Federico Bonarrigo, one of the oldest employees at Apparound, contributed to its foundation in 2008, collaborating, in the role of CTO, in the growth of the company and its success on the national and international market. We asked Federico to take a few minutes to answer our questions. Read the interview below.
Federico, to begin with, can you tell us something about yourself, your career and your role in Apparound?
At school, I was fascinated by the power of digital technology to transform businesses. After graduating in the early 2000s, I started my career in web development, with a focus on e-commerce. The first Internet boom was a great time. I have seen firsthand the impact of all this new technology on society as a whole and have been fascinated by how they bring these innovations to businesses, not just consumers.
I got my chance in 2008 when Apparound was founded. I became their first CTO and led the development of a suite of tools that made salespeople more productive (and happier) by giving them everything they needed to make a sale right at their fingertips.
As we continued to add features such as guided selling, product configuration, quote production, and electronic signature capture, we pioneered a category of software that later became known as CPQ (Configure, Price and Quote).
What’s your take on the pros and cons of CPQ for every functional business need imaginable?
Companies have always used some kind of configurator. In the beginning it was related to back office tools. It later became a standalone tool or spreadsheet. Today’s CPQ solutions simply move that capacity closer to the point of sale.
Modern CPQ solutions are critical to any organization with a sales force because they eliminate errors, shorten the sales cycle, and reduce the onboarding time required to make new salespeople productive. As a result, salespeople are happier, customers are served better, and profitability increases.
Having flexible solutions that can be easily configured and integrated with other business resources, obviously through the cloud, also makes IT happier, because you can solve business problems without setting up another software development business.
We know that CPQ was born as a stand-alone solution, but in the cloud-based SaaS world, the integration between different software is a great opportunity. What are the practical challenges businesses face with integrating systems?
First of all, different business functions see data differently, so it’s essential that stakeholders understand that they first need to identify the benefits they are seeking to achieve for their business. Who is the integration aimed at? How should the various user paths change as a result of the integration?
The other challenge is more technical: trying to get the software of a wide variety of vendors to talk to each other and with the monolithic systems still at the heart of many companies. Fortunately, the emergence of middleware automation platforms (such as Zapier), the consolidation of service-oriented development models through APIs, and the growth of the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) software platform market are making it easier and easier. And today, any modern software will support hybrid integration, enabling on-premise applications to seamlessly integrate with cloud-based applications.
How does the advanced CPQ model you propose work? What level of internal technical expertise does a company need to use an advanced CPQ solution?
There are two answers to this question, depending on whether you are talking about installing and integrating a new CPQ system, or using and configuring it once installed.
Installing a new CPQ system raises a number of challenges. In addition to a deep understanding of business objectives, you need the ability to interact with a wide variety of systems, using different, often legacy, interfaces.
Furthermore, due to the key role that CPQ will play in the enterprise, the expectations for the solution are very high. Test Driven Development (TDD) work models and a well done test automation infrastructure are essential. If possible, you want to implement a pilot installation among a subset of users, usually a product group or region, to gain experience with them before expanding to the rest of the company. Additionally, these new users will act as evangelists helping to overcome the natural resistance to change.
Once installed, the system should be manageable by the corporate user independently. Ideally, marketing or backoffice should be able to perform backend tasks such as adding products, configuring packages, adjusting prices, running promotions, etc.
Who should drive the results of the integration: the technical manager or the functional manager using the software? What are the best practices that you advise companies to follow when it comes to integrating disparate systems to gain a competitive advantage?
Often integration initiatives are perceived by management in a very simplistic way, just as an issue that concerns the technical staff who must find a way to make the web services communicate with each other, or something like that. The reality is very different. Integrating disparate systems is primarily a matter of business results and should be treated as such from the outset.
The approach we have at Apparound, and which I recommend, is to meet stakeholders immediately and understand what results they expect their business units to achieve from the integration. So you can model the User Experience from start to finish. Only then will we be able to work effectively through the technical architecture of the integrated solution.
Tell us more about the integration of the different tools with company systems. Who has them and how do they make life easier?
Interoperability in the age of cloud computing is a key issue. Nowadays, having a multipurpose tool that solves all business challenges on its own, even in a company with a large budget, is unthinkable. There is a plethora of specialist services that are increasingly being delivered through the cloud, including CPQ. The challenge of the provider is to make these services flexible enough and easy to integrate with each other, so that the user experience can be satisfactory.
The buyer’s challenge is to find the right compromise between the solutions available on the market. The vendor must be large enough to provide the necessary technology, reliability, and performance (including the product roadmap). But it also needs to be small enough to consider you a strategic customer, worthy of being supported and listened to.
About Federico Bonarrigo:
Federico Bonarrigo graduated in Computer Engineering from the University of Pisa in 1999 and started his career as a .NET web developer and database designer. His passion for designing web architectures for business led him to become the founding CTO of Apparound in 2008. Federico’s team pioneered the development of the first CPQ tools for global telecommunications and made Apparound a leading provider in Italy of CPQ software and Sales Enablement.