For Suite, a Kiwi company with big ambitions, receiving Microsoft’s Start-Up Partner of the Year Award in 2012 was like ‘a nice little pat on the back.’
When you start to consider what these ‘clever cookies’ have been building, you understand how well-deserved the award is.
“We started off as a business unit within the larger IT firm of Provoke. We were spun off, and became a separate business in April 2012. On day one, we had two staff, and currently we number four.
“We help SMBs make the transition from IT systems into the cloud and we focus on Office 365. We identified that while there are a lot of people out there who could help businesses transition their email, and do Exchange migration, there was not a lot of help or good tools out there for the Sharepoint side of Office 365,” says Andrew Sims, GM of the firm.
The firm found that SMBs were not using Sharepoint capability to avoid the decisions and cost related to file migration and management in the cloud.
“We built some apps that sat on top of Sharepoint and allowed small businesses to have and use a document management system on a subscription basis. We also built some tools that enabled migration of large file systems into Sharepoint very easily,” says Sims.
SuiteFiles, a file management system that sits on top of Sharepoint, was the first app built by the team at Suite.
“It is a browser-based app that does all sorts of nice things. It has really easy management of templates and provides full version control of your documents. It is cloud-based, so you have got all the benefits of being in the cloud around availability, uptime, automated backup, and needing just an internet connection as opposed to needing a VPN to getting to your documents,” says Sims.
In October last year, the firm launched integration of SuiteFiles with Xero’s Practice Manager, whereby accountants can save documents from Xero directly to SuiteFiles, and can access the document through the app and use it to populate templates later.
With SuiteFiles, the firm got a real understanding of the issues surrounding migration of documents from file systems to Sharepoint.
“We had used some tools to do the migrations, and found that a lot of documents wouldn’t migrate for a whole bunch of different reasons. We would be migrating 20,000 to 30,000 file-sized document systems, and we would find that anywhere between five to 10 per cent of them would fail.
“So we built a tool called SuiteMoves. The goal with SuiteMoves is to provide an easy drag-and-drop interface for moving files with minimal or zero possibility of error,” says Sims.
SuiteMoves, which has been used to migrate roughly 400,000 documents into Sharepoint online has an error rate of 0.02 per cent only. In fact, Sims says that with one particular file movement, they were able to reach the magic number of zero errors, something they want to replicate consistently going forward.
“We have got another app called the SuiteReader, which is an iPhone and iPad app. It is a reading app. It synchronises relevant office documents, pdfs, and any emails saved into SuiteFiles. It then allows people to view them when they are out and about. They can quickly reference relevant information, get information out of them, email out documents or download them.
“It is not designed for sitting down and collaboratively co-authoring a document or anything like it. It is for looking at your content and making sure that you have the right information when you are out and about,” says Sims.
The latest app released by the firm is the SuiteGenerator.
“It is a content platform that allows companies to access and use content from providers on a subscription basis. At the moment, we have Get The Gist, who provide core compliance accounting content. They provide it through the backend of SuiteGenerator and users can subscribe to that content on a monthly basis,” says Sims.
The current version of SuiteGenerator is fully integrated with SuiteFiles, which means any content flowing through one app can be saved in the other. With the backend integration with Xero’s Practice Manager, this also means the likes of accountants can download templates from one, and use the linked apps to populate it with client information.
Suite hosts some of its apps on Amazon’s cloud services and others on Microsoft’s Azure platform based on a best-fit analysis. This allows the firm to operate infrastructure-free.
“We are also working on a standalone version of SuiteGenerator so you don’t need to have SuiteFiles in order to use it and you can still get that integration into the Xero Practice Manager. We hope to launch that soon,” says Sims.
SuiteFiles is sold on subscription, while SuiteReader is free for users of SuiteFiles. SuiteMoves is sold on a services-basis, and the one-off cost for the customer is related to the amount of file data that needs to be migrated.
When the going gets tough
Suite hosts some of its apps on Amazon’s cloud services and others on Microsoft’s Azure platform based on a best-fit analysis. This allows the firm to operate infrastructure-free. However, for the young company, challenges have been the norm.
“Our number one challenge is obscurity and a marketing challenge around getting people to know what we have done. Xero did a blog post around the integration that we have built with SuiteFiles and the Practice Manager. That has really driven a lot of traffic to our site, and a lot of enquiries. Until then we were pretty much asking permission to talk to people.
“We have always run webinars on a weekly basis, and we are finding now that instead of having one or two people booked in each week, we are getting a dozen each week. The numbers are starting to pick up.
“The people we have got in the team are developers and designers and sales people. We have solved a lot technical problems, and solved them really well. Now we have to get out to the market and let everybody know that we are here,” says Sims.
Another major challenge for the firm involved educating and changing prevailing perceptions about cloud technologies in their target sector of SMBs with five to 30 employees.
“There are a lot of businesses out there who are still using small business server 2003, Office 2003 and XP. They don’t want to spend money on IT. They have this perception that if they can’t see a server in the corner of the office, then they have not got their information and it is not the best for their business. Once they dig into it and think about it a little bit, they find that moving to a cloud system like Office 365 is always going to be more secure,” says Sims.
Our goals are to be global. Our long term goal is to just sell the apps. We will do the migration work in the short term to help us with the cash flow and help us build the market.
Praising Xero for doing the world of cloud computing a favour Sims states that the company is part of Xero’s Modern Practice initiative, which is aimed at encouraging the move of entire accounting practices to the cloud, as the New Zealand implementation partner for Office 365.
The future ain’t easy
“We are in start-up investment phase. Provoke guys are putting money into us each month. We are trying to grow to a point when we breakeven with our cash flows. We are to hoping reach that within the next 12 months,” states Sims.
He believes that a global partner strategy can be vital to help the firm achieve its financial goals.
“Our goals are to be global but we have focused on NZ so far. Our long term goal is to just sell the apps. We will do the migration work in the short term to help us with the cash flow and help us build the market.
“We are doing those migrations in NZ. We have done one overseas. We want to build channel partners around the world. We have started talking to various Microsoft partners who sell Office 365 in the UK. We have also been having conversations with potential partners in Denmark, Singapore, the US and Netherlands,” says Sims.
The firm is also slowly on the way to building a partner network in its home ground.
“We are starting to build out that partner network in NZ. We have probably got a half a dozen IT companies in the SMB space who we have done some form of work with over the past year. They do email migration, set up Office 365 accounts, and then we help them out with the file migration and management side.
“We are finding these partners generally through networks. Microsoft has helped us out a bit with that too. Microsoft had asked us to come along and present at a few partner focused events, where we talk about what we have been doing with Office 365 and cloud computing. Out of that we then meet one or two other Microsoft partners who are really interested in what we are doing, and it goes from there,” says Sims.
Though current work with partners have been one-off in nature, Sims states that the next big thing for the firm is formalising a partner agreement.
“The big vision would be to have a network of people who resell our apps all around the world,” he states.
Meanwhile, the company plans to beef up its marketing efforts in 2014.
“It is a little initiative that I have called decent exposure. We want people to know more about us. We are engaging with a marketing team to put a proper marketing plan in place. We will take part in Xero conferences, run events on our own and continue with our webinar series,” says Sims.
The company plans to launch the stand-alone version of SuiteGenerator and a new app, SuiteExplorer, in 2014. SuiteExplorer, which is currently in beta, will allow users to see files stored in SuiteFiles with a standard Windows interface.
Read more: Kiwi cloud startup looks for global partners
“SuiteExplorer will be part of SuiteFiles subscription when we have got it built. We have got some money from Callaghan Innovation Fund to get an intern come in and work on the SuiteGenerator product.
“We are also looking at improving our ability to do all the migration work that is coming our way as well. We currently have automated tools, but the volume of work is increasing and also the planning, scheduling and training required increases with it. There is a lot of work involved with getting clients over the line. That might involve hiring somebody. The current team can’t do migration and tell our story through marketing at the same time,” concludes Sims.
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