Aaron Sarber manages our Professional Services Group here at Imaging Office Systems, and he has been with us long enough to have witnessed a major evolution in information management technology and content services solutions. I thought it would be a valuable exercise for our blog readers to sit down with him and get his perspective, in a simple question-and-answer format, on a variety of topics and issues related his group's role in building solutions for our customers.
Q&A with Aaron Sarber, Director of Professional Services
1. Can you describe the role that Professional Services plays in delivering service to our clients?
In our world, when you hear the term "services," you might just think installation, configuration, or maybe a little development of a solution, but our department really does a whole lot more than that. Those are obviously three key components of it, but from the start, we also perform the role of business analyst. We’ll help determine where the weak points and strengths are in a client’s current solution. We also provide project management and planning...putting timelines together and assigning resources. In addition, we train the client from both an end user and admin perspective. And when all is said and done, we then support the system moving forward. This includes help desk, annual system health checks, upgrades, migrations and any department, module, or process add-ons that come along as the platform grows. So, it’s really a start-to-finish responsibility for professional services.
2. What is top-of-mind for you when you engage with a client for the first time?
We really have to listen. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve worked in a lot of environments and verticals, with a bunch of different clients. And while we may think we have good ideas for them going in—and we do—it’s still really important to just listen, and let them get it all off their chest. We want them to explain all their pain points to make sure we're not missing anything with a preconceived notion of what they need. We want to actually hear them out, so we can design a solution specific to them.
3. Does it ever change drastically from what you have in mind going in, compared to what you see as the reality of the situation when you get in a room with the client for the first time?
Occasionally it will. When clients get to talking about some of their issues, perhaps it’s the first time they all talked about it internally. And when you get that group discussion going, the focus may change a little bit. That’s where our experience comes into play. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we can sometimes bring up an example of when somebody else had a similar situation and offer some different perspectives based on what worked for them. That doesn’t mean the same thing will work for the new client, but we can at least pull from our experience and help bring everyone together.
4. What is the biggest value that the Professional Services team brings to our customers?
It’s experience, experience, experience. The average tenure of members in our professional services group is 22 years, and that’s including one that’s only been with us for three years. We have some that are pushing the 35- or 40-year mark. We’ve seen a lot. We’ve done a lot. We’ve sold over 10 different product platforms from capture to enterprise content management, performed conversions on over 50 different software products, integrated systems with 10-15 different ERPs and many other core business platforms.
5. How long have you been working in this field and what are some of the major changes you’ve observed over that time? Technologically? From a business standpoint? Big picture?
I’ve been in this industry almost 25 years...here at Imaging Office Systems for 23 of those. The major changes have been on the technology side, the sophistication and capabilities of the solutions sold today vs. the solutions sold 25 years ago are pretty miraculous.
From a business perspective, a lot of the early solutions were for managing documents...and the problem to solve was “we have too many file cabinets” or “we have an entire warehouse full of paper, and we need that space to grow manufacturing.” It was really just about controlling paper documents. Customers started to try to create electronic copies of those documents and store them everywhere on their networks. That was a mess for IT, so document management was as much for the business user as it was IT. As these solutions became more integrated with other business platforms like ERPs and core systems, "document management" transformed into "enterprise content management" because business were now managing more than just the documents. Over the years these system integration capabilities expanded to the point where, today, the industry term is now content services. No longer are the systems just managing content, they are actually providing "services" within an organization. A good example is bank statements. My bank, for example. When I look at my statement online, because they were a customer of ours, I know that statement is stored in a content management platform that we installed. Our system is providing a service to our customers’ customers by seamlessly integrating their online banking user interface with the content management platform in the backend. The financial institution’s customers don’t know that’s going on, but that’s the type of service these systems now provide vs. 15 or 20 years ago when it was just about getting rid of paper and storing digital images.
6. What kinds of challenges seem to be coming up most with customers these days?
If you look at a client that hasn’t stepped into content services yet, a lot of their core challenges are the same as they were 20 years ago. They may have paper documents sitting around they can’t get access to. They may have a manual process for workflow approval with invoices strewn all about different offices, waiting for somebody to approve and send back to accounts payable. They may have resumes sitting in someone’s inbox waiting to be reviewed and approved. While those are a lot of the same challenges, nowadays, when deploying a solution, the difference may be the way they gain access to these systems. That’s where the cloud comes in. What used to be a direct network connection may now require one via web or mobile technologies. For companies going the route of hosted environments like Azure and AWS, systems must still provide the same level of functionality, while maintaining security.