Into the cloud, a new way of doing business
It’s nearly impossible for companies to stay on top of the explosion of useful information about markets, competitors and customers that crops up daily on social media and other websites. But that’s also a business opportunity – and one seized by British start-up, Artesian
, which seeks to transform the torrent of web-based information into a wellspring of business intelligence.
Artesian’s software, which went on the market in 2008, sifts through the millions of references published everyday on the web and delivers up a digestible portion of sales intelligence solutions to busy executives who need to stay abreast of key topics for sales leads. Chief executive Andrew Yates, who founded the company in 2006 with two former colleagues from the business intelligence firm Cognos, likes to describe his business as giving customers “a sip from the fire hose”.
That “sip” is a selection of information from the web and social media sites that might be relevant to corporate sales teams. Its software refines tens of thousands of items down to a 15-minute briefing that can be sent to an executive’s mobile phone or other device every morning – creating a next-generation corporate information system. Large customers such as Barclays may receive 50,000 mentions on the web every day. “We remove the pain and cost of filtering the web,” says Yates.
Artesian made an early move to cloud computing
, where technology services and resources are delivered to customers via a web browser, instead of from hardware and software that is installed on a company site. For a start-up offering new services, the cloud computing model has a key advantage: it’s easy for prospective customers to “take a test drive” and see how a new product could help their business. “In a traditional sales situation, [software companies] never let you get your hands on the product. We encourage customers to do it as early as they can,” Yates says.
Thanks to that capability, Yates recently won his first US-headquartered global customer without ever meeting the customer face-to-face. Artesian, a member of Microsoft’s BizSpark start-up programme, has grown quickly to 22 employees and expects sales of two to three million dollars by the end of the company’s fiscal year. Yates believes he can double sales in the next two years.
For Yates, the new architecture for software services creates an entirely new way to engage with customers and build a business. “Ten years ago, if you wanted to try new software you’d have to go to the information technology department and be trained on it. Now you just click on the link and you’re off. There's nothing to install, no need for training, no security issues: you’re up and running.”
But Yates cautions entrepreneurs contemplating a business based on a cloud computing model in Europe to get savvy about the legal, commercial and technical pitfalls before plunging ahead. In particular, he warns of the potential danger of delegating responsibility of the service to a third party, such as the cloud provider.
Relying on a third party exposes a company to the risk of being held liable for events over which it has no control. “You can’t guarantee the Internet,” Yates warns. Contracts must treat Internet interruptions as “force majeure”.
When moving one’s business to the cloud, he says, companies should carefully consider security and choice of service vendor. “When you put your application into the cloud you become inextricably linked to the vendor you choose,” says Yates. The cloud offers great opportunities to scale applications and to reduce costs but it also removes certain things from a company’s direct control.
Andrew Yates, CEO Artesian
“Make sure that you read the small print,” says Yates. It would not be advisable to have a four-hour service response time with your cloud vendor and offer your clients a two-hour limit. Yates started out on a .NET Framework, which shares many features of cloud computing, and began migrating to Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform in May 2010.
Despite all the new legal and technical issues linked to cloud computing, Yates is fan. Artesian could not have grown so quickly had it relied on traditional architectures and sales cycles, he says. Artesian bootstrapped its growth to the first million dollars of revenue with no external funding. “We see a $1.1 billion market opportunity,” he says.
This article was originally published in Futures Magazine.