Q&A: Ian Gotts, Nimbus

Since its inception in 1997, Nimbus has helped over 700 organisations including AstraZeneca, Barclays, Chevron, HSBC, JP Morgan, RBS, Sara Lee, Sony, Toyota and ThyssenKrupp. Nimbus Control, a unique business process management (BPM) software application, allows clients to capture, manage and deploy their operational processes and supporting information to their entire workforce wherever they are, across the Web or on a mobile device, and is delivered either on premise or as software as a service (SaaS). We spoke to the company’s CEO, Ian Gotts, to learn how process management can deliver faster and more successful results.

What is your role at Nimbus?

I am CEO and Chairman at Nimbus. Based in San Francisco, I oversee the company which has more than 120 employees globally. Nimbus provides business process management software (BPM) which is used as the Intelligent Operations Manual for Fortune 1000 companies. But really CEO stands for Chief Evangelist as I spend the majority of my time on the speaking circuit, writing books and blogs, and talking to clients, analysts and the press.

What technology trends do you see increasing in prominence during 2011?

Cloud, Social, Mobile – These are the technology trends, but there are also underlying business trends which are Regulatory Compliance, tight budgets, and the rise of social media. Following the financial crisis saving money has been a big issue for all businesses over the last year and 2011 remains the same. Companies are looking to do more with less and accordingly they are looking to save costs and boost efficiencies.

Cloud computing is also a big topic this year as companies look to the benefits of hosted services which do not impact their existing IT infrastructure. An increase in the use of social media tools in the workplace has also become apparent as employees expect to see the same tools available in the workplace as those which they use regularly in their personal lives. Finally, compliance is going to get more onerous not less.

What are Nimbus’ plans for 2011 and its flagship product, Nimbus Control?

The mission is to “make life at work easier, faster and more valuable for millions of people.” That drives product development, our implementation services and is why we have such a passionate team at Nimbus around the world. Since its inception in 1997, we’ve helped over 700 organisations including AstraZeneca, Nestlé, Barclays, Chevron, HSBC, RBS, Sara Lee, Sony, Toyota and ThyssenKrupp. This year that client roster will continue to build.

Nimbus Control is a unique BPM software application which allows clients to capture, manage and deploy their operational processes and supporting information to their entire workforce. This is the case wherever the employees are – across the web or on a mobile device for example. It is delivered either on premise or as software as a service (SaaS). It is the “Intelligent Operations Manual”.

More and more clients have global roll-outs for Nimbus Control budgeted for 2011, but they also want to increase the adoption of Nimbus Control so our work to deploy to smartphones and tablets is critical. Finally we are looking at how our established collaboration capabilities can appeal to a user base that has grown up with Facebook on a smartphone.

What is different about Nimbus compared to other BPM providers?

Business process management means a lot of different things to different people. For many, BPM is about process automation. Nimbus takes a different, but complementary approach. We believe that there’s more to BPM than just automating processes.

In fact research has shown that automated processes represent only 20% of the business operation. 80% are manual and are undocumented, or at best poorly documented and adopted. We work with companies to help them understand and document their end-to-end processes, but then link to the documents, metrics and applications that already exist. We are the glue that ties together the automated activities and those non-automated actions. We provide the context.

We provide process guidance as role-based guided walkthroughs – “How do I raise a PO for a capital item less than $10,000?” is subtly different from “How do I raise a PO for an operational item more than $10,000?” Why make staff guess and potentially get it wrong? We provide it to them in a format they understand onto a device that they want to use – web, tablet or smartphone.

Finally, this content has no value if it is not governed. Staff need to be confident that it is the most up to date version. Auditors need to be confident that staff are using the most up to date version. Senior management need to know that the governance cycle does not stifle improvement or innovation.

What are the business benefits of managing processes effectively?

Competitive advantage. So few companies, large and small, have up to date, well documented processes that are adopted and used by the workforce. Those that do will have happier, more productive staff. They will have lower costs, fewer governance issues and are more agile. As the sponsor at Carphone Warehouse/Best Buy Europe said in a recent presentation “Processes liberate staff” which initially sounds counter intuitive but it’s true. Think of each element of our vision: easier, faster, more valuable.

What are the results of not managing process effectively?

Staff heroics, chaos, low staff morale, waste and duplication and poor customer satisfaction. Research shows that staff spend up to 20% of their time looking for the right process, document or systems. That is a day a week wasted.

Is BPM in the cloud a viable option?

Cloud computing is simply a technology platform. It’s been around for years under different names, but now the term has captured everyone, not just technologists. Business users are now seeing that they can consume applications over the internet in the cloud. Indeed there are BPM solutions that are being delivered as cloud applications and we have had a cloud offering, Nimbus Cloud, for five years. Originally it was called JumpStart and even today the majority of clients use it to be able to launch their initial Nimbus project quickly. Some use it long term, but others migrate on-premise after 6-18 months because they see the process content as a strategic asset.

Is compliance and regulation a concern for your customers?

Compliance is a rising cost in most organisations. Rarely is it seen as a by-product of a well run, process-driven organisation. At Nimbus, we believe that compliance is easy. That sounds strange but really you simply write down what your company does and you get people to do it. In practice this is tricky, but regulators aren’t going to let people off the hook so companies need to step up and put the correct processes in place. This needs to be done in a way that is auditable and reliable. That’s where BPM technologies, like Nimbus Control, come in. Failure to meet compliance regulations can put companies out of business or even land executives in prison.

Can you give an example of a customer who is using BPM? What are they doing with it and what results have they achieved?

Nimbus has worked with Carphone Warehouse/Best Buy Europe to help them deliver an online operations manual to staff across 800 stores. Now when you go into a store and speak to a sales representative for example, all the important actions and forms required for selling a phone, disconnecting a phone etc. are documented for staff in an operations manual which is delivered via the intranet.

They have branded their Nimbus Control tool, ‘How2’ internally to help drive end-user adoption and buy-in. The service is being hosted on Nimbus servers, which ensured a speedy implementation without the need to deploy on the company’s existing infrastructure. With one consistent operations manual, staff are now able to spend more time helping customers, rather than fighting the systems to try to find task relevant documents.

But the numbers tell the real story. Nimbus Control (branded How2) was deployed to 5,500 retail staff in over 800 stores in 6 months, resulting in: Stock Loss Reduction; 109% increase in store revenue due to implementation of How2; US$80 million additional store revenue in first year.

When implemented in the back office, the results were: Standardisation savings of 5%; 1st pass productivity improvement savings of 15%; 96% lead time reduction; 88% reduction in defect opportunity; 96% work content improvement.

Why has no-one thought of this before?

Most people launching a software company are technical so they solve the problems that they see. In BPM that means making process automation or workflow easier, which is maybe why there are 100+ BPM workflow vendors. The founders of Nimbus come from operational backgrounds, so we are solving the problem we saw – How to align strategy with operations across the entire organisation.

What we are doing is not rocket science. Companies have operated for years without Nimbus Control. This has been through a combination of staff heroics, documentation in a variety of formats (MS Visio, Word, Powerpoint) and home grown databases or spreadsheets for governance. None of these were intended for the job nor were developed with the users in mind. Nimbus has developed the software, implementation methodology and services to do one thing – make companies perform better.

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.