The key decision that turned Therese Tucker’s BlackLine Systems into a software powerhouse

Therese Tucker founded BlackLine Systems in 2001 with a desire to create a better provider for finance software. Since then the company has grown in leaps and bounds, with massive clients such as Qantas and Optus.

But in 2008, the company underwent a transformation to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, turning the company upside down. Tucker spoke to SmartCompany about how she managed the transition – and why the company is ultimately better off for it.

We made the decision in 2008 to no longer sell in-house software. Moving to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model was the best thing we ever did – people are typically only tied in to a one-year commitment, and they’re much more open to buying.

The implementation is faster. Support is easier, people can’t screw up their own IT environments – they can’t install one server and create a support nightmare, for instance. If they do have a problem, they have access to support.

Every now and then we still lose a deal because someone wants it in-house. I hate it when it happens. It does happen, but interestingly enough SaaS in the US is well accepted now, even for accounting data.

The Australian-specific SaaS market has been awesome – we have over 70 clients in Australia and New Zealand alone.

One of the biggest concerns is security. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated, and so we have to work more on security than we did five years ago. There are so many pieces of technology and safeguards that we now have in place.

It’s very expensive to invest in that. But most companies don’t actually invest money for themselves in these areas, so we probably have a more secure environment than most companies in their own headquarters.

I get frustrated with getting enhancements to customers. In the early days, if a customer wanted a change, I would sit down with the program and get it out for them. That’s just not an acceptable process anymore when your company grows.

You have to do QA, load testing, etc. You just have to make sure the changes aren’t going to bring down the environments for hundreds of customers. It has to be a discovery process. When you make a change, you need to make sure the change works for different specifications and so on – it seems to take forever.

It’s a necessary evil. But it is necessary, and that’s probably my biggest frustration. There are so many things we see people still need to be done more efficiently in the accounting arena, and areas where there can be upgrades, so sometimes those updates take a little longer than I’d like.

There are good things about being in a different position, as the company has grown. My job has changed a lot over the years. Now I just tend to have a lot of meetings.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that we seem to consistently get really smart, really nice people to work with us. It blows me away, the quality of our employees.

I still like the people I work with. Day in, day out, there just happens to be more of them. I wouldn’t change that either.

My biggest frustration is that I don’t get to program anymore. That’s just not my job anymore, and once I reconcile myself to that and still involve myself with the growth of the business, I’m okay with that – mostly. Mostly.


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