Pivoting Gracefully: Q&A with Mike Stramaglio, MWA Intelligence

Mike_StramaglioMike Stramaglio is CEO and president of MWA Intelligence, the creators of the FORZA open-architecture ERP platform built on SAP Business One. Mike Stramaglio is a really interesting guy. I’m not kidding. Generous with both his time and money, he is a well-known figure on the speaker circuit as well as on social media, offering up insights and great articles on where technology is headed while also sharing why Frank Sinatra is the greatest singer in the history of the universe. Learn why Mike is the “Charlie Hustle” of business — join me in the SpeakEasy.

What are you most excited about right now?

What I’m really excited about is that I see things happening that the industry sometimes doesn’t recognize are going to have a tremendous impact on them — but that impact will happen, and quickly.

I’m a little closer to this because of our relationship with SAP, but if you’ve watched SAP’s announcements lately, you’ve seen formal relationships with IBM and Apple created. Those are huge, high-impact, big data and little data information superhighways. Everything that needs to happen from telecommunications to actual machine-to-machine or machine-to-people automation — they are aggressively stitching these partnerships together.

SAP’s HANA platform also excites me. It’s an in-memory platform built for processing high volumes of data in real-time. When you look from an industry perspective, it’s not just that product, but it’s what HANA means as a technology to the industry that excites me — workflow and reporting that historically took hours or even days is now reduced to minutes. Companies will now be able to move like a bullet train through development with such an ease of development at a much lower cost. A million things are going to happen in the next year, two or three. Even driverless cars — it’s going to be right behind everything we’re doing. I think you’ll start to see some more relationships coming too, perhaps even with companies like Concur, Amazon, Mobileye and others. For me, the ease with which the marketplace operates and you or me as individuals can live our lives is going to go quantum.

Do you feel cloud will continue to be a major disruptor?

The cloud will be the only option five years from now. That’s how important it is. People won’t have the option of using on-premise type hardware and capability. It will all be in the cloud. It’s easier to protect, it’s easier to sell, it’s easier to maintain, it’s easier to develop. Everything is easier.

When you wrap that around cybersecurity and failover security, it is a business imperative today.

What kind of trends are you seeing in the industry right now?

There are business trends and then there are technology trends. One business trend I see is people being this weird combination of aggressive and conservative.

I think most businesspeople are really smart. They want to be aggressive. It’s their nature. Yet risk is also a reality. When we are talking about transforming business through new technology and tools like ERP, BI and business process automation, I see normal fear. I feel that reluctance to take that first step to transformation. Yet at the same time they’ll sit here right now and tell you, “I need to do this, I have to do this. It’s important that I do this. The company needs me to do this.”

I think companies are going to be a little bit more aggressive adopting transformative business technologies going forward, but they are really going to vet their partners. I think that’s a gate they’re going to have to go through in order to accelerate adoption or make better-informed decisions. That’s a trend.

I think that’s also the result of people like us or other people who are advocating new workflow, new technology and new growth initiatives. We’re advocating change every single day for the benefit of the industry. We’re happy to fan the fire of continued process improvement and technology and encourage greater momentum. The flip side, of course, is that there are also people who are resistant to change. I think some companies are hoping there’s going to be a point where the bad becomes explicitly clear and untenable and the good is going to be a much easier process for them. The problem with that type of thinking is that the train has left the station and you’re not on it.

What’s one of the biggest challenges right now in the market?

Profitability. I think it’s the number one challenge and opportunity. It’s the need to invest in things appropriately and wisely. It’s the need to recognize your own business state. Without data, how do you really know how profitable you are unless you are on one system with full integration that allows real-time access by product, by machine, by account, by contract, by location? I’m here to grow money.

In order to grow, enjoy greater efficiency, create greater data and analytics for EDI, procurement and best client experience, companies need to be on a single, unified infrastructure. The days of purpose-built and disconnected software are long gone and done.

And what is one of MWA’s biggest challenges right now?

Challenge number one is managing our growth and ensuring that every client experience is a great one. Success is always about people, products and programs, and today the struggle is just finding enough good, available technology people. Ramping on a real-time basis is always a challenge. When you’re transforming an industry or morphing, you’re leaving some people behind and you’re in that window where you need to find qualified people quickly. The number one complication for anyone in innovation, I don’t care if it’s Intel or us, is finding the appropriate people in that time window. You need engineers and developers, and you need implementation people and you need them when you need them. Thankfully, there are fantastic programs like the SAP intern program at St. Vincent’s that have allowed us to add to our resources in addition to our normal aggressive recruitment efforts.

In addition, when you are bringing something new to market like we are, the issue is making sure the value proposition is very, very clear, and then of course that you’re communicating and seeking executive support from the people you’re working with. In that environment, when those three things come together you have the opportunity for greatness.

MWA very carefully and strategically rolled our new ERP out to market. We needed to start with our beta clients and emphasize that the framework behind our ERP is SAP Business One, which is already established – there are 50,000-60,000 clients on the SAP Business One platform. Our mission was to make sure that we received the all-important endorsements, feedback and product development input and best practices information requisites for success. Our beta clients were gracious, patient, highly supportive and they worked in harmony with us for the benefit of the entire industry. While it wasn’t easy, we cleared every hurdle together.

Migrating clients from an old system to a new-tech ERP can be very difficult. What are some of the things you’ve learned?

Never lose sight of the importance of every single client. What we are asking companies to do is not easy and it requires our team to dedicate the passion, skill and energy that goes above and beyond the call of duty. There’s a fine balance between moving people and moving technology and we should always respect that success can only be achieved when you strike the balance between the people and the technology. One of our biggest initiatives is to create a culture of full collaboration, knowledge transfer, excitement and confidence. It is always about collaboration and mentoring.

What are you going to do differently going forward?

We’re doing a lot of things differently. We have a new best-practices program that we will continue to build out, we will also focus on further development of our products and services in order to secure our innovation leadership position within the imaging channel for ERP. We will aggressively pursue new skills, provide greater and more effective delivery packages and we will strive to be the best partner our clients have ever had.

You’re the CEO of your own company. You’ve served in a lot of different roles. You have a trajectory that brought you to where you are. What kind of qualities do you think you have that brings you to this path? Were there some unique experiences or situations that led you to here? Was it a goal of yours?

When I was young my vision was that I wanted to be a business guy. I had no idea what that meant except that I wanted to be a business guy. I wanted to travel the world and I wanted to make deals and I was really young and immature.

I wanted to be something. Growing up in an inner-city Little Italy world, I wanted to be that guy. I never really understood what that meant or what it took to get there. I always knew and thought that I could “make business.” As time went on and I got older, I got very lucky. A friend of mine at one point in my career said, “You should sell copying machines. You could make a lot of money.” I had no idea what a copying machine was.

I went on and did that and I made money and then somebody recruited me and hired me at another company. Then another person promoted me. I think it’s a combination of working really hard, treating people right and typically doing the right things for the right reasons. I never liked office politics, probably a liability on my part in some cases, but I never felt that I needed to compete with something I didn’t see or understand.

I also associated with really good people. I knew that I had to outwork everyone — I was the Pete Rose, aka “Charlie Hustle,” of business. I wasn’t that gifted. I wasn’t that smart. I wasn’t that articulate. I had a work ethic.

Can you identify a pivotal moment in your life that really changed things for you?

I got in a car accident. I was rear-ended. I was knocked out and taken to a hospital, where I was kept for observation. The next day a team of doctors came in and said, “You don’t have a concussion, but we found something in the X-ray that you need to go see a specialist for.” I asked what it was, and they couldn’t tell me anything except that I needed to find a specialist right away.

I did and after a few visits it was determined that I had what is called an acoustic neuroma, which is a non-malignant tumor that grows in a very specific area, and it grows quickly. It’ll wrap around your brain stem and cut you off and you can die. If it gets that big unnoticed, chances are you’re either going to die or you’re going to be completely incapacitated. It was because of the accident that they found it.

The doctors watched it for about six months and then unfortunately determined it was a fast-growing tumor. Then there was one of those moments where the doctor said, “Look, you’ve got a choice. You either need to get that out of here or not and take whatever consequences come.” I said, “Get it out. Let’s get it out.” There were weeks and weeks of prep and it was growing very quickly all that time. They had to go in and take it out.

The surgery can be very tricky, depending on how quickly it’s growing or where the tumor is located. In my case it fell into the extraordinarily dangerous category because of the location. Essentially, the doctors felt pretty comfortable that they could get the tumor out at that stage, but a lot of bad things can happen. They really can’t tell until they go in. When they got in they realized it was worse than the X-rays showed. At that point they had to make the decision to cut specific nerves – cut the hearing nerve, cut the balance nerve, etc. That’s why my right eye droops and also has no tears. My whole face was paralyzed. It’s weird. I’m almost completely deaf in one ear, and my balance is also affected.

I would say for me personally, that was the moment where I went, “OK.”

The moment that you said, “OK” what?

It was the moment when I said to myself, “I’m half of what I thought I was.”

There are certain things that I always needed to believe in — certain things you are and can be and wish to be. I knew at that moment whatever I was, is gone. I had to figure out how to accept that and use it to make me better. I don’t know if I’m better, but at least I think I’m probably as a human being more sensitive to those things now.

I have a lot of people tell me that they didn’t realize that I’m deaf. To me, that’s a compliment. It’s an interesting experience, not just for me, but to see how people respond around you. Some people become really frustrated when they realize I can’t hear them. You become withdrawn. If I’m in a bar and it’s loud I’m not going to be very engaged.

That probably didn’t help your career.

Actually it did because I think whether it’s someone you care about or yourself, it changes your perspective. You quickly find out, “Hey, I don’t have financial resources to do these things. I don’t have the right insurance.” I think that all of that was really a dramatic learning curve.

I think the moment that I’ll never forget was realizing that I was not able to hear. You never imagine how that’s going to affect your daily life.

When you’re presenting in front of a room of colleagues and you’re speaking with people and one of your greatest enjoyments is the ability to do that, now all of a sudden you don’t even know who’s asking you a question. It affects your negotiating. It affects your confidence. It affects your health. That moment when I woke up I had the realization that I was looking at a challenge that I didn’t know I could overcome.

Did you feel even more lucky or less lucky or just different after being through what you have been through?

Very lucky because I think of two things. Number one, if I hadn’t been in a car accident, I would have died. I was very lucky they found the tumor. I also don’t think I’d be the guy I am today, otherwise. I would not have the level of appreciation that I have now for life. You asked me before, what was a pivotal moment for me? The one thing was actually getting control of that situation. My face was paralyzed. My eye was lost, my hearing gone. Everything was off — my balance, everything that you take for granted when you do something as simple as walk on a stage. I’m lucky. I’m still here. I’m enjoying a great business. I’m lucky I can’t hear half of the nonsense that probably other people are subjected to.

It’s an interesting world we live in, but the truth is people have to deal with life. How they deal with that life is really the key. I feel sincerely blessed to be around the people that I see in this industry. There are so many unbelievably talented and gifted people who are just trying to get through life with some level of grace.

As you know, I like to talk about music. Who is your favorite musical artist?

I do love Frank Sinatra. I love what he represents. The guy had swag before there was swag. He just did his thing. There’s a few things that make Frank special to me. Number one, my father sang the heart out of him. Growing up, my aunt and my father were in bands and they were always singing in the kitchen when I was a kid. Frank Sinatra was actually literally in my aunt’s kitchen upstairs at one point. There’s that recollection for me, growing up, “Yeah, an Italian made it.”

Then there’s just that I love the music. It’s something I don’t know if we’ll ever recapture, although there are some amazing musicians out there now.

I love Lady Gaga. I love Diana Krall. I love music. To me it’s like a language. Sometimes, when I find it hard to find the words, I revert to the rhythm of life. Pick a song and everything transforms for the better.

is president and senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 15 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community.