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CEO Spotlight: Interview with Errin O’Connor, EPC Group  

By The Sterling Report

He’s a man of many hats: a successful CEO, an acclaimed speaker, author and trendsetter. Leading Microsoft implementations in organizations throughout the country, Errin O’Connor, CEO and Founder of EPC Group, believes that the SharePoint 2007 platform will be hot until 2011. Erin discusses with The Sterling Report his leadership style, what makes a good CEO, and how SharePoint is all set to revolutionize the Medical Communication space.

The Sterling Report (TSR): What are the advantages of a corporation using Microsoft technologies, like SharePoint? Are there any technology shortfalls? If so, how is your company addressing the shortfalls of the technology?
Errin O’Connor (EC): I have conversations everyday with IT managers, stakeholders, SharePoint administrators and developers about the advantages of utilizing SharePoint within their organization as well as some of the shortfalls they may encounter and how they can be avoided.

It’s rare that you find one system that can cover so many different topics. In a recent edition of CIO magazine, Jon Brodkin reports Forrester predictions including Forrester predicts that “Web 2.0 will be a priority for 24% of organizations over the next year.” (CIO, Feb: 2008) You cannot say the same thing about SAP, PeopleSoft, Documentum, or any other related tool. After numerous deployments, I still get excited by how SharePoint really can add business value to an organization. SharePoint is not something that should be considered a cost or a drain on an organization’s budget, but rather a platform that provides real opportunity and value to get your organization where it needs to be.

SharePoint can be your organization's:
  • Intranet Solution
  • Internet-Facing Solution
  • Knowledge Management Solution
  • Enterprise Content Management System
  • Business Process Automation Platform
  • Application Development Platform
  • A Hybrid of all of the above
SharePoint is one platform with so many different powerful solutions that can be managed by an IT staff with one similar skill set, hardware model, and (hopefully) similar licensing agreement. An issue that a corporation may encounter is that SharePoint can become so popular within an organization so fast that without the proper governance model you can have 500 or 1000 SharePoint sites with content everywhere, no standard metadata, no content management policies and inadequate security policies. Can you reel SharePoint back in after you get to this point? It’s possible, but not something that you’re going to get excited about. You’re going to alienate your user group because now they have all these fun ‘bells and whistles’ and now enforcing governance policies can make users feel like the system is not giving them what they require.

That is why engaging a firm who can assist you in enforcing SharePoint Governance is so critical and the sooner this is done the better. I am not suggesting this is going to be a fun exercise and you are going to have all the answers from day one, but you need to put this on your radar screen and start as soon as you can in the right direction.

When I think of SharePoint Governance topics, a large number of them come to mind such as:
  • Site Provisioning Governance
  • Look and Feel Governance
  • Content Governance/Power User Governance
  • Application/Custom Development Governance
  • SharePoint Email Governance
  • SharePoint Maintenance Governance
  • SharePoint External/Extranet Access Governance
  • Content Types/Metadata Governance
  • SharePoint Migration Governance
  • SharePoint Designer 2007 Governance
  • SharePoint Reporting Governance
  • SharePoint Security/Active Directory Governance
TSR: What sort of challenges do you encounter as an author, speaker, leading expert and a business head?
EC: Being involved in so many different projects and initiatives at once and wearing the hats of author, speaker, leading subject matter expert and CEO can be extremely challenging, but extremely rewarding. Managing time is something that I have found is key to my success. There are only 24 hours in a day and sleep is something that is also important to any executive’s success. While I was writing my book and running my organization there was little time for sleep. There are always going to be these times where sleep is just not an option, but those times need to be kept to a strict minimum. After my book was published I still had a lot of bad time management and sleep related issues that caused issues in other areas of my business and overall productivity. Its amazing how taking time for yourself, taking care of yourself, and getting away for a few hours a day can really make all the difference in the world.

Picking important projects, learning to say no and focusing on what you do best are things that I am trying to improve on every day.

I truly enjoy the interaction with the participants at the various seminars and ‘SharePoint road shows’ for which I speak. Being the author of a book on a subject such as SharePoint 2007 has been a blessing in many areas. A very large number of Fortune 500 companies are rolling out SharePoint and my firm, EPC Group.net, has been able to engage in many of these initiatives. On some of these initiatives. I simply work with the executive teams to create a roadmap or long-term vision for their organization, but on other initiatives I am engaged as the Senior SharePoint or Information Architect to guide EPC Group’s consultants in a best practices approach based on the type of business and the actual number of users that will be accessing SharePoint. As a CEO who also wears other hats from time to time, I still have to be engaged in both the running and building of one of the nation’s largest SharePoint firms. I have been fortunate enough to bring some very key people into my organization that manage and dictate the company’s day-to-day operations to allow me to venture out and excel at the things that I feel best benefits the growth of my organization. Carol Donnelly, EPC Group’s COO, is one individual who I have been able to bring in to run the day-to-day operations who has completely changed the landscape of my organization. If you’re going to have a lot of irons in the fire and try and build a large corporation, it’s extremely important to have people like Carol in your organization that can let you let go of the rains and focus on other pressing items.

TSR: What are some of the new solutions based on SharePoint that you are looking to offer in the future?
EC: EPC Group.net has some very exciting product offering that I am thrilled to discuss. We were approached by Dovarri, a Houston-based and leading CRM provider, who asked us to assist them in developing a new version of their CRM Solution that would be built on SharePoint. Over the past 7 months, we have been working to develop this powerful and flexible new solution that has just recently launched. EPC Group has partnered with Dovarri to handle all product development and be their Information Technology partners to give their clients not only a supercharged CRM Solution built on SharePoint, but the consulting and development experience of the nation’s top SharePoint firm to conquer the CRM space and dethrone other firms who now can’t offer the flexible and dynamic package that we have developed.

EPC Group is also working on a fax solution to allow organizations to fax over VOIP into SharePoint as well as fax from SharePoint. EPC Group has partnered with FaxBack to give our client base a best of bread solution to meet all of their faxing needs.

EPC Group has also started a joint venture with LifeLyncs in Kansas City to provide a new Medical Communication solution to hospitals around the country. This powerful solution is not only currently in development, but is also built strictly on the SharePoint platform and will revolutionize the Medical Communication space.

EPC Group is also developing WebPartGallery.com that is going to launch at the end of August. We have developed hundreds of SharePoint web parts, workflows, custom ‘look and feels’, and other robust solutions and will soon be selling these packed solutions online. This will offer clients from all over the world best practices solutions for a fraction of the cost of having them developed.

TSR: How important do you feel is the ability to predict the future to be a good CEO?
EC: If you have your ear to the ground and can try and get a sense of what is coming down the road, you may not be able to predict the future, but you may be able to get pretty close. It can be a challenge to study the current market place, see what others in your field are doing, try to stay ahead of the competition, get to market first, while maintaining supreme customer services and focusing on your existing verticals and offerings.

It may be cliché, but I think there is a lot to be said about taking care of your existing clients and doing an excellent job. Phase 1 of a project that is completed with tremendous success can most assuredly turn into Phase 2 and then
Phase 3.

I try and monitor many news feeds, blogs and press releases from Microsoft and other technology leaders to see where they think the trend is going.

In the SharePoint consulting arena, where my firm is mainly focused, it appears the entire world is going to go to some flavor of SharePoint by 2012. How will that affect my firm, do I have the right resources in place, and how do I continue to grow properly are some of the key challenges I deal with on a weekly basis that all hinge on how well I can ‘predict’ the future.

TSR: Will things change for the better in the area of SharePoint solutions implementation in the next five years?
EC: I am certain that things will continue to improve in the area of SharePoint solution in the next 5 years. With SharePoint 2009 coming out in the next few years, and the many independent software vendors that are building new solutions every day, I do not see how things couldn’t improve. EPC Group is in a very unique place as we have a very good pulse of where the SharePoint community currently is and receive feedback every day from some of the United States largest firms about what direction they would like to go and how they plan to get there.

SharePoint 2007, I feel, will be hot until 2011, SharePoint 2009’s release will start to heat up mid-2010 and be strong until at least 2013. Depending on improved content management pieces, more multi-media and offline capabilities, and other functional items that might be added, SharePoint could take over the content management, collaboration and internet space for the next 10 years without much problem at all.

TSR: What is your favorite part of your job?
EC: The favorite part of my job is meeting with clients and speaking at events. Whether it’s a new client or an existing client, I like to hear what their vision is, what their pain points are and then offer them my organization’s advice on how I think we can get them where they want to go.

What makes my job fun is that I have case studies, ROI reports, business value reports, screen shots of past projects and a large number of great references from Fortune 500 companies so people can trust what I say and I can back it up with a treasure-trove of real-life proof and examples.

It’s also very interesting to go to a speaking event with a room of people you never met and you have no idea what company they work for or what role they hold within that company and just hear them fire question after question at you. For me, it’s always a fantastic learning experience.

TSR: What part of your job do you like the least?
EC: Dealing with issues that are out of my control. There are always those issues that arise that were not planned for and no matter what planning could have been done, an issue still arises. In those situations I have to do my best to level set the issue, describe the actual problem, and put together a workable ‘next steps’ for everyone involved to make sure they put their best foot forward to keep the project or initiative moving forward and back on track.

TSR: Do you agree that certain areas are still lacking in the development & deployment of custom solutions on Windows SharePoint Services?
EC: I would agree that if you don’t have any experience in this area than you are going to have a heck of a time properly developing and deploying a custom solution the first time without learning some tough lessons. EPC Group has been able to learn from past mistakes over the previous 2 releases of SharePoint (SharePoint 2001 & SharePoint 2003) and has developed a best practices approach to custom development and deployment on Windows SharePoint Services.
Without a solid best practices approach at your disposal, it can be a painful and tedious process.

TSR: In your opinion, what is the most important factor that has brought you to this pinnacle of success?
EC: Hard work and then more hard work. I have literally been working 90 to 100 hour workweeks for the past 9 years and that is simply the most important factor that has brought me success. There were many times where I thought I might possibly lose my mind from working 100 hours in a week, but I overcame it. It’s also important to note that I sometimes really enjoyed the work and the long hours so if you truly enjoy something or believe in what you are doing, can you really call that work?

TSR: What is your vision of EPC Group for the future?
EC: EPC Group will continue to be one of the leading collaboration and content management-consulting firms in the country. We will continue to get involved with new partners to help us to grow and we have plans to continue to grow our Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City offices and open offices in Austin, Atlanta, DC, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

TSR: What do you think is the ideal style of leadership?
EC: A flexible, upbeat and involved style where you are continuously encouraging to your employees and try to find the best in even in bad situations. I don’t believe in a divisive, abrupt approach to leadership. Why would anyone want to work in an environment that was stressful or folks felt their superiors were either abrupt or talked down to them? Employees are the most important part of your business and keeping them happy and making them feel appreciated while still managing their activities and setting proper expectations of them is key.

Errin O’Connor is Founder and Chief Executive Officer for EPC Group, a leading provider of enterprise SharePoint implementations, content management solutions, Intranet redesigning, knowledge management, and custom .NET applications. He focuses his efforts on implementing Microsoft Technologies in organizations throughout the country. Errin also manages EPC Group’s corporate strategy as well as architects the methodologies around collaboration, enterprise content management and custom application development. He is the author of “Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Inside Out” by Microsoft Press. Errin has completed more than 83 highly successful individual SharePoint implementations and has worked with some of the largest organizations in the United States. For interview feedback, contact Errin at errino@epcgroup.net 

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