Welcome to my first blog as Managing Director for Xero in Australia. Fresh from a long break over the summer months and looking back on a 15 year career at Microsoft, I’m really excited to be embarking on this new challenge and the amazing opportunity I see for Xero as the company embraces the phenomenon around cloud computing.
When I joined Microsoft in early 1996, it was hot on the heels of the Windows 95 launch. For those that can cast their mind back that far, you may recall that for no particular reason the imagery used to brand Windows 95 was a series of puffy white clouds on a blue sky backdrop. So what? Well ironically, as I sit here contemplating life after Microsoft, it was “the cloud” in a very different context that served as a catalyst for me to ultimately leave a successful career at the software giant and head up Xero in Australia.
I’ve been in the IT industry for over 21 years – the first six and a half years were spent at NCR in sales and the rest with Microsoft in a variety of senior roles in Australia. Most of my experience has been in dealing with the large corporate end of town, but I have also done stints overseeing Microsoft’s mid-market business; as manager of its marketing communications team; and most recently as Director for the Dynamics business. It was in this world of promoting Microsoft’s CRM and ERP solutions that I discovered a passion for the business applications market, and in particular, what was next as the industry forges ahead with cloud computing.
After Microsoft I knew I wanted to be involved in something smaller, more nimble, and with a strong focus on innovation. By natural association that vision was always going to lead me to an IT business with cloud computing at the centre of its business model.
So why the cloud?
While an overused term in an industry that loves its buzz words – and if you look beyond the hype – the economics and value proposition that the cloud offers businesses of all sizes is simply irresistible and represents perhaps the most significant shift in the industry since the introduction of the PC back in the early 1980’s. IDC recently predicted that growth in IT cloud services over the next 5 years will outstrip that of traditional IT products to the ratio of 5 to 1. We are also seeing governments around the globe, particularly in Australia, promoting cloud and broadband services as a platform for future economic development. Coinciding with a softening of attitudes and concerns in the market around security, performance, availability, integration etc, there is the perfect setting to drive a monumental shift toward IT services delivered via the cloud. I could say much on this and I’ll certainly delve into what’s driving industry momentum in future blogs, but suffice to say I am a big believer and want to be part of what I see as a revolution in our industry.
First impressions of Xero
I was first introduced to Xero by a Microsoft business partner and friend (James) who had just set up a start-up company with the aim of having the entire IT infrastructure in the cloud. Everything was in scope, from collaboration to CRM, and importantly the accounting system. James’s goal was to avoid the normal trappings of building a costly on-premise solution, which he had done a number of times before, and instead set out to provision a rich, simple, and integrated solution in the cloud. With surprising ease he was able to do this and notably at a fraction of the cost of what he had experienced in the past with on-premise solutions.
Over our breakfast meeting in a cosy Melbourne cafe he demonstrated Xero to me from his laptop. Now I must say at that time, in my capacity running the Dynamics business for Microsoft, most of my exposure had been with lengthy roll outs of some large and complex ERP solutions to some equally large corporate clients with complicated needs. The market for these systems will be around for many years, but what I saw in Xero was an amazingly simple platform that would appeal to an enormous number of small business owners, many of whom have not yet embarked on any form of accounting automation and are just primed to capitalise on all the great benefits that my friend James experienced.
The rest is history
As fate would have it the opportunity to join the team at Xero arose just a few months later. Delving deeper into what the company was all about I was further impressed with the richness of its accounting solution; the strong company culture around customer service and innovation; and an impressive investor backing. It’s because of this combination I believe the company will do exceptionally well in this hugely untapped market.
So in the same way that Microsoft’s traditional boxed software business model has been challenged to its very core from various online providers such as Google and Salesforce.com, I see the disruptive model that Xero has built challenging the old way of doing small business accounting by players such as MYOB and Quicken. I still have much to learn in this role but I am buoyed by my belief that the cloud will be an incredible shift for the industry. I’ll share more insight soon.