On the strength of its scanning tool, Intellagent is making the move from service provider to product vendor.
- By Paul Desmond
- June 01, 2006
For a guy who never really intended to get into the customer relationship
management (CRM) business, Kurt Reiter is certainly making it pay.
When Reiter founded Intellagent Solutions in October 2003 with
his partner, Alex Gorlatov, the idea was to provide business process
management (BPM) solutions for midsize companies -- those with roughly
200 to 1,000 employees. Reiter, who is president of Intellagent,
notes that he and Gorlatov, now the company's vice president of
solution development, each had years of experience implementing
BPM solutions in both commercial and government markets.
"We were strictly a service provider and reseller of BPM products,"
Reiter says. But in working with an early customer, Platform Learning
Inc., the Intellagent team realized its client needed not only BPM,
but a CRM solution as well. Reiter and his team researched the CRM
market and decided that Microsoft CRM v1.2 would fit the bill.
As it turned out, many other Intellagent clients were in the same
boat. And they shared another problem: lots of paper.
Intellagent developed software that made it easy for clients to
scan in documents and associate them with customer records in the
CRM system. "So you not only had access to data related to
customers and prospects, but also any paper documents that went
along with it," Reiter says.
As the business grew from about $800,000 in revenue the first year
to $1.2 million in 2005, Reiter saw even greater potential in the
scanning solution, called IntellaScan. To capitalize on that
potential, Reiter decided to get out of the service-provider business
and into the product business. The software was officially launched in January
2006 and the company essentially made its public debut in late March
at the Microsoft Convergence conference in Dallas. One of Intellagent's
new partners at the show predicted that the company will sell 500
copies of IntellaScan this year. That would make revenue growth
"somewhat exponential," Reiter says. "My dad used
to call that a high-class problem."
Headquarters: Sterling, Va.
President: Kurt Reiter
Line of Business: Microsoft Dynamics CRM
and Bluespring BPM Suite
Microsoft Partner Program Level: Certified
Microsoft Competencies: Microsoft Business
Solutions, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM specialty;
Business Process and Integration
Annual Revenue: $1.2 million in 2005
Growth Rate: 50 percent, 2004 to 2005
Customer Base: Midsize businesses, including
educational organizations and government agencies
(notably, the U.S. Department of Defense)
Clients: U.S. Army Central Clearance Facility;
Platform Learning Inc.
From his years of experience as a service provider, Reiter has learned
some valuable lessons.
First is the importance of customer satisfaction, which, in his
view, extends to building a system the way the customer wants it
even if you don't think it's quite the best technical approach.
"Sometimes you have to roll with it to make sure they're happy
and getting the system they want," he says.
Another critical element: establishing and maintaining good personal
relationships with customers at every level. "Doing BPM solutions,
it's easy to get sucked into just seeing the C-level vision for
how they want the system to work," Reiter says. "But if
you don't take into account the people who will actually use the
system and really understand their needs and relate the system to
them, it's not going to be a success."
Birth of a Product
Reiter and his team did just that for Platform Learning,
a New York City-based company that provides tutoring services to
grade-school students, says Eric Burke, who was vice president of
technology at Platform Learning when it hired Intellagent in 2004.
Platform Learning targets students in schools deemed as needing
improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Many
of those students are eligible for stated-funded tutoring services
under NCLB. To get paid, however, Platform Learning must adhere
to strict requirements, including having students sign an attendance
sheet for each tutoring session they attend.
The registration process is likewise paper-intensive, Burke says.
The company regularly holds recruiting events at schools that are
eligible for NCLB funds; its representatives may sign up 3,000 students
or more in two or three days -- all using paper forms.
In its first iteration of a BPM solution, Platform Learning executives
decided to make field personnel responsible for ensuring that all
those forms were complete and accurate. In practice, however, with
so many students signing up in such a short time, that system just
didn't work. "We had tens of thousands of [entries in the system]
with nothing more than a first name and a last name," he recalls,
noting the company grew from servicing 3,000 students to about 70,000
in just over two years.
Burke, now president of Information Architects, a service provider
in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., says Intellagent helped implement a more
workable solution. Reiter and his team conducted numerous requirements
sessions involving everyone from company executives to the actual
"They literally drew a map of how the process actually functioned
and the expectations at each step," Burke says. Intellagent
also developed the scanning solution that would become IntellaScan.
"A lot of what is now in IntellaScan was born out of this project,"
With the system Intellagent built, Platform Learning can now scan
in a document and the system will run a number of algorithms to
determine whether it represents a new child or refers to one already
in the system, associate the forms with the appropriate record and
point out where information is missing.
Burke was impressed enough with Intellagent that he hired the company
to implement Microsoft CRM, BPM and IntellaScan for his own company,
which focuses on disaster recovery and high-availability solutions
for small and midsize businesses.
By diving deep and talking to all project stakeholders, you go
beyond simply doing a good job for your customers, Reiter says.
Instead, you essentially become a subject-matter expert in your
client's business: "That makes you an extremely valuable resource
to them on an ongoing basis, as their business grows," he says.
Another case in point is the U.S. Army, for which Intellagent implemented
an early version of IntellaScan along with a BPM solution based
on Bluespring software. Since then, the Army has brought Intellagent
back for two more projects. "They feel we know as much or more
about what they do than any one person in their organization,"
Service Provider bit
It's no accident that, in addition to partnering with Microsoft
for CRM, Intellagent is also a member of Bluespring's partner program.
Like Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the Bluespring BPM product is easy
to customize because of its .NET architecture, Reiter says. That
capability is important because customers almost always want a custom
user interface on their BPM solutions.
At one time providing that customer interface required doing significant
custom development, but now Intellagent simply builds on top of
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0. "CRM is a great application platform,
even if you don't use any of the CRM functionality," Reiter
says. "You can build all kinds of custom entities within the
CRM product and it can be literally embedded and operated directly
within Outlook. So the software that everyone lives in every day
can be the same place where your business applications reside as
Reiter also likes the way Microsoft and Bluespring treat their
respective partners and considers them both models to emulate. Neither
sells directly to customers, instead working to bring that business
to their partners. "I can't name the number of experiences
where, after I brought a vendor a bunch of business, it took the
customer direct," he says. "In each case, it was the end
of the relationship."
With that in mind, Intellagent will get out of the CRM implementation
business, he says: "We don't want to repeat what we consider
to be the sins of other product vendors that ended up competing
with their partners."
A graduate of George Mason University, Kurt Reiter
was somewhat torn as his company was hawking its
wares at the recent Microsoft Convergence conference
in Dallas. On Sunday, the show expo was starting
at just about the same time Reiter's GMU Patriots
were tipping off against the University of Connecticut,
continuing their improbable march through the
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
In the company's booth in the exhibit hall, "we
had a little window on one of the machines that
we kept popping into to see what the score was,"
Reiter says. The Patriots earned a trip to the
Final Four by defeating UConn 86-84 in overtime.
"At the same time, [his alma mater's Patriots]
were beating the odds and really getting a national
spotlight, and we felt like we were doing the
same thing there at Convergence." -- P.D.
Reiter is also now learning the strategies associated with being
a product vendor. As a services company, developers and project
managers were the mainstay. Now, the emphasis is on customer support,
including technical support, along with sales and marketing.
"The No. 1 hurdle for us going forward is awareness,"
Reiter says. Convergence was the company's first real marketing
push, and Reiter couldn't be happier with the result. The company
conducted about 120 product demos in three days, with people often
waiting in line to see one. Now Intellagent has to continue learning
how to find leads and effectively market to them. That means learning
the ins and outs of tools like e-mail marketing and advertising,
as well as revamping the Web site to reflect the product focus.
And the product requirements are already coming in, with a number
of requests for a version of IntellaScan that works with Dynamics
GP, the ERP product formerly known as Microsoft Great Plains (for
more about Dynamics and the impact the new products will have on
partners, read "Getting
Serious About ERP"). That version is now on tap, and Reiter
hopes to have it done in time for the next big Microsoft event:
the Worldwide Partner Conference in July.