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Customer-Driven Innovations in Enterprise File Share and Sync; Interview with GroupLogic, Part III

What happens when the market moves so fast that premeditated product development often can’t keep up? When extensive planning can lead to products that are out of date or irrelevant as soon as they are released? This is the dilemma GroupLogic faces in the enterprise file share and sync marketplace, where many companies have been building their own solutions–including customizing free and freemium solutions–to handle needs that out-of-the-box products simply don’t address.

So instead of focusing on product development, GroupLogic engages in “customer development,” a way of rapidly responding to customer demands for product features. In this part of our interview series with Chris Broderick, CEO, & Anders Lofgren, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, at GroupLogic, we look at how the company integrates customer-driven innovations into its products to stay ahead of the enterprise file share and sync curve.

Joshua: Anders said that GroupLogic had gone on a bit of an analyst tour over the last few weeks. I was wondering, what did you learn about this market or this industry that you’re breaking into with activEcho, the enterprise file share and sync marketplace?

Chris: I would say the most consistent theme that we heard in the interviews and the meetings that we took as part of the tour that you mentioned, was that this is a very interesting space. There’s a high degree of resonance amongst everyone that we’re talking to about this.

The problem space is really easy to define, but it’s difficult to solve. So as you know, because it’s part of our overall messaging, there is this enormous demand for simple solutions that provide enterprise file access, file sharing, etcetera. To date, those needs have been met primarily by consumer-based cloud services that are often a premium type of model. The deficiencies there, of course, are that there’s a lack of control, lack of auditability, lack of security, and so on.

So, I would say the most resonant theme that we heard back is that, yes, this is very interesting, yes, a lot of people ask us about this, yes, it’s topical from the organizations that they’re in communication with.

Now for us, we look at that as an interesting validation of the work that we’ve been doing prior to this point, which is 18 months’ worth of work. Because where this really started was with interviews with our customers, not unlike an interview such as we’re having right now.

So, given the rich relationship that this company has been able to establish with its customers over many decades of being in business, that was a ripe opportunity for us to go back and revisit those relationships and ask them what the catalysts were for their buying in the future or what the problem spaces were that they were trying to address. What they came back to us with was this problem definition that I just articulated to you.

Joshua: You talked a bit about how you approached your customers and they approached you regarding some of the requirements that they had for this market. One of the customers that really stood out to me in the list of customers you showed us … is a very prominent financial services company, both for consumer and business.

What did you learn from a company like that, e.g. what was it that they really talked to you about that ended up helping drive some of the product that you’re making available in activEcho?

Chris: First, we’ll address feedback in a generic way, as opposed to specifically on behalf of any individual organization. What I would say is anecdotally, if not remarkably, it was unbelievable the number of organizations that were attempting to build their own solution to address this problem. Remarkable how many organizations that IT [information technology] isn’t a core thing that they do, actually had active development projects in place to build something to solve this [Editor: file-sync-and-share] problem for them. Unbelievable.

So being a provider of technology to these organizations and the relationships that we enjoy with them, it would have been a great spot. Many of them quite honestly said to us, “Hey, you guys should build this thing. And if you do, we’ll buy it from you”–which is great feedback to get when you’re looking for areas to invest in and new products to create.

Joshua: They were trying to build this internally with their IT development teams?

Chris: Some of them were, because the risks of using the freemium or “free services” just did not meet the requirements that they had from a regulatory or audit standpoint.

Joshua: That leads me to another question, and it has to do with the vision for your business and for the software infrastructure that you’re making available with your enterprise file sharing and collaboration piece. Because they were developing applications, or they were trying to develop this application on their existing storage, it leads me to believe that they might be building other mobile applications that need this type of infrastructure. In that same vein, do you have a vision for GroupLogic beyond just the enterprise file-sync-and-sharing, where your infrastructure can be used for other application requirements that the companies that you’re dealing with might need to develop?

Chris: That’s a great question. It’s something that we’re thinking a lot about. So I’ll comment, and I know Anders certainly has some comments on this, as well.

I think that what organizations really are trying to get their heads around and what they really wanna do is provide role-based access to content infrastructure-slash-applications that they manage that’s from within their own infrastructure to their users based on the roles that those users play in an organization. What I mean by that is that there’s certain amount of stuff that I want to make available to my salespeople that might be different from what I would want to make available to my marketing people or my research and development people. So it’s very role specific.

And today there are a handful of choices that an organization has if they want to achieve that. You can run off and build your own mobility app if you want to make this stuff available on mobility devices, which is hard to do and often not core to what the organization does. Or I can put up a website and provide access to that website from the mobility platform, which limits the control I have over the experience. Or I can find a packaged piece of software that maybe does 70 to 80 percent of what I’m trying to do.

So this whole idea of putting organizational-specific content available to either internal or external constituents is something that’s very front of mind to the organizations that we do work with. And where we think the opportunity is, is giving the ability to customize the experience for delivering content to this variety of devices based on roles within the organization in a packaged way that’s controlled by IT, audited by IT, and managed by IT. That’s really where we think this space is going.

Anders: Chris and I kind of look at the same areas. But we definitely have had conversations with some of our customers who want to use, as one example, the mobilEcho product, who basically want to use that as a generic file service, for generic file services for a number of applications.

So they want to be able to build around it, build other applications, and use our product as a way to get access to various file repositories. Today, that’s plain old file servers and NAS [network-attached storage] devices.

I think we shared with you that we will have SharePoint support. You can imagine we’ll look at other data repositories as well. So that’s something that we’re looking at: how we approach that particular game.

So, certainly we’re building off this platform we call the Echo
platform, where we have a roadmap for a new product we’re thinking about for hopefully the end of this year, something for 2013. And there’s a number of kind of offshoots that we can go on because we’re built based on this platform.

So a lot of it’s, frankly, going to be customer driven. It’s a little difficult for me–I definitely could not tell you what we will be building in 2014 today. There’s not even a number for that yet.

Even for the stuff we’re doing for 2013 is pretty much of a loose idea today. We like to give ourselves the option to quickly pivot and move in a different direction depending where our customers want us to go.

We don’t want to get locked into anything specifically that we need to build in two years because we fundamentally think the market’s moving so fast, you’re going to get caught behind and not be what the customer needs. And the customer tends to be a little bit more fickle these days because there are a lot of applications out there.

People ask us about our product development process. We don’t have a product development process. We have a customer development process, which product development is part of that.

It starts with conversations with end users. That’s how we came up with this product [activEcho].

When I got here, these conversations were going on before I got here, so it wasn’t like I did anything genius-wise that way. We were hearing this thing about enterprise Dropbox or solving the Dropbox problem. It was all about listening to those customers and then building a solution for that.

That doesn’t stop when we deliver our product [activEcho]. In fact, it becomes even more intense once we deliver the product on March 13th. Because then it’s out there and we’re getting feedback. And we want to be able to react to that very quickly.

In the next release three to four months later, version 3 or version 4–whatever the version might be–we want to be able to include those requests that people have in there. So we like to play it that way because simply that is what our customers want us to do. They want us to be able to provide the functionality. They don’t have time to wait 12 months.

In part IV of this interview series, we examine strategic partnerships GroupLogic has fostered with other technology companies to further tailor its solutions to specialized customer needs.

Joshua L. Konkle

About Joshua L. Konkle

Vice President DCIG, LLC Joshua Konkle is Vice President at DCIG LLC, an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Konkle has been a business advisor with them since September 2006.

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