Customer Interview: Mary Allen - Insight as a Service and Toronto Cloud Business Coalition
Technology services: Wild Apricot, WordPress, Formstack, Stripe, Analytics, Mad Mimi
Who is Insight-as-a-Service (aka InsightaaS)?
InsightaaS launched in June 2013 as a boutique analyst firm focused on IT market research. They also maintain a media presence, and their website is a unique destination site for IT and business managers interested in exploring “the ‘why’ in enterprise technology.”
InsightaaS supports IT suppliers and users of technology by bringing insight and information on IT solutions and issues to the enterprise community.
In June 2015, InsightaaS branched into community-based research with the launch of the Toronto Cloud Business Coalition, and built a subject-specific site Businesscloud.to as the online home of the TCBC.
InsightaaS is operated by principals Michael O’Neil and Mary Allen, and they work with several contractors who provide writing, sales and support. They have one office location in downtown Toronto.
Using technology to launch brand recognition
“It’s ironic,” Mary commented; “we write and research the IT marketplace on a daily basis, but neither of us is particularly adept at developing day-to-day applications.” She continued “we know our capabilities and this is not our area of focus.”
A big part of the InsightaaS decision to work with Alex Sirota and NewPath Consulting was based on the relationship that Michael and Alex had built through many years of shared interests in the industry, and on more recent experience working together on a project for another business. That long-standing relationship fostered trust in Alex and NewPath’s ability to provide the ongoing support InsightaaS would need to expand and grow, and to concentrate on InsightaaS’s core business of IT market research and analysis.
Mary describes the initial engagement with NewPath as the management of the InsightaaS website. First and foremost, the company needed basic support around hosting and design. “Our initial goal in setting up the site was to build InsightaaS’s presence in the industry.”
Without a technology partner like NewPath Consulting, “it would have been difficult for us to go ahead. We just don’t have the time to build that capability in house,” not to mention the “patience or familiarity with the toolsets available these days.” They were missing the hands-on practical experience. “We absolutely had to have someone to help us with the setup and design of the website.”
With the pre-existing relationship, choosing Alex and NewPath Consulting was easy, but what about the decision to go with an outsourced model versus bringing an IT person onto the team?
“We felt that there would be economies of scale going with someone who does this as their business. The great thing about Alex is that he keeps on top of what’s happening, has facility with a number of different cloud-based products, programs and applications, and maintains that as part of his professional requirements for a number of clients. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; if someone’s already doing it, we might as well capitalize on that.”
Being responsive to customer needs
It felt like it took many months to get the original website up and running, though Mary is quick to point out that “for a project like this it’s not just what the provider is doing. The customer [us] also has to decide what we want to do.” She noted that this was the case for the recent relaunch of InsightaaS.com, also handled by NewPath Consulting. Mary and Michael had many decisions to make before Alex and his team could do their part.
In one situation, Alex did thankfully step in, Mary remembers. He had asked InsightaaS to browse WordPress themes and pick one for the redesign of InsightaaS.com. This was a frustrating process as there are thousands of themes with varying capabilities. To help, Alex stepped in, providing top-notch personalized service, and a curated inventory with real-world website examples that matched InsightaaS’s design preferences and functional needs.
The NewPath Consulting difference
Bridging the communication gap between IT-focused people and non-IT-focused people is an ongoing challenge. Thankfully, “we do have a relationship [with NewPath] that allows us to manage that. Alex has been very responsive and not all providers are.”
Ordinarily, “business people talk about one thing and IT folks talk about other things; we each have our own shorthand and we know exactly what is meant,” Mary explains. This does not mean the two groups know how to talk to each each other, “but with Alex that process was a lot easier. Alex has a gift for listening and interpreting what it is you’re talking about. He’s able to translate what the business user’s needs might be into tech language.”
Mary paused here to chuckle, “Though I’m sure he was tearing his hair out many times, Alex never gave up. [He was] always diligent about checking for a workable solution or new approach to issues.”
“Alex has a real enthusiasm for all these different platforms and cloud-based services. He shares this enthusiasm in a way that’s infectious, so you start to think ‘wow, that is really cool’. And we’re talking about technology!”
The value of ongoing support
InsightaaS uses two levels of service for two separate projects. Once the TCBC site was set up, there was little need for changes or updates, so the NewPath Bronze plan is well adapted to the needs of this initiative.
With InsightaaS.com, “we’re looking to build traction and build traffic, so we do need a little more support there.” Mary appreciates that with the Gold plan, “if there’s something new that comes up to experiment with, we can pursue that.”
The first iteration of the InsightaaS.com website was crucial for building brand awareness. One of the reasons for the recent relaunch was to liven up the look of the site, but also to improve the navigation to help users access the “wealth of riches we had accumulated over three years of content development.”
InsightaaS.com contains close to 1,000 dense, articulate articles on IT trends, but visitors to the homepage could only see five or six of them. “We weren’t getting the traction we should have been from that content.”
Mary was heartened to see Alex’s first post-re-launch analytics report. “Readers are staying on the site longer, and to me that suggests that they are seeing and accessing more once they get to the site. This was our original objective in the re-launch.”
While the redesigned site has more functionality, it’s actually easier to use - for users and for Michael, Mary and their team behind the scenes. This ease of use provides a definite bonus to the team’s productivity.
While it’s difficult to assess direct ROI in design innovation, the InsightaaS team is looking forward to additional spin off-benefits. “We’re hoping that with a better web presence, we will have a better showcase for the kind of analysis that is our core value proposition. Eventually, we hope that that will translate into sales.”
Above all, what InsightaaS valued most about working with Alex Sirota was the ability NewPath Consulting gave them to change and adapt.
“The IT industry is constantly on the move, and you have to respond by continuously trying new business models. You can’t just set up a site and pretend that’s the game end; you have to try new approaches. We’re doing that with the site update we just completed, with the creation of research communities, or even with something as simple as the introduction of e-commerce capabilities on both of the sites for books and other services that we provide. As we change to stay relevant in the industry, Alex supports us with the IT services we need to enable that change.”
"Alex has a real enthusiasm for all these different platforms and cloud-based services. He shares this enthusiasm in a way that’s infectious, so you start to think, ‘wow, that is really cool’. And we’re talking about technology!"Mary Allen - Insight as a Service