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March - 2012 - issue > CIO Insights
Business today is all about being social
Christo Jacob
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Kumar Srinivasan is the Chief Product And Technology Officer at Bazaarvoice. Founded in 2005, Bazaarvoice is a leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that helps clients create, syndicate and derive actionable insights from online word of mouth. The company works with more than 700 global clients like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, Dell, Macy's, P&G, Panasonic, QVC, and USAA.. The company has currently filed for an IPO in Nasdaq offering 9.4 million shares for a price range of $8-$10 per share at a market cap of $512 million.
In his role at Bazaarvoice, Srinivasan is responsible for setting the strategic vision for future products and technologies the company will develop and incorporate into new products and services He has overall responsibility for engineering, operations, and IT and continually innovates ways of making people’s voices heard more clearly and directly across clients’ organizations . Additionally, Srinivasan’s team of product managers, product designers, and Bazaarvoice Labs work with global clients to understand their long-range business plans and ensure Bazaarvoice’s roadmap is strategically aligned with the world’s most respected brands.

Srinivasan has spent his career at the forefront of bringing some of the most exciting advancements in online technologies to customers, including e-commerce payment systems, social media, and web services.Prior to joining Bazaarvoice in July 2010, Srinivasan was the Chief Product And Technology Officer at Lockerz.com and before that, he served as VP and GM with Amazon.com where he directed, managed and coordinated the business development, execution and global operations of Amazon Payments Merchant Solutions. He also has held leadership technology positions with marquis-name brands, including Travelocity.com, Drugstore.com, Blockbuster Inc. and Wal-Mart, Inc.

Changing Technology Trends

The big change that's happening right now is that the businesses are going social. As CTOs in a social world, it is essential to figure out how you build a social product out of a service and connect that to the core business of your customers.

Many social companies are opening up their platform to enable consumers and brands (retail, manufacturing, financial service, travel, and more) to leverage – and extend— the power of customer conversations. The new social world is bringing in new ways of thinking for the entire industry. Companies have started to think that it is not about one-to-one customer relationships, but rather it’s about understanding what customers really want, what their friends are thinking about in a different circle, and a multitude of influence factors and trends.

Social data provides a better understanding of not only what customers like today but also the sentiments and trends that influence their decisions. We as a SaaS company are building platform solutions for brands to gain insights from online word of mouth to improve marketing, sales, customer service and product development processes.

One of our products provides solutions for brands to collect and analyze product ratings and reviews. We are able to take that data and provide intelligence into what the customers and customers’ circle is saying. Our customers are able to take social data and social technology and leverage it – at scale - business purposes.

Channeling Company Growth:

A main part of the CTO role is to support the company’s growth by building products, technologies, services and solutions that can scale at a reasonable cost. We live in a time where the products and technology could grow 10x, 20x or even 100x in a much faster time factor than ever before. As CTOs, we have to figure how we gather and build a technology that can grow multiple Xs at the shortest time frame as possible. CTOs also need ensure that all the technologies, platforms, solutions and services that we are building are built in such way that it does not negatively impact cost to the growth. While doing this we always think about two things:

1. Brand promise: For example, at Bazaarvoice, our brand promise is to change the world with one authentic conversation at a time. This informs what we build and prioritize.
2. Innovation: Innovation is the heart of advantage. If you don’t innovate fast enough, somebody else will do it first.

At Bazaarvoice, there are several new programs for engineers. For e.g., our “Science Fair” event brings engineers and people across the company together for two days to work on a product that fits the company’s promise. At the end of the event, they showcase their solution – and win rewards. This enables and empowers our employees to innovate solutions on behalf of our customers. We have a broad spectrum of work for the engineers, and we encourage them to come up with new ideas through idea workshops, patent work and so on. Engineers across the company are excited to put forth new ideas to change the world – and devote themselves full time to the project. We are big believers in innovation, and believe that innovation comes from grass root level.

Key Priorities Today

Our offerings are all about leveraging the social data and to help drive the customer centricity. All of our engineers and product managers take every opportunity they get to talk to the customers. I, as a leader in the company, spend a lot of time with the customers. We truly believe that customer is the king. Things that we do are based on what we hear from the customers.
There is a lot of excitement in the industry around social and how it is evolving. But retailers, brands and other verticals are still trying to figure out what is the best product to build and what the best way is to leverage this advancement that is happening in the social world.

At Bazaarvoice, this is our job. We engage with the customers, consult and build innovative solutions they can use to leverage the social world better. For example, our Ratings and Reviews product allows brands to not only collect data on a company’s website but also on Facebook pages or any other social page. So our clients not only get a view of what the customers are expressing on their own website; they also get social media information.
It will give you more data to be able to run your business and to put the customer at the center. We think about how we can bring all conversations together to provide a platform for you to be able to make better business decision.

Future Plans for Bazaarvoice

For us it’s all about growth. We want to spend tons of time building new innovative technology, products and services that help our customers and their customers at the center of their business. The question is ‘how can we do this at higher scale in a global way?’ This is going to be our biggest challenge. We are not just a North American Business but a global business. As our footprint across the globe continues to increase and each country where we do business continues to grow big, we are faced with a beautiful challenge of a horizontal vs vertical expansion. It’s all about scaling our product, services and company at a higher level. It is always easy to maintain our brand promise at a lower scale but our challenge is we must continue to do a greater job to keep our brand promise at the highest scale possible. That is going to be our biggest challenge for 2012 and we look forward to take it on!

(As told to Christo Jacob)

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