The Purchase to Pay Network interview Ian Smith.
Q: So Invu was established back in 1997, tell me a bit about how the company has developed in that time?
A: Well, it's been quite a journey! Going back 20 years, the company was thought of as something of a rising star. Invu was at the vanguard of the "paperless office" as scanners arrived and turned paper into digital documents. But organisations soon discovered that didn't mean that some of the issues associated with paper processing instantly went away. So there was need for electronic document management (EDM) to stop the paper chaos becoming digital chaos. Filing and storing documents is only a benefit if they can be quickly and reliably retrieved. Most people find it hard to be passionate about documents, but they can become extremely passionate about a particular document if they can't find it!
In the early days it was logical to partner with resellers and by 2008 the company was showing significant growth. However, with the financial crisis later that year, we suffered some significant losses, and our founder left the company. I joined in 2009 and along with a new CEO, we had to right size the company. Although this was a painful experience, it offered us the opportunity to be able to take a good look at the strategy and structure of the company from the ground up. We changed both our route to market and our product strategy and began to focus on software as a solution to business problems, like the challenges in efficiency, visibility and control in accounts payable. To execute this strategy we needed a partner for document capture and so began our partnership with ABBYY. We have continued to address other business problems in this area, for example in purchase requisitioning and ordering, with our POP software. The difference this time is that our interaction with customers is direct and so our growth is based on spreading out and building on our existing offerings utilising specific customer requirements.
Q: So when you started in 2009, just after the difficulties, things must have been challenging. So what attracted you to the organisation?
A: My background is in start-ups and this was my first turnaround project. I started my career at Arthur Anderson, and choose the small business unit, specifically because I wanted to meet and work with entrepreneurs. From there, I've worked in larger growth companies internationally, including living in the USA (Boston and LA) for 7 years and in in Switzerland for 3 years and then went through a successful IPO, as employee number 20, at Cambridge based nCipher. When I joined Invu, the strategy needed was the same as if it had been a start-up. I love the opportunity to fix things. But it wasn't easy, we first needed to half the size of the company and focus on our core software product; where we were strong. We've always had a fantastic reputation in document management and workflow, so I knew that the future of the company was based on reliable software, with a solid customer base who trusted us. I just had to focus on cash flow and operating efficiency.
Q: Yes, you're both CEO and Finance Director – do you see a future where Finance Directors take a more rounded role in general – not just looking at company finance?
A: Yes, I think so. Obviously it will depend on the type of organisation and its corporate culture – but these days, it's not so unusual to find Finance Directors and CFOs moving into the CEO role. The FD gets involved in all areas of the business and this experience lends itself very well to the requirement on CEO's to contribute to the business as a whole not just their area of expertise. In my own case, the executive team make most of the decisions as a team of three – something that gives depth and vision to each major move that we make. The traditional view of accountants as being bean counters, lacking in the skills needed to take on the calculated risks necessary to grow a business has passed.
Q: So how does that change inform the products or solutions that you create at Invu?
A: We're seeing departmental silos breaking down, changing the functions carried out by departments and the management style that goes with them. Partly that's something that's been driven by technology – for example the ability to link elements of procurement to accounts payable and get a better visibility of the workflow, creating efficiencies through joined up processes and less touch points. And of course, our products respond to the changes in the marketplace, helping organisations to get what they need out of their processing.
Q: OK, that's good to hear – so you'd say that Invu was well placed to respond to changes in the industry?
A: Well, yes. We spend roughly £600k on R&D each year. What's great and what motivates us is the desire to keep on learning from customers about their problems and developing solutions that meet their needs. Once you lose that desire, you may as well stop. So we're always looking for a creative way to deal with a customer's problem and always listening. Just recently we've launched our supplier portal which we showcased at eWorld in March.
Q: That sounds interesting. So what are the growth ambitions for the company?
A: Our ambitions in the payables and purchasing arena include increasing supplier visibility of the purchasing and payables process and continuing our expansion into the cloud. We believe the future remains as a hybrid of both cloud and on premise solutions, and we'll look to offer that.