Negotiation firm develops bespoke cloud application

The CEO of negotiation skills consultancy ENS international shares his firm's experience developing a bespoke cloud application and explains how it is helping to change the way it thinks about its business

Michael Foulds admits that late last year he did not know what “the cloud” means.

Today Foulds, the CEO of negotiating skills consultancy ens International, not only knows what it means, he has led a software development project to build an application based on a proprietary cloud API.

Foulds selected salesforce.com’s force.com cloud development environment to construct a hybrid CRM and booking system for ens International, a Sydney-based company that teaches negotiation skills and also helps its clients to conduct negotiations.

ens already had a CRM application and had evolved it over a 15-year period.

“It did the usual CRM objective of understanding what is going on in your accounts,” Foulds says. The application, which was based on FileMaker Pro, also offered a booking system for ens’ consultants.

While the application was powerful, Foulds says it also had gaps. “It has been used only as an operational system and had no feedback mechanisms. We did not record securely and faithfully the phases of a consulting engagement and had no way to see what we had done for the client, how many people we have trained there.”

That lack was an inhibitor to Foulds’ plan to stabilise and grow the business by removing its dependence on the ongoing involvement of its founder (but not removing the founder!), developing a line of tools to help clients prepare for negotiations and expanding into new markets.

“We adopted salesforce.com by a fluke,” he admits. “As a small business I had difficulty knowing what I did not know. But I knew I wanted something cheap and it had to handle CRM and bookings.”

“I am not sure why I accepted a breakfast event invitation [to a salesforce.com event], but they mentioned force.com in passing so I collared the guy, found out that - yes - I could develop an application and there is a development community in Sydney.”

“Part of it was that the pricing made sense and the fact that it was in the cloud was partly in my mind because our overseas people did not have access to the CRM.”

Foulds was also impressed because the salesforce partner he teamed with Myriad Minds, “”had more than half a bargain.”

“He could talk about development lifecycle,” a nice change from the FileMaker developers ens had experience. “I caught one of them working on the live system while it was live,” Foulds recalls.

The firm found that salesforce.com’s CRM offered most of the functions it wanted, save for the booking system, so used the force.com platform and IDE to build its desired functionality.

“The developer and I spent one day on a whiteboard mapping out the architecture and at the end of the day we started to plan the application.”

Development took around three months and Foulds says “migration was no worse than any other migration.”

He now says that while he does not see direct ROI coming from the new application, the move to the cloud will make it easier to realise ens’ ambition of global expansion.

“Now all I need to do is put one marketer and one part time support person in somewhere like Singapore to expand the business,” as staff anywhere on Earth can access the applications the business relies on.

“Our receptionist announced she moving to London. She’ll work for us there and has access to the same system she had before and will support our five people in London.”

The firm’s experience of bespoke cloud development has also given it confidence to explore the technique for other objectives.

“We have a number of global clients who have used us for 10 or 15 years and part of what they have been asking for is negotiation preparation support. We have been talking about embedding our methodology into their instance of salesforce,” a new mode of business ens is only considering, but one which was unthinkable to Foulds before this CRM project.

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