The following text was first published in October 2010 in The New Small: How a New Breed of Small Businesses Is Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies by Phil Simon. We are grateful to Phil for profiling Fuentek in his book and for granting us permission to reprint this excerpt.
… [Laura] Schoppe founded her company in February of 2001 and embraced a virtual workforce from day one. The cost savings from not maintaining a proper office are self-evident. Her staff consists of a variety of folks: pure techies, editors, and graphic designers. She hires only those with a keen sense of business as well as solid technical skills. These people are critical in assessing the commercial viability of a particular application and meeting her clients’ needs. That is, Fuentek associates need to be able to recognize cool technologies, and products that lack a market are just that: cool technologies.…
J.D. Biersdorfer: Has cloud computing allowed some small businesses to allow, maybe, more telecommuting for employees that could keep costs down?
Phil Simon: Oh, absolutely. There is a great case study in the book, a company by the name of Fuentek run by a woman named Laura Schoppe. The chapter in the book is called, I think, “The Distributed Workforce.” She actually hasn’t even met some of her employees, and they use collaborative tools. That’s kind of one of my pet peeves: people who say that email is collaboration; well, it really isn’t.… we’re certainly, I think, in “Collaboration 2.0,” but it’s something that only certain companies actually get. A lot of companies have these tools but they still rely on big email or voicemail blasts — that’s just so antiquated. It was actually really refreshing to work with companies that just get it. They want to use tools, and they want to use the most effective ones possible. They’re not wedded to old standbys because they’re afraid of the future.
Biersdorfer: Yeah, it sounds like they’re kind of making the future.
From New York Times Tech Talk Podcast, January 5, 2011 (starting at 6:28)
… Schoppe is the first to admit that collaboration can be a challenge at a company like hers. There are no water cooler conversations or impromptu discussion at the coffee machine at Fuentek. To address this potential problem — and real problem to some extent — Fuentek relies heavily on social technologies. Collaborating and sharing tools have matured and developed a great deal in the decade since Fuentek was founded. Schoppe notes, “We use many of the same tools that a brick-and-motor business uses.”
Of course, Fuentek is very different from most businesses. [Note: You can read more Fuentek insights about working virtually here.]…
The Move to SaaS [Software as a Service]
… Collaborating on and sharing key company documents wasn’t always so easy. In the early 2000s, Fuentek designed and implemented a now-dated web-based IP [intellectual property] Asset Management System (IPAMS). Built by Schoppe herself, the tool was called COMmercialization MANagement Database (Command). To her credit, Schoppe realized when her system had served its purpose. To take her company to the next level, Schoppe would have to retire her baby. “To finally mothball it was tough,” she admits, although she had conceived of the application in 1998 while getting her MBA.…
Schoppe’s willingness to change is rooted in her belief in the power of emerging technologies. “It just isn’t logical to use technology today that was current 10 years ago,” she notes. Although migrating systems is never easy, the new SaaS-based system (Sophia by Wellspring Worldwide) has paid enormous dividends. It is superior on many fronts, including system flexibility, reliability, and cost. In terms of the latter, the savings can be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars, no small number to a company of 40 associates in any economy, much less this one. “When the time came to swallow my pride, it wasn’t that difficult,” Schoppe notes.
What’s more, the new system has functionality not remotely possible in its predecessor. Fuentek benefits a great deal from the following enhancements:
- Comprehensive search feature (date and documents)
- Customizable workflow capabilities
- Integration with intellectual property listing and exchange services
No longer do employees and contractors have to manually alert someone else that a document is ready — something that even the best of us occasionally forget to do, causing superfluous headaches and delays. The benefits of search cannot be overstated. Fuentek recognizes the significant time savings of being able to find one document among literally thousands. To facilitate this, document are tagged by client, category, and keyword. [Note: You can read more Fuentek insights about information management for IP management organizations here.]…
Future, Results, and Challenges
… Fuentek continues to look for new technologies as they become available and evolve. The right tools maximize company efficiency and effectiveness. Fuentek will continue to use its staff flexibly to match their clients’ needs. For example, if Fuentek signs up more aerospace clients, it will look for additional mechanical and aerospace engineers with industry experience.