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Branham300 Executive Interview - David Suydam, President, Architech

Monday, April 23, 2012

David Suydam - ArchitechFor the past 20 years, Branham has tracked the Canadian ICT Industry and the leading companies that comprise it. As part of Branham’s ongoing efforts, we speak with leading executives from across Canada to gather first-hand insight on current trends and recent developments within the Canadian Technology space. Recently, Branham sat down with David Suydam, President at Architech to talk about his career, his company and what the future has in store. The following statements summarize some of the key points that Mr. Suydam would like to pass along to the Branham300 community. Alternatively, listen in on the conversation between Branham and Mr. Suydam in its entirety here.

Getting Started in Tech…

Like a lot of executives in my space, I started my career by getting a degree in software engineering at the University of Toronto. I spent the first couple of years out of school as a consultant in the financial services industry. From there, I shifted into the telco space when I joined ClearNET as a consultant, which later became TELUS. I was really fortunate to be in the thick of all the telco consolidations at the time, because there were a lot of new technologies being implemented and new products being deployed. It was a great time in my career. I was able to work at some great companies with a lot of smart and talented people.

Starting a Business to make a Difference…

I left a great job at TELUS in 2004 to start Architech. This was when the markets were pretty hot and I felt confident that I would land okay, even if this venture didn’t work out. The core belief at the time was that I could make more of a difference with a high-powered team; with people that I have worked well with in the past, and will work well with again and again on different projects in the future.

The original vision back then was pretty simple: try to make a difference. After three months, the team grew to five people. After another three months, we brought on five more people to handle the workload. We just kept growing and fortunately that has continued for most of the past decade.

We had a single client back then, with a string of successful projects centred mostly on building web apps and deep system integration solutions. We learned a lot of lessons about how to deliver in a really competitive, fast paced client industry that also demands secure, scalable and high-performance applications.

The Evolution of the Company and its Vision…

Since those early days, we’ve branched out significantly because we realized that we really needed to diversify. First we expanded beyond our first big blue-chip client, and then we began to target other industries like the financial services space and the broader public sector, including non-profits.

Our vision has really evolved, too. We now focus on building great software, and Creating Software Joy™.

We’ve extended beyond what we started with to include things like Agile BI, big data, search and information discovery, mobile web and cloud applications. Partnerships have been pretty vital in all of this, and I’m proud to say that we have key relationships with companies like Oracle, Red Hat, and Salesforce.com. These partnerships have really helped, especially from a business development perspective.

As we’re a professional services company, our people are very important to our success. We’ve had some key hires, including amazing people in project delivery, project management, and our Executive Team.

Major Growth Milestones…

Our growth has really been a result of a combination of things. If I look at it simply though, the bottom line is that we have always delivered. We’ve built a reputation with a lot of our clients over a long period of time, and now when they have some big projects, they’re coming to us to lead them.

We’ve established some strong expertise and experience in key industries, which is helping to drive the business. Telco, financial services, and the public sector are great growth areas for us, and we’re excited about these markets going forward.

We’re fortunate enough that we’ve been able to reinvest much of this success into the business, positioning us to be even stronger going forward, so we’re looking at some great years ahead.

Positioning Architech for Diversified and Sustainable Growth…

Despite the economic downturn several years ago, we still managed positive growth, so it was more of a slowing of our growth plans than anything else. We were really fortunate because we saw a lot of companies struggle. For us, one of the lessons we learned was the value of diversification. I’ve seen a lot of companies with one or only a few big clients get wiped out when the tides change. Because of this, we’re always looking to further diversify the company to position it for sustainable growth going forward. We’re not necessarily looking for double or triple digit growth rates every year like we have been getting recently, but more of a measured and sustainable pace.

What’s Next for Architech…

We’re building some serious capabilities in the area of search and information discovery - which includes interactive dashboards and Agile BI tools - as well as mobile web and cloud application technologies. So we’re focusing on where we have strength and where there’s a growing need.

We’re also really focused on our people. We’re a services business and you need the right talent to lead in this space. In line with this strategy, we’re committed to becoming one of Canada’s top employers in the next few years.

Creating Software Joy™ …

It’s too infrequent, but we’ve all experienced software joy at some point. This feeling happens when a solution or piece of software surprises you with how intuitive it is, how easy it is to use and how much value you get from it. We talk a lot about how we’re a software design and engineering company, and software joy is ultimately the synthesis of great design, solid engineering and a business model that really works.

The Shifting Software Development Market…

People and companies are coming to appreciate that traditional waterfall development methodologies struggle and often fall flat. There are a lot of companies, like Google, Salesforce.com, and Intuit, to name a few, that have learned that Agile development offers a really good basis for building software that users enjoy. It’s based on principals like test driven development, frequent demos and a focus on user interface and experience design. We use this approach every day in our business.

We are taking the guess work out of the process by staying really close to our clients. We help them work through the typical hurdles of IT release schedules, budget cycles, and waterfall deliverables. We also get our clients involved early on in the process, and not just near deadlines. We’ve found that because of this approach, and our talented staff that really get it, we have a great track record of successful project implementations and loads of happy users. We take a different approach than the traditional software development model and we’ve been very successful with it. I think you’ll see a lot of other players trying to adopt these methodologies because of the success that comes along with it.

How to Land a Big Blue Chip Company…

It’s a bit of art and science. When trying to land a big blue-chip company, I would say that relationships are probably the most important factor. Having those relationships can help provide insight into what the real needs of the company are, and it helps to get you introduced to the right people. It’s not about talking to one person; it’s about having relationships at multiple levels and ultimately trying to really forget about selling for a while. If you can demonstrate that your business can solve their problem or their need, the sale will follow. Just remember to be patient.

Advice to Those Looking to Start a Business…

I get a lot of people coming to me with ideas for new products and services on a regular basis. The advice I usually offer them is sort of two-fold. First, expect a bit of a ride if you start a business, and get ready to learn every step of the way. Second, make sure you’re passionate about what you want to do. Sometimes people talk about trying to flip something really quickly, but in general you’re in it for the long haul and you have to love it in order for the venture to be a success.

I’d also say that every business has several key pillars and you can’t be successful if you ignore any one of them. So if you are a tech start-up, you can’t just focus on tech. You have to look at all the pillars, including leadership, sales and marketing, product development, human resources, operations or finance. Figure out what you can be great at, and outsource the other stuff where you can.

Parting Advice…

Culture eats strategy for lunch.

What I mean by this is everyone has their own past experiences, their own styles, their own views, so establishing a culture that represents what you want the company to feel and act and strive towards is really, really critical. Even the best strategies mean nothing if your culture resists them. The way to excel is to get the best people on board and get them all working towards the same vision. Getting the culture right is one of most critical keys to success.

   

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