Aligning With Success: Q&A with Thomas Phelps CIO & Chief Corporate Strategist, Laserfiche

0315PhelpsWorkflow had a chance to sit down with Thomas Phelps IV, CIO and Chief Corporate Strategist of Laserfiche at their annual Empower event. We explored his obsessions, talked about ECM and industry trends, and discussed the importance of a windshield. Join me in the SpeakEasy.

How long have you been with Laserfiche?

Since May 2014, and this is my first Empower event. In a previous life I spent a number of years at a professional services firm and attended many conferences related to my clients, so I’ve been exposed to a lot of different events. This one is unique. The energy and the enthusiasm are infectious. You have an energized group of end users, decision makers and influencers in the reseller community joined by our sponsors and exhibitors all coming together with one passion. And that passion is around enterprise content management (ECM). That’s just amazing.

I almost feel like I am in a cult.  People are scrambling to buy your merchandising!  

[Laughter]. We announced our “Run Smarter” award winners this morning at our keynote in our general session and Tompkins County, NY came on stage to be spotlighted as the winner. They actually threw a large balloon out from the stage and it said “Tompkins County loves Laserfiche” on the balloon. Incredible. I’ve been to large conferences for other software companies and you don’t see that same level of passion and energy and that enthusiasm from customers.

How do you see the business environment over the next couple of years? 

The economy is doing well. Our company has been growing very rapidly. We’ve been experiencing double-digit growth in 2013 and 2014 and we expect no less in 2015.

Given your growth, where are you investing the most within the company this year?   

We’re investing in a couple of areas. We’re definitely continuing to make investments in our reseller partners. We want to nurture those relationships, help them to grow and enable entrepreneurs to create a successful business as a Laserfiche reseller. You can start your own business with a $12,000 investment — that’s the cost of what we call our “VAR kit.” The cost of entry is a lot lower than setting up a McDonald’s franchise, for example. You can be very profitable, very quickly if you have a passion for selling software and services.

We’re also focusing on energizing our brand and brand awareness amongst our target market. We focus on three major verticals — government, education and financial services. We are also successful in other verticals and want to continue expanding our presence and brand globally. Additionally, we want to focus on our messaging to the CIO community. We need to make sure that companies and prospects that want to make a purchasing decision on ECM know who we are. 

I think our biggest challenge in growing the company is talent. We can only grow as fast as we can find sales, marketing and engineers because we have a huge need for talent in our business. 

Is there a type you like to hire? Are there some specific things you look for that you like to bring in?  

Yes – from a marketing and sales perspective, I look for people who are passionate. I don’t think you can fake passion — it’s something that comes out naturally in authentic people. We do hire a lot of people who are introverted by nature. I’m introverted as well. But when you’re passionate about something like the software, about the services we provide our customers, that really comes out. 

Do you think there are trends that exist in this industry?

There are definitely trends. The industry went from document management to enterprise content management and now I think you are going to see more integration with social, mobile and cloud solutions. I think you’ll see ECM companies adopt more case management, file sync and share, and analytics capabilities. There is the push to access content any time, anywhere and from any device. 

I see security continuing to be a trend and top of mind for many companies that are trying to make decisions about ECM. Records management used to be a foundational core of ECM and it still is, but when you extend that record outside of your enterprise and migrate from an on-premise to more of a hybrid or cloud solution, you still have to protect that data. You have to classify the data, you have to make sure the right controls are in place so only the people who have a need to access that content, truly can access that content. So I think security will continue to be a trend as well.  

When you meet with your customers, what are the things you want to know from them?

I ask three main questions:

1. What business problem are you trying to solve with ECM?

2. Why did you choose us to solve that problem?

3. How do you measure success through your implementation? In other words, what is that success criteria that’s connected to that business problem that you just defined for me?

Together with our professional services team and our reseller community, my goal is for us to partner with our customers — to make sure we are aligned to enable our customers’ success. A lot of knowledge can be gleaned from knowing how customers adopt our software and what we did to tackle that problem that they originally outlined for us. That’s our value proposition. I think our customers understand that. They know that we care, that we want to be aligned to their success and solve business issues around workflow automation and business process management. 

We are a very agile company. We take care of feedback points immediately and respond to them — and that’s the great thing about our organization. I think our customers appreciate the fact that we are here to serve them. 

There is a key differentiator here. When you buy our products, you not only get the software to solve your business problem, you also get the people and the company behind it. That includes the ongoing support and the ongoing training.

If your customers could use three words to describe Laserfiche, what would they be?

Dynamic, passionate, proven. 

You mentioned the challenge in hiring quality talent — do you see other challenges for the industry in the next couple of years? 

Consolidation is occurring in this industry; you see smaller players being acquired by larger players. When this happens, customers want to know what is going to happen to the technology that they were using that was meeting their needs. Customers should consider how they will continue to be supported and whether product innovation will occur post-acquisition.

What do you see as one of your biggest opportunities right now?  

I think our biggest opportunity is that we have quite a few market segments that are untapped. There are industry verticals where companies are still dealing with filing cabinets and paper. Beyond document imaging and basic workflow, there’s so much businesses can do with ECM to move up the maturity curve to automate, optimize and even transform their business processes. I believe there are still a lot of untapped markets and business process innovation opportunities out there that can be very lucrative, and I see that as a great opportunity for our company.

How would your employees and co-workers describe you?

Passionate, hard-working and direct.

I tend to be very candid with individuals. One thing I always like to do is be very transparent. I set expectations up front, I clarify any expectations if needed, and I do hold individuals accountable for delivering to that. I also really care about our employees. I want everything we do to be a win-win-win in terms of their personal goals, the company’s goals and serving our customers. So, when making business decisions with our leadership team, I try to seek that win-win-win alignment. We won’t get it right every single time, but we strive for it.

What would you consider your greatest achievement?

In a prior job, my team won the PricewaterhouseCoopers Chairman’s Award. The reason it was a great achievement was because I was able to share that with my family. They got to travel to New York with me in first class to accept the award from the Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers. It was not the fact that my team and I won the award, but the fact that I could share the experience with my family that was very meaningful to me.

You mentioned that you are a Trekkie. Have you been a Trekkie your whole life? Tell me about your obsession.  

I grew up in Iowa, and as you may know, Riverside, Iowa, is the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. I love the opening scene of the Star Trek movie “reboot” where Kirk rode his motorcycle across the Iowa cornfields before taking the helm of the starship USS Enterprise. When I was in college I spent many weekends doing all-nighters with my engineering buddies watching Star Trek episodes. Star Trek inspired a legion of engineers who created innovations like touch screens and cell phones.

Who is your favorite captain?

Captain Jean Luc Picard. He was a tremendous statesman and visionary leader. He consulted with his team, including his “Number One,” when making critical decisions. He listened carefully and valued his team’s opinions. However, after he made a decision, they “engaged” and executed with one voice. One memorable Captain Picard quote references a person’s ability to grow and adapt to change: “Let the dead rest and the past remain the past.”

I hear you like to ride. What kind of bike do you have?  

I have a Can-Am Spyder roadster — it’s a three-wheeler with two wheels in the front and one in the back. My criteria when buying a  motorcycle is as follows: it has to have a great stereo, lots of storage space and a windshield — I don’t want to eat bugs.  

Are you a helmet or no helmet rider?

I usually wear a helmet. I made the helmet mistake when I first moved to L.A. I hauled my Gold Wing motorcycle in the back of my U-Haul all the way to L.A. from Texas, To celebrate rolling into town, I took out the bike and started driving around without a helmet in Pasadena. So the first night I was here I got a ticket for riding without a helmet from [naturally] a motorcycle police officer. I tried to explain to him that I was new as he was taking out his ticket violation book. He kept flipping through all the pages and finally landed on almost the very last page and said, “You know, it’s been years since I’ve issued a citation for someone riding a motorcycle without a helmet — you’re almost like a dinosaur here.” 

And we all know what happened to them — keep wearing that helmet! So who is your favorite rock band?  

I have always liked Metallica. I love Guns N’ Roses. And of course new bands as well.

Rock on, Thomas Phelps, Rock on. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Workflow.

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.