Document output management is not a software category that most people find exciting. Even some of the leading suppliers – companies such as Adobe, iXos and Dazel (now HP) – often baulk at the categorisation. It smacks of being technical and slow moving.
Nick Earle, the chief executive of the UK-based company StreamServe, doesn’t much like the term either. He concedes that it largely describes how his company makes its money, but he thinks the term misses out on something much bigger.
StreamServe, as its web site shouts, “could be the biggest opportunity for you to make cost and efficiency improvements across your company today.”
“We’re doing ‘retrospective RoI [return on investment]’. You’ve already bought the stuff. But you’re not taking advantage and making it pay,” says Earle.
‘The stuff’ that he is talking about is big-ticket ebusiness software from companies such SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Siebel. These packages might be laced with the latest in web-based technology, but try producing a simple but attractive document that takes some information from each, and then sending it to the customer in the format that they choose. That task is almost impossible without the kind of software that Streamserve provides.
SAP’s software is a good example. It has 470 pre-formatted reports, many of them aimed at end users. These draw on structured information from some 100,000 tables. Any non-standard report must be written in a special language – SAPscript. Even then, the reports aren’t too flexible: they don’t, for example, output bar codes, or bar charts, or even reproduce a company logo.
Output management companies solve this by introducing a software staging post, where unstructured information and graphics can be added. It also becomes possible to add the input from several packages – SAP and Siebel, for example.
But StreamServe has gone further: a directory stores details of how recipients of documents, such as bills, would like to receive them – by fax, text email, pdf file or post, for example. Giving customers these choices can dramatically increase the number of trading partners who are able to receive electronic documents. And that can drive up the use of electronic communications and slash the costs of expensive postal communications and physical documents.
For these reasons, Earle argues Streamserve is about much more than simple document output management. He targets executive buyers who want to save a lot of money using the kind of lightweight, front-end integration that StreamServe supports. Its Business Communications Platform, is, says Earle, a kind of middleware, but there is no need for a deep and lengthy integration project after buying it.
Coca Cola, for example, hopes to save $10 million a year from a $1 million-plus investment in StreamServe’s software. Express delivery company TNT, retailer B&Q and the Chinese Light and Power Company all hope to make similar savings.
With this story, and helped by an alliance with IBM, StreamServe is now one of Europe’s fastest growing software companies – sales should pass €40 million this year in what Earle describes as “a lousy market”.
Earle, a former vice president for Hewlett Packard’s Internet business, and later European general manager of Ariba, meanwhile, has become very popular with Streamserve’s shareholders. Before he joined, the company was growing at 10% a year, but was bogged down in loss making projects. Now, it is focusing on software sales – and revenues are growing at more than 50% a year.