There’s a certain level of quiet existential anguish that comes with working in the enterprise software world.
For one, most of your loved ones have little grasp of the products you make or what you do for a living. The technology is silent, looming, and in the distant background of myopic public perception. It’s rarely considered “sexy.” Bring up the most recent app or smart product, and the crowd is smitten. But bring up APIs and enterprise architecture, and eyes tend to glaze over.
In enterprise software, you can develop a weariness to the well-intended question of “what do you do for a living?” When I started working at ZL Technologies, many of my friends had no idea what that meant. In describing what ZL does, I would curtail the scope of my explanation to whatever industry they were in. For my investment banking buddies, I would describe how our compliance manager module would help monitor a certain percentage of their emails. For lawyer acquaintances, I would talk about enterprise eDiscovery searches and placing legal holds though our eDiscovery module. Similarly, my engineering friends could easily understand how ZL would help reduce storage needs and storage footprint as a as a data archive. I’m not aware of any close friends who are currently Records Managers; but if I were, I am sure it would not take any convincing to tell them that records are the history and lifeblood of any company.
Each one of my different friends understands what ZL does in a slightly different context that applies to their industry, and typically they will come back to me saying, “Oh! I know what you do… you are like Vendor X or Vendor Y.” And while they generally get the gist of what I am trying to say, this is slightly frustrating to me because we really aren’t just “like” Vendor X or Vendor Y. People tend to think in terms of similarities and analogies, and it’s natural to liken a particular functionality to a related one in another product. However, ZL’s history and product development have uniquely shaped the scope and capabilities of what we do. We are unique, and that is what makes me proud to work here. Saying ZL is “like” Vendor X is analogous to saying an elephant is “like” a boa constrictor in the sense that they both have body parts that can wrap around things.
At ZL, I work with both the sales and customer relations teams, and when talking to customers and prospects, I am always at ease because I can give those companies solutions to their needs and problems. The other vendors my friends compare ZL to, in whatever field they may work in, are usually tools or point solutions that can act as a Band-Aid for specific issues, but they do not necessarily represent enterprise-wide solutions or a cohesive strategy. Let’s take a look at a specific example of one of our customers to better illustrate what I mean.
We’ll start with a customer I will call “Company A.” Company A is one of the most recognizable food companies in the world, with distribution in over 90 countries and tens of thousands of employees worldwide. When Company A came to us a few years ago, they had some real problems: problems that they recognized were not in need of point fixes and Band-Aids, but rather in need of an enterprise-wide strategic overhaul for information governance. I am sure it is not hard to imagine the issues a company like this would be facing. They were using Lotus (now IBM) Domino as their email platform and their legal team was tearing their hair out trying to run eDiscovery searches for different users and deployments stretching across various countries and all major continents. This was a major problem. That is, until ZL Technologies entered the equation.
That’s not to say an excellent product is the same thing as a one-size-fits-all product. ZL worked extensively with Company A to ensure a good strategic fit with the Unified Archive product and long-range business/IT goals. Despite being en vogue right now, the cloud is not the right decision for everyone. That being said, it happened to be the perfect choice for Company A. In our hosted solution, which utilizes the exact same software that we deploy on premise, ZL was able to help Company A unify their entire worldwide communications network. Previously, email had been stored on whatever the closest Domino server was; when litigation hit, each separate deployment in every different part of the world would have to be searched individually. When it came time to purge data or execute a retention schedule, there was similarly no way for Company A to ensure that every copy of every email had been deleted for sure. ZL was able to solve this problem by implementing ZL Unified Archive in the cloud, thus centralizing and de-duplicating content for efficient access and control.
Now, Company A has all of their Domino servers linked to their instance of ZL in one of our datacenters. As the mail comes in, it is single instanced, processed, and stored in this hosted archive. Today Company A’s legal team can sleep easy because they have one simple enterprise-wide search through a single repository. When they want to place a legal hold, these same people can feel confident that they are placing that hold on the one true copy of that piece of data that exists within the company. Domino, Sametime, and Blackberry communications from everyone within the 90+ countries are all searchable. Despite being aggregated into one place, when it comes to executing retention, separate schedules can still be set even down to the department level. Now, with ZL, instead of operating as however many different instances of the same company, and having to do a mad scramble every time a legal issue came up, Company A can rest easy knowing ZL has unified their entire system. With one click, a legal professional in the States can execute a legal hold on mail in Europe, or Asia, or anywhere else.
The term “solution” is often used loosely in our industry, applied seemingly to anything that fixes a problem, no matter how small. Largely, the definition also ignores the fact that fixing one problem with a purported “solution” frequently spawns multiple more problems to be fixed. To the businesses being marketed to, it all too often sounds like solutions are being sold to fix solutions. “Would you like a solution for that solution? Because this is the best one there is.”
We’d like to think we take a different approach to the solution game, by helping the enterprise critically assess their underlying issues and objectives before diving in with technology. Information governance is a strategy rather than a product, and we like to ensure that the product we ultimately provide fits well with their long-term strategy. This is delivering a true solution to a company. It is an approach that treats the underlying IT condition rather than just the symptoms. It is something we do on a regular basis. In some cases, ZL is the only feasible solution to a company’s information governance problem. I find it extremely fun and rewarding to solve massive problems like this.
Perhaps when my friends ask again, I should just tell my friends I’m a “problem solver.”