Stuart Nielsen is Chief Information Officer at Tools4FIM, a software company that specializes in the development of customized tools and components for the Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager 2010 (FIM) solution. This two-and-half-year-young operation, managed by five employees, is leveraging the reach and experience of more than 100 integrator consultants within its parent company, Oxford Computer Group. Together, they pack a lot of punch in the identity, security, and access management segment, a highly niche market. They now have five downloadable software utilities providing customized added value.
Stuart and his team aim to make their tools available to customers wherever they are, simultaneously minimizing the risk associated with deployment of the technologies and reducing implementation and project times. Tools4FIM products are currently used by over 300 customers, ranging from small independent integrators to global companies such as Microsoft Consulting Services.
Finding a Solution
It is integral to the success of Tools4FIM that they have a proper licensing solution in place. The reputation Tools4FIM creates in the marketplace not only impacts their efforts but their highly respected parent company as well. Although Oxford Computer Group had an established licensing solution for their needs, it would not extend to fit Stuart's needs due to limitations within the European-based e-commerce functionality. So, Stuart promptly realized that he would be required to look elsewhere for a solution to fit his needs.
Stuart has over 25 years of experience, including the early days at Microsoft, when they were small in the U.K., all the way through their biggest growth period. This makes his perspective on Concept Software all the more valuable for others. He has been "around the block," allowing him to confidently state what sets Concept Software apart from other licensing providers. He says, "Over my 25 years, of all the companies I have encountered, Mike and his team rank in the top five in customer support, responsiveness and help. I suppose in this day in age that is probably the highest commendation that I can give Mike and his team. That, for me, is what makes the company. Whether you use all the functionality or not, whether you have full throughput or not, whether you have the best [licensing] product in the world and it cost you only a buck — if you don't have support, then it's worthless and very frustrating. So, for me, truly it comes down to the service these guys provide. It's on the ball, it's on time, it does exactly what it says it's going to do."
Seven years ago, Stuart added value to his own life in the U.K. by renovating an abandoned 1727 Welsh farm house situated on a scarcely populated mountainside often adorned with sheep from a nearby herder. This CIO works from his remote, rural location and alternating his time at the city office. Stuart's personal commitment to creating a better quality of life translates to his heightened awareness that businesses need to deliver value through quality products, services and overall extraordinary customer experiences.
The Right Choice Keeps Delivering Benefits
When Tools4FIM started looking for a licensing solution two-and-a-half years ago, their sights were set on selling into the global market and wanting to base it in the U.S. They solicited feedback about a good platform from which they would sell their tools. They got a strong recommendation from their U.S. partner and customer in the telecommunications industry who suggested that the SoftwareKey System was the way to go: a good company with good products. Tools4FIM thoroughly tested the SoftwareKey System and the particular features of SOLO Server, comparing the results with reviews of a few other solutions on the market. This investigation process took about a month during which time, Stuart recalled, "Mike (Mike Wozniak, Founder and CEO, Concept Software) and his team were on the ball, answered questions, allowed us to trial and test, and talked through the process of customization. They were very flexible."
Stuart identified the functionality they required including:
- Straightforward e-commerce
- Feedback to the Microsoft product and marketing teams
- CRM integration
- Offering downloadable trials
- Reporting - "great for the accountant"
- Email integration to offer promotions and discounts
- Role-based security for their five employees in different countries, each with various levels of required access
- A solution that they would not outgrow, in anticipation of a burgeoning customer base
- Controls to manage the licensing mechanism (e.g., activation and deactivaiton rules, ease of upgrading a customer to another version, etc.)
Stuart and his team were impressed with the speed with which they could accomplish all of this, including the hosting services provided by Concept Software. But the thing that really drove them to choose the SoftwareKey System is how it is all designed to protect their software.
He went on to discover that the team at Concept Software is always incredibly flexible in customizing to what he calls, "their peculiar needs." Stuart recalled seven customization projects completed by Concept Software over the two-and-a-half year relationship (as of this writing). Initially, it was getting the right "look and feel" of the user interface and then customizating it in such a manner to encourage customers to interact with it directly, thereby reducing operational costs to a mininum. Later, they needed what Stuart describes as "significant customizations" which left them "surprised and blown away what Mike and his team would do, and do at no additional charge."
Stuart believes that had Tools4FIM gone with a cheaper solution they more than likely would have had very expensive pay-per-use support — or no customer support at all. Choosing a larger company would have left them without the care they continue to experience with Concept Software. He says, "No doubt we are one of the easier customers, with simpler demands [for Concept Software] and we are never going to generate Mike and his team a huge amount of ongoing revenue from the model; nonetheless, they work with us. I'm sure you can imagine that some of the larger players would say you are too small, we don't want to help you." The message he got from Concept Software was, "We don't care how big you are, or how small you are, or how much business we will do with you; if we can help you, and we have the right solution for you, and you think we are the right people to work with you, then we are happy to work with you."
An Experienced CIO's Advice to You
To summarize, using Stuart's own words:
- Think very carefully about what you are trying to sell and how you want to control what you are trying to sell.
- Do you want people to be able to trial that software?
- Do you want people to be able to license the software in different ways?
- Do you want to offer a lite version and fuller version for upgrade?
- Do you have varied functionality within your software product? Will you try to lock that functionality out in some way?
- Think about the different SKU's that you might have and the different ways of selling and licensing each product.
- How do you want to secure and manage your product? You may not be worried how and what people do with it. We wanted to make sure that we maintained some control with that product, that we could deactivate it or activate it. We wanted to be able to allow people to upgrade from a lite version to a full version of the product. Think long and hard about how you will sell it, and how you will manage that software once you have sold it.
- Think long and hard about what kind of customer information you want to collect, how will you manage it; are you happy managing it in a completely separate CRM system than the one you use today? Might you export it to some other CRM? Can you export to a different system?
- Does the system easily allow you to email promotions to customers? Does it allow you to manage those promotions and discounts easily?
- Does it easily allow you to notify customers of upgrades? Is it easy to upload the software into the system so you don't have to host it somewhere else?
- Don't necessarily go for the cheapest or easiest solution because that's what you want at this time. We bought this (SoftwareKey) solution at the height of the financial crisis (that the world is still going through) with the knowledge that our own needs may not grow quickly, but that it would eventually grow, as we had faith in the resilience of the global economy. We incrementally tweak and change what we do and how we do it. SOLO Server is flexible enough. We won't have to switch in the future. Future-proofing is important.
- Cheap and simple is not always the best way to go, because down the road you may not be able to do something that you want to do and didn't foresee.
- I absolutely recommend Concept Software.