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Bring in the experts

James Goulding speaks to Stuart Evans, CTO of UK document management specialist Invu, about the company’s partnerships with copier resellers and its evolving product line

Invu deliver an entire solution, from beginning to end
Invu deliver an entire solution, from beginning to end

This year marks the 20th anniversary of document management company Invu. Founded in 1997, the Northampton-based company supplies a range of solutions encompassing document and content management, purchasing, work?ow, document automation and collaboration.

It targets mainly mid-market companies through a mix of direct sales, partners and OEM relationships, principally with IRIS, which supplies Invu Document Management under the IRIS OpenDocs brand to around 20% of the UK’s top 100 accountancy practices.

Invu CTO Stuart Evans says that as the sophistication of its offering has increased, referral partners have become an ever more important route to market. It currently has about 20 such partners, who recommend Invu to deliver an entire solution, from beginning to end.

A referral partnership, he suggests, is a very good option for copier companies seeking to build deeper relationships with customers.

“Where there are copier resellers that are trying to distinguish themselves with a depth and a consultative nature in how they deal with customers, being able to bring us in to provide solutions works very well. We have partners such as Azzurri and Principal that do that for us.”

Evans adds that the benefits to the referral partner are not just financial. “They get a referral fee, which is a percentage of the licences involved in the deal. But there’s more to it than that. It lets them demonstrate that they are adding value for their customers. It also ties in the products they have sold to customers in terms of getting a deeper ROI delivery and greater customer stickiness.”

Struggling with solutions

Stuart Evans, CTO, Invu
Stuart Evans, CTO, Invu

One of the advantages of working with copier companies, says Evans, is that there is very little overlap in skill sets, which can complicate relationships with IT reseller partners. This, he suggests, is because despite paying lip service to ‘solutions’ many copier companies have failed to make the transition to a new business culture.

“The whole copier reseller market traditionally has absolutely no culture of customer care or business solutions. It still sees a solution as a number of clicks. They have made a lot of their money in the last five to 10 years in selling print management solutions, which is really just another way of dressing up clicks while selling less clicks. It’s not a business solution.

“To sell business solutions you have to have two or three things that they simply don’t have built into their DNA. First, you have to have the ability to listen to customers and understand their needs as a business, not just as people pressing buttons. And you need to be able to deliver into that, which means understanding their other software systems; understanding what finance systems really do; and understanding what people want out of those systems in their different roles – what a finance director wants out of that system, what an accounts payable clerk wants out of it and what a regular person in goods inwards wants to do with it in order to deliver a solution. I don’t think those businesses traditionally have the whole business model and engagement model with customers to find that out.”

Division of responsibilities

While this might be seen as a negative, Evans points out that it does mean there is a clear division of responsibilities, which can be helpful when partnering.

“We think copier resellers struggle to deliver solutions; we also think they struggle to let go of their tin and their old business models. But for those that want to [bring us in] and that recognise the difference in skill sets and cultures between our respective businesses, it makes for a really good fit because there is very little overlap.”

Evans adds the caveat that while he is looking to recruit new referral partners, they must be culturally aligned with Invu.

“It’s not like a club you can sign up to in the hope of making more money. It’s about being aligned in terms of how you address customers and the types of customer you have. [The referral network] is not something that’s going to grow at a huge rate. It’s something that we work on in order to develop a larger sphere of trusted businesses around us, rather than a large volume,” he said.

Cloud solutions

Copier resellers are not the only ones to struggle to deliver solutions. Evans is also critical of some of the IT resellers Invu has dealt with in the past.

“We did to some extent dismantle a reseller channel that didn’t have the skills to implement the solution properly. I still think it requires some understanding of a business to put in a system that’s more than just a Windows fle share. We have a core set of VARS who are still reselling our product and implementing it who do have those skill sets and those consultancy talents. For example, Your DMS, also known as YDMS, based in Swindon. They continue to deliver our solutions on premises and in the cloud and provide the consulting around that. We have some other partners doing the same thing.”

While Evans is interested in developing Invu’s IT reseller network, he says the best offering for the channel is probably not the company’s existing mature Windows product, but a new generation of cloud solutions that it has in the pipeline.

“Moving forwards there is an appetite for cloud that’s going to grow. Within the next 12 months, we will be releasing products that do not depend on having an on-premise component. Document management has changed and we will be looking to bring something new and slightly different to the cloud offering. It won’t just be our product, which we have had now for 10 years, in the cloud. It will be a new capability, quite like the electric car vs the diesel car, that will bring different benefits even though it’s going on the same road,” he said.

“We have a very mature and effective document management system for delivering to mid-market right now that can be taken on. But if VARs are looking to adopt technology now, a lot will be looking for something that is more cloud-natured. The future for growing a VAR or reseller channel will be through a cloud offering.”

In the meantime, Evans says he welcomes approaches from VARs interested in INVU’s existing solution set, which revolves around an on-premise deployed document management system that also has pre-integrated cloud components, such as portals for interacting with buyers and customers. “That fits very well with our target market today, because most of them are still deploying software,” he said.

Changing needs

Invu currently has around 1,200-1,300 customers, though many of these are accountancy practices and smaller organisations from historical sales of filing and retrieval systems. Invu’s newer customers tend to be larger, mid-market businesses facing ever more complex document management needs.

“We are seeing businesses’ heads being turned by GDPR, data privacy and information security requirements, because those ISOs are moving down the chain from big to little and affecting the way people look at documents,” Evans said.

“Another area in which we are seeing a rise in interest is digital signing of documents and electronic signing of documents to formalise transactions that involve contracts. And, we’ve still got plenty going on with businesses trying to remove paper from processes – stopping processes being bound to paper. Again, that’s a cost reduction driver. Those are the three drivers that are really affecting the market.”

Evans points out that over the years customers’ needs and expectations have changed in important ways, even for midmarket companies that might not have the strict compliance requirements of larger organisations.

“The basic need to store documents and fnd out where they are hasn’t really changed, but the value of that to customers has changed a lot – they expect that to be built-in and are now looking for additional value on top. This tends to be around information security-type features, the ability to mine for data within the document base, maybe around GDPR,“ he said.

“A lot of mid-market businesses don’t have the backbone internally to know that they are doing the right thing – the IT infrastructure and resources to spend time on these things. They look to their vendors for guidance and some support in the application so that they can be seen to be doing something about it – to be seen to be responsible, without necessarily having all of the Is dotted and Ts crossed as you might in an enterprise.”

Evans says that over the last five years, Invu has spent a lot of time and effort enhancing its professional services skills to ensure that it continues to meet customers’ changing needs.

“Just installing a document management system for someone to scan into can be considered an off-the-shelf product. A solution that deals with a business process is a very, very different animal indeed, and the customer absolutely needs the supplier vendor to understand business processes, understand how to talk to business people, understand how to challenge their customer during the process to arrive at a good result,” he said.

“It’s a very painful journey to get good at that, but that’s something the customer sees in Invu; they recognise that we as a company see our solutions projects through to success. Customers sometimes don’t end up with what they ask for, but always get what they need.”