Now seems the perfect time to share our chat on how time can become an enterprise asset. Narayanaswamy also gives the story behind Replicon, their own SaaS re-invention, and how he found his entrepreneurial place in the enterprise.
Quick background on Replicon: the company's customers range from smaller shops to enterprise-level; the likes of Deloitte, Dropbox, and Prudential appear on their customer page. Replicon declined to provide a customer count, but the numbers are definitely substantial. Billing itself as the "leading provider of cloud time tracking applications," Replicon advises companies to track their time data, use the data, and make it painless. Easier said than done? We'll see...
"Time is the one perishable good that disappears"
Jon Reed: What does "time as an asset" mean for an enterprise?
Raj Narayanaswamy: At Replicon, we think about "time as an asset" in a simple thought exercise: if you have 1,000 employees, you have roughly two million working hours at your disposal. How will you deploy it? How will you use it? If CEOs and executives start thinking along those lines, they will find they can get anywhere from a 25 to 35 percent increase in productivity.
Reed: You've said that looking at data can change our views on time.
Narayanaswamy: We all complain, "I do not have time." Time is the one perishable good that just disappears. How do you maximize your time? Once you look at the data, it becomes clear that, for example, I spent - according to the data that I have - about three hours a week driving from office to work. For some people, it is more like twelve hours. Looking at the data, when you do a graph which visualizes how much time you are spending where, becomes very clear you need to make some changes.
Reed: Let's go back to the beginning. Did you anticipate starting a software company as a youth?
Narayanaswamy: Not really. There's nothing in my family history that said I would start Replicon. My dad was a servant in India, working for the government. Careers were mostly about get a job, become an engineer, and then go from there.
Reed: So what changed?
Narayanaswamy: I had too many opinions about how things should be. I actually got into a fight with a boss of mine in the early '90s, when I was working in Calgary in the oil patch. I was pretty vocal about things. He got upset and said, "Why don't you go start a company? That way you can do things the way you want." That became a seed that grew inside my head for a couple of years. My wife was also very much interested in starting something, so that's how we got started.
Reed: And how did you identify time tracking as the issue to solve?
Narayanaswamy: We picked time because we were consulting a lot in the oil fields in the mid-90s; filling out time sheets to get paid was tedious. So we created an on-prem solution that was web based. People could install it inside their intranet and track time, so that they could bill their customers effectively. We found was that companies were using the product for many different things; HR became an obvious use case.
The mobile goal: an end to time tracking
Reed: But intranets gave way to SaaS...
Narayanaswamy: Yes. In 2008, we decided to pivot and launch a cloud-based solution to do what we were doing. Today we are 100 percent cloud. We are no longer in the on-prem business. Every customer is on SaaS.
Reed: And SaaS paved the way for mobile, and a different UX standard.
Narayanaswamy: Over the last three to four years, we started to see mobile as a big thing. People don't want to track time. They don't want to go in and enter time on their phones. My mobile device knows what I'm doing, when I'm doing it, and where I'm doing it. Now, we work to automatically capture and tell you what you did, and then you can confirm.
Reed: No more time sheets....
Narayanaswamy: Elimination of time tracking is a key goal for us. Time tracking is like going to the dentist. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, "Woohoo, I want to do time tracking today." They want to get their job done.
Turning squandered time into productivity gains - customer examples
Reed: "Time as an asset" sounds great, but what does that mean in practical terms?
Narayanaswamy: I know of a large tech company that figured out only 8 percent of the sales organization's time actually goes towards selling. Another organization did a similar study; they found 12 percent of the time went towards selling. They made a conscious effort to increase that number from 12 to 25. Their revenue also increased about 25 percent.
Reed: And what about with your own customers?
Narayanaswamy: Another customer of ours had 6,000 operational employees. Using our solution, they were doing a time study of various activities they were performing. Now, every quarter they get 25 percent increased productivity. They have a huge contract workforce. Over a period of time, they eliminated the contract workforce. They were able to handle the same transaction volume without increasing head count. You can do those things once you have the data.
Reed: Sounds like analytics play a key role.
Narayanaswamy: Analytics was a big piece of it. There was a capture piece, a processing piece to make sure that the data is accurate, and then there was the insight piece. The analytics were at three or four levels. There was analytics at the individual level, the goal that he or she had, how was he progressing with respect to that goal. Then there was the group goals. Then their overall measurement of divisional productivity improvements.
Reed: Can you give me a better sense of how time analytics can lead to results?
Narayanaswamy: On this project, they were processing different types of transactions, so they identified how many transactions were being processed by each group. They organized time spent into "productive time" and "non-productive time." Non-productive time was things like meetings and training. They had a target for how much non-productive time should be spent. While they called it "non-productive, some of it is still essential. Training is essential.
Reed: That's a lot of time to classify. How did they get started?
Narayanaswamy: The first thing that they found was that different teams had different time allocations. The variance was too high. They got that piece resolved first. Team A was doing X transactions, whereas Team B was doing 2X transactions. They tried to understand why. Team B had implemented some best practices. That got implemented into their training curriculum. Every quarter they will have a meeting where they'll say, "Okay, how are we going to improve the productivity this quarter?"
The increased productivity they got was by no longer doing things that are not efficient or effective. I don't think they have reached the point where things are not obvious on what they need to do.
The wrap - Internet of Things and UX change the time industry
Reed: And does this data extend to the data-of-things?
Narayanaswamy: Yes. Once they have the data, we can optimize it. Internet of things and mobile gives you that. The internet of things and iBeacon gives you much more accurate and granular data. The way I describe this is that currently, collecting time is doing a blood pressure check once a year, or once a day. If you have a little device that's constantly monitoring your blood pressure, then you have so much accurate data. The possibilities are much, much bigger than what you think we can do.
Reed: Right. What's very interesting is the convergence of two things: better data and analysis than you ever had, but you're also hopefully providing a lot better user experience as well.
Narayanaswamy: Accuracy of data reduces what I would say non-value add work. Approving and going through that process is important today, but that will disappear into the future.
That's a good place to wrap our chat. Narayanaswamy and I also discussed the growth of the 1099 workforce, the rise of Uber and other "gig economy" companies. Replicon doesn't really have a dog in that fight ("As long as companies are trading time, we are in business"), but Narayanaswamy points out that the law has definitely fallen behind the technology.
We also discussed the tension between HR best-of-breed and HR cloud suites. Narayanaswamy acknowledged some companies want to stick with one cloud HR vendor, but he finds plenty of others that want Replicon's functionality integrated in. Though 50 percent of Replicon's use cases are HR, 30 percent are in professional services and another 20 percent are different situations. With applicability in time tracking, billing, and project management, Replicon isn't as dependent on winning an HR best-of-breed game as I thought. We'll see how it plays out.