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Wrike's new CEO charts course after three shifts in ownership

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright March 15, 2024
Summary:
We speak to Thomas Scott, recently confirmed as CEO of work management vendor Wrike, about what's next after three changes of ownership in the past three years.

Thomas Scott, CEO of Wrike, sits in an armchair during an interview, against a blue background
Thomas Scott (Wrike)

It's been an eventful few years at work management vendor Wrike — acquired by Citrix early in 2021, spun out again less than two years later, and then acquired by private equity investors Symphony Technology Group (STG) in July last year, at which point founding CEO Andrew Filev stepped down. Having joined as CFO in March 2022, Thomas Scott took over the CEO reins from Filev on an interim basis last July, and the appointment was made permanent six months later. We caught up with him last month to find out what happens next under his leadership.

Given his CFO background and having been appointed by Wrike's new private equity owners, there's inevitable speculation that his primary focus is on the numbers. But Scott insists he's always taken a wider perspective:

Most of my career has been with innovative companies. Everything from robotics, supply chain automation to communications infrastructure earlier in my career. And so I never viewed myself as a finance executive, I viewed myself as a total company leader that helped get the best performance out of the team.

That's no different with what I'm trying to accomplish here. The way that I like to communicate with the company, to keep them focused, is really clarity of message that we are in a category that continues to be validated on an external basis with a large number of customers that are getting value out of the product every day. I use that to create a feedback loop back into the organization of saying, 'Look, your work matters. Here are the themes that we're driving against. And here's how we're going to measure it' ...

I'm not going to replace someone like Andrew, who created not just this company, but helped create the category as well. So that requires me building a broader kind of collection across my executive team, of how we're going to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us. I do care about the financial performance, but it's a small part of the challenge that I see in front of us.

Product innovation

There's been plenty of product innovation over the past two years, with a new user experience introduced in October 2022, increased customization and of course the advent of new AI-powered capabilities. Wrike added several new features at its annual Collaborate conference last November, including:

  • A new copilot for work management, which uses AI not only to collate industry knowledge but also to power workflow analysis, delivering insights and recommendations to help teams work more effectively.
  • Wrike DataHub, a new data repository bringing external data previously stored in spreadsheets, databases, and other data sources directly into the platform.
  • Improved analytics to provide real-time, customizable reporting and insights on team progress, risks, cost, alignment to budget, work and resource distribution, and impact.
  • A new facility to track user attributes such as professional skills, languages spoken, location, availability, organizational relationships and hierarchies, to help inform planning and resourcing decisions.

One of Wrike's differentiations from other work management platforms is the high level of customization to different functional needs, ranging across IT service management, procurement, marketing, project management and many more, while still keeping everyone on the same platform so that it's still possible to bring teams together or track resources and performance across the entire organization. The platform includes many different blueprints for these different work patterns to help teams get started quickly. Scott says this is very helpful for adoption:

As teams are dispersed, they're working cross functionally, you're speaking to them in their exact language, and you're getting very close to the existing workflow, which makes it more likely to get widespread adoption and be able to scale up.

He says that the AI built into the platform can now help direct users to the best blueprint, based on recognizing the type of workflow they're engaging in. Increasingly, it will be able to recognize more trends in the data that will help teams fine-tune performance. He goes on:

We're doing more reporting and analytics in our tool over the course of 2024. Some of that is also recognizing some of those non-quantitative aspects of, how is the workflow performing? You can see how you'd be able to apply AI to that as well, to mine those insights.

Right mix of skills

The customization options are further extended by the new facility to track user attributes, including skills. This isn't often seen from work management vendors, being seen as more of a talent management capability. But it's becoming increasingly important for finding the right mix of skills and other attributes when forming a team. He comments:

As you get into some of the more complex use cases, being able to speak specific user language around complex workflows is incredibly important. And our areas of investment in things like user attributes and skills management falls into this area. It hits the theme of user experience. But it also hits the theme of intelligent features. And it does so in a way that is very specific to the workflow.

I do think that's an area of differentiation for us. It's an area that I'm excited about, it builds on top of what we were doing with the blueprints as a use case accelerator.

All vendors are finding that as they add more AI capabilities, it's important to maintain the trust of enterprise customers, who are concerned about issues such as the accuracy of recommnedations and ensuring that their proprietary data doesn't end up in public models. There's a balance to be struck between delivering common insights to all customers on the one hand while at the same time keeping customer-specific data private. Scott says:

One of the themes that we're very conscious of when it relates to AI is that adoption is going to happen at a different pace with different customers. We deal with everything from extremely small customers that maybe have a handful of users, all the way up to an implementation of over 100,000 users, where data security is paramount. So we end up erring on the side of caution when it comes to being able to utilize those insights ... We recognize that our customers don't want to be training someone else with their data.

Platform capabilities

It's still possible to draw general insights about, for example, the best way to do a process, without sharing inside knowledge across multiple customers. Then there's a separate use case, where AI can be applied to a customer's own data and provide insights about the work they're managing. He says:

I see those as synergistic, but they are two different things that you're working with. 'Hey, this is a specific insight for you with your data,' where it's not being populated outside of your organization. And then there's the insights that Wrike as an organization can draw about a marketing workflow or a professional services workflow, where we do a lot of blueprint work, and then make that a repeatable process [for everyone].

For the coming year, the emphasis will be on continuing to expand platform capabilities where that helps to support further use cases, while at the same time building out AI capabilities. He sums up:

This intelligence theme in the product has to continue to be an area that we're setting the standard on. One of the ways that I'm doing that is continuing to drive those use case accelerators, because I do think that's an area of differentiation.

I think what we're doing around AI is going to continue to be an area where we can drive insights both at the company level, as well as at the workflow level.

We have to continue to pick our spot on areas like the analytics and reporting, and extending the number of workflows that we're able to pick up that are relevant ... What we're doing around DataHub, that's a perfect example of extending product capabilities to pick up more workflows. That's another way for us to remain relevant.

You'll hear me come back to this theme of focus, within those areas where we can pick a spot and make a difference from an innovation standpoint.

My take

It's always difficult to follow in the footsteps of a founding CEO, especially right after going through three ownership changes in as many years. The priority now is to restore a sense of stability and direction. As Scott tells me:

When you go through the multitude of transactions that we had over the last couple of years, you do need to rebalance after that, and make sure that you can rebuild momentum and focus. So that's where I'm spending a lot of time.

Work management is still a rapidly growing market as enterprises continue to adapt to more digitally connected ways of working, and Wrike's offering still has distinctive features. Continuing product innovation, especially around AI, is essential to maintain that differentiation. What the company needs now is to find a way to help it stand out among its many competitors so that enterprises take notice of what it has to offer.

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