Exchange Magazine, a regional publication dedicated to entrepreneurs, economic developers and educators, profiles Igloo Software in this month's cover story.
Dan Latendre can talk enthusiastically for hours about his company, but he also understands the value of a short, crisp sound bite. So when he's asked for a definition of his company, he replies: "Igloo is your digital workplace in the Cloud."
Latendre is CEO of Igloo Software, a company founded under the aegis of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, but since taken independent form as a for-profit enterprise. CIGI's founder, Jim Balsillie, continues as Igloo Software's Chairman of the Board.
The Igloo website echoes Latendre's definition in slightly different terms: "Igloo is a web-based platform for collaborating at work." The CEO explains further: "Our mantra around here is, 'work is no longer a place'. Your workforce is virtualized, it's more 24/7, it's where you are at home, in the office. You work with people now in different time zones, different cultures. We don't work now like we did in the 90s."
That kind of change is at the heart of what drives Igloo forward.
Latendre goes so far as to refer to a "tidal wave" of change. He told Exchange, "We believe now, the tidal wave has hit. Never in my history of being in the industry have so many forces come together that are changing the way technology is delivered and consumed."
He points out that the high tech giants of only a few years ago are being eclipsed by a whole new set of business, "new age companies" like Facebook, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Youtube.
He adds, "There are other things that are happening... the new generation of workers coming in aren't like us. I'm 40 plus years old. Most people in my age bracket didn't know anything about technology. Not anymore - they're using it in their daily lives."
Latendre perceives a pattern in his industry - which impacts on society in general. "Generally," he says, "it goes in seven year cycles." But not every innovative period is as dynamic as the present day, he believes. "What I'm seeing now is the biggest change ever, because there is more than just one force that's pushing this. It's social, it's mobile, it's Cloud. It's Generation Y moving in. I think this is now the best opportunity for new innovative technology."
And he believes the current environment is ideal for smaller, leaner, highly flexible companies, and a real challenge to the larger corporate players, "because things are changing so fast.... If I go inside a large organization, they are three to seven years behind the technology curve... They just can't move as fast."
Latendre notes, however, that Igloo does not demand that its clients dump all of their technology: "So for us at Igloo, it's blending what you're using today and introducing new, that all work together. That's the trick."
One benefit of change
No one has to underline the reality of change for people involved in high tech and digital technology in this region. The ongoing shakeups at Research In Motion have been a warning to all.
However, those RIM challenges have in some sense been good news at Igloo, because it has allowed the Chairman of the Board, Jim Balsillie, to focus more attention on Igloo.
Latendre started his career with MKS, in 1988; part of his job involved a project partnering with RIM. He eventually moved to OpenText, and he has nothing but praise for both Balsillie and OpenText's Tom Jenkins.
But he recalls some personal frustration, at the turn of the millennium. "At OpenText I was basically the executive who would build new things for the company. In early 1999, I wanted to take OpenText to the Cloud. [But] it was clear to me that this was too early for Open Text.... My whole thing is building new things, innovation. It's hard to be innovative in a publically traded company."
He left OpenText and retired for about a minute and a half before Balsillie called him. "He said, "These researchers around the world are working on the same project but they're not collaborating." Latendre joined CIGI, on contract, to tackle that problem, and he secured a $15 million- plus grant to build a platform for CIGI and to bring it to the commercial market.
"Within three years, we had satisfied all the five-year goals. We spun the company out a year and a half before the grant was finished," he says, and his CEO role was born.
Today, he acknowledges he is still learning, and that key mentors include Balsillie and other Igloo board members like Michael Harris, former CEO of MKS; David Unsworth, who represents RBC Venture Partners; and Kevin Talbot, founder of Clairmont Capital. Says Latendre, "Well be looking to add one more seat. We're in conversation with some heavy hitters."
Clearly, the best known figure is Balsillie, and Latendre doesn't hide his enthusiasm that Balsillie is now able to give some extra attention to Igloo. Says Latendre, "Mentoring is going to be very important for companies. At my board meetings, the questions Jim Balsillie asks just blow me away."
He recalls a strategic planning session; the goal was to define Igloo's target market. "He was listening in, and he says, 'I think you guys ought to look at it a little differently. Don't tell me what you're catching, tell me what you're hunting for.' That's simple, and right on the mark.
"He said, 'I understand you need to understand what you're catching, but what are we really hunting for? Then, we can get the right tools to do what we need to do."
Business Is Social
The key to understanding the Igloo model is to understand Latendre's argument that "business really is social." He makes the point that organizations, as entities, do not really make sales calls, provide support, build new products... it's always people who do those things. People who work with other people, and depend on colleagues. "Work," he says, "has always been social."
The problem is, social relationships foster collaboration, but that is usually seen as a threat to those invested in having control of the corporation. Igloo is bursting through that barrier, he says, with innovations that foster collaboration while allowing appropriate governance and caution.
Here's the approach, in Latendre's own words:
"We're all about helping companies create a digital workplace. And your digital workplace isn't just inside your company, it's also outside your company - your partners, your customers, your suppliers, your key stakeholders.
"Me, as an employee, I should be able to connect with them very seamlessly, in a digital world. Securely....
"We're about employee productivity and corporate productivity, team productivity. Using these social tools to help companies increase competitive advantage, time to market, drive innovation, and improve productivity."
Igloo has developed its solutions based on the premise, according to Latendre, that "There are only three personas in every company."
He explains: "First, you and what you care about - projects, documents, people, all the things you work on. So we can give you a view of the corporate intranet on all things that matter to you to get your jobs done.
"But you don't work alone, you work in teams, so we have a team layer, and you can have team templates - committees, task forces, departments - and they can be owned by groups.
"And the third persona is, the enterprise layer, what the executives want you to see, rules, policies. So we built our total platform around those personas.
"That gives the organization governance, but also gives control to the users who should have control."
Latendre says there is yet another layer to this innovation, a development now in progress, "something that is our secret sauce and is the future. We call it the networked enterprise. Now, most customers start with an intranet digital workplace, or some form of extranet digital workplace. We can connect all these communities together into one network for your company, which people can see and move between, based on rules and conditions within the network."
Team members in companies using Igloo - and there are about 5,000 of these companies all around the world, with 35 million users, in almost every country including China, India, all the G20 - have their own personal dashboards allowing them to connect seamlessly with as many of these corporate "personas" as is necessary for their jobs. It sounds a lot like social networking sites, but Latendre points out key differences, such as security, and the application of the "social" element. In brief, "socializing had better be about work."
Igloo solutions include "controls, auditing compliance... we've built that in."
Igloo has not yet reached it's 10th anniversary - Latendre came to CIGI in 2005, and Igloo was spun off as a private enterprise in 2008. But the company is seeing significant and rapid growth.
Latendre told Exchange, "We're seeing what I call the Wow. We're growing at about an 80% clip. This year, we'll grow at about 100%. We'll double our sales."
The company is relatively small, in terms of staff - about 65 employees - but that is largely because they practice what they preach - they live in the Cloud, all marketing is done digitally. Latendre says their smaller size is, ironically, a huge advantage, because Igloo solutions can be up and running within day or weeks, in sharp contrast to what corporations have experienced as "36 to 48 month deployment cycles."
None the less, Igloo has a number of major customers. For instance, the company is developing seven country-wide intranet systems - in seven different countries - all linked under one network, for Nextell Communications.
By the way, those countries include Brazil (where the language is Portuguese), Mexico, Spain and Peru (Spansh) and the US, and the Igloo solution will include translation facilities for all; "Our platform is multi-lingual. We support almost any language."
Team members "can move between any one of them, based on my role. I can publish content, grab content, write a blog, a micro-blog, anything based on my role. I'll have a personal dashboard when I log in, my view of people, documents, templates, document... it looks like one connected social network,"explains Igloo's CEO.
He adds, "I could never build this if I didn't have the Cloud."
Latendre notes that nothing stands still at Igloo. "We release a new release, every 90 days, based on customer requirements."
Those customers range from small companies to the largest corporations. For the smallest, he says, "We have an almost self-service component... If you come to our site and say I want an intranet, and you're 30 people, very small, that can be up and running in less than a day. Put your brand on it, self- service."
The target market, though - the companies Balsillie would urge them to hunt - is larger than that. "Our sweet spot is small to medium enterprises, under 2500 employees," says Latendre. He admits, "Larger organizations are more complicated. There are more policies, procedures, bureaucracy, politics, technology - integrations that have to be overcome before we deploy. Whereas, with small to medium, fast-growing businesses, they're already accustomed to the cloud, they want things quickly, it's an easy sell."
He adds, "I recommend to large organizations, 'start with a pilot'. It's almost 'try before you buy'."
There are practical challenges for every company, even one as visionary as Igloo. Often, it comes right down to cold, hard cash. Says Latendre, "Eventually, we'll have to raise more capital. We're doing that now - we just finished our Series B round in early January, and we're opening up more and more marketing, and we're seeing huge return on investment. Putting more money in raises awareness, drives revenue."
He admits that Canada is not an Eldorado of venture capital. "My frustration with Canada,' he says, "with being an entrepreneur in Canada is, where's the money? The VC community has dried up. We have the government - the Ontario Technology Fund --being almost like a VC. Why? You go down to the States, they throw money at you.
"Why do I have to go to Boston or Silicon Valley to raise capital? ... And we have to go beyond the Accelerator Centre and Communitech. We have to have a vehicle for young smart people... they need money to compete, to get their ideas funded.
"You can't be an entrepreneur if you don't have money."
But his faith in innovation is undiminished. "One of my great aspirations now is not just to make Igloo very successful, but to breed some new entrepreneurs. Having people around you who are smarter than you are is a really great thing."
Latendre exults in the fact that he is living and working "in exciting times: the whole digital revolution. Everything is digital now, so everything can be interconnected together now. It's unbelievable."
"As a CEO, I look around and say, 'Where's the innovation in the Waterloo Region? Where's the next great software company in this social space?'"
His answer is clearly Igloo Software. "We're going to see exponential growth in the next three to five years. We're going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Thanks Exchange Magazine