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Business Booming in France?

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Paris. It is a City that I know pretty well, having lived there in 2000. On this occasion though I was not there to admire the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysee or relax watching the world go by from a pavement cafe. I was there to work. I had been invited by the management of Casewise France to attend their user conference. My prime interest as ever was how the users were really getting benefits from modelling, but they were also keen to share with me a new analyst report from However, having made many friends in Paris the opportunity to catch up with them while in town was too good to miss.

Given my passion about people and relationships, I always love spending time in France and talking with French Business people. I so admire the fact that still in an age of teleconferences, webinars and video conferences, face to face relationships still play a major part. Call me old fashioned, call me a technophobe, call me what you like. I still believe what I was taught more than 25 years ago – People buy people first and everything else second! While the rest of the world has moved merrily on their way into less personal ways of promoting and selling their wares, for my mind at least the French have stayed with the “I want to get to know you and decide if I trust you, before I do business with you”. The result of which is of course that historically many US and UK based businesses have struggled to break into the French market, even when recruiting French locals, they were still measuring many of the wrong things.

My first port of call was MEGA International, where I spend some time with my friend and former boss Lucio de Risi. As the founder and CEO of MEGA, Lucio by his own admission was very nervous at the start of the year. Just like the rest of us he was concerned as to how the challenges in the economy were going to impact on the business. However, it would appear that 2009 has been fairly kind to the company, as Lucio puts it “I am enjoying business and am happy that I can once again sleep easy at night”, this in itself says a lot. As well we all know there are still a lot of technology company CEO’s who cannot say the same. From what I could tell it would appear that much of the success for MEGA this year has come from the US Federal market and the more general need of their clients for risk management solutions. The risk market is certainly one that MEGA were very early to see and where they have worked hard to provide a detailed solution.

Next up was dinner with someone who I respect greatly, Henry Peyret of Forrester Research. I have known Henry for many years and we always have great fun comparing notes and debating the directions in the modelling market. For me Henry is one of only two analysts working with the major firms who really appreciates the challenges faced by modelling tool vendors and takes a pragmatic approach in helping them with ideas to move forward. As analysts it is easy to put on rose tinted glasses and hide behind either the company line or suggest that you speak to more clients than the vendors, or worse still forget that these vendors still have to grow profit and revenue to survive. Talk to many technology vendors and they will tell you that the costs of developing to the vision of many analysts would send them into bankruptcy. And of course the analysts just like the vendors are also attempting to use a crystal ball into the future. Henry is one of those rare people who balances all of these perspectives and who is always willing to listen, debate and even change his views if the arguments are compelling, so as you might imagine we had a fascinating exchange around where the BPA, BPM and EA tools market was headed. Unfortunately, because some of his ideas are so new it would not be appropriate for me to share them, however if you get the chance I am sure you will find it useful and informative, if not a little surprising to hear where he sees the market going.

So on to the second day of my visit and my whole reason for being there. Of course given what I said above, it was going to be interesting to see not just the users, but find out whether Casewise were one of the exceptions to the rule abut UK software companies in France.

Although the group size was fairly small around 30 people (there had been a strike that day in Paris!), there was certainly plenty of buzz about the place. I always find it fascinating to stand off to the side and watch the interactions taking place. Of course I also stand to the side because my French is poor, with speaking something of a challenge; however I do comprehend conversations on this particular subject pretty well.

For me and I suspect others the highlight of the day was the two user presentations from Swiss Life and The Ministry of Education. The latter was one of the most passionate and engaging talks I have ever seen at a user conference. I am sure the Casewise team loved it, not least because the presenter was happy to say how they had previously used and thrown out one of their competitor’s tools and migrated to Casewise. In his eyes Casewise offered a much better Enterprise Architecture tool and provided better support both in terms of service and product than their previous supplier. In his words “Casewise helped to reduce my stress levels and make my life easier”.

I guess he should know what he is talking about. The size and complexity of the undertaking by the Ministry was breathtaking. I have to say as he first outlined their story I was thinking “Here we go again another architecture for the sake of it project”, but by the end I was sold. This team at the Ministry of Education have started to achieve what so many dream of. Undertaking a large scale Enterprise Architecture project but linking it to realisable business benefits that kept all the stakeholders engaged and involved. I for one hope to hear more from them 12 months down line to see if they can keep up the impetus on the project. I am also sure that the Casewise team hope so too! It seems that off the back of this contract there are many other people now taking on Corporate Modeller.

The other presentation that caught my interest was the first one from Swiss Life. Another of those user presentations you just love. One where they talk about what did not work as well as what did. So, what you ask did not work? Well not so much did not work but a lesson for the future was that they realised that they had left it too long before bringing on board the appropriate tools, for them it was Corporate Modeller. I got the impression that analysts had suggested that they should start without tools and then only bring them on later. Although they kept to time, they suggested that this delay could have had a big impact on the project. Certainly I got the impression that some of the impact analysis could have benefited from proper tooling sooner.

Swiss Life were achieving a lot from a pretty small team, they appear to only be 3 people in their core team, yet they managed to capture and describe over 100 processes in very short order. From these they were able to add risks and identify compliance challenges very quickly. Again another of those projects that are being presented half way through, but great to hear how smart people can really make modelling tools work fast and effectively.

So finally, to answer my own question. Yes, it does appear that the Casewise team are bucking the trend and that a UK company is doing very well over there. This is in no small part due to the way Casewise are approaching the market. France as has been said are very people centric, they want to engage with people before they buy and they want to know that people are on the ground able to visit and talk when there is a problem. Before anyone tells me this is too expensive, think differently. The French are less willing to pay a premium for service than we are in the UK, but they also won’t buy without a relationship, so avoiding the relationship is simply avoiding the revenue.

The People Side of Change

Redditch 2nd/3rd February 2010 and Watford 9th/10th February 2010

A new workshop designed to help you deliver your BPM and Process Projects more effectively

So much of the focus today is on technology, but such projects are largely about change! And change more often than not revolves around people. This highly interactive workshop will provide you with knowledge, skills and insight into how people work and how you can harness this in order to be more effective. Thanks to some sponsorship there are a limited number of places available at the highly discounted price of £175.00 per person.

To find out more or to book your place please visit “The People Side of Change” – you will also find a short video which will provide you with the thoughts from others who have participated in the program.

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