Careers: Interviews
Crystal Decision Expert Craig Todd

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with Craig Todd, Senior Program Manager, OEM, Crystal Decisions Inc. (formerly Seagate Software).

Q: Craig, you are considered by many as the foremost expert in Crystal Decision products which are integrated into so many offerings from other major software vendors. It’s a real privilege to have you with us. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

A: Thanks for the compliment Stephen, although I’ve never really considered myself an “expert” before. We have so many very talented individuals at Crystal Decisions, so I really think of myself as one of the team.

Q: Craig, due to the need for your expertise, it’s hard to track you down since you travel so extensively worldwide. Can you provide two interesting stories from your global travels?

A: Isolating any two is really quite a challenge and very often the stories tend to repeat themselves.

One story that stands out though occurred while traveling to a meeting in Austin, Texas. My flight was from Vancouver through Los Angeles and on to Austin. Unfortunately, there was a massive storm sweeping across the United States that day and the flight was delayed over an hour. We flew south through Mexico to try to outrun the storm. Unfortunately, it beat us to Austin by about 5 minutes and just as we were about to land, we had to pull the landing gear back up, abort our approach and fly to Houston.

Originally, I would have been in Austin by 10:30 that night, but found myself in Houston at 2:30 in the morning. Since there were no flights until 10:30 am, and needing to make my meeting the next day, I rented a car and headed off through the middle of Texas at 3:15 in the morning, armed with some strong coffee and directions from a local gas station. As the storm raged on around me, lightning crashed so frequently that it lit the night sky like daylight, and I considered the possibility that this was not the best choice I had ever made. Three hours later, I arrived safe and sound with enough time to catch a cat-nap and a shower and made the meeting on time.

Q: Outside of your schooling, how did your career evolve into your current position, what key decisions did you make and what impact did they have on your career?

A: I spent a number of years in retail sales and sales management before finally deciding upon a career in the IT Industry. The problem was, I had never used a computer before and needed somewhere to start. I got a job at Radio Shack, determining I would be able to put my previous experience to good use managing stores while taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about computers on the job. Once I had what I felt was a good grounding in the technology, I quit my job to return to school full time to pursue a formal education in Computer Systems Management. Along the way, I picked up Microsoft and Novell certifications and moved into networking, ultimately working as an IT Administrator and then Service and Support Manager for a Vancouver-based ISV and Systems Integrator before coming to Crystal. Each decision so far has seemed to simply be a logical step.

Q: You have partnerships with so many computing companies. Can you describe a few of these relationships and how they are important to your company?

A: Crystal Decisions has a long history of partnering with software companies incorporating our best of breed reporting and analytic solutions in their applications. We have long standing relationships with companies like Microsoft, having been included in their Visual Basic/Visual Studio development products going back as far as 1993. This particular relationship has culminated in the development of a new customized version of Crystal Reports specifically for the Visual Studio .Net development suite. Crystal Reports for Visual Studio.NET is installed as the default report writing and analytic tool for developers building .Net applications. Additionally, we have OEM relationships with BaaN, PeopleSoft, SAP, IBM/Lotus, Lawson Software, Hyperion Software and over 285 other Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that choose to incorporate and redistribute our solutions.

These relationships have been a key part of the growth and success of Crystal Decisions as they not only provide an expanded distribution channel for sales of products like Crystal Reports and Crystal Enterprise, but they also help establish us as a standard in the marketplace as the reporting and analytic tools of choice for the world’s leading software companies. It says a great deal about the functionality, quality and usability of a product when world leaders across multiple vertical markets choose Crystal Decisions’ products to provide their Business Intelligence infrastructure.

Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your products and services and their respective target markets?

A: Crystal Decisions, formerly known as Seagate Software, is an information infrastructure company founded in Vancouver, BC in 1984. We produce Information Management tools to assist companies in bringing together their two most important assets: people and information.

There are four main product families: Crystal Reports, Crystal Enterprise, Crystal Analysis and Crystal Applications. Crystal Reports allows users to create powerful and interactive reports from virtually any datasource and publish them to the web using the Crystal Enterprise platform. The Crystal Analysis product family includes a powerful, scalable, multidimensional OLAP server called Crystal Holos and a dynamic report writer for OLAP datasources called Crystal Analysis Professional. Like Crystal Reports, Crystal Analysis Professional allows users to publish their reports to the web using Crystal Enterprise. Crystal Applications are analytic applications like Balanced Scorecard, KPI Scorecard, eTelecom Analysis and others that allow for interactive business analysis using data mining tools and techniques. All of these technologies are brought to the web using Crystal Enterprise, a scalable, secure, fault tolerant platform for information analysis and delivery. Crystal Enterprise also allows you to easily integrate reporting and analysis into web-based applications, intranets, extranets, portals and wireless applications using our flexible software developers’ kit.

The target markets for Crystal Decisions’ products are really split across three distinct groups: Business Users, IT Analysts and Developers. Everyone needs access to information and we develop products to break down any barriers to that access. We develop our products with key features to appeal to and assist each of the members of our target markets in making better business decisions every day with their data.

Our Crystal Services Organization includes over 300 consultants, trainers and certified consulting and training partners that assist in product training, implementation, design and development and our Crystal Care technical support specialists number over 250 worldwide providing support services to our customers.

Q: Where do you see your career evolving over time and how do you plan to shape your role within the company and to your clients, in the next two years.

A: My goal at Crystal Decisions has always been to ensure our partners have a strong voice within our company. When it comes to developing and enhancing products, we understand that the voice of one partner represents the needs of literally thousands of end users and work to ensure we take the needs of those partners to heart as we continue to evolve our products. Additionally, our model is to develop very long-standing relationships with each of our partners. Many of our current OEM partners have been Crystal partners for 5 years or more. We understand that each one of them is making a long-term investment in our company and we work hard to live up to the faith they’ve shown in us. Quite frankly, I think we do a pretty good job at it too!

My role in the company is that of a technical liaison between Crystal Decisions’ OEM Partners and a variety of internal groups at Crystal such as Product Management, Research and Development, Quality Assurance and Technical Support.

What I envision for the future is building a larger team of technical resources within the Crystal to be able to expand our relationships with our partners. It only gets better from here!

Q: With your extensive worldwide experience, what key technologies should IT professionals and businesses introduce into their operations in a year, two years, and five years?

A: The key technologies for success will be those that allow an organization to cut costs and increase productivity, revenue and profitability.

Business Intelligence spending is expected to grow from $4 billion annually in 2002 to $10 billion annually by 2006 and corporate data volumes are growing exponentially. Those companies that are building the framework for managing and analyzing their corporate data and are taking the steps to share that data with more decision makers on a daily basis are going to lead their industries.

It’s not so much a question of specific technologies to adopt as it is a question of making choices along the way that allow you to do more with less, free up key resources from unproductive tasks and empower more people to make better decisions more often. The ability to react quickly in a rapidly changing market is critical. IT professionals need to continually update their skills and take every opportunity to read, study and be prepared for change.

Q: What are the five biggest problems areas/traps that you see companies falling into and how can they be resolved?

A: If I truly knew the answers to those questions, I’d be running several large, successful multi-national organizations by now! I think, as hackneyed as it may sound, that failure to plan is often one of the biggest mistakes any company can make. Without a clear vision and plan for success, companies waste time trying to get there.

Delivering on your promises, both internally to your employees and externally to your partners and customers alike is very important. The moment you fail to deliver, fail to support and fail to respond, you lose credibility. I’ll leave solving the ills of the corporate world to the analysts and continue to deliver tools they can use to analyze and evaluate the past and plan for the future!

Q: Do you have any advice for both newly minted IT professionals and seasoned veterans if they are considering a change in their focus or careers? For example, which areas they should target and how they should go about gaining expertise in these areas?

A: My preference has always been to seek out formal education and follow that on with self-learning. This business requires that each and every one of us is learning something new on a daily basis in order to stay current or, better yet, one step ahead of the competition. Personally, I have never sought to restrict myself to a specific area of expertise but rather, have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore several different areas of focus within the High Tech sector. Were I to focus on a new area today, I would look to find something that both challenges and interests me and then evaluate the potential for a career. The best advice I can think of is the advice my father offered me as a teenager: “Find something you love to do and then see if you can find someone to pay you for it.”

Q: What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?

A: My 10 Tips for Success? That’s a tough one. Most of them are things that we all know and, in reality, the list is much longer than 10. Looking back at where I’ve been and how I got to where I am now, I think some of the following helped me get here:

Be honest. Be driven. Work hard. Fix your own mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Learn. Teach – one of the best ways to learn something yourself is to teach it to someone else. Laugh. Take risks. Love. Plan – but not so much that you miss the opportunity in front of you!

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. Each choice we make in our lives is part of chain that ultimately leads us to where are today. I’m happy and challenged and making a difference where I am. Had I made other choices along the way, everything might be different. No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Q: I can see that you’re an active professional and that your work occupies much of your time. What are your some ways you can relax?

A: Since I do travel a great deal, I try to focus on spending as much time with my family as possible. Whether the activity involves all of us attending my son’s baseball game, riding our bicycles to a local park or simply watching a movie together, we try to enjoy one another’s company as much as we can. We recently purchased a piano for the family and my son and I are taking lessons. I find it restful to focus on something that has no display screen, no wires, and no batteries.

Q: If you were doing the interview, what two interview questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: Why computers? Why not medicine, law, art, finance or some other career? What was it that drove you here?

I think mostly it was a fascination with their potential. I was mesmerized at a young age by video games like Pong and Space Invaders and always drawn to the displays of Commodore VIC20’s and Tandy TRS80’s in the stores. Oddly enough though, I didn’t own a computer until I was 27 years old. By then, the industry had grown up to a point where I saw career potential for myself in Systems Analysis rather than programming.

What single change do you see that will affect the IT industry and computers in general for the future?

I think the single biggest change is people. It occurred to me while watching my son and daughter use our home computer. Both of them have grown up using computers from the time they could walk. They have never known a world without the Internet. To the children of today, the computer is an appliance. To them, the computer is no different than a telephone, a television or a toaster. They surf the web, knowing that whatever they want to know is available to them. The have no preconceived notions about the technology involved. I think that this will allow them to see beyond existing technologies and build based on desire and imagination.

Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give?

A: Simply that I am fortunate to be able to work in such an exciting industry and to be associated with such a growing and successful company.

Q: Thank you Craig for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us and sharing your knowledge, vast experience, and wisdom.

A: It’s been my pleasure Stephen. Thanks for the opportunity.


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