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Interview with James Savage, President of Concurrency, Inc. [Podcast]

Author by James Savage

James Savage founded Concurrency in 1989 to help clients increase business productivity and get more value from their IT investments. He is the president of Concurrency, Inc., responsible for the operation and the direction of Concurrency, Inc. In this podcast he discusses the beginnings of Concurrency, their first clients and projects, the technological transformation, the path the company took through economical challenges and their success stories. James also discusses the benefits of working with the sharp people he leads at Concurrency as well as the new, innovative technologies that Microsoft provides for them to be successful with their clients. [caption id="attachment_10828" align="alignright" width="160"]James Savage Photo James Savage, President and CEO of Concurrency, Inc.[/caption] In his own words:
We establish relationships connecting clients with accomplished IT professionals in trusted business relationships. If working with bright people that share this same purpose and these same values would be of benefit to you or your organization, I encourage you to contact us. - James Savage
[display_podcast] Transcript of this podcast:

Marek:  Today Concurrency Expert Podcast has the honor of hosting James Savage. The President of Concurrency Inc. Hello Jim, How are you today?

Jim:  Good. How you doing Marek?

Marek:  I'm very glad you are able to share with us today about yourself that Concurrency as a company and maybe some industry related topics. Would you please share a little bit about yourself. Maybe about founding of Concurrency, the beginnings and so forth.

Jim:  So see it was 1989 when I started Concurrency. Yeah, that was fresh out of college and I see what 1989 was, you really couldn't fall out of a tree and not have had success in the IT industry and business was clamoring for a Network Integration Consultants. That's what they were paying, that's what I was doing. So we became a Novell Netware reseller and we were helping connect PC's to servers to do this thing called file and print services and making a pretty comfortable living back then doing it. So, it was from those beginnings that Concurrency took shape. 1994 was kind of an important year for us, two things happened. Microsoft's NT3.51 operating system dropped and we had a client that provided what later became known as Enterprise Content Management business requirements to us and asked us to help them find a solution to address them. After with the first one NT3.51 for us was kind of a pivotal era as we felt Microsoft had done on the server end, did the same thing that they had done one the client end and that is provide a very robust server operating system to fulfill those file and print services that we were using Novell for back in those early days. So we made the switch over and I know it took a lot of other systems integrators quiet some time after 351 dropped to really understand how Microsoft was going to shape the industry in both file and print services and then later email, things like Content Management today and things like that actually have light with new System Center Suite. But point being we were a, we've been from the beginning a very focused Microsoft Systems Integrator and our estimation Microsoft's providing a healthy amount more value dollar for dollar for your IT spend than some of these other major market providers. So that close relationship was born back in 94 and we've really never, never looked back.

Marek:  Wow. That sounds like you've been through a lot of interesting changes, knowledge wise.

Jim:  Yeah. Absolutely. I enjoy the fact that we've been in the market for as long as we have, since 1989 which when you look at the whole timeline of things it really was the beginning of the distributed era of computing. There are a lot of things that happened and watching this industry back from that perspective I think gives us a unique perspective on what's happening and what will happen.

Marek:  Sounds like you're the founding fathers of this space here almost.

Jim:  Yeah. It was, it was nice to be here, it was nice to be around since, since way back when. I mentioned earlier the Enterprise Content Management requirements and I think about that opportunity that we had back in 1994 with a banking client of ours as, as important. It's kind of a worm hole perspective, worm hole view that we got into managing on structured information which is really the essence of Enterprise Content Management and what we've, what we've come to understand as SharePoint in this modern day and age and the ability to manage unstructured content. We had a bank client with requirements back in 1994. What they wanted to do was stop printing all of that green bar reports, all those green bar reports for their deposit, and lending, and accounting folks. Then NCR rep had come by and offered them a software solution that peaked their curiosity certainly. Unfortunately we were afforded the opportunity to go take a look at other major market solutions. So what we did is we found them a solution from a company called Highland Software out of Cleveland, Ohio and the solution was called Onbase. Which proved fortuitous for us as it was, it later became a real solid mid market Enterprise Content Management Solution. So it was good for us and it was good for the client and the fortunate thing for us was we able to grow and mature along side this scrappy player in the Enterprise Content Management space. They we one of the few remaining players that hadn't consolidated into IBM or ENC in, in, you know by the, by the end of 2010, but yeah. So we were, we were afforded that, that opportunity to, to get a worm hole perspective on the industry as it matured and that proved really valuable for us.

Marek:  Great. When, when you started Concurrency I would imagine you started with just a hand full of individuals and could you tells us about your growth as a company?

Jim:  We affectionately referred to the 90's as the, as the 4 guys and a dog faze. As myself, and 3 or 4, 5 other folks that you know, shared a common interest in information technology and found ourselves you know, actively engaged with a series of clients you know that we had accumulated over the years. By 2000, early in 2000 in fact we decided that hey this is time to you know, put the show on the road. We were watching all the dot com run up businesses get these big multi million dollar bags of venture cash and run off into the sunset or so we, or so we imagined as the rest of the economy did. So we leased a bit more office space and started to get serious. We feel that a sales force and something that we didn't, hadn't really done before. Didn't really need to do it in that pre bubble burst era. And you know, continue to service our, our mostly bank clients, but some other clients in the Milwaukee and Chicago markets. And then low and behold the Fall of 2000 gave us the dot com bubble bursting, has been painful, painful of an era for that new IT sales, but we were still providing great services for a loyal cadre of banking customers. So we were in pretty good stead. We actually grew through that, through that dot com recession and it was fortunate for us. We were able to pick up some of the great talent that was available on the, in the, in the, in the market place that were shaking out of some other firms who's business models weren't quiet as solid, but from the flip side of that we were, it was a coming of age for the company. We, we had to learn all of the difficult lessons of how to fill the sales force and how to organize product offering and still is a growing faze, it was growing, growing era for us frankly. But it was, it was challenging, but it was also, it brought great opportunity and we started growing by 2000 by 2003, 2004 we were starting to enjoy something resembling a sales pipeline. The dot com era started to thaw a bit by that time. By 2005, 2006 we were in much better stead and growing steadily really ever since then.

Marek:  Sounds like you can write a book about how to survive in an economy down turn cause you, you started your company before then and survived through it.

Jim:  You know I think another important, another important faze of our growth, we lost a big account in 96. Oh I'm sorry 2006, 2007 it was real key account for us. You know they always tell you in business school that you know, you don't want any more than 10 some say 20 percent of revenue coming from one account, but at that time we had 30, 40 percent sometimes coming from this one particular account. They probably say I lasted, I lasted 3, 2 management regine changes, but I didn't last the fourth. You know, at the time, at the time it seemed like the absolute worse thing that could possibly happen in the world, but looking back at it, it was probably the absolutely best thing that could have happened in the world. It really, it made us, galvanized us, we really truly became a company focused around our core, purpose, and values we had established in those preceding 5,6,7 years. And really hit stride with what we were doing. The other important thing that it did was it taught us marketing. It taught us how we needed to market frankly is what it was. So we use to refer to it as the, as the 8 cylinder, but by that 2007 era we were well on the way to understanding what marketing was all about and how best to leverage these new tools of, I guess what we call a 2.0 marketing or just some of the you know, email and social media, and the website and all these different tools for, for finding new customers and for expanding opportunities within existing customers. So that was a, like I said it was the worst thing, but it was also the best thing and by 2007, 2008 our Microsoft relationship had expanded and between the marketing we did and the great service work that we were, that we were providing we just saw it as positive feedback loop with that Microsoft relationship and we've been growing very steadily, very aggressively ever since. So yeah. We're, made the move into the Chicago market a year and a half ago and were really there's nothing standing in our way. So it was yeah, the dot com recession and then this great recession. We've actually grown in a pretty healthy way.

Marek:  Yeah. That's a great testament to your fortitude and knowing how to turn difficult situations into something positive. So that's great. Can you tell us a little bit about your corporate culture as a company or maybe some you know, what are some perks you guys provide for your engineers...

Jim:  Sure.

Marek:  ...maybe continued education and so forth?

Jim:  Yeah. Absolutely. It's interesting. Yeah, we in fact yesterday did our, our strategic planning for next year and it was one of the first items that we talked about was culture and it was just interesting just listening to everybody. I kind of sat quietly for the first 10, 15 minutes of it, but just hearing it coming out of the folks on the different teams was very exciting for me. Over arching I would say we have a collegial environment, a collegial culture. What does that mean? Share responsibility, share authority and I think in any organization if you can achieve that careful balance good things happen. And we've been successful with it here at Concurrency doing IT services, engaging all of these bright folks to provide these, these tremendously valuable services. Is, it really requires it, requires that a lot of golden rule and treating folks like you'd like to be treated which I'd say is an over arching aspect of the culture. Another very important aspect of the culture is essential burning desire to help businesses improve productivity. I mean see some people have it and some people don't. I can usually pick it up the first 10, 15 minutes of an interview, but not always necessarily. But yeah, I'd say those 2 big, those are 2 of the biggest forces, but of course there's other stuff involved and certainly other things with different roles, but yeah, we've been very successful. Our recruiting efforts have, were, were, I think we have a great crew that we're working with, but it really takes a village so to speak to help maintain that culture, to build and maintain that culture and we've been pretty successful that, with that especially in the last few years.

Marek:  Absolutely. And to that note I know that Concurrency this year alone has won several recognitions and awards from Microsoft in the industry. Could you tell us a little bit about those accomplishments.

Jim:  Yeah. You bet. Those, we, we've been really fortunate with in, in our Microsoft relationship. It's been a beautifully symbiotic partnership that we've had with Microsoft. I mentioned after loosing that big account back in 2007 really learning marketing and learning the value of effective marketing, getting the message out. The Microsoft relationship expanded back in that 2008, 2009 time frame largely as a result. They came to understand that geeze these guys provide great services not to mention having a big mouth and that really, that really helped expand that relationship, but by 2010 we received our first reward. It was, it was Concurrency it was partner of the year for Central Region under the sub category, sub category Marketing Excellence which we were very proud of. It was the first reward that we received from Microsoft and of course not surprisingly it was, it was related to marketing. Thrilled to have that. We went back the next year to the partner, to the Microsoft World Partner conference as we do every year to receive another award which was that second year in 2011. We received Mid-West Region a subset of Central Region, All Around Partner of the Year which we were you know, thrilled to get. Beat out a lot of Chicago firms at the time that we were really proud to have you know, to be playing as effective in the Chicago market as we were in the Milwaukee market. So we come back home from that equally enriched, but it was this past year that really we learned early on that we had won the Global Content Management category of the year award from Microsoft and that was thrilling. I mean we had done some really great work for some Milwaukee organizations. And the judging of those awards takes on not just a national, but a global scale and the product teams are involved and all the really smart guys out and red manned our, our, very actively involved in selecting those, that partner. So we were thrilled to do that. SharePoint is just been a huge you know, we made huge commitments to it and it's made huge commitments to us. We were thrilled to have gotten that global award here the past year. But, over the intervening next few weeks and Summer time of this year we found out that we won the Mid-West Region of The Year All Around The World again which was great and then we found out a couple weeks later that we had won the Central Region All Around Partner of The Year award which is actually fantastic. I mean we were thrilled to get the Global Content Management award, but also to get the Central Region award we're really proud to have won that as well. We, there's another award I believe we won in their partnering to exceed which is a real important thing for Microsoft partners you learn after your organization starts to mature just how important it is to go in partners with other partners to provide customers best in class solutions that leverage this, this Microsoft ecosystem.

Marek:  Wow. That's, just listening to you about your awards it's like, you make it sound so easy that awards is like when it rains it pours huh?

Jim:  Yeah. Well you know what? It's funny because we've been doing it so long and so heavily focused on it that it is kind of easy. I mean it, it you know, as we, as we expanded that Microsoft relationship it, it, it you know, like I said it's a symbiotic, complimentary, synergistic relationship that we have with them and, and it, it just makes sense. And which we steer at different, different vendor providers over time. And you know, we've been partnered with a number of other vendors over the years from Cisco to 3Com, and HP and some of the other players in the space and nothing has made as much sense as with Microsoft. And a lot of that is how Microsoft addresses the ecosystem of partnership and the space. It's very different than an Oracle partnership or a SAP partnership and much more conducive to the way we do business and the manner I which we seek to engage top talents.

Marek: And that’s what I was going to say – that all the talent went a long way to engineer the success and accolades you’ve seen.

Jim: Definitely – the personnel awards abound. The webpage we use to recruit with is We use the ticker symbol for that. We know our objectives in this industry; we are under no illusions about our role. Our place in the IT marketplace is to help businesses expand their services. For that we have more MVPS, Certified Masters, and such then really anyone else of our ilk. And getting our MVPs is not the easiest thing in the world; but working with Microsoft field teams as we are and marketing reps. Whether  its tech ad or the World Partner conference. You’re going to get a lot of face time to act and interact with these people. Over the long-term you wind up with the kind of synergy we’ve found very beneficial.

Marek: So it sounds like you are a very generous as a company, investing in the talent and the right individuals who want to excel and place themselves in this space.

Jim: Yeah. It’s funny – I can understand looking back 20 years ago to the big organization that won the big contract, and sent you off to a week of training. But you’ve got to give to get, and you’ve got to support all the parts which can be a challenge, but that’s the ticket you have to get to play – and the barriers to entry are higher than they were in IT years ago. Sadly that follows the economic models.

Marek: What are the goals you see your company taking in the next two years? Your work, your workers, your specialists, or even the companies as a unit?

Jim: Just continuous service – continued improvement. And we’ve got the Headcount for that, but we’d just like to provide quality services. Hopefully Headcount will be instrumental in that. We just want to expand into different cities and provide quality service over a wider geographical area. So we need Headcount, because there is no reason for a guy with a wife and kids to be running ground over 600 miles, you know, Monday through Thursday. Continually we’re focusing on the next city, and that’s how we grow. So Headcount and geographic expansion are our goals.

Marek: What are the sorts of difficulties facing the IT industry that you can see in general?

Jim: Certainly the Cloud is going to bring up a lot of issues. There is also the industry marketplace. Moving on from SharePoint is a major undertaking for organization that have dedicated a great deal of resources to the services under that umbrella. So we have Cloud and we are really just starting to figure out the form that’s taking, because of course Cloud comes in many forms. It’s funny because Milwaukee has kind of been as the epicenter for this sort of thing with the banks.

The banks have been using Cloud or as we’ve called it Outsource. The banks and the other vendors have been using a vertical framework that has acted as a sort of forerunner for Cloud. Concurrency from the early days has been intimately involved with banking, which is one of the most IT intensive fields – and regulated at that! Having seen the IT field mature thought the distributive ear of computing has given us the skill and grey matter to consult more effectively. With the Cloud we ponder over the paradigms and the applications (whether of platform or infrastructure). We are actively involved in helping banks with their Cloud issues.

Marek: Yeah, exactly and I’m excited about the possibilities of the convergence of the desktop app store, and the Windows mobile phone. There’s got to be some synergy for developers, and even some businesses to take off.

Jim: Absolutely.

Marek: Well I thank you for your time, obviously congratulations go out to your whole team, and hopefully we can have you come back to discuss more topics in the future

Jim: Thanks Marek.


James Savage

James Savage is the President of Concurrency, Inc., an information technology solution company he founded 1989. Its customers are among the most successful communication, construction, financial, insurance, logistics, and manufacturing companies in the Midwest.