Aptean’s COO Alan Somerville Believes Success Lies in the Details
May 08, 2020
Alan Somerville, Aptean’s Chief Operating Officer, is a man of many talents. He’s an executive here at Aptean; he manages a department comprised of nearly 800 employees; and still, he finds time to golf, to fly airplanes and to spend time with his grandchildren. How does he manage all this? Prioritization - Alan Somerville believes that success is in the details and that all the big things in life and business are ultimately achieved through focused work on the day-to-day tasks.
You've been with Aptean for just over six years. What brought you here initially? And what keeps you here?
Prior to Aptean, I was one of the executives in Misys, another Vista company, in charge of services and support globally, and I was asked to move to Aptean. Aptean had recently been purchased by Vista, and they wanted expertise from an existing Vista company to support Aptean’s growth in the Vista portfolio. That’s how I ended up at Aptean, and as far as what keeps me here, it’s the people. It’s nice to work with passionate people. In the first few years of Aptean’s life, it had some challenges that it needed to resolve to stabilize the business and build a foundation for growth. We’ve been growing ever since, which makes it an exciting place to work.
As Aptean's COO, what are your key responsibilities and initiatives?
My key areas of responsibility revolve around customers, staff and financial performance. I’m responsible for making sure we deliver services and support to our customers on time, on budget and to a high professional standard. As an organization we are focused on providing what our customers need to make their companies grow and be successful - which ultimately leads to high customer satisfaction, customer referenceability and our customers remaining with us for years to come.
As a department of around 800 people globally, ensuring our staff has the tools to excel at their work, and in an environment that fosters growth, respect for others and fun is a key consideration for me. I work closely with HR to ensure that we have the right programs in place to support staff development and growth. We also wish to deliver a high and consistent standard of work across all our products and geographies, and this is always one of the big challenges in any services and support organization: applying best practices in a growing and evolving business while having the right people in the right place with the right skills at the right time.
And finally, financial performance. As revenue earning areas of the company, all the good work the staff must undertake results in a profitable Services and Support business. Only by meeting our financial goals and objectives will Aptean grow and have the success to invest in the growth of our staff and our company.
For a business to grow, the employees must grow with it. How do you encourage your teammates to focus on improvement?
I think the biggest way is to always look for opportunities to improve the business, whether that’s input from an individual, a group or an acquisition. We are always looking at how we can improve the individual tasks we perform because those individual tasks affect how successful we are as a business.
We can’t assume that we have everything right. As an organization, we are continually evolving and acquiring, looking at how other people do things and embracing new suggestions and ideas that help us stay fresh. We should always be asking ourselves “what are the best practices for our business, not only now, but as we evolve?” I think the important thing is to encourage people to put forth ideas and thoughts and for them to help us adapt the organization. Only by challenging the status quo, by helping raise the bar, and readdressing ‘what good looks like,’ will we as individuals develop and help the company to be successful.
With so many employees working remotely during this challenging time, how are you ensuring your team stays connected and productive?
I think it comes down to three things: 1) communication, 2) prioritization and 3) focus. I think we should be doing these three things at any time to be successful, but it is even more important as we all work remotely in this time of global crisis. Let’s break those down individually:
- Communication – There must be regular communication with all of our staff. That should occur whether we’re in this global crisis or not, but it’s even more important right now. There are company town halls, group meetings at various management levels and cascading levels of team meetings and daily check-ins. All of those things are important so our staff remains engaged and still feels like they’re a part of Aptean and understand our strategy and direction. These meetings allow us to discuss the challenges we have as a business and determine what we must do to address these challenges associated with this global crisis we find ourselves in.
- Prioritization – We always have a lot going on, and it’s really important that we prioritize our work. We should identify the key things we must do to keep our customers successful, our staff engaged and our business stable. We’ve got to ensure we adapt to the current challenging times to deliver the services our customers need in a manner that applies to this new way of working.
We must make sure that the prioritizations allow us to set up our business not only to weather the current storm but also to come out the other side of this stronger than we went into it. We can’t let ourselves carry on as before and not adapt to the new normal. Clear identification and communication of those priorities are absolutely fundamental to getting through this.
- Focus – We must relentlessly focus on the priorities that we come up with for the business. If we want to come through this crisis, we must get to the point where our customers feel we can still deliver the services and support they need, so they want to stay with us now and in the future.
I do believe that every single small step that every member of staff does on a daily basis makes a massive difference, even more than most people realize. And we’re lucky because we work with so many talented people. We’ve just got to make sure we stay focused on our top priorities.
How do you measure success for your team?
There are two main things: people and performance. The biggest measure of success to me is through the people. If our staff are provided a good environment to work in, can be content, supported and trusted, then we will all be successful. Seeing staff progress, take on new challenges, stretch themselves and be proud of what they have achieved is a great measure of success for me personally.
Even everyday small things can give us a great sense of achievement - whether that’s solving a customer problem, providing customer advice, completing a project milestone or go-live or just accomplishing a set of challenging tasks that have been set. If we as individuals enjoy what we are doing, it is noticeable to our colleagues, customers and friends. That has an impact on the quality of work we do.
The second measure of success is performance. We are measured on revenue and margin. While it can appear to be a clear-cut measurement, it is only an outcome of how successful we are at defining our priorities, establishing good practices and having skilled and motivated staff.
I believe you don’t set out with the only priority being to achieve a financial target, you set out with a goal to improve what we do, how we do it and, most importantly, with skilled and motivated staff to achieve it. If you do that well, then the outcome will be a good financial performance. There are many actions that each individual undertakes every single day to drive success. It is these small steps that, in combination, make all the difference. So much of what Aptean staff does on a day-to-day basis that may not seem like much ultimately leads to our success.
As you are well aware, Aptean tends to acquire many companies each year, how do you manage so much change? How do you integrate these new team members?
This is one of the most exciting and challenging things we do as a business. Acquisition is in the DNA of Aptean - it’s what we do. We want to grow organically, but also through acquisition. Through acquisition growth, we’re bringing more opportunities to our staff and more functionality to our customers.
Integrating organizations is not easy. It can be fraught with challenges and frustrations for us, but also for the acquired companies. I do think we are remarkably lucky at Aptean to have a very good acquisition process. We look for prospects that could be a good fit for Aptean—and there’s a lot that goes into that. Not only must it be the correct product for Aptean, but we also want to ensure there’s a cultural fit between the two companies. In six years, we’ve acquired over twenty companies, and we’ve learned a lot along the way.
I wouldn’t claim we’ve got everything perfect. We’re all still learning, but we have an operation model that was built with acquisitions in mind. We structured Aptean so that, as we acquired more businesses, we wouldn’t have to constantly reorganize. I think our structure has enabled us to distribute the work to the relevant parts of the businesses without overstretching one part. Our model and our experience help us to integrate companies better than I have seen at any other company I have been with.
What makes you you? Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing? How do you spend your free time?
When I have free time, I spend it with my family. I have a couple of grandchildren, so spending time with them and my daughters and their families are very important to me. I enjoy golf, so I spend a good amount of time doing that when I can. And flying - I hold both private and commercial pilot licenses. While I previously flew commercial medical flights in my spare time, I mainly fly privately now. All of those things keep me busy.