The local remote database administration services company was working around the clock to fix and maintain its customers’ data. Its engineers needed to collaborate with clients during business hours, but also service databases during the night.
So co-founder and OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient Paul Vallée travelled to Hyderabad, India in 2002 to set up an office where infrastructure management was booming and the difference in time zones beneficial. Pythian had no more than 20 employees at the time.
“The whole idea of setting up a subsidiary in India for a 20-person company was ridiculous,” Mr. Vallée says. “I didn’t know that I couldn’t do it because nobody told me that I couldn’t do it.”
He did it anyway, and it wasn’t long before a contact in Sydney, Australia passed along a resumé after noticing a gap in the (North American) evening shift where more employees for database administration were needed.
That’s when Pythian decided to become a global company using global resources. This year, as the company celebrates its 15th anniversary, its 215 employees are spread across 21 countries and speak as many languages.
But it’s not about having boots on the ground – Pythian doesn’t serve customers in as many countries as it has employees. It’s more about allowing the company to access the best and brightest in the field internationally.
“We can hire out of a candidate pool that is global instead of limiting ourselves to a pool that happens to be living where we have offices,” Mr. Vallée says.
MANAGING A GLOBAL TEAM
Working as a remote company, Pythian had to develop software that would make its services visible to customers, showing what it did and why.
Serendipitously, that same software (which Mr. Vallée developed himself) can be used to manage remote employees.
Inspired by charting and continuous documentation in health care, Pythian’s work management software prompts its engineers to document observations, actions and results. Even e-mail correspondences can be included. A clock measures exactly how much time is spent on each task performed.
The software can also be filtered by employee, to see what each engineer has accomplished in a day.
“All the things that are difficult about managing home workers was relatively easy for us,” he says.
One challenge that can’t be fixed by technology is dealing with time zones.
“We’ve come a long way in telepresence technology to create collaboration,” Mr. Vallée says. “But if they’re asleep or would rather be having dinner with their families – this is a very tough challenge.”
Staff meetings are often held outside of Ottawa office hours, and there is a nap room that can be booked by employees. It’s named Hyderabad after the Indian city into which the company first expanded. Mr. Vallée says he’s booked that room plenty of times.
THE FUTURE OF REMOTE I.T.
Even with Pythian’s advanced work documentation software, concerns remain about employees having access to private information. There’s no way of knowing if an engineer administering an e-mail system takes a peek at others’ private correspondence.
And as systems become more valuable, pressure is mounting to create additional accountability. Mr. Vallée draws similarities to the surge in banks installing cameras as soon as the technology became available in the 1940s, with most implementing the technology within a decade.
“We think something similar will happen in our space, and we’d rather be leaders and trendsetters,” he says, without elaborating on what software Pythian has in the works.
For now, its 100 Ottawa-based employees will continue to work around the clock, ring a cowbell hanging in the office to celebrate every new contract and sign up for the occasional nap.
SIDEBAR: REVENUE GROWTH
Earlier this year, Pythian made Profit Magazine’s list of the 200 fastest-growing Canadian companies, reporting revenues of $17 million in 2011 – up 237 per cent from 2006.
Mr. Vallée says the company has seen 50 per cent growth every year, and expects no different for 2012. That would mean around $25.5 million in revenues this year.
The fuel behind this growth is a market trend of flight to quality. More and more companies rely on online systems for their revenues. Pythian client Rakuten from Japan, for example, transacts almost two per cent of the Japanese retail economy. Powerful online systems suffer financially during any amount of downtime, and many are realizing it’s worth spending money to pre-empt the problem.
“You start to choose your resources in the way you might choose your brain surgeon,” Mr. Vallée says. “You’re not going to say, ‘Who is the cheapest in the world?’ You’re going to say ‘Who is the best?’”