|Chuck Schaeffer, chairman of Aplicor|
Standfirst: SaaS-based ERP and CRM vendor, Aplicor, is a veteran in its space with clients across the world. In this interview, Chuck Schaeffer, chairman of the firm discusses why such solutions make sense for regional enterprises and outlines how Aplicor can help them achieve their goals.
Q: What is the value of SaaS-based CRM and ERP solutions for enterprises?
A: SaaS ERP and CRM systems offer a disruptive change to the acquisition, management and support of business software applications. SaaS changes the software procurement from a large capital purchase to a subscription which saves up-front costs as well as total cost of ownership over the life of the software. With no hardware to prepare and no software to install, SaaS applications are also implemented much more quickly which provides additional cost savings for consulting and internal labour. SaaS also reduces IT staffing as the business software applications are remotely delivered over the Internet and managed from centralised data centres by the SaaS vendor. With SaaS, the customer is not responsible for database administration, system administration, advanced security management, upgrades and new version installations, business continuity with disaster recovery or trouble-shooting their business applications. IT departments are normally under-resourced and by removing these time consuming and technically complex activities IT staff can focus on other priorities and the company can focus on its core competencies.
Q: What is the convincing proposition to invest in these solutions in markets like the Middle East, where companies still have money to spend on big in-house implementations and prefer to keep their software and data to themselves?
A: SaaS business applications allow Middle Eastern companies to gain advantages in terms of cost savings, faster time to value, decreased IT complexity, improved IT staffing and on-demand scaleability while at the same time maintaining full control of their software utilisation and full ownership of their data. Cloud computing sometimes comes with an initial concern of data access and ownership. However, that concern is alleviated when cloud customers see that only they own their data and the data is accessible for view, manipulation or download on demand. For cloud customers that want to take advantage of browser based business applications, as well as the SaaS value proposition tenant of outsourced IT management, we’re able to offer a pre-configured server appliance for placement in the customers facility or data centre and still remotely manage and support the cloud application.
Q: How does Aplicor ensure the integrity and security of customer information when providing SaaS-based CRM and ERP solutions?
A: Aplicor manages an in-house Information Security team that over the last decade has built out a security-in-depth infrastructure with many redundant layers of physical and logical security protection. Our security posture is a strategic asset backed with a comprehensive security plan, evolving risk analysis, suite of tools, constant testing and tenured security staff. Twice annually our company, data centres and information security preparedness are tested and audited by the two most recognised auditors, ISO and NIST. For the last four years, we have received ISO 27001 certifications and NIST C&A (certification and accreditation) attestation. We also randomly engage outside security consultants in controlled vulnerability assessment and penetration tests.
Q: What are the challenges Aplicor faces in convincing and servicing customers in growing regions like the Middle East?
A: We need to educate and demonstrate the cloud computing value proposition for companies in the Middle East. Fortunately for us, the cloud and SaaS concepts have previously been proven multiple times over in the US, Western Europe and other parts of the world. Analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester now refer to cloud computing as a top agenda item for global CIOs. We’re now sharing the benefits, experiences and lessons learned from cloud predecessors in other parts of the world for the benefit of Middle Eastern companies.
Q: What are the challenges first-time enterprise users of SaaS solutions, like most organisations in the region, are likely to face and how can Aplicor help overcome them?
A: Cloud computing and SaaS solutions actually ease the implementation and operational challenges associated with on-premise software installation, management and support. Our challenge is to educate the market and alleviate concerns. Many new customers are initially concerned with system uptime and information security. However, when we demonstrate our globally redundant data centres and best in industry uptime record, as well as our information security posture and independent audit certifications, customers normally recognise that by going with a SaaS provider they can achieve far more uptime assurance and information security protection than they could or would choose to invest on their own.
Q: Explain Aplicor’s model of delivery of SaaS solutions in developing markets like the region.
A: The ERP and CRM business software systems are delivered over the Internet from globally redundant data centres in America and Europe. Additionally, cloud customers have the option to deploy a pre-packaged server appliance within their company or from their local colo data centre. The server appliance provides local proximity while still delivering a browser-based business application and achieving the SaaS benefits of subscription pricing, remotely managed IT support and on-demand scalability. With our increased growth in the Middle East, and with the help of our local partner LiveRoute, we will jointly be opening a data centre in the GCC region in the future.
Q: What would be convincing market changes for Aplicor to set up its own offices in any geography in the world?
A: Aplicor operates offices in North America, South America and Europe, however, going forward our strategy for additional territories is solely through business partners. By focusing on our core competency of building great CRM and ERP software systems for global middle market companies, and partnering with regional business partners whose core competencies include locally deploying and supporting CRM and ERP software systems for their customers, we achieve a synergistic success that is quite powerful.
Q: How does Aplicor choose its partners for delivery and service provision in new markets?
A: Our business software system was originally designed as a global application and we now support users in just over 160 countries. Our approach to increase presence in any particular geography is to partner with an extraordinary local consulting firm. We don’t believe you can achieve sustained success by selling and supporting from outside the region. Our business partner approach is to selectively seek out cloud computing focused firms, engage them to understand if we have common customer and business philosophies, provide them in depth training so they are expert with the business software applications, aid them in any way we can with their go-to-market efforts and provide back line support to make sure they and all of their customers are successful.
Q: Explain Aplicor’s R&D set-up and product refreshment cycle.
A: Aplicor operates a distributed development organisation with staff located in America, Costa Rica, Argentina and the UK. We update our on-line business software monthly, and provide major new versions about every 18 months. The next version release will occur this quarter and will include advancements in multi-tenant architectures, workflow technology, a new user interface based on Microsoft’s Silverlight presentation layer and support for Microsoft’s Azure public cloud.
Q: What can potential and existing customers expect from Aplicor in terms of SaaS solutions in the next few years?
A: Aplicor will advance our product’s primary competitive advantages, launch new vertical market solutions and increase our global footprint with our international business partners. The three top competitive advantages we retain, and seek to further advance, include ease of use, process automation and information delivery. Our new version is code named TUX, which stands for Transformational User Experience, leverages Microsoft’s Silverlight presentation layer and dramatically changes the business application experience from a user perspective. Our new business process automation builder permits users to automate many of the activities they currently do manually, thereby increasing productivity and decreasing cycle times, and our upgraded business intelligence suite uses data warehousing and online analytical processing to deliver more timely information to decision makers in order to aid them in making better decisions. Our newest software product version will also provide an industry-specific version for cloud computing and subscription management companies. This vertical market product will manage and automate many of the unique requirements for these industries, such as multiple period opportunity management, complex quotes or contracts, and multiple types of different billing methods.