How long have you been working on accreditation software?
We started in 2000 as a custom software developer and actually came to accreditation by accident. We’d worked with local accreditors as clients in Washington DC, and we started to realize that we could address a lot of their overlapping needs with a single set of tools. Eventually we sold the customization aspect of our business and began to focus on our accreditation management products and enterprise quality management software, which is similar in many ways.
The biggest challenge as we’ve developed our platform has been always making sure we have the right community of stakeholders giving us feedback. Doing so has made all the difference. The company has grown to the point where we now have 30 employees, and we’ve had a core group of staff who have stayed with the company for a decade or more. In 2019, we expect to double or triple in size.
What part of your work culture do you pride yourself on?
Diversity and openness to innovation. Everyone can bring ideas and we’ll genuinely consider them. Because of this, we punch above our weight in terms of our talent. We look more like a West Coast tech firm than an East Coast one. We do all-night hackathons all the time, putting teams together to face-off on solving a problem in a fun way. We also draw on open-source software heavily and contribute to that community – it’s a huge part of why we’ve been able to do what we’ve done.
What do you find most interesting or exciting about working with Engineers Canada?
Number one is that you’re Canadian. It’s a different space and a different approach than working with American organizations. We’re also excited to work specifically in the area of engineering education because it combines our past experience in new ways. We’ve worked with education accreditors as well as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers previously, and now we have the opportunity to bring these together.
I was also excited about this project, because the way you’re going to roll this out over three years is unique, and I believe it’s going to be really successful.
Why are you interested in working with Canadian organizations?
In general, the systems themselves are similar whether they’re in the US or China or Australia or Canada, but the unique cultural perspective of different places is valuable because it allows you to build a better business. The multilingual aspect of Canadian organizations, for example, presents an interesting and unique challenge. As for specific organizations, we’ve worked with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Canadian Welding Bureau, and our experience with both of these has been very positive.
What are the biggest challenges in working with new accreditation organizations?
The biggest one is bringing the process online. There’s an avalanche of information when you start, and you need to sort through that efficiently and effectively before you can begin the work itself. Another key challenge is that accreditors are understaffed. For similar systems in the private sector, there would be two or three times the number of staff involved. On top of all that, the process of bringing a system online needs to align with the accreditation cycle.
To address these challenges, we do a few key things. First, we seek to talk to people in the organization who are higher-level and cross-domain, the people who want to know why the business works the way it does. We also aim to get our people in front of customers. You hear a lot about the importance of the human side of tech these days, and the complexity of accreditation systems in particular only amplifies this need. If you don’t take this side of the equation seriously, people immediately get overwhelmed with the amount of process and information, which can impede a system’s successful rollout.
What are the challenges all accreditors share when they start these projects?
The biggest thing is that the mountain seems so big to climb, the question of how to seek out how you’re going to proceed. Accreditors have it hard because they deal with a very tough clientele, and they need assurances that the product they get is going to meet that clientele’s needs in a satisfactory way.
To address this, you need to start somewhere specific along the process. Doing that is a matter of shielding out the noise and understanding what you need to kick off first. After you’ve done that, you begin to follow up with the other pieces you need to pull in. At every point in the rollout of a new system, feedback is good. Stumbling points can even be very positive, as they get you to the core of problems very quickly.
What’s your philosophy when working with customers?
Our best engagements are the direct ones. Some organizations want to do things the same way they always have, and when that’s the case, we want to talk directly to the executive teams and the CEOs and understand the best way to move things forward.
Above all, we aim to do right by our customers always. We always want an open dialogue, even in the times when it gets tough. Based on our experience, this is the best possible way to make sure that everyone’s on board and everyone’s is in the best position to succeed.