When the economy plummeted, many software vendors and services providers scaled back their teams and stopped answering the phone. “Suddenly, it was impossible to get ahold of anyone—service was the first thing to go,” says Vivian Keena, CEO of Alternative Technology Solutions. “We had customers that called us and were so relieved there was someone out there who could actually help them with their system problems.”
Keena launched Alternative in 2009, after two decades of building her credibility through various leadership positions in the software industry. The company began as an Epicor services provider and grew quickly despite the recession. “Alternative was there at a critical time—we came in and helped customers figure out how to make the most of their ERP investments so they could run more efficiently.” Keena says.
At the time, many companies didn’t have the budget necessary to invest heavily in their systems, and they needed to find ways to make what they had work efficiently. Alternative helped companies tailor their applications to better fit their business needs, eliminating unnecessary steps and processes. “I believe it is all about making the application work for your business, not working around the application,” Keena says.
“In those beginning days, it was simple: help customers make the most of what they had through automation, training, customization, and complementary solutions.” she adds. “And this is still what drives us today: to create products and solutions that meet manufacturers’ changing needs.”
Now that the economy is getting its legs back under it, Keena sees a new opportunity coming forward: “Just because the economy is improving doesn’t mean companies can afford to let their guard down,” she says. “Companies need to continue to evaluate areas of the business that can be automated, optimized, and reimplemented to improve overall efficiency and maintain their competitive edge.”
The company now works with several other software platforms, including Salesforce; has over 75 employees throughout North America; and landed on the Inc. 500 list in 2013 as a fastest-growing company. “For us, it’s not just about getting the transaction complete, whether that’s selling or implementing,” Keena says. “We really think about how the end user is going to use the technology every day and what we can do to drive user adoption and user knowledge.”
Although many companies operate in the technology services space, Keena says her group brings industry expertise with a service approach that’s lacking from many cloud providers today. “There are a lot of great companies out there with some amazing technologies,” she explains. “But many lack industry experience and a passion for effectively helping customers get products implemented and adopted; this is where Alternative excels.” She adds that many companies sell solutions without taking a personal interest in a business’s day-to-day operations. “It was important for me to establish a company where we could really get to know our customers and play a critical role in helping them build their businesses,” she says.
In addition to offering solutions, Alternative started to develop its own suite of applications. Keena says it was always part of her long-term plan for Alternative to become a product company, and the company has now grown enough for that initiative to be possible.
Alternative works primarily with manufacturers and distributors, which created the necessity for the configure-price-quote application, called iQ. This application, developed on the Salesforce’s Force.com platform, is designed to simplify the process of quoting product catalogs, pricing, discounting, and workflows, while giving users complete insight into their customers from within their Salesforce platform.
In 2013, Alternative announced that iQ was available on Salesforce’s AppExchange, which Keena says is the market leader for customer-relationship management. Now, manufacturers can leverage iQ to create quotes quickly, accurately, and consistently, whether they’re using a computer or mobile device.
In addition to iQ, Keena says Alternative will unveil two more initiatives in the next 12–18 months that focus on inefficiencies in the ERP market. The company’s focus, she says, is to target areas in which manufacturers and distributors are consistently unsatisfied.
Another major change coming to Alternative will be from the top. Keena wants to continue growing Alternative’s product and partner lists in order to expand the solutions that Alternative provides to customers. “Alternative is poised to take customers to the next level with applications that are lighter, smarter, and accessible from anywhere,” she says. “We’ve come a long way in five years—and we’re just getting started.”