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July 2007
Fusing Technology and Functionality
By Ellison Clary

     Scott Spanbauer is coupling his technological savvy with strong people skills to propel his 12-year-old company toward a more prosperous future.

     With his creative mind and his penchant for training and teaching, he’s mapped the road to prosperity and is well on his journey.

     His challenge is to keep up with the ever-evolving range of software available, designing customer interfaces that fuse the technology with functionality – crossing the digital divide. The BridgeBuilder Company does just that; it customizes software developed by giants, such as Microsoft and SAS, to add valuable features specifically for a client’s unique needs.

     The resulting customer relationship management products can simplify performance monitoring for a company’s managers, typically people who don’t want to spend time navigating a computer system. A manager can push one button to scrutinize vital data in real time, and the report is visually appealing and meaningful, with colorful graphs and tables.

     Additionally, BridgeBuilder offers training on how to best use the technological tools.

     “We want to control our destiny by creating our own value-added propositions that hopefully we’ll have more control over,” Spanbauer explains. Our target market is small and medium-sized businesses, those with more than 75 employees and $1 million and up in annual revenue.

     A creative guy with a techie mindset is a description that Spanbauer agrees is apt. He’s good at training and he’s got a mind for technology. Further, he has inherited an entrepreneurial spirit from his father and grandfather, both of whom owned their own companies.

     Growing up in Hendersonville, N.C., Spanbauer became fascinated with computers in the eighth grade. His greenhouse owner/operator father, who specialized in growing roses, encouraged the interest and soon Spanbauer was handling his dad’s Christmas card list and electronically organizing important business information.

     He took any computer-related courses he could find in high school and, as a sidelight, developed a computer program for the basketball shot clock in the high school gym.

      After graduating in 1991 from the University of North Carolina, and three years of working with other tech firms, Spanbauer started The BridgeBuilder Company when he was 24. From its beginning, BridgeBuilder’s mission was to help companies manage performance with business intelligence and sales force automation. These technological products facilitated internal reporting and customer relationship management. Spanbauer incorporated BridgeBuilder in 1996.

     With technological innovations that allowed executives to view real-time data on the performance of their company, or their part of it, BridgeBuilder grew rapidly in its early years. A 100 percent annual increase in business continued for each of the first three years, aided mightily by BridgeBuilder’s training and systems maintenance that was almost universally well-received.

     Working with large, Vancouver-based vendor Crystal Decisions, BridgeBuilder’s staff traveled the country and sometimes the world installing business intelligence software and teaching the buyer’s employees how to use it. They worked with corporate giants such as Fidelity Investments, AT&T, Texas Instruments, Bank of America, Wachovia Corporation, Hewlett-Packard and Duke Energy.

 

A New Road Ahead

     For 10 years BridgeBuilder operated on a comfortable plateau, with about 15 employees and about $1.5 million in sales annually. For its training offerings, BridgeBuilder had around 6,000 clients. Spanbauer took pride in his company remaining stable during the dot com bust in 2000.

     But in 2004, Crystal Decisions was gobbled up by the even larger Business Objects. BridgeBuilder, along with most of the other Crystal Decisions business partners, suffered a big time profit margin squeeze.

     “We came to a fork in the road,” Spanbauer says simply. So Spanbauer made some gutsy moves. He left Business Objects behind, immediately losing about a third of BridgeBuilder’s annual business. He also moved BridgeBuilder from space in the Ben Craig Center, a business incubator, and into 2,000 square feet of space he bought in an office building on Gilead Road in Huntersville.

     In 2006, BridgeBuilder revenue dropped to between $300,000 and $400,000. Spanbauer cut the payroll drastically; he’d already closed the firm’s Cincinnati office.

The start of 2007 has been a struggle, but Spanbauer forecasts better times, probably by the end of the calendar year. He’s applying a business plan he has developed in conjunction with working toward his master’s of Business Administration through an online course offered by the University of Phoenix. He plans to complete his M.B.A. in marketing this September.

     “I love marketing,” Spanbauer volunteers. “It’s a lot of fun when you can apply all the different technologies and our past experiences in a unique way to solve problems. I like connecting with and helping people.”

    He also puts in quality parent time with son Ty and daughters Megan and Paige.

    A former Babe Ruth League baseball standout, Spanbauer coaches 7-year-old Ty and his mates on the Coul-Oak Reds. Typically, he developed a computer system to help him pick the 7- and 8-year-olds for the Reds and, also characteristically, he trained the kids to play multiple positions.

    “I’ve got 12 kids who can play,” says Spanbauer, a former shortstop and center fielder.     
     “There’s value they take away from this experience. They’re getting self-confidence to go on in life.”

     Meanwhile, Spanbauer is nurturing steadily growing relationship with Microsoft in Charlotte and developing a new partnership with SAS in the North Carolina Research Triangle. He believes both are promising.

     “Microsoft is big for us,” Spanbauer says. “They’re here in Charlotte. That’s really where we’ve spent most of our efforts for the last 18 months. We’re trying to work with the customer relationship management product they just released. They’ve been tremendously generous and good to us in providing resources. They’ve given us a lot of tender loving care. Now we’re ready to take their product forward by applying our experiences from the past 12 years.”

     BridgeBuilder also is making inroads with SAS, based in Cary, and one of the largest privately held software companies in the world.

     “What SAS focuses on is really a sweet spot for us,” Spanbauer says. “They have business intelligence. But their crown jewel is analytics.” He quickly adds he believes analytics is the wave of the future. “It’s for forecasting, predictive modeling and an advanced kind of artificial intelligence.”

     SAS has decided to build a reseller channel for its product line and Spanbauer believes that landscape is promising for BridgeBuilder. His company can use its marketing and training skills with smaller businesses, offering them the same SAS-based software used by companies such as Ford Motor Company.

     SAS shares Spanbauer’s appreciation for the potential of analytics. “BridgeBuilder has knowledge from an analytics standpoint, and we’re an analytics company,” says Jack Duncan, global channel sales director with SAS. We’ve established what we call a value-added reseller agreement with BridgeBuilder,” Duncan adds. “We want to put together a solution based on the sports and entertainment industry. BridgeBuilder fills an important void for us in focusing on that industry.

     “The BridgeBuilder competency is around customer relationship management,” Duncan continues. “It is in fully analyzing client needs and developing programs to meet those needs. We look for companies like BridgeBuilder because we have a baseline solution for business intelligence and customer relationship management. It requires the expertise of companies like Scott’s to adapt the solution to specific clients.”

    SAS feels comfortable with BridgeBuilder because of Spanbauer’s emphasis on customer satisfaction and on meeting long-term customer needs, Duncan says.

 

Focusing On Clients

    Some of BridgeBuilder’s newer clients include Peak 10, a leading independent data center operator; Frontier Capital, a venture capital firm; and Alveoluf, which makes heart stints used worldwide.

    The best clients for BridgeBuilder, Spanbauer says, are companies where leadership understands information technology systems aren’t always “plug and play.” They also realize that developing an information system that meets their needs is a collaborative effort with BridgeBuilder, he adds.

     “It’s their data,” Spanbauer says, “so we set up on their premises with their servers. We’ll teach them so they can maintain it. Some companies have dedicated IT resources and others don’t. Smaller businesses typically don’t.

     “For small organizations, we come in monthly or bi-monthly and make sure everything’s fine,” he adds. “We try to be fair by going the extra mile.”

     Spanbauer likes companies that have grown rapidly and need a way to streamline cumbersome and time-consuming reporting processes. “Customer relationship management systems allow you to manage activities, track phone calls and capture e-mails,” he explains. “You track the critical business information and make it available to your organization in a central database.”

     BridgeBuilder has experience at installing such software products in spades. “We’ve successfully performed hundreds and hundreds of implementations,” Spanbauer says, “far beyond most organizations.”

     Every company is different, he says. For a sales-oriented firm, it might be performance numbers for individuals on calls made or appointments set. For a magazine, the critical information could be around subscriptions gained and lost.

     But customizing software from Microsoft and SAS to address such specific needs is an important way BridgeBuilder adds value for its clients, Spanbauer continues. “I see us taking this base technology, taking our experience that we’ve built over 12 years now, and creating some new product offerings that will impact how people manage their companies.”

      Spanbauer feels training is important, too. Besides the on-site variety, Spanbauer has plans to offer BridgeBuilder training online. “By putting some online training classes in a private learning management system,” he says, “I believe we can start serving customers in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as well as Charlotte.”

      In fact, Spanbauer feels the best compliment a client can pay BridgeBuilder involves praise for its training. “I’d rather be complimented on how we train somebody to use something rather than how innovative the product is,” he says.

 

Spanbauer Sees Bright Future

    The future for BridgeBuilder is bright, Spanbauer believes. In five years, the customized customer relationship management products and the training on how to use them will make up 70 percent of the business, he projects. The rest will come from developing the custom programs from base products created by companies such as Microsoft.

    By 2012, BridgeBuilder will have somewhere between 30 and 50 employees, Spanbauer predicts, and they will cover various geographic areas of the United States. His conservative estimate of sales is $6 million a year, but Spanbauer thinks there is a good possibility sales could approach $50 million annually.

    It’s a competitive business, and Spanbauer doesn’t see that abating. “That’s why I think it’s important for BridgeBuilder to step above that competitive level and move into areas where we offer that value add, that experience we can bring to the table,” he says.

    “We’re going to have a stake in the ground around customer relationship management,” he vows, “and the training we’re going to do is around CRM.”

BridgeBuilder will be flexible enough to offer specific training when a client’s employees most need it. Getting training just when they are about to use a new program is when it is most effective, Spanbauer says, because that’s when employees are going to use what they learn and reinforce it.

     “I want people to be the best they can be, period,” he says. “We can help them get there.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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