Exclusive – First Interview with New Achilles CEO, Phill Robinson (part 2)

Yesterday, we featured part 1 of our interview with Phill Robinson, the interim CEO at supplier information management firm Achilles. After some big changes in the management team, we asked him if the vision and direction of the firm had changed. Not really, he said, although "perhaps we’re putting more focus back onto how we can better support our mature communities – the strategy is certainly not software for software’s sake”. We continued from there by asking what that means for the single technology platform that seemed to be at the core of his predecessor's approach?

"It is still work in progress, good work I should say, and we are pursuing a controlled roll-out of the platform; so far we have nine of our communities working successfully on that platform. But that means there are some 50 who aren't. And I'm clear that we are not going to impose the platform on any community that doesn't want it - we will move only when they want to move based on a dialogue with the communities. A couple more are in the process of moving – but the business issues faced by some communities are not necessarily predicated on using the platform".

Will customers see anything different with you and the new team?

"I don't think there will be anything particularly noticeable but just to stress we have no intention of moving towards the “basic” cloud software model – new release, everyone migrates, turn it off if you don’t want it!  If there is anything different, it is around what I said earlier - we must have a relentless focus on providing the services and support that our communities want and value. For instance, we have appointed an executive sponsor for each community, and we’re looking for deep levels of engagement with each one".

Where do you see the opportunities for Achilles to grow and to help your customers?

"Whilst there are opportunities with new communities and new geographies, perhaps the focus is more back on existing communities as I said. There are opportunities to come up with new products – like our mapping offering, which allows companies to gain visibility of their extended supply chains – and get deeper into what the communities want to do".

Is the oil price crash bad news or good news for Achilles?

"It's interesting and it can work in both directions for us. We have seen a slowdown in the growth of new suppliers coming onto the platform and more leaving. It is obviously not the best time for the suppliers to those industries. But the community members if anything are looking at where they can collaborate more - to improve efficiency and reduce costs - which means there may well be more services that Achilles can provide to those firms".


So there we have it - and thanks to Robinson for sparing the time to talk to us.  We still wonder whether the management clear-out was quite as simple as a whole bunch of senior executives deciding independently that the time was right to move on. It is possible of course but it seems a coincidence.  Perhaps the "single platform" strategy wasn't delivering quite as expected - but equally, there is no sense that there was a crisis of any sort, and the continued backing of HgCapital is re-assuring.

What Robinson is bringing is an approach that puts service and services right back at the top of the agenda. “Service” as in seeing the communities as the life-blood of Achilles, and serving them well as an absolutely critical success factor. And "services" as the central focus of the firm, with software  supporting those services - rather than Achilles becoming principally a cloud-software firm, which is where we thought it was going at one point.

Generally, Spend Matters is on the same wavelength as Robinson. We have always felt that the services aspect of the business is the true strength – for instance, the network of global offices that gives the firm real “feet on the ground” when it comes to evaluating and accrediting suppliers. Software is important, but it is not where their competitive advantage seems to lie. That is still true today, and Robinson seems to have that view too. We can't speak for the competence, charm or experience of the rest of the new team, but as a first exposure to the new CEO, our impression was of someone who is very experienced, sensible and customer-focused.

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