Here is an interview with John F Moore, VP Engineering and Chief Technology Officer, Swimfish a provider of business solutions and CRM. A well known figure in Technology and CRM circles, John talks of Social CRM, Technology Offshoring, Community Initiatives and his own career.
Too many CRM systems are not usable. They are built by engineers that think of the system as a large database and the systems often look like a database making it difficult to use by the sales, support, and marketing people.
-John F Moore
Ajay – Describe your career journey from college to CTO. What changes in mindset did you undergo along the journey? What advice would you give to young students to take up science careers ?
John- First, I wanted to take time to thank you for the interview offer. I graduated from Boston University in 1988 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. At the time of my graduation I found myself to be very interested in the advanced taking place on the personal computing front by companies like Lotus with their 1-2-3 product. I knew that I wanted to be involved with these efforts and landed my first job in the software space as a Software Quality Engineer working on 1-2-3 for DOS.
I spent the first few years of my career working at Lotus as a developer, a quality engineer, and manager, on products such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Lotus Notes. Throughout those early career years I learned a lot and focused on taking as many classes as possible.
From Lotus I sought out the start-up environment and by early 2000 and joined a startup named Brainshark (http://www.brainshark.com). Brainshark was, and is, focused on delivering an asynchronous communication platform on the web and was one of the early providers of SAAS. In my seven years at Brainshark I learned a lot about delivering an Enterprise class SAAS solution on top of the Microsoft technology stack. The requirements to pass security audits for Fortune 500 companies, the need to match the performance of in-house solutions, resulted in all of us learning a great deal. These were very fun times.
I now work as the VP of Engineering and CTO at Swimfish, a services and software provider of business solutions. We focus on the financial marketplace where we have the founder has a very deep background, but also work within other verticals as well. Our products are focused on the CRM, document management, and mobile product space and are built on the Microsoft technology stack. Our customers leverage both our SAAS and on-premise solutions which require us to build our products to be more flexible than is generally required for a SAAS-only solution.
The exciting thing for me is the sheer amount of opportunities I see available for science/engineering students graduating in the near future. To be prepared for these opportunities, however, it will be important to not just be technically savvy.
Engineering students should also be looking at:
* Business classes. If you want to build cool products they must deliver business value.
* Writing and speaking classes. You must be able to articulate your ideas or no one will be willing to invest in them.
I would also encourage people to take chances, get in over your head as often as possible.You may fail, you may succeed. Either way you will gain experiences that make it all worthwhile.
Ajay- How do you think social media can help with CRM. What are the basic do’s and don’ts for social media CRM in your opinion?
John- You touch upon a subject that I am very passionate about. When I think of Social CRM I think about a system of processes and products that enable businesses to actively engage with customers in a manner that delivers maximum value to all. Customers should be able to find answers to their questions with minimal friction or effort; companies should find the right customers for their products.
Social CRM should deliver on some of these fronts:
* Analyze the web of relationships that exists to define optimal pathways. These pathways will define relationships that businesses can leverage for finding their customers. These pathways will enable customers to quickly find answers to their questions. For example, I needed an answer to a question about SharePoint and project management. I asked the question on Twitter and within 3 minutes had answers from two different people. Not only did I get the answer I needed but I made two new friends who I still talk to today.
* Monitor conversations to gauge brand awareness, identify customers having problems or asking questions. This monitoring should not be stalking; however, it should be used to provide quick responses to customers to benefit the greater community.
* Usability. Too many CRM systems are not usable. They are built by engineers that think of the system as a large database and the systems often look like a database making it difficult to use by the sales, support, and marketing people.
Finally, when I think of social media I think of these properties:
* Social is about relationship building.
* You should always add more value to the community than you take in return.
* Be transparent and honest. People can tell when you’re not.
Ajay- You are involved in some noble causes – like using blog space for out of work techies and separately for Alzheimer’s disease. How important do you think is for people especially younger people to be dedicated to community causes?
John- My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age 57. My wife and I moved into their two-family house to help her through the final years of her life. It is a horrible disease and one that it is easy to be passionate about if you have seen it in action.
My motivation on the job front is very similar. I have seen too many people suffer through these poor economic times and I simply want to do what I can to help people get back to work.
It probably sounds corny, but I firmly believe that we must all do what we can for each other. Business is competitive, but it does not mean that we cannot, or should not, help each other out. I think it’s important for everyone to have causes they believe in. You have to find your passions in life and follow them. Be a whole person and help change the world for the better.
Ajay- Describe your daily challenges as head of Engineering of Swimfish, Inc How important is it for the tech team to be integrated with the business and understand it as well.
John- The engineering team at Swimfish works very closely with the business teams. It is important for the team to understand the challenges our customers are encountering and to build products that help the customer succeed. I am not satisfied with the lack of success that many companies encounter when deploying a CRM solution.
We go as deep as possible to understand the business, the processes currently in use, the disparate systems being utilized, and then the underlying technologies currently in use. Only then do we focus on the solutions and deliver the right solution for that company.
On the product front it is the same. We work closely with customers on the features we are planning to add, trying to ensure that the solutions meet their needs as well as the needs of the other customers in the market that we are hoping to serve.
I do expect my engineers to be great at their core job, that goes without question. However, if they cannot understand the business needs they will not work for me very long.My weeks at Swimfish always provide me with interesting challenges and opportunities.
My typical day involves:
* Checking in with our support team to understand if there are any major issues being encountered by any of our customers.
* Challenging the support team to hit their targets. I love sales as without them I cannot deliver products.
* Checking in with my developers and test teams to determine how each of our projects is doing. We have a daily standup as well, but I try and personally check-in with as many people as possible.
* Most days I spend some time developing, mostly in C#. My current focus area is on our next release of our Milestone Tracking Matrix where I have made major revisions to our user interface.
I also spend time interacting on various social platforms, such as Twitter, as it is critical for me to understand the challenges that people are encountering in their businesses, to keep up with the rapid pace of technology, and just to check-in with friends. Keep it real.
Ajay- What are your views on off shoring work especially science jobs which ultimately made science careers less attractive in the US- at the same time outsourcing companies ( in India) generally pay only 1/3 rd of billing fees to salaries. Do you think concepts like ODesk can help change the paradigm of tech out-sourcing.
John- I have mixed opinions on off-shoring. You should not offshore because of perceived cost savings only. On net you will generally break even, you will not save as much as you might originally think.
I am, however, close to starting a relationship with a good development provider in Costa Rica. The reason for this relationship is not cost based, it is knowledge based. This company has a lot of experience with the primary CRM system that we sell to customers and I have not been successful in finding this experience locally. I will save a lot of money in upfront training on this skill-set; they have done a lot of work in this area already (and have great references). There is real value to our business, and theirs.
Note that Swimfish is already working with a geographically dispersed team as part of the engineering team is in California and part is in Massachusetts. This arrangement has already helped us to better prepare for an offshore relationship and I know we will be successful when we begin.
Ajay- What does John Moore do to have fun when he is not in front of his computer or with a cause.
John- As the father of two teenage daughters I spend a lot of time going to soccer, basketball, and softball games. I also enjoy spending time running, having completed a couple of marathons, and relaxing with a good book. My next challenge will be skydiving as my 17 year old daughter and I are going skydiving when she turns 18.
For the last decade I have worked as a senior engineering manager for SAAS applications built upon the Microsoft technology stack. I have established the processes, and hired the teams that delivered hundreds of updates ranging from weekly patches to longer running full feature releases. My background as a hands-on developer combined with my strong QA background has enabled me to deliver high quality software on-time.