CBJ was recently invited to hear about the next generation of business collaboration tools—social business software. IGLOO Software, headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario (but mostly located in the cloud), is helping companies around the world understand that “the future of collaboration is about enabling people to work the way they want to, by applying a social approach to the tools they already use.” Dan Latendre, CEO of IGLOO and one of Canada’s technology innovators, is not new to the development of leading edge technologies, and has played significant roles in the development and marketing for such pioneering Canadian companies as MKS, Delrina and OpenText. He now leads the charge at IGLOO, and gave us a peek at what’s to come for this social business software company.
CBJ: How did the concept for the company start?
Dan Latendre: It started in 2005 when I was approached by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research In Motion. Jim was interested in using technology similar to what I had built when I was an executive at OpenText for his think tank – the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). As I set out to build this platform, both the technology and its potential became so compelling that we were able to secure a $15 million grant from the Ministry of Research and Innovation. The objectives for the funding were threefold: to build a research network for CIGI; to build a next generation technology platform to facilitate collaboration, communication and knowledge transfer; and to commercialize. We were so successful with this plan that we attracted funding from RBC Ventures and spun the company out of CIGI in 2008, and have been growing at an aggressive rate ever since.
CBJ: How did IGLOO undertake its research of the market?
DL: The opportunity is striking – top industry analysts peg the market at around $5B by 2014, and growing at 40 per cent. Experts will also tell you that there is significant green field opportunity with well over half of mid to large sized companies with no social business software deployment, but many with plans to deploy in the near future. We took a customer centric approach and set out to find what kind of business problems companies were trying to resolve with this type of technology. We found that companies essentially wanted to improve productivity by enabling their employees to work the way they want to. More specifically, people are social and they naturally want to socialize around documents and business activities. We learned that companies did not want to replace their basic productivity tools, but rather to extend the way in which they were being used to communicate and collaborate. We also learned that security is foundational. If we were going to bring this to businesses, it had to be extremely secure, and had to integrate with your existing systems.
CBJ: Who is IGLOO’s competition?
DL: The competitive landscape breaks out into three distinct categories: there are the point solutions that focus on a narrow set of capabilities (e.g., microblogging); the platform players that can be extensively customized but are complicated and require significant IT involvement; and then there are the suite players which are full featured, purpose built social software tools that can be run and customized by the business versus by IT. IGLOO software fits in this last category. We felt that there was an opportunity to provide a complete suite of collaboration, social networking, and content management tools delivered purely in the cloud.
CBJ: What sets IGLOO apart from its competitors?
DL: Our promise to you is that we facilitate modern communication and collaboration within your organization. Our ultimate goal is to help you improve employee and team productivity by supporting the way people naturally work. What makes us different from others in this space is the way in which we deliver the technology to the business. First, as I mentioned before, IGLOO is a pure cloud offering and therefore it is very fast to deploy. In fact, you can be up and running in days or weeks versus some of our competitors who can take months and even years. Second, IGLOO is very easy to use. One of the strengths of our solution is that it can be easily modified and customized by end users instead of IT. That makes the business more agile and able to respond quickly to business opportunities. And finally, we are IT friendly. We know that it is critical that we meet the needs of IT if we are going to be broadly adopted, and therefore we have been laser focused on security, extensibility and integration with existing tools and infrastructure.
CBJ: What is different about IGLOO customers’ mentality, specifically IT?
DL: The mindset of IT is a bit different than it has been in the past. IT wants to partner with the business to be a strategic asset for the company. However, IT departments are somewhat resource constrained as they manage the IT backlog, look after existing systems and all while being impacted by cost cutting.
They are looking for self-serve applications like IGLOO that deliver on the business requirements and can be run by the business versus configured and constantly maintained by them. This frees IT to do what they want to do—focus on innovating and partnering with the business around key business priorities. That’s why IT loves us.
CBJ: How do you implement security parameters?
DL: Fortunately we’ve been doing this for so long that we’ve actually created a security framework. You can scale up the security requirements according to the needs of the business. Customers can control through the active directory who has permissions to what and what groups they belong to. We give customers the choice of where they want that control to live—with the business or with IT, or some combination. And the permissioning is extensive—right down to the application layer, whether it is a wiki, blog, or document, at a group or individual level.
Then we went further. Every activity in the system is audited, and we did this because we have highly regulated industries that use our platform. Customers can go to the audit trail and see who has touched the document and all of that is built into our system, even in the search. If you search for it, but don’t have the rights, it won’t show up in the results. We took a lot of time and effort to put this all together because security is multi-layered, from the data centre to the networking, to how it is transmitted, to access levels. The hardest thing was how to make this easy, because Web 2.0 has to be easy.
We’ve also added the last piece of the puzzle: approvals and moderation. This enables social workflow, where a user can create a piece of content and then go through a set of collaborative approvals before it is allowed to be published to a broader audience. It took us six months to build this capability because we had about eight or nine customers collaborating with us on the right implementations. It strikes a nice balance on enabling a new, more open way of working, without sacrificing the governance and controls.
CBJ: What is the next step in terms of strategy and growing the business?
DL: Our strategy for growth is threefold. First, we are focused on ensuring we have the most complete, customer centric business social software suite on the market. As a cloud company we essentially offer services – if our customers are not are not satisfied, they will essentially turn us off. That’s why we have release cycles every 45-60 days, and a mandate to have at least 50 percent of every build driven by our customers. Second, we are laser focused on providing solutions to specific customer needs. Instead of taking a Swiss army knife approach, we focus on a series of 8 applications—four intranet applications and four extranet applications. These would include a Marketing Team application, a Sales Team application, a Customer Portal application, and so on. What we are finding is that customers start with one or two of our applications, and quickly want to add more and connect them together. That is a big part of our growth strategy. And thirdly, our growth will be highly dependent of our ability to build an ecosystem of consultants and integrators. We have leading technology, and one of our big efforts right now is to bring on a group who can help us to integrate it within the customer’s environment. In 2012, we believe we will leapfrog our competition with this winning approach.
CBJ: How is IGLOO attractive to prospective employees?
DL: A cloud company like ours is an exciting place to work. Our work could not be more interesting—we are directly participating in driving a significant shift in the way in which people work. We are a fast-paced group and use our own technology to help us to react quickly to market needs. And we are customer centric. We are in tune with our customers and constantly improving our value proposition to them. From a cultural standpoint, one of the things we’ve done is to promote a very flat organization. I believe in smaller teams that work closely and collaboratively together. That is the Web 2.0 way—we live and breathe this whole new world!
CBJ: What advice do you have for companies who are planning on implementing a social business software strategy?
DL: Adopting social software is more than just a technology decision, but of course that is foundational in ensuring you have the right set of tools delivered in the right way. There are at least two other considerations that should be taken into account: operational challenges and cultural / change management challenges. Operational challenges arise if the social software technology is not core to how people work. For example, if it introduces another place to go for information, or is not central to getting the job done, or requires an additional password – then it will make adoption far more difficult. And finally, there are cultural and change management factors that must be considered. For example, being able to deliver of the different needs and expectations of Generation X and Generation Y employees in this transition will be a huge part of any company’s success.
That said, many customers have made or are making the transition successfully, and are harvesting the benefits of a more agile, competitive company with higher employee morale.