CIO Spotlight: Erik Bailey, Anaqua

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? “We are aggressively growing in 2021, both in terms of internal headcount as well as our client roster… this growth requires constant re-evaluation and optimisation of our processes”


Name: Erik Bailey

Company: Anaqua

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: June 2019

Location: Boston, MA

Erik Bailey is CIO of Anaqua, an innovation and IP management software company, where he’s responsible for the company’s global IT management and cloud hosting operations. He’s a successful senior technical manager with over 25 years’ experience in systems implementations, client support and quality assurance. 

What was your first job? My very first job was in high school, working for a consulting firm in downtown Boston. This was in the late 80s, and the culture was to wear suits to the office, so there I was as a high school junior and senior, donning a suit and heading into Boston after school during the school year, and full-time during winter and summer breaks! I was responsible for development (in C) of a charting tool for survey responses (3D bar charts, pie charts, etc.), completely from scratch. The kicker was that the output needed to be PostScript (the printer language), so it was a great opportunity to work with a language that very few people then (and now!) have ever used. PostScript is a Lisp-like language where 1 + 1 is written as 1 1 +, and I still have syntax like “Helvetica findfont setfont” embedded in my brain! This was a fantastic opportunity for me and set the stage for much of the rest of what I have done with my career.

Did you always want to work in IT? It was always a given that I would be in software engineering to some degree. I taught myself BASIC on a Heathkit H-89 when I was about 10 and have never stopped! (I also did a lot of other electronics work with Heathkit tools, including building our own TV.) From Pascal, C, and Emacs Lisp in high school - as well as friendly Core War competitions with my friends - to corporate work in Visual Basic, C++, Java, C#, HTML, Classic ASP, ASP.NET, and SQL, I have always had my toes in technology. I was a staple on BBS systems (including a stint as a sysop on the PC Magazine CompuServe board), and I’ve been on the ARPAnet/Internet continuously since the mid-80s (when I was in high school). IT has always fascinated me, since I love to build things (Legos were an important part of my childhood), and the opportunity to work in a field that I love has been fantastic!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated from Brown University in 1992 with an Sc.B. in Cognitive Science, which is the study of the mind and brain. My primary focus was visual perception, but it was a multidisciplinary concentration with roots in psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, and computer science. I wrote my own learning neural network in C, had a deep understanding of language and how the brain parsed and interpreted it, and my senior project was an interactive computer-based experiment looking at the effects of dynamic occlusion on both speed and accuracy of judging the relative speeds of objects coming toward the viewer on a screen. If memory serves, I was able to fulfill the Lisp requirement by showing my advisor a defect-tracking system I had written in Emacs Lisp a few years prior, while an intern at Thinking Machines Corporation (a massively parallel supercomputer company).

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. The first decade of my career was in professional services, building enterprise client/server and web applications for major corporate clients (at Cambridge Technology Partners and AGENCY.COM). In addition to deepening my technical skills (including working with technologies and platforms such as Visual Basic, C/C++/C#, Java, ASP, ASP.NET, Windows, Unix, Mac, Oracle, Sybase, and SQL Server), I managed many of the projects (including multi-million dollar applications) and led many of the facilitated design sessions.

These experiences were foundational toward my work at Anaqua and formed the basis of how I work with clients, internal teams, key stakeholders, and peers. In particular, a focus on client satisfaction (not just initially, but down the road) is imperative. This Dilbert strip from 1996 perfectly illustrates everything I am against, and I always strive to focus on ensuring that the building remains standing long after it has been built:

A concrete example of this was the next stage in my career, when I transitioned from professional services to in-house. One of my last projects at AGENCY.COM (prior to the Boston office being closed due to the financial downturn of the early 2000s) was to work with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to build a major new website focused on healthcare quality. After successfully PM’ing this large project (8 full-time staff for nearly a year, plus additional content and creative staff as needed), I was fortunate to be invited to join IHI full-time. This was an example of living these values, where the website was not just something I built, but something I *owned*. The mission and vision of IHI, led by Dr. Don Berwick, were deeply inspiring and empowering – a laser focus on Quality. While this happened to be in the healthcare field, the lessons and principles are applicable across the board, and I use them daily. An example is the Model for Improvement – a cyclical process known as PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) where you first define your potential improvement (Plan), then implement it (Do), then see what impact it had (Check), and then move forward based on that information (Act). And it doesn’t stop there – you go right back into your next Plan cycle and do it all over again. This is the spirit of *Continuous* Improvement, and it has guided all of my actions since that point. Additionally, at the annual National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care, all IHI staff members pitched in together (regardless of role or title) to put on a conference for over 6,000 attendees – this really demonstrated the “we’re all in this together” mentality that is absolutely critical in today’s fast-paced business world.

My first major role at Anaqua was to manage and oversee a complete technical refresh of the ANAQUA IP Management software, during the period between 2006 and 2012. After managing the Engineering team, I led the global Client Support team for five years. During this time, we onboarded over 100 new clients, expanded our service offerings to clients (including the launch of our Zendesk ticketing portal, now used globally across multiple business units), improved our metrics gathering and reduce our ticket backlog, and increased the team size from under 10 to over 20 (most of the growth being outside the US).  In my current role as CIO, I have been able to leverage all of my past experience (engineering, client management, and support) toward enhancing Anaqua’s level of service to not only our external clients (industry leaders like adidas, BASF, Hogan Lovells, Honda, IBM, Michael Best, NVIDIA and more) but also internal business units.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Anaqua would not exist without technology and we are all aware of that. From the company’s founding, we adopted the mindset of a software company, even though there are numerous service offerings in our catalogue, we always view ourselves as a technology company first. As such, our technology initiatives align with our CEO’s top priorities mentioned below.  

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? We are aggressively growing in 2021, both in terms of internal headcount as well as our client roster. To accommodate this growth requires constant re-evaluation and optimisation of our processes – whether that is multi-cloud (meeting our clients where they want to be), more rigorous security certifications (both corporate and staff), upgrading all of our hosted clients to the latest versions of the ANAQUA application, or implementing new technologies (including hosted offerings such as SQL Server as a Service). My goal for each year is to be able to look back on the preceding 12 months and feel good about what we accomplished, and I fully expect that in December 2021 that not only will indeed be the case but also that we will have accomplished something that we couldn’t even dream of at the start of the year.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Every organisation is going to be different in how it defines the CIO role and its responsibilities. Size, maturity of the company, and the industry that company plays in all will create different demands on the role. At Anaqua, we’ve struck a good balance with the CIO role. It can be broken down into three distinct (but related) areas. First, I manage the Internal IT team, providing desktop and internal server support for our global workforce. Second, I manage our Cloud Operations team, providing the foundation for the SaaS applications that form the core of Anaqua’s business. And third, I am the overall IT and Security face of the organisation, in terms of working with clients and prospective clients on security and technology assessments and other key areas that must be assessed and validated before making a major decision (in our case, how and where to host the critical data supporting the organisations’ intellectual asset portfolios).

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I don’t think there’s any moment in time when businesses collectively are *not* doing a digital transformation! The methods to achieve that goal (and the terminology, such as “BPR” from the early 90’s) change over time, but the end goal is always the same – do more (and faster!) with less. At Anaqua, we work with our clients to transform the way that they work with their Intellectual Property portfolios (primarily, but not exclusively, patents and trademarks). While many of our clients were on an IP Management System prior to ours, some were tracking their assets simply with spreadsheets or other less sophisticated tools.

Regardless of previous method, we do indeed strive for a transformation, and it needs to be balanced between customer experience and operational efficiency. I don’t see revenue growth as a factor here. By using our tools and improving the other two factors, costs are contained, and revenue can also potentially grow, especially from a licensing perspective.

The user experience drives everything; everyone is familiar with the “too many clicks” problem, and it requires careful implementation of a solid information architecture (coupled with an appealing and streamlined graphical design) to ensure that customer experience and operational efficiency go together rather than in opposition to one another. Following a “lead user” model, where we rely on our customers as the experts to help us shape the product to their needs, we then use our product and engineering expertise to build what is needed. Our Citation Matrix feature is a perfect example of this, where senior members of two major clients came together for a series of workshop sessions to design what has become a core feature of the Patent module of our AQX product. Finally, we work with our clients to bring them to the Cloud and away from their on-premise systems (whether commercial or homegrown), showing the proven track record of lower TCO through streamlined operations and significant efficiencies.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Everything Anaqua does is digital. Our roots are as a software company (not as a services company, although we do have many services which are a critical component of our business) and that underlies everything we do. Innovation is key for success in our industry; if the product remained the same for more than a few months at a time it would pose a risk to the business. Accordingly, we invest heavily into R&D to ensure, not only that we introduce new features that our clients need, but also that we steadily improve the quality of our software. As our client base grows year-over-year, we need to ensure that support and other areas of the business that aren’t directly revenue-producing don’t grow at the same rate, but rather at a slower rate (increased quality and a more robust feature set translates into fewer support tickets and therefore more efficiency per client).

Recent certifications and assessments such as ISO 27001 and SOC 2 have formalised and refined our IT processes, and we closely track metrics such as ticket volume (both internal IT as well as customer support), cloud hosting operational costs, and efficiencies of our hosting model (clients per server, for example).

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