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May 16, 2006 


 Q&A: Christos Fotiadis of ProtoGroup in Chicago on Compliance, Partners 5/16/2006
TER>The mission of Going Global, which appears on ePrairie on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO Ė Christos Fotiadis is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based ProtoGroup, whose charter is to build solutions that help companies migrate applications between technology platforms.

In the past, he was an integral member of the Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) division. Fotiadis has served in various roles focused on technology and customer and partnership development. Prior to joining Microsoft in 1997, he was the director of technology and education at Microsoft partner NewMedia in Ohio.

In part one of a three-part Q&A, Fotiadis sat down with international expert Michael Muth to discuss how the realm of technology compliance has changed over the years and how to deal with obsolete technology.


Michael Muth: Who are your customers?
Christos Fotiadis: Any set of existing service providers, systems integrators, development consultants, the end customers themselves or anyone who has taken and deployed Access, Notes or Visual Basic. Weíll focus primarily on finance, manufacturing and government. Our messaging has a focus on compliance to help mitigate legal risk and create competitive advantages. In those industries and others, compliance means a great deal.


MM commentary: The company has positioned itself to have a universal solution that can be offered to just about anyone.


MM: What is the technical risk of obsolete technology without clear vendor support (as in Access 97)? CF: If your application or business process is dependent on a technology that is obsolete, lacking support or lacking functionality, you run a risk by remaining on that technology.

Think about how our world has changed since Access 97 was deployed 10 years ago. We didnít have to deal with HIPPA, Sarbanes-Oxley or GLB. Since these new laws have come out and new corporate policy has been enacted, how many companies have gone back to all of their applications to determine if there is any point of exposure to either legislation? Probably not many.

Legislation doesnít care about how hard it is to get into compliance. It just cares that you comply. Policing becomes an issue. If you canít comply because your underlying platform isnít technically able to provide the types of functions or security needed, youíre in trouble. You might have legislation that has cascading effects on your business policy. This may affect your technology policy.

You have to have a way to make that information portable so the receiver can use it in appropriate ways. You have to enforce that through technology. Someone can e-mail an Excel spreadsheet, and unless you apply rights management, that technology becomes the enforcer rather than the paper policy. You canít enforce policy with pen and paper. This is evident with our current security epidemic.

While there are policies that have been in place for years, we have a security crisis in almost every facet of our lives when dealing with electronic information. Itís going to demand new things out of the people.

I know of an independent health-care provider that had an employee who went to a competitor. She called her friend and asked: "How did we do that thing?Ē Her friend sent over a spreadsheet that contained lots of personal data. She was helping out a friend and sharing an Excel file. She violated the law then and wasnít even aware of it.

This happens many times every day. If she had deleted all the personal data and sent over the fundamental bits and pieces of the Excel file, that might have been OK. You still have the corporate IP problem. Do you want to be sharing your IP with a competitor? Probably not.


MM commentary: In other words, obsolescence is much more than just a technology problem.


MM: Why has Lotus Notes been impossible to migrate with tools alone and too expensive to accomplish with services alone?
CF: Thereís a lot to do in a Lotus migration. Notes is one product that does a lot of different things (e-mail, workflow, data collection, etc.). Though it was a great product back when, the realization is that it should be retired.

Itís impossible to create a tool that can migrate all aspects of Notes to a competing platform. You will have a mix of services. When you compare what you can do with Notes to what you can have with new technology, things on the other side look a lot more attractive.


MM commentary: Like many golden oldies, Notes was great in its day but isnít today.


MM: How do you integrate Microsoft rights management services (RMS)?
CF: RMS is the precursor to the security model in the upcoming Vista, which is going to place security around the information itself and will be based on the XrML standard. RMS is a server-based platform for Microsoft. If youíre looking at anything sensitive on the screen, we can disable screen print, copy, print and other compromising functions via RMS. You see a lot of this type of security in whatís going to be happening with Vista.


MM commentary: I can hardly wait.


MM: Who are your partners?
CF: Satyam, an Indian concern, has been one of our first. Theyíve been ramping up on our methods and tools. Weíve been sharing with them our methodology of our migrations and implementations. This would be where my previous Microsoft life helped me. I was at Microsoft about 7.5 years and I was aware of Satyam for a while. I have a core set of friends in Tokyo who knew several folks at Satyam.

Satyam is a global managed partner. When you have 20,000 to 30,000 people around the world, Microsoft wants to give you attention and help you synch with them. A lot of offshore concerns are aligned with whatever technology is going to serve their customer requests at that moment. Technology vendors try to make the most of their relationships with partners in order to affect how much or how well their technology is positioned.


MM commentary: Satyam is an almost 20-year-old publicly traded company which has 28,000 employees spread around 20 development centers & offices in 55 countries.


MM: How do you work together with your partners?
CF: Weíre going to be pretty close while we develop our comfort level with each partner and our program and as our method of business matures. They will mature as this happens when weíre sure they can execute. Weíll certainly have people on the implementation and integration team until they develop that rapport and track record. Some may be remote and some may be local. Weíll do it as itís appropriate.


MM commentary: It could be some pretty late nights collaborating with some partners across many time zones.


MM: Whatís your relationship with Satyam Computer Services?
CF: There was a profile I was looking for and Satyam fit that. Satyam is an aggressive company. They have a good track record and are growing well. Iím surprised how quickly theyíve been able to marshal resources for us. We see them embracing it more each week.

They see the potential impact the technology can have for their business, which is how we want all our partners to feel. I donít think anyone thinks weíre taking jobs away from anyone (as in outsourcing). The genie is out of the bottle and people have accepted that outsourcing is a fact of life. We have a much more global economy now (not just here but everywhere). From a technology perspective, certain managers recognize that.

If the machine could do migrations all by itself, people would be doing that despite how many developer jobs are lost. Weíre years away from approaching something like that, though, and today you still need a person.


MM commentary: ProtoGroup is small. Satyam is big. Still, Satyam is paying attention to the little guy. That says something.


MM: How do you support your business?
CF: It really depends on how the deal is constructed. If we own the entire migration process, weíll support it every step of the way. When a third party controls the customer relationship, itís dependant on the part of the process and where the support is required. If itís within our core technology set, we will support that directly. If itís something our partner integrated and thereís a problem with their work, theyíll take care of it.


MM commentary: Support can be an expensive proposition internationally (unless your partners can pick up most of it). I wonder what Indian customers will think of calling Indian call centers.



Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at mike@intlalliances.com.
Click here for Muthís full biography.

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