Going Global Without the Propellor Heads

 Atmail’s creative innovation core to its global enterprise ambitions

It’s a big day when the CEO of a software business announces that innovation is not driven solely by the considerable technical prowess of the company’s hard-core propeller heads and techies.

Zach Johnson, CEO of Atmail, Australia’s leading global messaging software provider, proudly says it’s the non-technical creative pursuits of the company’s musicians, poets, athletes and other diverse team members, which fuel its approach to innovation and the pursuit of excellence.

Atmail’s senior leadership team, including new CEO, Zach, and founder, Ben Duncan, has devoted the past six months to re-engineering the organisation to establish the foundations for its positioning as a global enterprise software company.

This has resulted in a doubling of customer renewal rates and the securing of several large new customers. More than 59% of Atmail’s customers have been with the business between 3 and 10 years.

Bringing In The “Sages”

Customers are very much at the heart of the organisational changes Atmail has undertaken, and are what prompted the team to bring in 9 Strategic to develop insights to be utilised across the business. These were taken from Atmail’s client base of telco’s, ISP’s, resellers, public and private organisations, educational facilities and not-for-profit organisations.

According to Zach, the appointment of 9 Strategic was about “bringing in some sages to support us in defining our brand and as part of establishing the foundations for us to establish Atmail as a global enterprise software company.”

Atmail is now strongly positioned to undertake a refresh of its brand, centred around a “battle cry of being open to new ways of operating, open to flexible partnering, and open to customer collaboration,” according to Zach.

“Atmail’s brand is not about what we do as a company, but what our customers do with our products.”

Customer service, product development and innovation lie at the heart of Atmail’s business and brand strategy. The company has clear financial targets, and a product roadmap that aligns feature sets, particularly mobility, to product releases.

If It Isn’t Making a Difference, Don’t Release It

Atmail’s single-minded focus is to improve its customers’ businesses through a deep understanding of key drivers around take-up and deployment of its messaging platform solutions.

“If our products are not generating revenues for our customers, saving them money, improving efficiencies or increasing usability, then we shouldn’t be releasing them,” Zach said.

Atmail’s product development strategy is about integrating product R&D into a constant customer feedback loop. The insights are the starting point, and will soon be supported by a customer advisory panel.

Any product that improves the way users interact and communicate is likely to find its way onto Atmail’s product pathway.

Zach concurs: “We now have Ben, who is a brilliant product guy, dedicated 100% to looking at the competition and emerging technologies so we can continually evolve our products, and identify new ways to communicate across teams, businesses and users.

“Our investments in staff, processes, and systems, plus the new products we are bringing to market, are predicated on an understanding that our commitment to innovation is fundamentally important to our clients’ customers.”

Innovation For It’s Own Sake Is No Magic Bullet

Interestingly, a key takeout from the 9 Strategic insights study was the lack of importance Atmail’s enterprise customers place on product and service innovation.

For them, it’s vital that Atmail delivers an enterprise grade application with the power at its core to service their customer base. They want something that ‘just works’ and is secure, has good technical support, is value for money and is easy to manage with little or no overhead – especially in service delivery.

Juxtaposed to this is the insatiable demand among home consumers for innovative messaging applications. In a recent research report, Ovum predicted that data and social messaging services would attract more than 2.6 billion subscribers by 2015. This is one of many trends putting competitive pressure on telco’s and other internet and hosted service providers.

According to Zach, operators are facing tough challenges in creating value around content and platforms that will build lifetime customer relationships.

Atmail is directly addressing this pain point for its clients. A customer in Japan with more than one million users specifically selected Atmail because it was quickly able to develop a tablet interface in a tangible demonstration of the innovation that lies at the heart of its business.

Atmail’s Culture Of Innovation

Although Atmail has a long history of innovating its approach to messaging, Zach doesn’t believe there is a narrow focus on any specific area of innovation. In his view, there is a company-wide culture that embraces new ways of doing things.

This culture is evident in:

  1. Creativity which is fuelled by the individuals who work for the business; and
  2. Willingness to break the rules, whether they are corporate or structural.

Both of these qualities are embedded in a culture that is fostering innovation in Atmail’s go-to-market strategy and the products it is releasing to its customers.