Pollard touches on the impact of tablet technology, SpryPoints work hard, go home and recharge attitude and the utility industries changing relationship with the cloud.
UMC: Give me a little background history on SpryPoint. How was the company founded and what are the origins of its name?
Keir Pollard: I had been working in the utility industry with mainframe and client-server software for over a decade both in home-grown systems and packaged ERP platforms. I saw a lot of unproductive work and stagnation in developing and delivering software and a lot more frustration from users that work with applications on a daily basis. By 2011, one could see the revolutionary successes of the first generations of true cloud-based software, and it was clear that this was the path to frictionless application delivery. This was also six months after the release of the iPad. When I got my hands on a first-generation iPad, I said “This is how I want to work!” A few months later, I founded SpryPoint and immersed myself in the craft of enterprise web development. Since then, we have built up a talented and productive development shop and support organization. Our senior management team has over 40 years of experience in development, sales and implementation of enterprise utility solutions.
There is an interesting backstory to how we came up with the SpryPoint name. We are headquartered in Prince Edward Island, which on the east coast of Canada and is known for its 800 miles of coastline, beautiful beaches and brutal winters. We wanted our brand to have a connection to our home province and also reflect our agile approach to solution delivery and customer service. There is a small community on the coast of PEI by the name of Spry Point which is well known for the “PEI Ark” which was a research facility for sustainable energy that was built in the wake of the 1970s-energy crisis. The name felt like it fit with the energy, agility, and purpose that we bring to work each day.
UMC: What is the company culture like at Sprypoint?
Pollard: I’m a firm believer that if you are not enjoying what you are doing, you should be doing something else. I truly enjoy the craft of software development, and know from experience some of the things that make for productive and enjoyable development environment. A peaceful office, a supportive team, great equipment and productive development toolsets are the first part. The second part is a well-rested mind. Although we are a small company and we know that the work we are doing really matters to people in the real world, we encourage our team to work regular work hours, then go home. In order to build great software, you really need to take time to recharge and spend time with family, play sports, or do whatever drives you. We work hard the whole time we are in the office, then leave it alone and attack it again the next day. While we are a group of passionate web and mobile developers, you will find no Nerf cannons or video game consoles in our office.
UMC: How does SpryMobile Service Orders help operators in the field?
Pollard: Back in 2012 when we released the first version of SpryMobile, the iPad was less than two years old. There was then and still are a lot of utilities that have field technicians completing service orders on paper or at best using laptops in the field. In almost every other area of their lives, there has been an absolute revolution in the adoption of mobile devices and apps. What we do is take the same benefits and usability to their day-to-day work.
In our experience, the key to a successful implementation of mobile work is to make the solution a joy to use for the end user, and to understand at a deep level what the users do and how they work. Our goal was to make the jobs of field technicians easier while helping utilities realize a multitude of operational improvements. Straightforward improvements such as real-time communication with the back office, easy attachments, simplified dispatch, offline capabilities and resource optimization allow our customers to be more productive, efficient and compliant. We help our clients improve service to their customers while using the same or fewer resources.
UMC: What solution are you most excited about? Which one gets the biggest reaction from your clients?
Pollard: We have been very fortunate over the last 5 years to work very closely with several clients as innovation partners. Our customers will come to us with a problem, and we use that as an opportunity to solve the same problem for many. As a result, we have developed a broad suite of utility solutions that stretches across mobile field service, asset management, conservation and efficiency, customer engagement and broadband deployment. Of course, I am most excited about launching our Customer Information System in 2018.
Our goal since inception has been to bring to market a CIS solution that was engineered from the ground-up on modern cloud technology and infrastructure. Building a CIS is an enormous undertaking, but we believe that the CIS landscape needs this technology alternative, and we will truly improve the lives of stakeholders with this technology, both utility staff and end customers.
Of course, changing out a CIS can be an overwhelming endeavor, and it requires a lot of foresight and planning. For this reason, we can offer a number of applications from our suite which can help utilities extend the life of their legacy CIS solution while still improving day to day operations and customer service.
UMC: Many utilities are accustomed to having their enterprise solutions on premise. SpryPoint delivers all of its solutions in the cloud as a service. Have you noticed any trends in cloud adoption and what has been the feedback from the market?
Pollard: Initially, utility confidence around data security was a major hurdle. However, now most utilities we speak with acknowledge that cloud providers are as well or better positioned to safeguard their sensitive data than they are with on premise systems. Security is the first thing you tackle when building cloud applications.
Beyond security, there are profound benefits to deploying solutions that are built for the cloud. Our solutions provide our customers the ability to adapt quickly to changing business requirements while freeing them up to focus on their core business of providing reliable service to their customers.
Over the last 3-4 years especially we have noticed a significant shift in how utilities perceive the cloud. With industry wide adoption of smart grid, the financial merits and technical benefits of cloud computing are simply too large to ignore. Another welcome change is with the financial treatment of SaaS as regulators are starting to allow utilities to pay for cloud computing out of their capital budget.
UMC: What kind of ripple effect do you believe the utility industry will experience with a younger generation ascending to the executive level and becoming decision makers?
Pollard: I think we all can agree that change can be hard, and its human nature to become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. I think the biggest difference is that the younger generation embraces change as a means of making life easier, and embraces technology as a way to induce and support change. If something doesn’t work well for them, they replace it with something that does work for them. That, in a nutshell, is the value that we bring to an organization. We build technology that is designed to make life easier.
With executives that are well-connected to the rest of the world, they are seeing new game-changing technology in all aspects of their lives constantly. We can’t afford to rest on what we have done. We are being pushed all the time to make new and better solutions, and we welcome the challenges.
UMC: In regard to technology what do you think the “next big thing” is for the utility industry?
Pollard: We are in the midst of a convergence in technology around automation and communication throughout our lives. This allows us as a society to build devices and systems that remove the barriers of time and place. For example, the problem with reading meters manually was that it took time for readers to travel from one meter to the next and get readings, so this was done monthly at best. AMI erases this barrier and now we have consumption information any time or all the time. Likewise, it took time and transportation to generate and print paper bills, then deliver them to customers. It took more time for cash and checks to wander back into the utility front office. Electronic billing is erasing these barriers through automation and communication.
Customers, utility clerks, and technicians now have powerful computers in their pockets all day, connected to ubiquitous communication networks. This is an ideal environment in which to launch technology, and it is our job to extend the capabilities of the utility to deliver the tangible benefits of these advances to all stakeholders. I think we are well on the way to realizing that goal.