Small software firm helps big companies to get a grip on IT projects


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By Rachel Melcer ~ The Post-Dispatch
June 18, 2010, St. Louis

WorkOtter, a small information-technology company based in St. Louis, is helping a couple of the biggest companies in town to get a grip on their unwieldy internal IT projects.

Ameren Corp. and Charter Communications Inc. say they’re using software from WorkOtter to chart, to track and to prioritize hundreds of tasks throughout their organizations. The software is bringing order to what had been a chaos of requests for upgrades, online uploads, new-software development and tech support.

And the WorkOtter product is helping the companies to figure out where their IT dollars and resources are going, so they can make smart choices about which projects to pursue and which to drop.

It’s part of a growing national trend of companies trying to maximize IT productivity and to minimize expense, analysts said. After years of boom-time spending that started with record-breaking IT budgets, the down turning economy is forcing them to tighten their belts.

The software from WorkOtter “lets us look at all the projects and how they align with our business goals (and spot) the ones that don’t align with any business goals – and I don’t know why the heck we’re doing them,” said David DeHart, vice president of IT at Charter Communications, which had 447 ongoing IT projects listed on a recent day. Much of the work is related to integrating several companies that Charter has acquired in recent years, he said.

Meanwhile, at Ameren, the IT staff builds internal software to monitor power-plant performance and to bill customers as well as to assign maintenance tasks and to track the progress of field workers. More than 700 people are using VCS software to keep tabs on about 170 projects, said Maryellen Kliethermes, supervisor of the IT department’s finance section.

“It helps us keep track of spending in IT,” she said. “It lets us track our time, our tasks and our issues associated with all of our IT projects, in one big picture. That’s really what it’s wonderful for.”

The men behind the technology are WorkOtter co-founders Jeff Pupillo, and Nick Matteucci. They left consulting jobs with Ernst & Young in 1998 to form the company, which has about 20 employees and has 10 straight years of double digit revenue growth.

Their vision was to create inexpensive software to replace costly project-management consultants, the type of workers that they had been.

The result is a package that costs $35 per user per month or customers can purchase a site license and a server-based installation, plus hourly fees for customization. Most projects can be planned, modified and installed in about a month. WorkOtter leaves its software code with enterprise customers, who can make any changes by themselves.

“In today’s business environment, our customers want it installed (as soon as possible), with a bare minimum of risks or changes,” Matteucci said.

The ability of WorkOtter to meet those demands has helped it to win big customers, despite its relative obscurity and small size. The company’s first client was Southwestern Bell Telephone, which did a small implementation, followed by an enterprise-wide rollout in the information-services division of Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Since, it has worked with about 20 large corporations.

“There are some perception problems” when tiny WorkOtter approaches a big player, Pupillo said. “But the more customers we get, the more that eases.”

Ameren and Charter said they were won over by the low cost and the personal service. Including customization, Charter spent about $200,000 on the WorkOtter software, about a tenth as much as it would have with a big national vendor, DeHart said. Ameren didn’t disclose how much it paid WorkOtter, but “I’m sure we’re getting back every dollar we put into it,” Kliethermes said.

Matteucci, who describes himself as “the Bill Gates, the tech-focused, future-trend guy” in the partnership, said the biggest challenge to WorkOtter is staying on the cutting edge of technology and differentiating its products from those of competitors.

Pupillo, the self-described “business-model, management, marketing, vision guy,” said the company needs to manage its growth and to expand its customer base. He expects that WorkOtter will quadruple in revenue and staff over the next four years.

Driven by both goals, WorkOtter launched the WorkOtter SaaS edition, a web-based version of its software that small companies can use starting at $35 per month.

Mostly, the partners said, they are listening to their customers. A change demanded by one can lead to an innovation that’s sold to all.

“We don’t want to be so cocky as to say we’ve developed the one product that everyone needs to use,” Pupillo said. “We have our core product, but we have to innovate to meet customers’ needs and demands.”

Reporter Rachel Melcer
E-mail: rmelcer@post-dispatch.com