Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New Global Certain Software

On March 4, 2008, Certain Software and Amlink Technologies announced a merger to create "the largest global supplier of technology solutions for the meetings and events management industry". The adjective "largest" comes courtesy of the fact that we can chose the metrics to measure by. I count this as the fourth announcement in the past year of the creation of the "largest global supplier" among meeting software vendors (Starcite, Active Network, Cvent, and now Certain). I've personally never put much stock in the claim of being the biggest; to me it is more important to be the best solution provider for each invidual customer.

It's like that Bank of America commercial says, "Our goal isn't to process a billion transactions each day; our goal is to process one transaction correctly, and then repeat that a billion times."

How does it help me for you to be the "Largest"?

As a customer, I would think, "This merger is great for you. I'm sure some people earned a well-deserved payout and you'll be able to consolidate some back-office functions. But what's it going to do for me? Will you stop developing the product I use now and force me to switch to another one, which I probably didn't choose for specific reasons when I purchased your product? Am I going to call my account manager of five years and get a nameless call center technician half-way around the world?"

This is a challenge for us. At our first merger transition meeting, we established four goals for our quest to be recognized as THE global technology solution for the Events and Meeting Planning Industry.
  • Seamless transition - Achieve transition without disrupting current business operations from the customers' perspective (and from the employees' perspective when possible)

  • Global company - Certain is one global company from the market's perspective (customers, prospects, partners, public) and from the employee's perspective (internal operations)

  • Increase revenue - We need revenue growth in order to fund the ongoing operations and development required by the market we serve

  • Control costs - We plan to increase profitability through higher revenue while controlling costs
Notice that our first goal is to not affect our customers negatively. We are fortunate to have two strong companies and products, so it is more important to not break anything than to quickly "fix" something.

But we do want customers to notice benefits in their service soon, so one of our objectives is to work toward a 24/7/365 support network of internal experts - not outsourced call center techs. With primary offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Brisbane (Australia), and London, we have permanent employees in native English-speaking countries located in time zones spaced approximately 8 hours apart. (Yes, Perth would have been exactly 8 hours apart, but I guess Trevor Gardiner liked Brisbane better when he established Amlink there.)

Second, although we will continue to develop both the Events Pro and Certain Registration products separately for the rest of 2008, we've already begun to see the excitement generated internally by putting hundreds of years' of global event management software experience into the same room. We hope that customers will be beating down the doors to use our first jointly-developed product, but in the meantime, we won't slow down product support on either of our core platforms.

Don't mergers mean layoffs and product cuts?

I think that most people in our industry look at Starcite as the model for software consolidation, but our situation is very different. Starcite acquired RegWeb because they needed an online registration product, and they continue to support that platform today. B-There came in from bankruptcy, and thus its products and services were in jeopardy whether or not Starcite had completed the acquisition. Starcite and OnVantage merged while OnVantage was still digesting the merger of Plansoft and SeeUThere. By then, Starcite had acquired or built 3 solid registration systems and 2 basic ones, plus 3 meeting expense consolidation tools, two or more hotel databases, and dozens of offices world-wide. It's impractical to expect that they would have continued to support and develop all of those products and employees.

Certain and Amlink, however, were in the position of having both strong products and financial positions. In the past 10 years of selling online registration software, I believe that the two of us were finalists in only one opportunity I worked on (the National FFA Organization, where I missed Trevor by a couple hours). Certain Registration was born as a Web-based Software as a Service (SaaS), while Events Pro is a traditional client-server Windows application. Certain is primarily U.S.-based, while Amlink's largest office is halfway around the world and dominates its chosen niche in Europe. Looking at these facts, it makes more sense to expect growth from this merger than cut-backs.

So what's next?

I'm tackling a new challenge of leading the new Certain's merger transition committee. I have little global business experience, a 4-week old infant at home, and a mile-long list of objectives. But we'll tackle these as a team and make progress each day, and occasionally I'll share some lessons learned here.

Being a big sister is exhausting!

No comments: