Next week, we’ll be formally introducing Incorta 5.0. Ahead of that launch, we wanted to introduce our new SVP, Head of Products Rich Rodgers, who joined us in November. Rich helped see Incorta 5.0 through to completion, and as you will see, his deep experience in enterprise product management in analytics and business intelligence make him the perfect fit to take the product into the future. Here’s Rich:
What led you into product management?
Early in my career, I made my way through a number of different positions in the software industry, including engineering, design, services, business development, and pre-sales to name a few. What became clear to me was that the product manager was like a mini-CEO, interacting with all facets of the software company and also the external ecosystem of customers, partners, and analysts. Product management is at the center of the information hub, determining product direction and what gets built and then taking the product to market and ensuring customers are successful in realizing value from its use. That was appealing to me and from that point, I realized product management was going to be my professional future.
How did you get into enterprise analytics?
I had been working at PeopleSoft during a time of tremendous growth for the company, both organic and through M&A. Eventually we got acquired by Oracle. I made the transition and worked at Oracle for two years running the financials and procurement products.
But I was intrigued by the enterprise performance management side of the house. The transactional side is vitally important for running day to day operations, basic reporting and data capture, but when you start to understand how companies make strategic decisions about things like M&A, whether to invest or disinvest in a product line, geography, or industry, those decisions are made using enterprise performance management software. It’s at the center of the most important business decisions.
At that time we were just starting to hear the first rumblings about artificial intelligence and machine learning being used for predictive forecasting and analysis. That really piqued my interest. I was also itching to take something small and grow it again. So I left and joined a company named Cognos.
What was that experience like?
I realized quickly that there were some changes needed in order to be able to handle the volume of users and data that enterprises were going to need to run their analytics and performance management applications.
So we went out and acquired a better engine--TM1 from a company called Applix--and that became the engine underneath the offerings I was responsible for. Over the next several years, we steadily and rapidly grew that business, took it to the cloud; amassed several hundred cloud customers in just a few short years, and really made it into a world-class enterprise product. Then we got acquired by IBM, which at the time was their largest software acquisition ever.
IBM was a ~400,000 person company, and I didn’t think I’d stay on long. I liked being at smaller companies where you’re moving fast and there's still a lot of passion for the mission. But the acquisition of Cognos instantiated IBM’s business analytics division. We were getting a lot of attention and investment, so I became “bluewashed” as some may say. We acquired a few more companies and I retained responsibility for those product lines and grew them. It was a good ride and I enjoyed my time there.
What brought you to Incorta?
After leaving IBM, I joined MicroStrategy, another BI company. I was there for two years when an Incorta board member reached out to me. I looked at the technology and the customers, and where they were in their trajectory and I got really excited. I think there’s a lot I can offer with my experience, especially at this stage of the company.
What do you consider your superpowers as a product manager?
I excel at leading people and motivating them to be productive. I do that by encouraging discussion and debate. I want people to come in with passion, ideas, and opinions, keeping in mind that we’re here to not to win debates but to make the best decision for our customers.
I often look to my own people for advice and to poke holes in my ideas, again, all in the context of making better decisions. And if someone has produced something really good, whether it's a presentation, or a product demo, or what have you, I like to have that person represent it rather than me presenting it as their manager. I would rather give them the exposure because I think it's great for people to hear the feedback directly from different functional areas and levels of management. It helps them grow as an individual and gain confidence in their abilities.
What are some of your product management rules to live by?
I like to tell my team that it's okay to not have all the answers. We naturally want to please our customers, but it’s better to be honest and clear and not be embarrassed to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out," or “no, we don’t do that currently.” It gains credibility and trust and that is worth more in the end.
A corollary to that is to always close the loop. We’re here to solve problems for customers, and the best people to tell you about those problems are the customers, so we spend a lot of time listening and taking in their ideas. But you can't do it all. You have to prioritize. And then you have to close the loop because if you don't get back to them, they feel like it's just gone into the ether. You need to let them know what decisions have been made, first because it’s courteous, and professional, but also because when they are aware of what you’re going to do and when, and not doing, it allows them to make better and more timely decisions about what they need to do accordingly.
Let's talk about Incorta 5. What's in it that's new and cool?
There's something for everybody in Incorta 5. For the business user, we've improved the end-user experience, adding more capabilities, visualizations and overall improved ease of use. We’ve added over 200 new connections to data sources so that customers can reach into every corner of their business to get a more complete picture of their operations. There’s more flexibility to make the insights in your dashboards easier to use and more powerful.
For administrators, we've done several things to scale the system and keep the same level of performance no matter what workloads our customers are throwing at it. We’ve added support huge data sets--10s of billions of records--and leverage dynamic memory allocation for enrichment work. We continue to improve the performance and the scale of both the loader and analytics services.
I'd say the most important thing we've done with Incorta 5 is worked with a set of customers to get them live and running on our SaaS cloud platform. We've worked out the kinks and put in the capabilities we need to have a true, fully-managed SaaS solution on the cloud.