There is no communication more powerful and compelling than stories told first-hand by the person who lived and breathed them. Yet few organisations use this power for all of its worth, even when the storyteller remains among their ranks, and available to tell their stories in person.
In technology marketing, the late Steve Jobs certainly understood and maximised the power of personal corporate-storytelling. Watch any of Steve’s Apple product launches on YouTube if you need a reminder. Apple could have afforded Tom Hanks as a presenter. It could have dimmed the lights and launched the iPhone with a Steven Spielberg-produced advertorial. Smartly though, it became Steve in his trademark black skivvy, telling (and therefore selling) Apple’s latest technology story to a world held in the metaphoric palm of his hand.
Progress Software is a breakthrough technology company, based in the USA. Like Microsoft, Oracle and other technology giants, Progress Software has offices, developer-partners and product-resellers all over the world. Many of the world’s largest and most performance-sensitive enterprises (eg: eBay) use best-in-class Progress Software products for something vital in their technology infrastructure. It’s not the kind of software that any average person on the street would ever buy. Their products are more like software ‘engines’ that the developers of business systems, and IT departments of organisations, would program into doing something that their business systems needed to do.
In Australia we’ve been working with a number of go-ahead, locally-owned companies within the Progress Software developer-partner and reseller community. These associations have kept us tuned-in to what’s happening with Progress Software in Australia and the Asia Pacific region, and globally, through their website updates and the email communications distributed to subscribers by their corporate HQ in the USA. Progress Software in Australia is often sending out invitations to exciting technology events, and I go out of my way to attend anything they’ve got going in any capital city I happen to be working in at the time (mostly Sydney or Melbourne). Yesterday morning, at Sydney’s mid-city Westin Hotel, Progress Software hosted a breakfast seminar titled Driving Operational Efficiency Through Business Rules in a Turbulent Landscape, subtitled Accelerating Enterprise Agility, presented by Dr Mark Allen, founder of the Corticon® business rules management software, a technology product that was acquired by Progress® as recently as October 2011. With respect for the subject matter being of some heart-stopping excitement to any serious business analyst or über-geek, and my general enthusiasm for whatever Progress Software is doing in Australia and New Zealand event-wise, as a non-analyst/geek myself, the prospect of learning more about “the inability to harness technology as a change agent in the use and adoption of best-in-class knowledge-sharing processes to become more agile” had my eyes glazing over. Admittedly, I was probably looking forward to catching up with some Progress people – and having reason to enjoy staying the night before at the Westin, incorporating Sydney’s historic GPO building into its grand accommodation and ginormous atrium area – more than attending the actual event.
Staying in-house meant that I could count on arriving a little early for the seminar. After a warm welcome and obligatory name-tag presentation by some Progress people, and an enthusiastic handshake ‘hello’ from the very approachable Craig Law, freshly-appointed Managing Director & Regional VP – Australia & New Zealand of Progress Software, I helped myself to the continental breakfast buffet inside and took a seat with some friendly-looking participants at a table towards the front of the room.
Around this table I’d just joined, one of the guys was casually standing and sharing some amusing anecdotes about life in Silicone Valley, San Francisco. I could have listened to this gentleman’s observations and insights all day, which turned out to be a good thing, because he turned out to be the “Dr Mark Allen” of the event promotions that I’d received from Progress Software. That’s the Dr Mark Allen – founder of the ground-breaking business rules management system that is Corticon®, upon which many of the world’s most sophisticated systems for managing the processes of business and government now largely rely – amusing our small group with his laid-back banter and easygoing American accent. Imagine Mark Zuckerberg and you’ve almost got the picture of what Dr Mark Allen looks like in person (see comparitive images, the resemblance is at first uncanny, but Dr Mark Allen is more tailored than t-shirt wearing). With a polite delay of commencement time to allow for any stragglers who’d been caught-up in the wild weather, Mark segued from chatting with our table to addressing the whole room. From this moment, whatever the long-winded, esoteric-sounding title of this seminar, and however remote the concept of Business Rules Management to me when I’d entered the room, I became engrossed listening to Dr Mark Allen’s Corticon® story. It began with how he became a leading light in technology development through changing macro-circumstances, as much as his ability to seize upon an opportunity.
One of many surprises for many in the room was that the “Dr” in Dr Mark Allen was not gained in the field of IT. From a family of high achievers to begin with, as Mark had explained, he’d graduated as an engineer but then turned to medicine, becoming a doctor in the American health system prior to the introduction of “Obamacare”. Implementation of post-Obamacare policies and processes within existing hospital management systems caused sudden ‘IT-nightmares’ for health-care business analysts and administrators, affecting management and staff right down to the front-line of patient care. Meanwhile, there were numerous aspects of patient care with various and/if/or/but-type scenarios (like the potential risk of certain drug interactions) which could be better managed for medical staff by hospital IT systems, but couldn’t be at the time, due to the lack of enabling technology. And so, through Mark’s storytelling, the Dr Mark Allen was brought down to earth for listeners as a regular (if super-smart) guy, a doctor who had been working at the coalface of health care, who noticed a big IT-related problem, and looked outside the box for ways to solve it.
And solve it he did, with a super-group of software developers backed by investors who’d bought Mark’s story about a deficit area of technology development which he believed (and had conceptually demonstrated) could be filled by the product he was working on with his team. The logic of what would be called “Corticon” was about to add phenomenal intelligence not just to health services management systems, but any system in any large organisation where ‘rules’ needed to be applied to the entry or processing of information. Determining complex variable risk factors for insurers and financiers are just some of many situational examples where the ‘business rules management’ capabilities of Corticon® would totally revolutionise the speed and power of information-crunching and decision-making for organisations. With the global market for such technology worth somewhere in the gazillions, not surprisingly, Progress Software, recognised in 2014 as Gartner Magic Quadrant “visionaries”, acquired Corticon® for the world. I’d read collateral pieces on Corticon® by Progress Software and how it had transformed health services management and patient care across a large chunk of the American landscape just for starters, closely followed by the insurance and banking sectors, but it took hearing from Dr Mark Allen in person for me to really get my head around how eBay International’s mighty management system uses Corticon® more than 250 million times per day in complex exchanges and calculations of data that are so fast they’re measured in micro-moments of time.
By the end of Mark’s address and the rich Q&A session which followed, having had little grasp of Corticon® beforehand, I couldn’t help wondering why just about every business and institution in Australia wasn’t already using it for something-or-another to do with enhancing the power of their IT systems. And this conversion of my thinking from stone-cold starter to red-hot evangelist didn’t come about because Mark was ‘selling’ the product he founded. The people in the room weren’t there to be ‘sold’ to – we were all there to learn more about something truly earth-shattering and game-changing in business system technology from Progress Software, delivered by the person who drove its creation.
Sure, Progress Software could have delivered Dr Mark Allen to an Australian audience via a webinar, or a video on YouTube, saving the expense and inconvenience of an Australian sojourn and series of live events for their Corticon® ‘star’. But Progress Software understands the power of personal corporate storytelling, and I would confidently predict that Dr Mark Allen will be visiting our shores again soon. If he does, and you’re into following the latest in technology development, don’t miss it. You can subscribe yourself to the Progress Software event invitation list simply by visiting the Progress Software website, and have the privilege of meeting Dr Mark Allen in person, like I did.
It’s probably the closest any of us will get to meeting Mark Zuckerberg.
Dr Mark Allen, founder of the Corticon® business rules management system (BRMS) recently acquired by Progress Software, not to be mistaken for…
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, pictured on the cover of Time Magazine.