Exclusive Interview with New Alfresco CEO Bernadette Nixon
In February of this year, Alfresco, an enterprise open-source software company entered into an agreement to be acquired by private equity firm, Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. Shortly after, it was announced they were on the hunt for a new Chief Executive Officer and after a thorough search spanning the globe, the board unanimously decided Bernadette Nixon was the perfect fit for the position.
This came two years after Bernadette initially joined Alfresco in 2016 as their Chief Revenue Officer, after having previously served as President, Customer Experience Solutions at SDL and before that was the SVP and General Manager of OpenText’s BPM business unit. With a great experience in the industry, I was keen to have a conversation with Bernadette to hear why Alfresco was a good choice for her, what she values in her blueprint for effective leadership and what she sees on the horizon in the enterprise content management and business process management market.
Collaboration and Openness Win the Race
Right off the bat, I wanted to hear from Bernadette what drew her to Alfresco when she first made the move back in 2016 and as part of her reply, she emphasized that the open nature of Alfresco doesn’t stop with open-source: “It was the people and the culture. We are an open-source, heritage company but the open in the open-source, in our company culture goes way beyond the software. It is really around us being transparent and being open with each other and so there is a collaborative element to Alfresco that really fits well with me, it’s what I have always tried to create when I am creating my own teams and it’s the kind of ecosystem I also like to exist in.”
Along those same lines, I wanted to know the foundational elements that make up her leadership style, knowing she has a proven strength in that area. Bernadette emphasized what was most important to her was listening, at her current stage as a new CEO to understand through her product, design and engineering teams where they are right now as well as where they are heading and then as she goes deeper into her role, a continued listening with an openness to new ideas and a way to do things differently to ensure a state of constant evolution.
Secondly, to her customer centricity is something that should always be a main focal point: “Customer centricity is the heart of whatever we do and so whenever I am talking with internal teams I always try to bring that outside in view of things because I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day things we have to get done.”
The final piece to her leadership puzzle, which also happened to be what I connected most with was how even in her position, while she believes in the effectiveness of management team, she never wants to lose her connection with every level of her organization: “I am not very hierarchical, I respect having a management team in place but I try to speak to everybody in the organization because there are no monopolies on good ideas. The innovation quite often comes from the edge of organizations and people in my positon won’t necessarily see that day to day.”
Alfresco’s Expertise in the ECM Market
In the press release announcing Bernadette’s appointment, Connie Moore, Senior Vice President at Digital Clarity Group emphasized: “Bernadette’s leadership as Alfresco’s new CEO comes at a time of profound change in the enterprise content management and business process management markets. These markets are at an inflection point for higher growth, spurred by strategic investments in digital transformation, customer experience and new digital business architectures. Organizations pursuing new business models catalyzed by digital disruption are turning to digital business platforms that are faster and lighter to implement, have faster ROI, provide better time-to-value than prior-generation technologies, and are built for rapid development by DevOps and business analysts.”
The changes in the ECM market is something we touch on quite often here at CMS-Connected so with Bernadette on hand I wanted to know what the most profound elements of that change she saw occurring. She let us know “Speed is really at the root of what I see, the speed of change, the speed of transformation and the pressure that it puts on a business. You’ve got changes in business models and the way that translates into IT who is typically the part of an organization that we connect most with. They’re under a lot of pressure, they have to be nimble so when the business says pivot, they’re able to pivot and that’s really hard when you’re a product of your history and you’re a product of your systems and the infrastructure in place.”
This statement from Bernadette reminded me of a previous conversation I had with Alfresco CMO Sydney Sloan on the topic of digital disruption at the hands of transformation following a study Alfresco released with Dimensional Research in May of 2018.
One industry in the report most vulnerable to disruption in 2018 was the banking/financial industry and the reason for this as stated in the report had to do with the reliance on legacy applications and outmoded processes, as Bernadette touched on, making them less flexible to make changes as quickly as they would need to compared to others. I asked Sydney to elaborate on this: “The banking industry historically has been an early adopter of technology to drive their innovation and stay competitive. Some of our customers, like Capital One, even consider themselves software companies who focus on the financial services market. Yet there are other financial institutions that are slower to move and change, held back by complex legacy systems that have yet to be modernized, some are still using paper-based processes. The survey highlights that cloud is key to digital transformation, having a fluid infrastructure that can adapt to change, process larger loads of data and allow for faster innovation. 95% of respondents stated using cloud infrastructure-as-a-services (IaaS) is important, with 21% even highlighting it as critically important.”
Towards the end of our interview, Bernadette touched upon something we are hearing more and more from the great minds in the WCM/ECM space, the notion of IT teams and developers becoming heroes and the ‘need for speed’ in the time to value conversation, two things I see as intrinsically connected. Yes, the ease of use with technology products can help immensely but the quicker an organization can deploy their system and see revenue grow because of it, the better the investment will become and that comes from the skills of the internal teams making that value a reality.
For Alfresco, Bernadette said they see 56% of their customers get value within 6 months of using the product and a staggering 30% seeing value in just 3 months and explained she hopes to continue this momentum in the future plans she has for the organization: “As we look at the innovation agenda, it’s very exciting, and the velocity of delivering value to the existing customers that have subscriptions with us, on that journey to the bigger innovations is incredibly important.”