A quintessential Canadian success story, the Waterloo-based enterprise information management (EIM) software solutions company came from humble origins to become a global leader in EIM. OpenText’s tale began back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s at the University of Waterloo. It was ultimately born out of a research project that sought to convert all 60 million words of the Oxford Dictionary to electric form. During that process something game-changing happened: the Internet’s first search engine technology was created. From that innovation OpenText was incorporated in 1991 and the new search engine technology it invented was eventually adopted by Yahoo!, one of its first customers. For OpenText it was an innovation that would ultimately lead to many more that would take the company beyond search and into the world of EIM.
“Very quickly, OpenText realized that in order to provide something tangible to enterprises you need to have a plate on which to put all that information,” says Lubor Ptacek, VP strategic marketing, OpenText. “That’s a repository. That’s how we ended up developing the first document management system. That was the start of what we call today enterprise content management.”
Now, OpenText has established itself as the global go-to leader in EIM solutions, helping over 50,000 customers around the world, earning over $1.3 billion in revenue annually and boasting a workforce of 5000 employees. The company’s core offering sees it helping customers across industries including energy, utilities, oil and gas, mining, government info management (OpenText was selected to run the social collaboration site, as well as under the hood security for the Toronto/Muskoka G20 summit), financial services and life sciences. It manages their unstructured data – the kind that doesn’t easily fit into the rows and columns of a database. They do so by offering them software solutions that fall under five core pillars: enterprise content management, which includes information compliance and governance; business process management, which includes modeling business processes, and automating and optimizing them; customer experience management – helping OpenText’s customers to better service their own customers; information exchange, which includes moving information between different companies or systems; and discovery, which focuses on analyzing information, getting more out of it and then packaging it differently and offering it in more useful ways.
“On a global stage Canada has a very good reputation, a very trusted reputation.”
“With EIM, what we now see is that as we start combining these applications into a single suite of products, we can actually solve problems that were not solvable before,” says Ptacek. “That’s our focus.”
And the company continues to innovate. Ptacek says that OpenText was the first enterprise content management vendor to embrace mobile and deliver its solutions on mobile devices. It’s also looking to transform its business in order to provide solutions in the cloud, as well as investigating opportunities in social technologies and facilitating customer experiences with HTML 5.
“It’s very exciting times right now because there are so many amazing innovations happening all over the place and through all layers of the stack,” says Ptacek. “We see plenty of opportunities everywhere.”
On top of innovating organically the company also innovates by way of acquisition, which Ptacek says helps to bring in different skill sets and methodologies into the company, which they sometimes adopt across the board. It all furthers OpenText’s business strategy, which Ptacek characterizes as “intelligent growth.”
“We are very much focused on growing, but growing smartly, growing in a sustainable manner, growing in a way that we know we are solving legitimate problems and growing in a way where there is longevity to the business,” says Ptacek.
Of course, being a software company over two decades old, OpenText has faced its fair share of challenges. OpenText has had to wade through the ebbs and flows of tech trends, seeing some come and go and bubbles inflate and burst. Longevity, says Ptacek, has helped to provide some measure of perspective in that regard. It’s through growth, however, that some of the most recent challenges for OpenText have ultimately arisen. For example, when it comes to communications between OpenText HQ in Waterloo at its global offices. Then, of course, there’s managing the inherent differences between its global markets.
“It’s a fine balance that you need to strike between being consistent around the world and yet respecting the differences,” says Ptacek. “Certain products or value propositions may not resonate in certain countries. You need to be aware of that.”
Despite being a global entity, OpenText’s Canadian heritage is and always will be an important and crucial component of the company’s identity, says Ptacek, particularly when it comes to the way it approaches its customers.
“We are always portraying ourselves very vocally as a Canadian company,” he says. “On a global stage Canada has a very good reputation, a very trusted reputation. Canada historically has not been a threatening country or doesn’t really make anybody nervous and that’s the kind of reputation we like for OpenText as well. We like to be the trusted partner to our customers.”
He adds that on top of the Waterloo-based HQ, OpenText’s largest employee base and its key functions are located in Canada. When it comes to the future, however, OpenText’s eyes are elsewhere. The company’s goal is to continue expanding its business into new geographies with fast growing markets, including Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Ptacek says that the company has been doing a lot of work to establish a presence in those territories.
OpenText came out of a research project conducted in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s at the University of Waterloo, led by professor Frank Tompa, which sought to digitize the entire Oxford Dictionary. Out of that was born the first search engine technology. Soon realizing that they had developed something that was commercially interesting, OpenText was incorporated in 1991. Shortly thereafter, a small group of founders were joined by Tom Jenkins, who became OpenText’s CEO. Jenkins has remained a central figure at OpenText and, while not anymore involved in the day-to-day, remains chairman of the board.
Advice to Canadian entrepreneurs:
“The other thing that, for a Canadian company, is probably quite important is think global because as a Canadian vendor you will have a certain advantage there because Canada is inherently considered a bilingual country and kind of a bridge between the U.S. and Europe. Take advantage of that.” – Lubor Ptacek
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