Steven Allen, CEO and Founder of DocuPhase, took some time out of his schedule to speak with Roxanne and Matt at Full Stack Talent in his beautiful Clearwater office about the progress happening in Tampa when it comes to technology and talent – with a healthy sprinkling of robots!
Matt Vaughn: What’s the differentiator between you guys and other workflow automation companies?
Steven Allen: Success. Our product is not to be shelfware. It gets deployed and expanded. We rapidly implement our technologies, and the biggest differentiator is our process designer. You literally draw a picture of your business process and the interactions you want people to have or automated things you want to have happen, you say go, and it builds a web app and runs it. If you want to make a change, you simply redraw a line and that change is instantly rolled out into the process.
Most implementations with other companies go like this: they’re over budget, they take longer than what you think, integration is never easy, and once it works, don’t touch it because it finally works! Ours gets implemented on schedule, it’s quick, it’s integrated to your existing system seamlessly, and if you want to make a change, let’s make a change! If you want to deploy it to another department, let’s deploy it!
Moreover, one of our greatest advantages is coming in through the accounting department and automating accounting. Everything within data entry, such as reading the invoice out of email, entering the data for you in your accounting system, and then routing that invoice around from desktop to desktop to get it approved without anybody having to touch a piece of paper. No emails getting lost, nothing falling through the cracks, and everything is tracked, accountable, and enforced to your business policies and procedures. You’re no longer waiting to get things done because the system will remind you, ‘hey, you’re supposed to approve this! Do it!’ and if you don’t, it’s a tattletail and it’ll escalate it and say ‘hey, so and so isn’t doing their job. What do you want to do about it?’
Often, we lay our technology on top of existing technologies in order to extend their capabilities. A CRM system is a great place to put your data, and I know it’s gonna have calendar reminders to help you, but it won’t tell you things like when you close a deal, what’s the paperwork you need? Who needs to be notified? Where does it need to go next? When do you bill them? We control all that stuff around it, so we can extend the capabilities of your current system to handle the interactions between the systems and proactively drive people’s actions.
Roxanne Williams: How much staff does DocuPhase currently have, and what portion of that is tech staffing?
Steven: Tech staff is the majority of the company. We have a little bit of marketing, a little bit of sales. Overall, it’s probably equally sprinkled between development, professional services, support, and quality assurance. Those are the 4 major areas that it takes to develop and evaluate quality before the product goes out – because we have hundreds of clients that we have on this every single day, some in the medical field, some in aerospace, some in state and local government – so our systems can’t go down. Once you implement it, you can’t go backwards.
For example, imagine going from approving things on your phone to having to go back and do it on paper. It’s a one-way step. So it can’t go down, because when it goes down, people can’t do their jobs. Quality is huge, support level is huge. It’s not even what we do – it’s how we do it, how we deliver it, and how it functions. So those are the 4 major areas on the technology side. And then, being a technical product, you have to have technical sales. Our people have to understand how this technology gets applied in various environments. One day they could be talking to a banker, next a hospital, next an attorney, next state and local government – so you have to be a universal expert on process.
Matt: I’m curious, how do you implement those kinds of things? You mentioned the 3 go-tos; aerospace, hospitals, and state and local governments – some of which have difficult homegrown software that has to be custom-implemented with what you do.
Steven: Our integration module is a drag-and-drop integration to other people’s applications. You sit here and design the custom process and say go. If you come here and tell me ‘this is what our process is,’ I take notes, I draw a picture, and I say go. Done! So it doesn’t matter – if I’m at Lockheed Martin, which is one of our clients, and they say ‘hey, I have this special process for building jets,’ we say ‘ok, what does that process look like?’ and we draw a picture of it. And if I go to a veterinary clinic and ask ‘what’s your process for taking care of animals?’ we’ll draw a picture and say go. It’s very seamlessly and rapidly customized.
Think of it like this: if I’m controlling a process and I need an electronic form to move information through – if it’s a mortgage process, what kind of data am I collecting? Name, income level, other stuff. If I’m going to a hospital, what do I collect? Name, insurance, etc. So all I’m doing is changing the fields of what’s on a form to make it look like your business and track your data, and then I say ‘who needs to see it first?’ and it goes to that person. Then, ‘who needs to see it next?’ and it goes to that person. Is there something that we can automate in there?
For example, someone might say ‘yeah, when I receive an application, I want to send an automatic response that says we received your application. And when I’ve reviewed it, I want to send an automatic notification that it’s at that step in the process.’ So now engagement increases, and customer satisfaction increases. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mortgage company, manufacturer, aerospace, or government. I just want to give you some information, have you process it, and know where we are in the process.
Robots, AI, and Machine Learning, oh my!
Roxanne: You worked in Robotics R&D at IBM. I looked at some of your whitepaper listings, and it looks like you still use robotics at DocuPhase?
Steven: It’s actually called Robotic Process Automation. There’s some interesting background. I started off building physical robots. Giant ones, little ones, robotics research on how to build computers. So literally we were implementing the systems that would build IBM computers. The goal was, from the time the parts came in until they left, no human touched them. Robots typically replace workers, but ‘replace’ should be ‘displace.’
We let them do things that are more valuable. Most companies that implement technology end up not firing people, but hiring more because they’re higher growth companies, they make more profit, and so they need more people and they create more jobs. That’s the missing piece when people talk about automation. They think ‘oh the world’s coming to an end, they’re replacing everybody’s jobs.’ No, it’s just doing the jobs nobody really wants to do anyway.
We used to replace blue collar workers with robots. Factory floor workers, auto manufacturers. With Robotic Process Automation, an element of what we do is, we’re replacing the trivial, mundane white collar office worker with software. So the robot is no longer physically typing but it is, through software, typing. I read the invoice using character recognition. I make decisions using AI. And then, I put it into your database, and I do a better job than a human can with software. So it’s software robots replacing office work. That’s what we do.
Roxanne: You must be having a field day with AI and Machine Learning.
Steven: We’re just at the entry point. We’re not leveraging it as much as we could, but we’re leveraging it a little, and it’s really cool. If you’re in there doing some work, we actually have a little AI robot that’ll pop up and say ‘I’ve seen you do this the same way a couple of times. Would you like me to do it for you this way?’ and you can say ‘yes, this time,’ ‘always,’ or ‘no.’ It’ll set a new habit, if you will, that the next time the system sees it, it won’t have to ask you, it’ll just do it the way it has seen you do it the last few times.
DocuPhase growth and culture
Roxanne: That’s really cool. Considering that DocuPhase has been in business for 18 years, how do you keep thriving? How much growth has DocuPhase seen year by year?
Steven: DocuPhase has not been a high-growth company. We’re more a boutique company that services a lot of very interesting needs. I’m a technologist by trade, not a salesperson. So as a technologist, I really invested in the technology more than I invested in sales for the organization. It’s been bootstrapped. No investment, no outside capital. We’re debt-free, other than this building. And we pay for ourselves as we grow. It’s been pure, organic growth incrementally over time. That being said, this year we’re at about 100% to 125% growth. We’re setting it on fire.
Go back to 16 of those 18 years. It took me 2 years to develop the product and really get it out on the marketplace and back then, no one really understood what we were doing. I kept calling it business automation. Nobody knew what that was. Let’s go forward 10 years. Still, nobody knew what that was. I could explain it to you and you’d go ‘oh that’s cool.’ I could show it to you and you’d say ‘oh I need that!’ Then I could sell it. It was a very educational, slow sales process. Today, how much do you guys hear about automation and AI?
Steven: Always. So guess what? The marketplace has caught up to what we’ve been preaching for 18 years! We were a little ahead of our time at preaching this message of business automation. Now it’s caught on, so it’s easier to say ‘hey, do you want to talk about business automation?’ and more often than not, the person will reply ‘Oh yeah, that’s an important thing that my management team wants me to look at!’ Great, let’s talk.
We’re seeing a big acceleration in people wanting to talk about what DocuPhase does, and being able to embrace and justify implementing that solution.
Roxanne: What’s the culture at DocuPhase like?
Steven: I think it’s incredibly fun and exciting. People come in here with a smile. Lots of joking in the hallways. I’m sure if you stood out here for 15 minutes, you got a sense in just that timeframe that this isn’t a sit-behind-your-desk place, right? It’s very open. Even my developers have a sense of humor. It’s a great place from that perspective.
Matt: We love automation. However, from a business perspective, what are some interactions that should stay human?
Steven: Anything that requires an intuitive aspect, or a human interaction touch, like personalized service. It’s really hard for robots to have a personalized conversation.
Matt: So far!
Steven: So far – but, it’s coming. Look, no job in the future will be safe from automation. If you’ve seen the Google demonstration of the appointment setter, she has a natural voice, she goes ‘ummm’ – you’d never guess it was a robot. Think about self-driving cars and trucks. Think about doctors. Do you want a doctor diagnosing you, or Watson? Watson reviews 40,000 articles per day. A doctor reads maybe 4 per month. I’d rather have Watson. An attorney? Same thing. Can he review all the case laws? No. A computer can do that better.
But what robots can’t do yet is greet you, make you feel comfortable, and personalize the support. So we’re gonna see a transition in value. The value of a person is going to be their ability to support others. So think about the things you wouldn’t want a robot to do. Take care of your kids? How many times do we say we need to invest more in childcare? Well, automation is going to free up more people to be able to say ‘as a person, I now place more value on personalized services.’
But that personal interaction and that personal touch, and high-value decision making… There’s still a lot that a computer can’t decide, but what it does really well is give you all the information to make that decision. Most of our automation focuses on providing you with the information you need to make those decisions.
On the ROI DocuPhase customers see
Roxanne: What kind of ROI can clients see with your automation platform? How much time does the platform realistically save clients?
Steven: It varies widely. However, I typically tell anybody that I’ll guarantee them a 10-20% increase in productivity. Guaranteed. Most clients see a 25-50% increase in productivity. And I have some clients that experience 400-600%. For example, we set up one client in South Florida with a system that would read all of the Medicaid rejections coming from the state. They had a department of 60 people that would have to respond to the rejections within 30 days or they’d miss out on these payments. Very large organization processing medical billing, if you will.
We set up a computer to read these rejections, go into our automation system and document management system, pull out the supporting material needed to respond, write the response letter, and email it. It did 100% of the work of those 60 employees. When you talk about enabling a company for growth, that company was looking at having to expand into a new building, buying more parking, etc. Instead, they were able to triple the size of their organization without adding any additional employees. Talk about adding competitiveness into your environment! How do you compete with someone who has that kind of automation when you’re doing it the old-fashioned way?
Tampa, talent, and tech
Roxanne: So this question will tie into your 18 years of business. In all your years, have you noticed a positive shift in terms of qualified tech talent in the area?
Steven: Yes. Candidly, me and many of my friends in the tech industry have been lobbying, promoting, and trying to get Tampa Bay known for more than just tourism and real estate. There’s been a lot of technology success, and that’s just accelerating. St. Pete is probably doing one of the best jobs of building that reputation. Tampa is close behind. Having places like TEC Garage, Tampa Bay Wave, a support system, and now, emerging serial entrepreneurs in tech that are reinvesting in our community – like Tom Wallace, Mark Blumenthal, the guys that are out there who originally created Tampa Bay Tech, and now Synapse – it’s working.
People are staying, or coming in. We imported two of our top people from Austin. So talk about going backwards: people thought that’s where people went, now that’s where people are coming from to be here. So we’ve personally experienced talent coming to our area because of what we’re offering.
Roxanne: This is so great. We asked Stu that, and we just interviewed Greg from Sourcetoad, and both of them said the exact same thing: people are actually moving here for jobs. That’s awesome. Since you mentioned Synapse, do you guys get involved with any of the events in Tampa?
Steven: Not as much as I could or should, but I enjoy all the events. Last Tuesday, I went to the Tampa Bay Tech Software CEOs group, and met with 10 or 11 awesome software company CEOs, and that’s what people don’t know: there are hundreds of software companies in the Tampa Bay area that you can go work at, and DocuPhase is just one of them. There are some amazing companies out there, and we’re trying to get together and continue that messaging: hey, let’s promote the area.
Roxanne: What do you hope to see in the next few years in Tampa Bay when it comes to technology?
Steven: Continued growth and unification across the bay. Unfortunately, we are at a disadvantage to other areas because of the size of our community. We have St. Pete, Clearwater, Oldsmar, Tampa, North Tampa, South Tampa, Central Tampa, Sarasota, etc. If you go to Boston, it’s in a tiny set of square blocks. Silicon Valley is literally right there. So everybody at the bar, everybody you bump into, is in a similar business, similar economy, similar community.
We don’t have that here. When I go to a bar, I’ll be talking to mostly hospitality and real estate folks. So as we continue to grow, we need to keep creating these central points like downtown St. Pete, downtown Tampa, and bridge them with common events and functions that bring us together continually to emphasize the ecosystem we’re trying to build. Additionally, as investments come to that ecosystem, with the Tom Wallaces creating Florida Funders and providing some seed capital, and with companies like KnowBe4, and A-LIGN that just got $54 million worth of investments, more and more people are seeing Tampa Bay as an attractive place to invest in technology.
Roxanne: That has, without doubt, been the most reported problem with every interview we’ve done. Funding. Capital.
Steven: Yep. You just go outside. It’s super easy to go outside the area. The only issue is, historically, they would usually want you to move to their area. We’re just now getting to the point where investors will say ‘ok, you can stay there.’ If you look at the company that invested in KnowBe4, they’re already traveling here for Stu. So why not come visit 2 or 3 more companies in the area that they could support?
I got a call from a company that invested $60 million in a business here. They said they were going to be in my area a lot, were very interested in DocuPhase, and wanted to have a conversation. The investment landscape is changing. Visibly changing.
Roxanne: One of the things we’ve noticed are college grads that are unable to find a job in Tampa.
Matt: Oh yeah. We have so many students and grads reach out to ask for help finding something, but most companies don’t want to pay a fee to bring a new grad up to speed. So what tips would you have to attract the eyes of the hiring managers in the tech world?
Steven: I, above all, hire for attitude and aptitude. I don’t care about your experience. It’s going to help, of course, but if you come to me as the 27 year old that hasn’t been able to land an awesome job, I’m looking for one thing: what’s changed between when you were slacking off and today? So I ask a very important question: what do you do in your free time? And I shut up and listen. If you tell me ‘I enjoy music, horseback riding, and camping’ – great, I’m glad you’re having a good time in life. Goodbye! That’ll be the end of the interview.
If you tell me ‘you know what, I goofed off for a few years. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I discovered I really love marketing, so on my own, I created a few websites and I’m figuring out how this SEO thing works, and I can’t believe how excited I am about it!’ – guess who’s getting hired. I need you to show initiative on your own time for your self-improvement. If you’re doing that, I’ll invest in you all day long. I love turning raw talent into excellence.
Matt: Who is a person and/or an organization that you think is doing something right and innovative in the area, outside of DocuPhase? And why?
Steven: I have to point to Florida Funders. Their initiative to find ‘first money’ to support our technology ecosystem is going to make one of the greatest impacts in our area, without a doubt. It’s going to give us additional visibility, and a bigger boost. The experience of serial entrepreneurship that they bring, that ability to identify what success looks like, and to coach and mentor and help them move on, and to create a funding platform that actually is very unique in the industry… I think it’s going to provide a lot of opportunity that people would otherwise not get, especially in the Tampa Bay area.
Roxanne: Any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share?
Steven: We’re truly excited that automation is top of mind. We think it should be at top of your mind. If it’s not, you’re undoubtedly going to fall behind. Rapidly.
DocuPhase is your Enterprise Automation partner! Based on your company’s goals and desired outcomes, the DocuPhase team delivers a rapidly deployed solution that will make your office a better workplace with simplified, automated processes and greater capacity for growth. Learn more about DocuPhase here!
Want to nominate a tech leader for us to interview? Fill out the form below!