- By John K. Waters
Ever notice how much
easier it is to do your personal banking online than it is to sort out your
benefits package or manage your expense account on the company intranet? (Easier, but
more depressing... at least in my case.) Dean Alms noticed, and he started a
company to fix the problem.
''At home at night I can pay my
bills, work with my brokerage, do some retail, and it's a very convenient and
carefree type of experience,'' Alms says. ''I get the information I need, I make
the call, and boom, I'm done. I come into the enterprise the next morning and it
feels like someone turned back the clock about 20 years. Most knowledge workers
operate in a state of fragmentation and confusion. Our goal is to bring a
consumer-like experience to the enterprise.''
Alms' new company, Agistics (pronounced uh-jistiks, a cute combo of
application and logistics), is just now stepping out of the shadows of
stealth mode. The company is developing a new software-as-a-service offering for
employee services--things like compensation and benefits, communications and
technology, travel, expense management, procurement, etc. The goal isn't to
replace existing applications and services, but to provide a common ''account''
structure across the different services, what Alms calls the ''contextual
delivery'' of those services. He compares that on-demand account structure to a
model you see in banking.
''I have checking account, a
savings account, a credit card account, and a mortgage account, but they've
normalized that experience across all of those different applications,'' he
explains. ''Even though the checking-account application may be 20 years old and
the mortgage app may be three years old, for the end user it's a very similar
experience across the board. That's what we do. We’re about talking advantage of
what SOA is all about, and consuming those Web services from a new
Agistics' ultimate goal is to
improve the end-user experience, as well as the manageability and visibility of
these employee services. But Alms says he isn't just out to make life cozier for
employees. He wants to get them to use the self-service apps the company spent
so much money on, and to relieve the bottleneck that has practically become a
''The problem with most self-service apps is
that they're functionally centric,'' he says. ''Consequently, the adoption rate is lower
than anticipated, and the companies aren't getting much bang for their buck.''
Another side effect: Enterprise IT is
spending between 80 and 90 percent of its budget on operating and maintaining what
the company already has, with very little left over for introducing new products.
''They want to do a lot more, but they just can’t,'' Alms says. ''One way to
reduce that workload and increase IT's capacity is to give the business unit
much more power over the information they need to manage day-to-day. If I need
to do a budget change or a policy change, if I want to switch out one product
for another in terms of the services I'm delivering to the employee—we’re giving
the biz guys much more capability to do that.''
One of the things I find
interesting here is Alms' almost casual confidence in the software-as-a-service
business model. ''We have the proof points now,'' he says. ''They’re in the
consumer world, but it's clear that if you do application development right, and
you make the experience powerful for the end users, they'll use the application
and it'll make you money.''
This isn't Alms' first startup.
He earned his ''dotcom MBA'' after he left his job at PeopleSoft back in 1999 to
help found Groundswell, an enterprise-portal consulting company. ''We took off
in a big way and captured the attention of the Forresters and Gartners of the
world because we had a strong approach to enterprise portal implementation,'' he
says. But when the dotcom bust forced companies to yank on their purse strings,
Groundswell was garroted. Alms returned to PeopleSoft as head of enterprise
strategies, and helped to manage the company's acquisition of JD Edwards. He is
also credited with launching PeopleSoft's Web-based self-service applications,
introducing the Enterprise Portal, pioneering the PeopleSoft Business Network,
and creating the company's composite application and platform strategy.
Two and a half years after
returning to PeopleSoft, Alms found himself on the other side of that
quintessential Silicon Valley equation. Shortly after his company was absorbed by
Oracle, he decided to head out on his own again. ''I've always had an
entrepreneurial edge,'' he says. ''Even at PeopleSoft I was the 'intrapreneur'
in charge of growing out new ideas and the like.''
Alms founded Agistics with Tim
Cabral, another PeopleSoft escapee, who serves as VP of Finance and Operations;
and John Corpus, a former VP of IT at Williams-Sonoma and a partner-in-crime at
Groundswell, who serves as Agistics' VP of Customer Service.
Right now the company is hip-deep
in the development of its software-as-a-service platform, which Alms describes
as ''a combination of a lot of open source, augmented with some commercial
product.'' He says that he and his partners are working with a product advisory
board made up of a companies ranging from 500 to 150,000 employees. ''We're
making sure that we have the multi-tenancy environment we need to scale this
thing to as large as enterprise customers might need,'' he says. ''There are no
off-the-shelf products for a multi-tenancy environment, so we can’t leverage
existing technology in any significant way. That's the big push right now.''
The company Web site
is a bit thin just now, but it's got the
founders' bios and the product pitch, and it's worth a visit. Alms says to look
for the first beta release at the end of summer 2006.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached