Kevin Kern Featured in the SF Business Times – “Preparing for Valleys and Peaks”

Last week, Richard Procter from the San Francisco Business Times reached out to do an entrepreneur profile.  Always a pleasure, here is what we discussed.

Originally published in the San Francisco Business Times on October 24, 2014: 

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Kevin Kern

CEO, Innotas

What it does: Portfolio management

HQ: San Francisco

2014 revenue:$14.2 million

Employees: 71

Founded: 2006

Background: Previously a vice president at both Oracle and Tibco

First job: Newspaper boy

Age: 56

Residence: San Francisco

Web site: innotas.com

How’s business: Business is good. We went live and in production of our predictive portfolio as of Sept. 19. I couldn’t be happier. Everyone that we’ve talked to (about the predictive portfolio) was ecstatic. I don’t want to oversell it, but they were very happy that this tool would help them with prioritizing the right work. Anyone we show this to is really impressed.

Are you hiring: Yes, we’re hiring for services, sales, product management and product marketing.

Important skill needed to be a successful entrepreneur: Initially, it’s got to be passion for the product, passion for the market that you serve. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be tough because there’s peaks and valleys for an entrepreneur. If you’re not passionate, VCs will see right through it. The second piece is focus.

Was joining Innotas an easy or hard decision: It was an easy decision because it was something that I felt very passionate about. It was something that I could understand. As a sales vice president and operator at Oracle and Tibco, I had been left at the altar so many times because IT ran out of budget or they didn’t know there were competing projects or something. They ran out of money or that priority suddenly became not important. It happens because the CIO doesn’t have visibility into his resources across the organization. When I came to Innotas, I said, “Here’s a tool that can help CIOs.”

Biggest business strength: Decision making. I believe that you iterate. Searching for perfection creates paralysis, and execution suffers.

Biggest business weakness: Patience. I’m short on chit chat. I want to get down to it. Sometimes people need to feel a little bit more love. If I were to look at how I might improve in some areas, patience.

Biggest worry: Staffing. Hiring the right people, people that fit into our culture and people that are as motivated and as passionate as we are. Secondarily, it would be reach. Getting our product to market first.

What do you wish you had known from Day 1: I wish I had known that the valleys come more frequently in a small company. Peaks are infrequent. If I could look back, I probably would have staffed up in development faster.

Favorite task: Talking to customers.

Least favorite task: Cleaning the cups in the kitchen. We don’t have maid service, and I don’t like a dirty kitchen.

Biggest frustration: Not moving fast enough. Not being where I want to be. Took us four years to triple our revenue, should have been done in two.

Source of support in a business crisis: A group of people. I certainly talk to my board, but generally I’ll gather my senior vice presidents and talk it through. There’s guys at the gym that have been down this road, I’ll talk to them. When I really want to feel good, I go to my mother. She’ll always tell me how great I’m doing. She’ll light up a cigarette and pour me a cocktail.

First choice for new career or venture: I’d like to fly helicopters. Apache helicopters. They’re just cool.

Most-admired entrepreneur or role model: Elon Musk.

Favorite pastimes: Even though it almost killed me, windsurfing, and I stand up paddleboard.

Favorite book: One of the recent books that I read was called “The Wave” by Susan Casey. It goes into how waves are created and the notion that 100-foot waves could never exist.

 

Shellshock: the Bash Vulnerability

Last week, Innotas became aware of a vulnerability in Bash that the net has dubbed “Shellshock”. This was discovered by Akamai security researcher Stephane Chazelas and leaves Linux/Unix machines vulnerable to exploitation.

A complete security patch for this issue was released by RedHat on September 26th. That same day, Innotas Operations staff used our regular maintenance window to fully patch all of our production Linux/Unix systems.

There have been no exploits of our systems and we are now fully up to date on all patches required to prevent this vulnerability from affecting our systems in any way.

Innotas takes security very seriously and we make it a priority to apply security patches as soon as they are available.

The Only Way To Predict Your Future Is To Create It

Innotas has had a number of customer and prospect conversations where the need for a corporate or IT-driven “cloud initiative” was a critical need.  After hearing this, we reflect on the rapid change of cloud solutions from the early adopters and point solutions to broader acceptance of cloud solutions across the globe.

We now see purpose driven initiatives toward cloud solutions for the enterprise.  Cloud companies regardless of your flavor — software, platform, or infrastructure —  drive a rapid maturity curve, which is exciting and underscores how we’ve built our business model. So it comes as no surprise to us that we see an increase in demand for cloud integrations, and escalating demand for relevant analytics

This is why we built the “Predictive Portfolio” which changes the landscape of Project Management applications forever.

Data availability requirements and timely information for decision-making have exponentially increased over the past several years, and Innotas has once again answered the bell. Portfolio cloud solutions spawned demand for more integration points between agile development tools, service desks HR systems and many more data sources, which in the PPM world affects resource supply and demand.  We argue that the rapid adoption and a growing trend of cloud initiatives will drive the advancement and development of cloud integration strategies, solutions, and interfaces which led us to think about the next generation of Portfolio Management.

The latest Innotas release of the Predictive Portfolio is elegant, easy to use, cost efficient and reconciles the gap between informational wants and needs of today’s CIO.  This new software helps companies predict, plan, and re-plan all of the projects across the enterprise and recommends which of the highest value projects and resources on the roadmap are viable – within minutes  !

At Innotas we developed products that were necessary, then we thought of what was possible and finally with the Predictive Portfolio we built what many thought to be impossible.

Check us out and take a look at the new predictive world Innotas can offer you.

http://www.innotas.com/solutions-predictive-portfolio-analysis

AWS to Reboot Many of Their Instances

Yesterday, Amazon Web Services notified its customers that it will be rolling out an urgent patch to many of their hosts. This will necessitate a reboot of many of the servers that currently host the Innotas product.

We currently have services running on four continents with Amazon AWS.

Amazon will be pushing out updates and forcing reboots to the underlying hardware used by Innotas during the maintenance window of  10pm PST to 2am PST.  This window will be active starting September 26th and may continue to September 30th.  This can change based on future communication from Amazon AWS.

Unfortunately, Innotas has no control over these maintenance windows. We will try to minimize disruptions to our customers to the best of our ability. With the architecture we have built, we are confident that we will be able to mitigate the impact of this event and most of our customers will not be affected.

We will be closely monitoring this situation and will post additional details as more information becomes available.

Big Brother? Explaining Time Tracking To Employees

 Time Tracking

 

Time Tracking or time sheets have significant benefits for organizations, but getting your team on board can be challenging.  It is clear why organizations want to utilize time tracking – increased visibility, accountability, optimizing resources, and charging back departments.  However, chances are your employees do not see it that way.  They most likely see time tracking as an avenue for micromanagement (Big Brother), scrutiny over work performed, or lack of trust – none of which may be true.  Take a step back and look at it through their eyes.  For greater adoption and less resistance, encourage your managers to focus on the benefits to the employees, rather than just looking at the benefits to the organization.  Below are a few benefits to employees that will be helpful in rolling out your time tracking or time sheet initiative:

Get More Resources 

You will never have enough resources.  Markets are much more competitive than ever; forcing your organization to do more with the same amount of resources. For PMOs or Project Managers, one of the most challenging aspects of their jobs is making the case for additional resources. Tracking time enables managers to measure the amount of time being spent on projects and allow them to accurately forecast future resource demand – facilitating their ability to quantify their case for hiring.

Shift From Reactive “Crisis” Mode to Proactive Mode   

Once you know that you will be associating your work with specific time, you will naturally focus on the things that are important.  It is easy to get caught up in “urgent matters” or “fire drills” that ultimately do not impact your bottom line.  We’ve all been there; a request comes in and it will only “take a few minutes” to complete, so you just get it done and move on.  However, unplanned tasks contribute to loss of perspective on the greater picture.  By tracking time, you will not only focus on the “urgent” but the “urgent and important” – ultimately increasing your impact to the organization.

Increase Credibility Through Better Forecasting Accuracy   

Just knowing that you are going track what you worked on and for how long will drive good natured competitiveness.  Seeing your time spent on tasks next to others will want team members to strive to do better – resulting in better organizational execution.

Understand Time Spent On Non-Project Work 

If you know where you have been spending your time, you have a better chance of being productive. How many times have you asked yourself, “Wow, where did the time go?  I cannot believe we are already 3 weeks into the month.”  By thinking through and recording where you spent your time, you will quickly enable yourself to become more self-aware of how much time you spend on productive versus non-productive tasks.  You can then make adjustments if needed.

Try using some of the suggestions above when speaking to your organization about time tracking.  They already know that the organization will benefit, but try to make time tracking about them, not you.

Innotas Featured in the San Francisco Business Times – “Innotas survived a near-death experience”

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Procter from the San Francisco Business Times.  Initially, I thought the conversation would be about where we are going and what I see for the industry.  However, as we started talking, the conversation focused on our history.  Innotas has come a long way – now we have been a “Leader” in the Gartner Cloud-based PPM Magic Quadrant for three years running.  Below is the article, enjoy.

Originally published in the San Francisco Business Times on June 13, 2014:

Innotas doubled revenue to $14.2 million in the past three years, says CEO Kevin Kern.

Just nine months after Kevin Kern joined Innotas as vice president of sales in 2008, the company didn’t have enough money to pay its workers.

“We had some people who were working remotely and flying in every other week,” he said. “For a company our size, that was insane.”

Fortunately, a strong sales team and a few bridge loans gave Innotas time to close the gap and survive.

Innotas is a growing leader in the field of project and portfolio management. Its software lets IT employees manage, track, trace and record all the projects they take on. Managers can keep track of how many projects all their employees and teams take on and gain a clear, definite picture of their allocation of resources as a result.

“We’re Salesforce for IT,” said Kern, who took over as CEO in 2010.

Innotas’ revenue has grown considerably over the last three years, doubling from $7.1 million in fiscal year 2012 to $14.2 million in fiscal year 2014. Innotas makes money by using a subscription-based model for its services, charging $540 per user per year. There is also a fixed, one-time fee at the start: $20,000 for companies with under 100 users, $40,000 for over 100 users, and if the company has over 1,000 users “then we talk,” Kern said. Innotas also provides ongoing technical support as part of the package.

“The land-and-expand strategy has worked really well for us,” Kern said.

When Kern joined in 2008, Innotas had 50 customers. Now it has approximately 400, Kern said, including UCSF, Autodesk and Bank of the West. The average tenure for one of Innotas’ customers is 2.73 years, though some have been clients for seven to 10 years.

AMN Healthcare, a San Diego-based healthcare staffing company with 1,800 employees and over $950 million in 2012 revenue, started using Innotas for its IT department this year.

“In terms of design, functionality and intuitiveness, it’s second to none from our standpoint,” said Tiernan Hussey, program manager for AMN. “We’ve used other (companies in project and portfolio management) before. This is really outstanding.”

Hussey said AMN learned about Innotas through Gartner’s Magic Quadrant ranking. Gartner, a technology research firm, rates companies in the project and portfolio management industry on 15 different criteria and plots them on a map with the axes “ability to execute” and “completeness of vision.” Innotas scored the highest by both measures, leading other, larger companies in the Bay Area such as Oracle.

A May 19 Gartner report on the industry notes that Innotas stands out from its competition because its product functions effectively on a portfolio level and not just an individual level. The same report cautioned that Innotas’ increasing popularity could become a weakness if it isn’t careful.

“Innotas is susceptible to growing pains as it continues to scale up to meet the needs of larger project organizations,” the report said.

The portfolio and project management industry is expected to grow — Gartner said it experienced a 208 percent increase in software inquiries in 2013 from 2012 — and Innotas plans to grow with it.

This month, the company will complete an office expansion that will double the space it occupies at 111 Sutter St. from 7,000 to 14,000 square feet, and Kern said the company plans to hire approximately 30 more employees between now and next February.

In addition to scaling up, Innotas wants to innovate its product even further. The company has begun developing a predictive analysis tool that Kern said will allow managers to optimize project portfolios based on the information available.

“It can tell if you can or can’t and should or shouldn’t take that extra work,” he said.

-          Richard Procter, San Francisco Business Times 

Cloud Blog Series #3: Scalability Builds an Elastic Foundation for Growth

In some ways, scalability is like a trampoline, while building out capacity for growth through traditional methods is like a concrete foundation.

In the cloud, server capacity can be added in minutes. It’s as simple as using machine images, or templates, so a new app server can be up and running in the mix in mere moments. The process can even be automated. It makes capacity planning and forecasting far more fluid; we can react to customer needs immediately. We can even add new data centers around the world to serve the legal and security needs of customers who need to store data locally, whether they’re based in Sacramento, California or Sydney, Australia.

The Innotas project and application management software solutions, hosted in the cloud, work the same way. When project managers need more power for a full plate of projects, the capacity is there; when the pipeline shrinks, the platform easily adapts.

So like a strong yet resilient trampoline, the cloud allows us to build and forecast based on a responsive foundation that springs back according to our and our customers’ needs at the time. When the extra capacity isn’t needed, it simply returns to its previous state. Contrast that with a traditional data center build-out, or static software solution, that acts more like a concrete building foundation. Certainly, if you want to build on it, it’s there—but if it’s time to scale back, it’s there just the same, costing you time and money.

The scalability of the cloud enables our customers to track the pulse of their IT projects and applications with greater visibility than ever. See how Cloud PPM gives The Weather Company visibility & transparency across the entire portfolio.  Now, that same flexibility is allowing Innotas to dream big about how we can help our customers be project and application management heroes.

 

Cloud Blog Series #2: Scalability = Success

I’d like to make a bold observation: From an IT perspective, the success of a business no longer depends solely on growth. True profitability is equally determined by scalability.

We at Innotas are discovering the value of scalability first-hand, thanks to some exciting new developments. In the process, I’ve become more convinced than ever that one of the most critical advantages that cloud-based solutions offer growing businesses is the ability to scale in periods of growth—as well as scale appropriately times of market contraction.

Cloud-based solutions unlock unprecedented potential

It all started with our decision to gradually transition Innotas data and solutions from traditional data centers to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the cloud.

As I wrote in a recent post about the founding days of our company in the year 2000, it took hundreds of thousands of dollars to build out basic tech infrastructure that could now be accomplished by a start-up outlaying just $10,000 in monthly operating fees in a cloud-based environment.

Our decision to move to AWS now was driven by a desire to be more agile in responding to customer needs, while building out virtual capacity for our business and platforms to grow. We were also interested in how the cloud could enable us to offer product features and benefits for our customers that would have been cost prohibitive in a hosted environment.

It’s an exciting journey. Along the way, we’re seeing how the cloud gives us the flexibility to scale up (or down) in an unprecedented way—and it’s transforming how we view everything from expanding to new markets, to offering customers new options and updates, to experimenting with new innovations.

Ironically, it’s the same visibility and flexibility that Innotas solutions have offered project and application management professionals since we launched our first solutions. Yet I don’t know that I fully appreciated the power that true scalability in the cloud confers on businesses until now.

Experimentation and innovation in the scalable cloud

When we first started Innotas, a Sacramento-based co-location data center housed our database servers, network equipment and Oracle software to run the servers (not to mention the people needed to keep all of the gear up and running).

When we needed to grow, scaling meant new hardware. New hardware meant bringing new servers online, which was a months-long process from procurement to burn-in to configuration to go-live.

After going through all this to enable the business to scale up for projected growth, we were still sitting on pins and needles. If sales spiked, we had to scramble to add more capacity. If sales went down, we had extra capacity sitting unused that was already paid for.

Regardless of your industry, it’s a situation I think most IT folks would recognize. It was certainly one of those times that I appreciated the true value of the cloud-based solution we offer our customers; no matter how the number of projects or applications in play at any given time might fluctuate, our customers can be confident that the Innotas platform, hosted in the cloud, is ready to handle whatever comes its way.

Cloud Blog Series #1: Unlocking the Full Potential of the Cloud

Given that Innotas is a recognized leader in cloud-based solutions for project portfolio management (PPM) solutions, you might think that we’ve been a completely virtual organization from the very beginning. Yet even we are still unlocking the true potential of what the cloud and cloud-based solutions can offer our business—and what they can do for our customers. In this three part Cloud Blog Series, I will cover various topics that are related to cloud technology, challenges, and key learnings from Innotas. Enjoy!

A bricks-and-mortar start to a digital company

Back when we first set up the Innotas tech infrastructure around 2000, it was far more expensive than it would be to do today.

I remember paying over $100,000 just for a pair of database servers. That didn’t even include the cost of Oracle to run on them. Then there were the costs for hosting space at a co-location facility. Finally we layered on the costs of the people needed to put everything together and make it work. I’m sure we spent over half a million dollars just to get our basic services up and running at the co-lo space, once we covered all the necessary space, server, network equipment, personnel and other assorted costs.

Today, a similar-sized startup could be up and running with less than $10,000 in monthly costs, using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Besides the savings on equipment, servers and space, the Operations costs are reduced, since less people are needed to run and manage the hardware.

Making the move to the cloud

The net-net is that the cloud has made it easier than ever to start—and scale—businesses. While I don’t mean to paint a picture of, “Back in my day, we walked 10 miles to school, up hill both ways!” I am continually amazed at the freedom and capacity for growth that the cloud provides to our growing company and to the growing businesses of our customers.

Innotas is currently in the process of transitioning from traditional bricks-and-mortar data centers to AWS for our expanding operations around the world, to improve our velocity for making changes and reacting to customer needs. The change also will reduce cost and allow us to offer our customers features that would be cost-prohibitive in the current hosted environment.

This means that we’re leveraging the cloud to explore doing things like creating virtual “Customer Preview” environments or Sandboxes to allow customers to test drive new features. Using our own hardware, setting up an identical environment with customer data and building in strong “worst-case-scenario” security would have been far too expensive to do. Yet in the cloud, we can call upon the power of servers to create an environment where customers can see how our latest release will work with their own data before we upgrade their production copy. And through the magic of the cloud, we simply shut down the environments after the necessary runtime. No unused servers sitting around means we can focus more investments on innovation and improvements.

Strides forward like these have been a huge win with our customers. They show how the power of the cloud allows us to make our vision for product enhancements a reality, while allowing us to be more nimble and responsive to customer needs than ever.

Change is good

The real moral of the story is that the cloud offers businesses of all stripes—ours included—the ability to dream bigger than ever before, while gaining unprecedented transparency and visibility into our operations, even as they rapidly change and grow.

This clarity and ability to know where we stand with all of our data, products and projects at all times is at the heart of what our software solutions are designed to do for IT project and application managers.

Thanks to the flexibility, speed, visibility and almost unlimited capacity the cloud offers, Innotas solutions were developed specifically to live in the cloud and make the most of its potential. Empowering our customers to proactively manage projects from end to end, and be exponentially more responsive to leadership and their businesses than ever before, has always been core to our vision.

The cloud is the key that makes it all possible. So it’s exciting that we at Innotas are continuing to explore the potential of the cloud and push the boundaries of what’s possible today, so that our customers can achieve their goals tomorrow.

Five Steps Towards PMO Success

Ideally, it’s a centralized hub for organizing processes; managing special projects; and facilitating the free flow of information across your enterprise. The ultimate Project Management Office (PMO) is a model of defined and aligned processes, with results tracking and transparency to match. Try these tips for project management success.

ONE:  Make business processes defined—and repeatable. Bringing in a project on-time and on-budget once is a combination of good project management and a little bit of luck; consistently executing projects successfully, time after time, is a hallmark of PMO perfection. Take an opportunity to explicitly define your processes as they stand today. Often, things are simply done the way they’ve always been done, without defining the steps and desired outcomes. Worse, and possibly more commonly, different people do different things in different ways, each time.

Get a handle on what happens and how, then weed out those that don’t work consistently. Finally, ensure that the rest are truly replicable. In doing so, you’ll join good company; a growing number of businesses now have formal Project Portfolio Management (PPM) processes in place, rising from 64% in 2003 to 71% in 2013. (Source: 1. The State of Project Portfolio Management PPM 2013 PM Solutions Research)

TWOBreak down departmental silos. A second mark of PMO maturity is the ability to look antagonistically at the needs of the business as a whole, rather than view projects solely thorough disparate departmental lenses. Are your business processes truly aligned with supporting the way your company runs today? Even more importantly, will those processes support the growth and innovation required to take the business to the next level tomorrow.

Make a renewed effort to examine when and where projects cross organizational lines. For example, how should efforts to implement and leverage CRM or digital marketing initiatives intersect to create a more effective outcome for all departments involved? Taking a broader view can help open your eyes—and demonstrate to leadership—how important the PMO’s efforts are to the business as a whole.

THREE: Maximize effective technology. Even the best project manager can’t be everywhere all the time. Moving beyond spreadsheets or traditional project management software to a cloud-based solution can provide governance controls, facilitate communication between project managers and corporate stakeholders, and promote consistency in methodology and best practices.

In addition, the ability to track metrics more transparently than ever before will pay dividends when you’re called on to demonstrate results and value.

FOUR:  Be a traffic director rather than a bottleneck. The centralization of information within the PMO provides the possibility of developing organization-wide performance indicators and operational figures. Yet that accumulation of information can mean that project managers become bottle-necks rather than information facilitators.

Think of new ways to channel the right information to the right people at the right time, and your perceived value to the organization will increase dramatically.

FIVE:  Position project management as a source of competitive advantage. With reliable and replicable processes in place; the transparency to see projects and progress from an organization-wide perspective; and the tools to demonstrate results and value, you have everything you need to elevate the visibility of the PMO and position it as a source of competitive advantage for your company.

Imagine giving leadership the confidence to pursue new innovation strategies, retire costly legacy systems or kick-start new organizational processes that will reduce cost or drive organic growth. A corporate culture that recognizes the value of project management and treats it as a critical core capability is a stronger organization than one that views project management as a transactional function.

While the old adage that “practice makes perfect” may be true, by following these tips, you can make your project management function that much more successful.