PROBATRON’s Magical DNA — Does It Translate To The Cloud?

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On Friday, PROBATRON’s CEO Robert Wringham sat down with KNN’s Technology expert Tim Pointer to discuss how PROBATRON is positioning itself to win in what’s fast becoming the white hot Cloud space.  What follows is Part 1  of that interview:

Tim Pointer – When I think  about the Cloud, Robert, it means so many different things — multi-tenancy, network hosting, provisioning, virtualization, enhanced security, private versus public, etc — and now many analysts see it as just a low-margin race to the bottom,  as the competition intensifies and applications and storage become cheaper and cheaper.

So first, how does PROBATRON  fit into the larger picture,  alongside major players like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM?  And is it still possible to make money in the Cloud, or are we looking at another expensive, self-defeating UNIX war?

Robert Wringham – Good questions, Tim.  First, let me just say that at PROBATRON,  we like to say that we were The Cloud before there even was a Cloud. And that vision has remained unchanged since 2000.

TP – Please explain.

RW – At PROBATRON, we have a corporate mantra that is so important to our success, that we put it up in ASCII HEX over the entrance to every one of our buildings in the United States.  It reads, “You never feed a cash cow, you just milk it to death.”

TP – And how does that relate to the Cloud?

RW – Here’s the history, Tim.  In the mid 90’s, because our legacy guys were pretty  mediocre (and still are), we had no choice but to grow by acquisition.  The big players were killing us even before the dot com run up.  We realized that there was no way our guys could ever develop anything anyone wanted. And forget about time to market — if you bet on us, you’d go broke before we ever delivered anything you needed.  We were actually worse than DEC then, if you can believe it!  So around 1994/95 we shifted our R&D spend, and later 50% of our development spend to Mergers and Acquisitions.

TP – Again, I don’t see how this relates to  ….

RW –  Once we moved to an all out acq strategy, things started to turn around very quickly. But then to our surprise, after about 4-5  years, almost all of the acq’s started failing or were in big trouble.

TP – What was the problem?

RW – Ironically, Tim, as it turned out, these startup, fighter pilot types just couldn’t assimilate.  They were creative, entrepreneurial guys, and (laughs) that’s just not a fit at The PROBE.  We typically hire followers, guys who make up for what they lack in  creativity by being relentless followers of any standardized development process or initiative that comes our of corporate — no matter how self-defeating!  Worker bees, in other words,  or as we used to say in one of our media campaigns back then, “PROBATRON — Where Excellence Meets Good Enough!”

TP – I remember those ads!

RW – They were great, weren’t they!  Especially the one where Arnold turns into Urkel!   I worked on that project, by the way,  back when I was in HR (smiles).

Anyway, Tim, to answer your question,  by late 1999, it looked like we were screwed –- our own guys couldn’t develop anything, and our acq’s were failing.

TP – And that’s when you decided to move to a Cloud play?

RW (laughs) – No, not at all!  That’s when we realized we were a Cloud play!  The whole company was a cloud play!  When the acq’s started failing, we had to fix our run rate, so we laid off all the remaining developers (the smartest guys always left anyway after their options vested) and then we moved just about everything, Development, QA, S&S –- everything except Sales and Marketing, usually –- to India or China, and then later ASIAPAC and Eastern Europe.

TP – I still don’t get it.

RW – Tim, we milked the cash cows almost to death, then off-shored what was left of them, but — and here’s the beauty piece! — to our customers it still looked like everything was being done in the United States!  Get it?  We WERE our own Cloud.  The whole company was the Cloud!

TP – That’s AMAZING!

RW – Yes, it is, isn’t it!  PROBATRON  wrote the book on Corporate Cloud Computing!