don’t get trapped in a legacy on-premise solution that is outdated. There’s no barrier to upgrading. However, you’ve heard this all before. Honestly, these are really table stakes in business software today.
What Cloud is transforming for our customers is their ability to tailor the solution to their specific needs. For example, Google wanted us to handle the administration of payroll and the system-of-record, but they wanted to maintain the user experience of their internally developed GHR system. By connecting Ultimate to GHR through the Cloud, they can deliver a familiar user experience for their people while taking advantage of our backbone.
Importantly, small businesses gain access to enterprise systems at an affordable price point because:
1. If done right, it allows smaller businesses access (via affordability) to what used to be very expensive enterprise applications.
⁃ up front through the economies of scale well-architected systems create, enterprise class software can be sold at much less expensive price points than previously.
⁃ ongoing costs are contained.. and running in world-class data centers that only fortune 1000 companies could previously afford.
2. It brings the benefits of consumer software (constantly improved, modern user interfaces and simple) to enterprise customers who demand secure, stable and reliable applications.
We moved to cloud computing and SaaS 10 years ago because we felt it was good for our customers but in the end it also opened up the market to smaller customers with much smaller IT budgets. This is obviously great for our business model but very rewarding to know we can offer a world-class solution to what used to be out of reach to many companies.
2. What makes cloud computing disruptive?
(AR): Disruption typically has two major components. The first is cost and the second is making products available to a new class of customers.
Cloud computing has not only reduced the cost of business software, it has also made sophisticated systems available to organizations that previously wouldn’t have been able to afford to purchase and maintain those products. I think that’s a fairly obvious outcome at this point as discussed already.
What is less obvious, but more important in the long term, is that Cloud computing means we can — for the first time, really — combine applications that are tailored to the person and the device (an iPad, for example) with a robust administrative system on the back end. Those applications can be really small, and highly tailored, while still connecting to the core. That means users don’t have to deal with a lot of complexity, they can just focus on the work at hand — while still participating in the company’s core system.
This is disruptive because as the end of the day, this is great for consumers and customers but to execute, it really flips all accepted thinking on it’s side.
– Now we have to update our software early and often – the consumers demand this kind of cadence to realize the value. Consumers are using consumer applications and consumer devices and demanding that same elegant experience from their Ent Apps. GenX/Y’s are taking over the executive offices and making decisions on business software.
– Think about what it takes to do that… it’s an agile/iterative development process with continuous integration and deployment. That’s a simple sentence that is a multi million dollar investment for development teams. It took us years to make this turn.
– Finally it’s disruptive because you have to be comfortable in the state of “blowing in the wind”. Typical enterprise companies built loyalty through ridiculously expensive upgrades and data that was so locked down you had to syphon your data out discretely if you were thinking about switching vendors. Now you MUST, absolutely MUST deliver a steady flow of functionality and make your data available and accessible via standard web protocols. That’s a scary situation for many established vendors. It’s disruptive because that’s what our customers want. That’s what we are giving them. But many won’t.
3. What is the next big thing in Cloud Computing?
(AR): The intersection of consumer applications (more than just social) into Enterprise data. SaaS and cloud moved your data to the [potentially] accessible cloud. Soon it will be about making sense of all that data in the cloud. So Enterprise SaaS vendors will be forced to make their data accessible. That’s uncomfortable position for many traditional enterprise software companies who always felt the “hoarding” of their data is what kept customers paying their maintenance bills. So now the data must be “freed” and accessible through standard formats. And not only that, just like Gen X/Yers started bringing iPhones and Skype into the Enterprise without “permission”, we will need to be able to mash our Enterprise data up with consumer applications (especially social). Why not allow identity management via Facebook?
For example, take Apple with iOS5 is delivering their notification center — one place for the person to direct all their important action items. It is our job to plug into that if the user wants us too. Same with social streams. People don’t want 10 different streams, they might want a couple… so how do we publish and subscribe into those places where a user already works. Instead of taking an application-centered view, it is time to take a person-centered view. Cloud lets us do that.
4. What are you doing that’s disruptive for Cloud Computing?
(AR): Ultimate has grown to 2200 customers because of the inherent disruptive power of Cloud computing and SaaS. And we’re just at the start of this transition as an industry. But we have to keep looking forward. I’m not ready to share details yet, but let’s just say that business applications–even Cloud applications–have really been all about interrogating the user in order to capture data that matters for administering the company. We believe that era is over.
5. Where do you see technology convergence with Cloud?
(AR): Connections between applications and information is happening at the device and person level. The iOS5/iPad example is a great one. I want to create my own work environment, bringing together the information I need in the context that makes sense to me. With powerful devices and hyper-connective cloud-based applications, we can really make that happen which is exciting. And when you get the itch to start talking about technology, you really have to be careful.
In Silicon Valley, there is a never-ending focus on architecture, technology and administration. So much in industry is in discussion about why Cloud, SaaS, Mobile is great.
– These are means to an end. That end is great solutions for people. Apple gets this. They invent experiences instead of marketing processor speeds and USB ports.
6. if you weren’t focused on Cloud Computing what other disruptive technology would you have pursued?
(AR): – Definetely something in the field of medicine. I was studying biomedical engineering before switching to electrical and going down the computer/software path. As much as modern medicine has progressed there seems to be so much more room for massive technology advances.. Both in administering how we traverse through the hospitals/doctor’s offices and when we are in surgery.
7. What’s your favorite science fiction gadget of all time?
(AR): Dr. Who’s Tardis. What could be better than seeing how awesome the technology will be 1000 years from now?
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