Cerillion at ‘15’ and the Myth of Sisyphus

Cerillion at ‘15’ and the Myth of Sisyphus
This week marks 15 years since the launch of Cerillion, as an MBO from UK software house Logica.  With that in mind, it is apt to recall the founding vision and consider whether we have achieved the goals we set back in the autumn of 1999.

Restricted within the confines of a large services organisation, and within the mesh of a commensurately complex corporate bureaucracy, our goals were relatively simple:  to create a product-centric business, free from those restrictions, that would be able to build a best-in-class billing solution and promote that in the market with a dedicated sales and marketing team, at a much more competitive price than could be achieved by the lumbering juggernauts which tended to dominate the enterprise software market at that time.  Of course, there was also a lot of focus on the kind of organisation we wanted to create and work in; empowerment, agility, unleashing creative talent and stripping away the barriers to success were key themes at the time.  Furthermore, with the dot.com boom approaching its climax, inevitably we all expected to be “millionaires next year”.

So how did we make out, and how did those simple goals evolve?  Well, we have certainly achieved some of those goals:  we have built a product-centric business, with a highly committed, well focussed team, free of most of the vestiges of corporate bureaucracy.  We have also built a best in class billing solution.  However, it is worth noting some key qualifications with respect to those achievements.

Firstly, whilst we have indeed built a best in class billing solution, it soon became clear that this was only the beginning, and that every credible BSS/OSS vendor had one of these.  Quite quickly we realised that the ground had shifted and the key differentiators in this market were now in other areas:  CRM, customer experience management, on-line presence, self-care, all flavours of convergence and standards-based, real-time charging to name but a few.  15 years on, having added these additional capabilities to our armoury, it is of course apparent that this job is never done.  Like painting the Forth Bridge (a large steel structure in Scotland) and Sisyphus pushing his stone to the top of the hill, as soon as one product evolution cycle is completed, vendors who are going to survive in this market have to get straight on with beginning the next one.

Secondly, we did not anticipate the extent to which BSS/OSS vendors needed to provide specialist services to assist with the deployment of their ever more sophisticated product portfolios.  Thus, there was no escape from the difficult business of having to run delivery projects, which we had naively assumed we would be able to leave to the systems integrators.  Coupled with this was a dramatic fall in the price that could be charged for those services, driven of course by the offshoring revolution that had not yet gained momentum in 1999.  This meant that we could no longer succeed as a small team of product purists based at a single location in Central London, and hence today around 50% of our people are based at our captive offshore centre in India.  Needless to say, with the need to run co-located teams across product development, support and delivery, we inevitably had to add back in a little of that – you guessed it – structure and bureaucracy.

Finally, in an age of client-server decentralisation and empowerment, we could not have foreseen the Cloud, and the revolutionary effect that this would have on the enterprise software industry; a return, in terms of the organisation of computing resources, to something akin to the mainframe model of the 1970s (although mercifully without the tele-printers).  Whilst we are still in the midst of this relatively nascent revolution, it is clear that the order-of-magnitude cost and time to market advantages of the Cloud model will eventually drive all but the most specialised enterprise software applications into the fluffy white place.  So, in preparation for this, we have pushed another rock up the hill and built a completely new Cloud billing platform, which we have appropriately christened Cerillion Skyline.  This of course brings us to a further revelation, in that whilst back in 1999 we expected all of our customers to be in the utilities sector, Skyline is a service that can be used across numerous other verticals, of which digital media, publishing, health, education, memberships and financial services are just some of the markets we now find ourselves traversing.

Perhaps even more startling is the notion that in the Cloud world we will have some customers that we will never meet, and many of those customers will find us before we find them.  Indeed, perhaps the Cloud will bring us back, full circle, to the founding product vision?  Read the upcoming 20th birthday blog to find out!