Local mobile developer takes on global market

Growth through partners now a possibility

When serial software entrepreneur Desmond Miller was looking for a new venture seven years ago the burgeoning mobility space presented an irresistible opportunity.

Seven years after starting O4 Corporation, Miller is confident the locally developed field-force automation software will achieve revenues of "north if $10 million" this year.

"We've built a technology platform here and are selling it into offshore centres with a lower cost structure like India and China," Miller told Computerworld.

Before starting O4, Miller had previously built two software companies - SystemBuilder and Masterpack ERP. IBM acquired SystemBuilder and Masterpack was sold to Ixchange.

O4 is now inking deals with the likes of Procter & Gamble which has operations in some 80 countries, and other customers include Fosters, Sanitarium, Maine, Dyson, and Goodman Fielder.

And being multilingual by design means the software can be adapted to non-English speaking markets like China where Miller claims as many as 1000 people are already using it.

Miller's philosophy for a local software company to thrive is to "think global".

"It's impossible to amortize one investment in the Australian market," he said. "Australia is a good pilot market and there are a lot of early adopters but the market is too small."

O4 has partners that use its software to create a solution and is looking at an agreement with Accenture because it is "doing multinational deals and we don't have the resources to scale".

Miller also advises having "some level of differentiation and leadership".

"In the kingdom of the blind the man with one eye is king," he said. "O4 is a mobile software solution that can be used for any field operation by any company involved in selling consumer products. A lot of success of the brand is determined in the last three feet of a sale."

One such usage scenario for the mobile application is to inform the sales rep what the plan for the day is and to see what the objective of a call out is.

In the purest sense, O4 is "a platform for building, deploying and supporting mobile systems". The software runs on Windows Mobile, is developed in .Net, and the server integrates with corporate e-mail and calendaring.

"We can deploy complex business processes on the device," Miller said. "ERP and CRM systems are not field automation systems. The reason we are successful is we have complete remote control of the application on the device."

Development began in 2000 and hit prime time in 2002 and now O4 "has companies coming to us".

Miller estimates it took three people working on it for two years to get the first customer. The company now has 12 developers out of a total of 60 staff globally, which includes development centres in Poland and Argentina.

"All R&D is done here and 30 percent of the configuration work is done here," he said. "We are able to run follow-the-sun development support and Procter & Gamble was shocked at how quickly we could deliver."

"R&D is where the brains are. We could test offshore but the innovation is all done here where there is intellectual capital."

That said, Miller hasn't completely ruled out offshore development as the company doesn't have "100s" in research and development locally.

For now, O4 is comfortable with building the platform here and doing the customizing and configuration work offshore.

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