In my continuing efforts to expand the coverage of eDiscoveryTimes, I have expanded my executive interview series to include executives from the IT Automation market. My first interview is with Michael Taylor, CEO of SMA Solutions. Founded in 1980 in Houston, Texas by experts from NASA, SMA Solutions is a pioneer in the scheduling and workload automation market.
Charles Skamser: Tell us about your background and how you got started with SMA Solutions.
Michael Taylor: I got my start in the Information Technology industry working as a third shift computer operator at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and NASA while attending college from 1976-1980. I graduated from Texas A&M in 1980 and started to work for Unisoft International, which became SMA Solutions. I started out as a documenter and programmer and fell in love with problem solving and the daily challenge of solving problems before the next business day started. I have worked my way up to CEO with lots of late nights, hard work and a few lucky breaks since starting as programmer. As of 2015, SMA Solutions will have been in business for 35 year during which time I have traveled to most of the major countries in the world selling our solution, building our global team and setting up offices.
I am a bit of an enigma by today’s standard, having worked for the same company for the past 35 years. However, as a hands-on CEO that worked his way up through the organization, I have seen the evolution of technology in the data center first hand and therefore have a very unique perspective. I believe that it is that perspective that has helped this company be a technology innovator.
Charles Skamser: What has been the biggest change in the IT automation industry since you started?
Michael Taylor: The biggest change in the IT automation industry since I started in the business is the dramatic increase in the sheer size, scope and complexity of the systems that need to be monitored and automated in today’s IT environment. We have evolved from single mainframe systems at single sites supported by three shifts of operators manually running jobs to very dynamic, multi-site, multi-system IT infrastructures that really can’t be monitored and maintained by human operators. When I started in this business, the knowledge to keep the computer systems up and running was in the minds a few really smart and experienced operators. If there was an error, we could identify the problem, rerun the process at night and get it fixed before business started the next day. In today’s world, organizations run 24/7 and therefore the business impact of system downtime can have a dramatic detrimental financial effect on the business. Well known companies such as facebook.com and eBay make the front page of the Wall Street Journal when they have system outages.
Our technology has always been a reflection of the times and the requirements of the market. In the early years our platform was a simple job scheduling system. We have evolved this system into OpCon, a cross-platform; multi-application workload automation and monitoring system that can meet the complexities of today’s IT environment. OpCon provides IT departments and their internal business partners with the visibility and associated automation to run a fully “lights out” operation.
Where the knowledge of how to run complex systems, respond to errors and ensure that corporate systems were up and running used to reside in the minds of a few computer operators and required layers of management approval, OpCon accomplishes these tasks with a single, automated solution. It doesn’t matter if your IT operation is small or large, simple or complex, OpCon can be taught your rules of engagement, escalation and approval; and automate the required processes flawlessly with little to no human intervention. OpCon may not be the “Hal” from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, it is getting close and that’s why we have coined and copyrighted the phrase “repeatable perfection” as our tagline.
Charles Skamser: Give me some examples of your favorite automation projects.
Michael Taylor: After being in this business for so many years, I do in fact have some amazing examples. Unfortunately, due to the restraints of non-disclosure agreements, I am not at liberty to disclose the names and associated automation projects of many of our top clients. However, a project I am very proud of is the development of a managed services operation. OpCon enabled a financial institution to transform its IT department into a managed services provider for other smaller financial institution that could not afford a multi-shift IT staff. The team from this financial institution used our innovative technology to develop the templates and processes to automate and manage over 60 + smaller financial institutions and help them grow without the financial burden of having to hire additional people.
Another great project is our support of a government agency’s migration project, where OpCon was leveraged to automate their mainframe environment as they added new systems and applications, without having to add new staff with specific knowledge of the new environments. The original staff understood the agency’s IT processes and business rules and OpCon enabled them to leverage this knowledge into the new applications in an open system environment. By using OpCon the agency was able to reduce risk, lower cost and increase productivity. Every time I think about this case study, I wonder why every government agency in the world at the federal, state and local level isn’t using OpCon.
A great inspiration for SMA Solutions lies within the fact that we have a lot of clients who have been with us for many years. Over the years, the SMA Solutions team and its technology have helped these customers transition from single system solutions to complete open systems supporting most production operating system, applications and ERP platforms in the market today.
Because of this, OpCon has evolved into the knowledge repository that enables corporations to retain the knowledge necessary to maintain their critical business systems without having to rely on IT personnel as they come and go. Our technology has transcended several generations of client IT personnel and, as a result, the current IT operators at these companies aren’t really sure exactly how OpCon works but they do know that it flawlessly automates major parts of their operations.
Charles Skamser: Can you give me a more detailed example of what OpCon is automating at one of the companies?
Michael Taylor: I recently got a call from the CIO of one of our major clients who thanked me for “saving his job”. This particular client, who has been with SMA Solutions almost from the beginning, has an international footprint with lots of locations. The CIO indicated that they experienced a major system failure that required their entire system to be rebooted and re-synched. He was pleased to report that a previous IT operator, that had long since retired, had developed a comprehensive workflow model and associated processes that automatically went through the 427 steps necessary to reboot and re-synch their systems in less than 3 hours. The CIO estimated that without this OpCon workflow, it would have taken days and thousands of dollars in consulting fees to get them up and running. Additionally the downtime of the system was reduced to a minimum, hereby reducing the financial impact on the business. Its hard to estimate the value of OpCon to this client. However, I would suspect that it saved them literally millions of dollars.
Charles Skamser: There have been several huge success stories in Workload Automation such as Tivoli and BMC. Do you regret not taking SMA Solutions public or selling out?
Michael Taylor: I get asked this question a lot. First of all, I don’t regret anything that SMA Solutions has done. We have been around for over 30 years with a large international client base that includes many of the top corporations and government agencies in the world. One of the major keys to our longevity and success is the fact that we have stayed independent of the financial rigors of a public company, listened to our customers and continuously invested in the development and support of technology that has consistently outperformed our competition.
Having said that, although you have to be impressed with the financial success, I have never considered Tivoli, BMC and other vendors in the industry as direct competition. Allow me to explain. While these vendors do in fact have automation solutions and we do see them in the marketplace, we have never lost a deal in which the client required a single platform to support multiple operating systems and applications with very complex process requirements. More importantly, we have never been replaced by any of them due to lack of performance, cost or features. And, we have in fact replaced these systems at clients where these vendors were unable to provide the support that the clients required.
SMA Solutions has also continuously been a industry leader. As an example, in 1995, we were the first company to offer an MS Windows based single point of operations platform that could manage a mainframe. Today, we are still the only private automation solution which can manage any OS, application and ERP from a single point of view. Our technology was designed from the ground up to enable this growth. And, it is this superior and scalable architecture that will enable SMA Solutions to succeed in this new complex and global IT environment.
Charles Skamser: Can you give me an example of how you outperform your larger competition?
Michael Taylor: As the global information technology world becomes more complicated – with most organizations having to manage distributed computing infrastructures that include legacy mainframes, open systems division level computing assets and cloud based storage and computing assets – our solution will prove to be the only IT Automation Platform that can truly enable a stable and clean single point of control.
To be more specific, our key competitive advantage over our larger competitors is that we have strategically designed and developed OpCon as the only IT Automation platform on the market that enables clients to control all of its computing and application assets from a single point of control with a single user interface, with no contrived proxies or “funky” technical hoops for users to jump through.
Charles Skamser: Has SMA Solutions taken a horizontal or vertical approach to marketing?
Michael Taylor: Initially SMA Solutions took a vertical approach as they only supported Unisys Mainframes. However, over time, as we added support for more operating systems and other platforms, our approach evolved into more of a horizontal approach with general scheduling and workload automation support across multiple platforms. As testament to this, our installed base in the general IT Automation market includes some of the largest and well known corporations in the world as well as some of the largest government agencies.
Along the way, we also began to add what we refer to as connectors and automation for specific applications, such as Infor M3 and SAP. Having seen success in this approach, we will continue to add additional connectors as our clients and the market place require.
As another example, in 2007, we formed a partnership with Symitar and developed very application specific automation within the Credit Union market. Currently we provide enterprise-wide automation for a major percentage of the Credit Union clients that use Symitar.
Charles Skamser: Do you plan to expand vertically or horizontally?
Michael Taylor: I think that is a matter of perspective. Software vendors normally develop target markets with the precision and accuracy of a rifle shot and we have done the same with our very specific vertical solution for Credit Unions that run Symitar. However, our technology provides the unique opportunity to enable clients to build very sophisticated and therefore very specific and custom automated workflow solutions. This unique capability enables us to target prospects from a horizontal perspective but yet talk to these clients in terms of very specific and vertical solutions. So as an example, clients from the oil and gas industry are using a standard version of OpCon yet have developed very industry specific and in some cases very custom workflow and automation templates. So, we could take these templates and create a vertical for the oil and gas industry. We have similar case studies for large hospitals and financial institutions as well.
Having said this, we are not naïve in regards to the marketing resource and associated financial requirements of complex marketing plans that cover both horizontal and vertical markets. Therefore, we plan to continue to market OpCon from a horizontal perspective and then identify and develop vertical markets that require very specific vertical solutions similar to what we have done in the credit union market. To add even more intrigue to my answer, we are also looking at providing vertical solutions that target the backup and recovery market which of course can be sold into most any corporation in the world of any size. The technical requirements for this market are very easy for OpCon to support.
To ease the burden of having to hire and train experts in these various vertical markets, we plan to form sales, marketing and consulting partnerships that already sell into these markets that can provide us with instant access, credibility and domain expertise. Backup and Recovery is just one example of the vertical markets that we plan to enter through VARs , Resellers and Consulting Partners in the next 24 months.
Charles Skamser: What’s on your technology road map?
Michael Taylor: We are in the process of launching a business analytics platform into our credit union vertical market. This new application, called “SMA Insights” enables credit union business professionals to monitor all of the business transactions on a real time basis and report on trends and exceptions that may require attention. As an example, SMA Insights can track the volume and dollar amount of withdrawals from an ATM network and alert the appropriate business professional via text if a withdrawal falls outside of the norm. Or, it can monitor, automatically generate and deliver reports on the productivity of tellers over a week or month in pursuit of HR objectives.
Over time, we plan to integrate SMA Insights with our automated workflow products to enable the rectification of issues such as an ATM going down with an automatic reboot. This is SMA Solutions’ next step into the world of “lights out” operations that enable our systems to monitor and automatically correct themselves.
Getting back to your original question about horizontal versus vertical target markets, SMA Solutions purposely developed SMA Insights as a general business analytics platform and therefore we plan to market it horizontally to any corporation that wants to monitor its IT operations and to a variety of other vertical markets such as retail operations. Once again, we plan to partner with experts in these vertical markets to provide instant access and reduce the cost of marketing and support.
Charles Skamser: Your last comment is a good segue into where you see the world of IT Automation going?
Michael Taylor: That’s a big question. Let me start by saying that Cloud Computing, Big Data, Information Governance and Social Media are driving most IT purchasing decision made in 2014. Therefore I see the world of IT Automation evolving to support Cloud Computing, Big Data, Information Governance and Social Media. In addition, I also see the legacy IT automation approach of point solutions being replaced by unified automation solutions that can support all platforms and all applications in all environments from a single point of control. In regards to your earlier questions about competition, the support for single point of control is where “our competition” doesn’t have the technology to follow. We believe that we will be very successful with this unique solution over the coming years.
Charles Skamser: Can you give me more specific examples of where you see SMA Solutions going with its technology?
Michael Taylor: In addition to our plans for SMA Insights and expanding our support for Backup and Recovery, we are investigating supporting additional ERP systems as well as automating the workflows to support Information Governance and various related markets such as Document Management and eDiscovery.
I would also like to point out that we are confident that can expand SMA Insights into other vertical markets that require real time monitoring of transactions and associated automated responses. One of the markets that we are currently investigating in the emerging corporate requirements for fraud monitoring and prevention. We firmly believe that our technology has the capabilities to enable SMA Solutions to become a big player in this market.
Charles Skamser: Can you give me some examples of how SMA Solutions would support Information Governance?
Michael Taylor: First of all, any “job” on a computer can be monitored and automated. In addition, any human interaction with a computer can also be monitored and automated. When you combine those two functions into automated workflows that encompass real time monitoring and associated automated actions, you can automate almost anything.
In the context of what I just mentioned, corporations worldwide of all sizes are now required to develop written policies for internal governance, risk and associated compliance. And, there are a variety of software platforms that support the requirements of Information Governance generally and eDiscovery more specifically. However, most of these platforms require a high level of human monitoring and associated intervention. Therefore, our initial research and discussions with some of the providers in this industry indicate that we could provide dramatic increases in productivity, efficiencies and cost savings by providing real time transaction monitoring with SMA Insights and workflow automation with OpCon. As indicated early, we have no plans to “go it alone” in these vertical markets and therefore we have already reached out to partners to work with to introduce our solutions. I am trying to temper my enthusiasm about the impact that we can have on Information Governance. However, it’s hard not to get excited.
Charles Skamser: Where do you see SMA Solutions in 5 years?
Michael Taylor: I see SMA Solutions finally being recognized globally for the superior technology that we have been designing, developing and distributing for the past 30 years. And, as many of the legacy vendors and their technology become obsolete and are replaced by new emerging vendors, I see SMA Solutions as a high-bred legacy vendor that continuously re-invents itself and therefore emerge as a new leader. Matching this ability to evolve and emerge with all of the untapped opportunities with the IT Automation market, I also see SMA Solutions, over the next 5 years climbing a very steep growth curve that places us firmly in the same discussions with the biggest players in the industry that you mentioned earlier.
Charles Skamser: Are there any closing comments that you want to make?
Michael Taylor: I have never had the opportunity to talk about SMA Solutions and therefore this has been great. It’s made me really think about everything that we have accomplished and also made me think about all things that we still have left to accomplish. I appreciate your interest and hope that your audience finds my comments intriguing enough to give us a call and give us a chance to show them what we can do. Thanks!
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