Mr. Andrew Duncan, CEO, BoardwalkTech

Sudhir Raikar caught up with Andrew T. Duncan (Andy as he’s fondly called), to know more about the exceptional project as also to gain more insights into the Boardwalktech’s unique value proposition in the enterprise market space. Excerpts....

November 03, 2010 3:27 IST | India Infoline News Service

Mr. Andrew Duncan, CEO, BoardwalkTech has over 20 years of experience focused on building companies and taking products and services to market. Prior to Boardwalktech, Andy served as President and CEO of Advanced Data Exchange. ADX provides on-demand supply chain transaction processing network used today by over 200 of the Fortune 1000. Andy also served as President and CEO of The EC Company which was focused on payment transaction technologies for the small and mid market. During his work in the technology field, Andy has led companies through several stages of growth and secured significant investments from American Express, CMGI @Ventures, Invamed Associates, Intel Capital, Wasserstein Addelson Ventures, GKM Ventures, Sandler Captial, and The Thomson Companies. Prior to entering the technology field, Andy was President and CEO of Duncan Insurance, Inc., a nationwide Insurance brokerage representing over 80 insurance companies specializing in commercial insurance.

BoardwalkTech, the California-based Company offering innovative and cost-effective extended enterprise solutions worldwide, has achieved a judicious blend between CSR initiatives and business objectives - a rare feat in the corporate arena. They asked the students of Nivaant Andhamukta Vikasalaya - a Pune-based institute for the visually impaired run by Mrs. Meera Badve - to develop software templates for Boardwalktech. The physically challenged students successfully delivered the requirements addressing a critical business of the company.

Sudhir Raikar caught up with Andrew T. Duncan (Andy as he’s fondly called), to know more about the exceptional project as also to gain more insights into the Boardwalktech’s unique value proposition in the enterprise market space. Excerpts.

Your association with Nivaant marks an innovative collaboration between a US corporate entity and an Indian institute in the social sector. What paved the way for this unique alliance?
Our Vice President of Engineering and one of our founders Sarang Kulkarni moved from Palo Alto, California to Pune about 18 months ago. There, he was introduced to the wonderful people at Nivaant. Impressed with the team and their software accomplishments, he suggested we give them a development project. On his behest, I visited the institute myself and we unanimously decided to kick-start the project.

What’s the exact nature of work done? What value addition did the guys deliver in the programmed templates?
The Boardwalk Collaboration Platform incorporates a patented six dimensional database technology with spreadsheets templates as the front-end/user interface. This platform allows us to build mission critical purpose built applications where people need to collect data and collaborate on that data - both independently as well in conjunction with their traditional transactional systems of record. The Nivaant students grasped the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform using voice software and developed templates end-to-end, using the tools and processes that make up the platform, exactly as defined in the statement of work. We were highly impressed.

How did you judge their competence for the given task? How did you manage the project vis-à-vis a conventional software development project?
We knew that they could do it. All they needed was encouragement and time to understand and learn the platform and Boardwalk system. With regard to a "normal" software development project, they delivered using the same tools and methodologies as our sighted engineers use to deliver applications and processes for companies like Coca-Cola, Logitech and Levi Strauss & Co. They had an assigned project manager on their team and he worked with his counterpart on the Boardwalktech team. There really was not that big of a difference between what and how they delivered the solution and other teams that we have on various projects although it took a bit longer since it was their first project – this of course was expected and budgeted so.

Do you plan to recruit Nivaant students as professionals and if yes, how would you address the academia-industry transition?
We plan to rope in Nivaant students for a new project soon. This next project will be more complex – but we are sure they can handle it. As for recruiting them as professionals, given the right circumstances, we certainly would consider it. At the moment, we are interested in their performance on the forthcoming project.

Will you explore possibilities of using Nivaant-like setups for building cost-effective resource pools or was this a one-off experiment?
Nivaant has already proved the feasibility of such projects. If another institute approaches us with trained educated engineers keen to learn Boardwalk, we would surely open to engaging with them. This was certainly not a one-off experiment given the fact that they have delivered and precisely why we are now going to go ahead with another project.

What is your view on India as a IT destination and source? Is the tag "Superpower" far-fetched? What, in your reckoning, could be the reason behind India’s low activity in the software product solutions space and more than proportionate presence in the service offerings sector?
In Silicon Valley, India is certainly viewed as a rich source of IT talent – both for software development and services. We are also evaluating the possibility of other countries’ replicating the India story – like Egypt esp. their newly formed Smart Village for housing outsourced technology operations. I think India still has a big advantage and to some extent can be considered a "Superpower" in IT. The education and training (math and science focus) that is provided in India is most certainly superior to most other countries (including the US). However, having said that, India needs to continue to focus on infrastructural improvements esp. internet and connectivity for supporting the growing SaaS applications.

Can you elaborate the "collaborative spreadsheet problem" and how BCP and its TDBMS address it with spreadsheets as front-end? Does the framework have a BI component?
All companies have their traditional transactional systems of record – like SAP/Oracle etc. These systems are critical to their on-going management and operations. On top of and attached to these transactional systems of record, there are many point solution applications that do specific things – like payroll or warehouse management. However, even given the terrific advancement/growth of traditional enterprise software, companies still use and depend on spreadsheets to manage data and share information. Boardwalk has patented a new six dimensional database technology (TDBMS) that allows us to extend the value of spreadsheets and the processes that companies have built using spreadsheets. These spreadsheet processes now become secure, access controlled, persistent, and integrated with the aforementioned transactional systems of record(s). We look for processes within a company where traditional software can’t solve the problem yet the customer has a need to develop and deliver an integrated purpose built solution. With regard to BI, the original and best tool that has been the mainstay of business intelligence has and will always be the spreadsheet. Boardwalk can link to exiting BI environments to pull in data or push data to traditional BI applications. However, we find that most users really can get 100% of their BI needs all within the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform using our database and native excel on the desktop.

The idea of an ever-growing Collaborative Enterprise Solutions portfolio is fascinating. Do you actively chase customers and prospects to build the repository of BCP-ready business processes?
We currently have a library of over 100 applications that we have built for companies throughout the world. This portfolio includes best practice solutions and applications addressing everything from sales and operations planning, to inventory management to resource and IT project/portfolio management. Essentially anything that can be dreamed up that can be expressed in a spreadsheet can be turned into an enterprise process and application using the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform.

Which is your principal market – companies looking to harness the potential of their spreadsheets in client-server environments or firms with traditional enterprise applications plagued with business problems?
Our principal market is both of the environments you describe above. When we meet with a CIO/VP of IT or a Line of Business owner, we never talk about how cool the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform is – we always start the conversation by asking what is the most difficult issue facing their company today? That issue could be aggregating supply commits from vendors or it could be understanding total demand at the SKU level for companies with a multi-tier sales channel but pulling from the same inventory. Whatever the problem, it can largely be solved using the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform. Many times we say to a prospect, give us your most difficult problem -like the one where traditional technology has failed you or an implementation has gone haywire - and Boardwalk will deliver a great solution and prove the uniqueness of this technology.

Your solution framework, prima facie, seems to favour the Microsoft environment. Does it work best with Excel as the spreadsheet?
Our framework/database will work with any type of tabular front end. That may be a browser or it may be a spreadsheet. Besides the Microsoft excel product 2003, 2007, 2010 versions, the solution works fine with the "calc" product which is the spreadsheet in the Open Office suite of products. Microsoft Excel, given its wide prevalence, is clearly the spreadsheet of choice for the market. Hence, we are a little biased towards it.

Going forward, how do you see your market growing? Any solution enhancements in the offing that you would like to mention...  
Our market is growing fast – every month we are adding significant new customers but more importantly existing customers are deploying the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform in other areas of their business. We are expanding our business in all segments. In India, we are expanding our operations in Mumbai and Pune to support this rapid growth. We are continually enhancing the platform by adding additional functionality and features. One that I am most excited about is the ability to run processes to validate and cleanse data coming from transactional systems (both customer and trading partners). Data cleansing and data management is a huge business problem and using Boardwalk and these new tools, we can help alleviate data issues as they enter the Boardwalk Collaboration Platform and provide an environment of clean, reliable data that ultimately enhances the decision making of all stakeholders of the collaboration.

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