"Acta is a company with an outstanding vision of where the use of data is headed," states Carol Mills Baldwin, the company's enthusiastic president and chief executive officer.
Baldwin, who was born in Wausau, Wisconsin, earned a bachelor's degree in economics at Smith College and a master's degree in business administration at Harvard University. Before joining Acta, Baldwin held a variety of senior executive positions at Hewlett-Packard where she learned the importance of building an organization that has the ability to scale, the importance of customer relationships built on trust, and the importance of open dialogue with customers and employees. Since she joined Acta in July of 1998, Baldwin has blended this knowledge of what is necessary to lead a successful company with the products and people of Acta.
Mills Baldwin's decision to join Acta was influenced by several key factors, one of which was the company's practical approach to customers. "I've seen a lot of companies that exist just because the technology is cool. That doesn't impress me. I have to understand why a customer would want and need the technology. Acta is an up-and-coming company with a perceptive vision. The vision for Acta was shaped, in large part, by talking to customers about what they needed."
The resounding message from the customers was that there was an urgent need to be able to share data not only internally, but with external customers and suppliers. Mills Baldwin comments, "The need to share data externally is potentially even more valuable than being able to use data for internal analysis. What we have done at Acta is built the data infrastructure for sharing data. The idea of data as an asset, an independent asset of a company, is one that will revolutionize corporations. Up until now, data has really been viewed as a slave to the application. Companies have SAP data, PeopleSoft data, Oracle data or Siebel data. The data structures are all different, and they don't talk to each other.
"ERP was a supposed panacea that would liberate data, but that didn't happen," says Mills Baldwin. "ERP applications created the most complex data structures that you can imagine, because they're very powerful applications. As a result, organizations now find themselves with a crazy quilt of data and they need to make sense of it all, including data from older legacy applications. That's where Acta started accessing these incredibly complex, hierarchical data structures."
Noting that this is not an easy task, she adds, "Our data movement is the equivalent of taking the World Trade Center, disassembling it, putting it through a pipe and reassembling it on the other end while preserving the structure. With data movement, you have to be able to preserve the complex, hierarchical data structure because having just pieces of the data would not make sense."
Companies have now come to the realization that data is a powerful commodity that can be exploited to better run operations, be more competitive and work more effectively with customers. E-commerce and the concomitant need for access to data has created a huge demand for data infrastructure. Explains Mills Baldwin, "The fact that companies are going to start sharing information with the outside will, by definition, affect the internal data structures. Companies will define what data they want to share and define security levels. When suppliers and customers use the data, inevitably there will be some questions. Consequently, the internal data structure must match the external one and also have a deeper, richer set of information," says Mills Baldwin. "Data is the glue that holds companies together. But, it will only work if you use data efficiently which requires 24x7 availability and scalability. Acta's eCache provides a way of caching the critical data and making it available around the clock."
Mills Baldwin thoroughly enjoys Acta's position in the dynamic marketplace created by the Internet and eCommerce. She states, "I love being involved in a marketplace that is so vital and so open. It's like an open, sliding glass door. We can look out and see how technology is going to be used and make judgements about how we can execute successful solutions. To me, that's just the ultimate. I'm driven to be successful, and if you couple the right vision and the right marketplace with execution, you can't help but be successful. It's an exciting time for all of us at Acta. Our eCommerce infrastructure applications for enterprise data give internal decision-makers and external customers access to the data that was previously locked in ERP systems. To make back-office data commerce ready, we have designed components to meet the special demands of the Web. Our e2e (enterprise to eCommerce) Internet infrastructure dramatically speeds and enriches eCommerce and business intelligence by providing real-time and historical data integration with excellent response times."
Carol Mills Baldwin, president and chief executive officer of Acta
One of the biggest challenges that Mills Baldwin sees ahead of Acta is the challenge of growth. "The challenge lies in taking the assets that we have and continuing to scale them to recruit and retain people through rapid growth, especially here in the Valley. We have to continue to do the fundamental business functions correctly. I'm really glad that I have the experiences that I have because Acta is now at the stage where it's coming into my strengths scaling, growing, coaching and creating a corporate culture."
Explains Mills Baldwin, "I am also very, very big on viewing an IPO as an event not a destination. I think a lot of companies make a mistake of having the IPO be the destination and setting up expectations that somehow you've reached something when you get there. It is a milestone and it is exciting to go public, but it is only an event. The next morning when you wake up and the company is public, then the real work begins. What's really more exciting than going public the most exciting thing I can imagine is the gigantic opportunity it gives us as a company. As we use that opportunity, the value of the company is going to increase. Thus, everything that I am setting up here is for a durable company with values highly focused on customer satisfaction. We anticipate potential problems that could arise and we try not to have them happen. We are building our infrastructure in anticipation of growth to ensure stable and continued growth."
"One of the many things I've learned during the course of my career," states Mills Baldwin, "is that it is necessary for a company to create its own culture. I try to pull together the best of all worlds. For example, we have people from a lot of different places. We have half of our revenue in Europe, and so we have half of our field in Europe. Keeping them feeling connected and part of the company is critical to me. I want everyone to really understand everything that's happening in the business so that we're all on the same page. One of the methods I use is to send out what I call Acta Flashes to everybody. We'll have Acta Flashes on just about anything my interpretation of events or something of that type. It's fun because people send back comments, which creates a dialogue that ties everybody together. It's my little attempt to use technology to build a sense of community here!"
eCaching: Speeding B2B eCommerce with Rapid Access to the Back Office
"To be a true business-to-business eCommerce player, you need to provide easy access to key back-office data," says Bob Cook, vice president administration/chief information officer for Hunter Douglas, the international maker of window fashions. Hunter Douglas is using Acta's eCaching products to strengthen their relationships with trading partners. "With Acta, Hunter Douglas will be able to share up-to-the-minute information that is essential for maintaining good business relationships over the Internet," said Cook.
Acta's eCaches "out-of-the box," packaged databases that can be rapidly deployed to hook eCommerce applications to ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems are the linchpins in Acta's e2e (enterprise-to-eCommerce) Internet data infrastructure. Each eCache contains predefined data extraction jobs that automatically populate and continuously update the cache with a company's ERP system. With ActaWorks RealTime (RT) a high-performance data movement and management platform companies can refresh eCache data from back-office ERP systems in both real time and batch mode.
However, having a connected and cohesive employee base is not enough to sustain an organization. According to Mills Baldwin, "A successful company must marry business strategy with the technology strategy. You need the technology visionaries who let technical ideas bubble to the surface and you also need the business visionaries who identify a practical application for the technology. Acta is very fortunate because our technology founders, Sachin Chawla and Alex Gorelik, are not only brilliant technologists but also practical strategists. When you add to that our attention to customers and their requirements, it's an unbeatable combination. That's the core of what we do really well, and I firmly believe that's the way a company has to be put together. You have to get that positive interaction and mutual respect across the various entities, making the whole company work. We have not only the synergy of technology and business, but we have a very well-balanced customer-focused team that is very respectful of everyone's competencies."
What gives Mills Baldwin the greatest satisfaction is Acta customers. "I thoroughly enjoy talking to customers and learning what they are planning. To me, learning about other businesses is really interesting. At Acta, we are very tied to our customers needs, and we make a special effort to listen to them. I know that sounds like motherhood and apple pie but a lot of companies don't recognize the value of listening to customers. We don't really have a vendor relationship with our customers. We have a partner relationship because we are a critical part of their infrastructure. We are honest with our customers, we share information with our customers and, most importantly, we listen to our customers," emphasizes Mills Baldwin.
The enthusiasm of Mills Baldwin for Acta, for their customers and for the unlimited potential its technology presents, is contagious. "If you think about it, what is happening today it is that companies are realizing that they can be separated geographically and can be completely separated in terms of corporate structure as long as they exchange information. In essence, Acta is at the heart of this evolution, creating a powerful set of ways to connect an enterprise internally and with its customers." She sums it all up by saying, "Once you start to share information, once you liberate the information from inside enterprise application, the uses for it are beyond our imagination. A lot of people within organizations have been frustrated by the non-availability of critical data, knowing they could accomplish great things if they could access and use that data. Now that we can make data available for external as well as internal use for production and for eCommerce-- all of a sudden a lot of enterprise problems get solved and a lot of bright ideas are going to finally get funded. It's really very exciting!"
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