Just months ago, Derrick Elledge was sparking a best-of-breed cloud debate at Acumatica Summit 2020. He also picked up a customer of the year award for his company, Power Storage Solutions. But now it seems a few lifetimes since my meetup with Elledge in Las Vegas.
Since then, Power Storage Solutions has been thrust into an important role supporting customers through Coronavirus-era transitions.
Elledge also found himself in the thick of it with Acumatica again - working with Acumatica's own product leads to push out a necessary new app, and fast.
Amidst the first wave of essential workers
Back on the phone with Elledge, I told him: it seems like the whole world has changed since we last met. How has Power Storage Solutions fared? Elledge told me:
We've been running hard ever since it started, keeping things up and running in our business. When you think about what we do, we ensure that you have electricity, you have Internet. You have cell phones; you have power to hospitals. These are not things people want to have go down.
Coping with demand in the midst of Coronavirus is a different type of problem:
People that had delayed making decisions on working with us - all of a sudden, they started to look at, "Wow, this battery system should have been changed two years ago; it's twenty years old. Maybe we ought to do this now." Because if it goes down now, what's that look like?
The Power Storage Solutions field team found itself smack in the midst of the essential workers, navigating travel and safety issues, and dealing with shifting state-by-state regulations. Elledge:
We are the backbone of that critical infrastructure... Making sure the grid is stabilized, right? Making sure the 911 systems were up and running and backed up well. All those types of things that people don't think about as a frontline worker - we enable those frontline workers to work, and then if the power goes out, we make sure that the backup is ready and running.
You can't serve others if your own operations are compromised. Just how disruptive was COVID-19 to Power Storage Solutions?
Because of the decisions we made at the very beginning, going with cloud-based ERP from Acumatica, we were already set up well to work remotely. Our team could flex out really well. Our technicians were already on the road a lot. We didn't have to change much on our infrastructure.
That doesn't mean serving customers was easy. New regulations and new safety procedures that invoked real change:
What we did have to change is his safety. We really had to look at our safety policies; we really had to change how we were interacting with our customer base. We had to get better at tracking, and knowing where our team was before they went somewhere else.
Being on-site is now a rigorous thing to pull off. It requires medical-grade cleaning tools for one:
We procured viralcyde. It's the same stuff they use to clean a COVID-19 patients' room. Our field team swabs down their hotel. When they come on the site, they social distance as they work. The first thing they do is they viralcyde everything. Then they go in, and they do the work, then they viralcyde everything again, and then they leave.
Managing essential workers - "we need a new app"
Was it hard to get on the viralcyde approval list? You bet - I could write another article on that subject alone. New processes generate new business requirements. And that's why Elledge reached out to Acumatica.
Managing essential workers is a data-intensive undertaking. You must know where all your workers have been, who they've been in contact with, if they've had any illnesses or run a temperature, etc. Elledge's team started by calling every employee every day to check in on them, to make sure they're safe, and to gather tracing info. They were tracking all of that in an Excel spreadsheet - not a viable solution. Time to call Acumatica:
I reached out to Kim Plank and said, "I've got to come up with a better way. How do I manage my team of fifty that are out traveling every single day, staying in different hotels. How do I know that they're safe? How do I know they're healthy?"
What did Elledge have in mind?
We wanted an application that sends out a notification to our team. Then they can log into Acumatica, and answer four questions about employee safety every single day. Then Acumatica logs the answers, and sends a notification of any anomalies to the management team to address quickly.
I told Kim, "Look, I don't have the expertise within Power Storage Solutions, and I don't have any budget for it. But I think this is something that Acumatica can do to help not only us, but a lot of people."
From idea to go-live - two weeks and change
Acumatica's product leads got directly involved. Two weeks later, Power Storage Solutions went live with the new app (called Acumatica Surveys). It's not a one-off app either; nor is it a COVID-specific app. It's built for all Acumatica customers who have needs for embedded surveys, and survey dashboards (Acumatica Surveys is live on Github). And how is the app working out for Elledge?
We went live in two weeks. We troubleshot for about a week... So we were pretty much live in about three and a half weeks with troubleshooting.
One thing Elledge really liked: even the first version of the app didn't have a bare bones vibe.
They came back with dashboards. I can go in and look at every single line. I can look at Houston; I can look at Detroit; I can look at Dallas. It has a dashboard that tells me who's responded, and who hasn't responded. It kicks out emails based upon exceptions. It was pretty cool how fast they cranked that out, and how fast we adopted in, and how impactful it was to our business.
Elledge is glad that his effort helped build an app other customers can use, and not just for COVID-19 tracking. In fact, he's already considering other Acumatica Surveys use cases:
I told Ajoy, "Now I don't have to go out and work on something like Survey Monkey." A few tweaks, and I could see where, "Hey, a job gets completed. Can I send out a survey to my customer?"
Plus, integrating third-party survey software can be a chore:
Right, Acumatica Surveys feeds right back in. I was so struck by how much they cared, how much they wanted to be part of it, and how fast they got it done.
When I stepped back after, I said, "Look, this is this can be so much more - there's so much great thought put into it. Not just what can I do to solve the COVID-19 problem, but how can I make this tool flexible enough that I can solve other problems with it?" That's the thing that just blew me away.
The wrap - yes, cloud ERP platforms matter
Before I talked with Elledge, I spoke with Acumatica's Ali Jani and the aforementioned Ajoy Krishnamoorthy about this project. To have two members of Acumatica's leadership team on a call about building an app - that tells me something.
Yes, we can derive lessons here on leadership - and listening to customers as a call to action. There is also a potent lesson on re-usability, embedded analytics, and app design. Why build one-off apps when you can extend your platform with an app any customer can use?
But: I can imagine other vendors doing all the right things, listening to customers, and not rolling out an app for months. Or when they do, the integration is iffy, or laborious to maintain. Acumatica has insisted for years that they have a cloud ERP platform advantage - see Krishnamoorthy's own diginomica post from 2018, The value of an adaptable platform - APIs and the new business Darwinism.
But any vendor can claim a platform edge - prove it. Well, I'd say that rolling out a very effective app in several weeks, one that is fully integrated into your core ERP and available on GitHub - that's a pretty nice proof point. I still see vendors hedging their bets on cloud ERP platform plays. It's good to see one that is in my wheelhouse: stop customizing and extend/re-use.
Perhaps Power Storage Solutions is fortunate to be in an area of high demand. That doesn't mean it's an easy time. For example: you can't just roll out personal surveys without getting employees on board: why do you need this type of data? What are you going to do with it? How will you protect it? How will you protect them? Elledge told me that vigorous, transparent communication got the team on the same page:
It was overwhelming for about 15 to 30 days, but then we really began to get a handle on it... In two to three weeks, we knew that we had to figure out, as critical infrastructure workers - we had to keep this place up and running.
As Elledge says, you need the right partnerships to get through this. These are the kinds of stories we can always use more of.