Ideas in Motion: Eric Pulaski Has the Key to Document Storage Solutions
Accounting Software 411
Although the viability and security of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions continue to be debated, there’s no speculating the brain trust behind SmartVault, a three-year-old provider of web-based document storage and sharing solutions headed by Eric Pulaski. I recently caught up with Eric at one of the state CPA society trade shows to discuss SmartVault’s products, the company’s strategy for long-term survival and even a bit about how the company uses viral messaging through social media efforts.
Scott Cytron: Why did you start SmartVault? What role did it fulfill that wasn’t already being served?
Eric Pulaski: There was a real need in the accounting profession for an affordable, easy-to-use solution for storing and sharing documents. You had the traditional DMS vendors offering fairly expensive solutions that called for a sizable up-front investment and required extensive set up and training. On the other end of the spectrum, you had the smaller guys that offered the equivalent of a QuickBooks plug-in, giving users the ability to attach documents to transactions within QuickBooks. No one was offering a cloud-based solution specific to the accounting profession – one that supported the ability to store documents online, offered 24/7 access, and the ability to securely share files between the service provider and the client. That’s the role SmartVault filled.
SmartVault is really unique in the space because we marry the breadth and depth of a comprehensive document management solution with our easy-to-use Toolbar that seamlessly integrates with the host application. And, because our solution is true SaaS, users can be up and operational in minutes, not days. The service is immediate. SmartVault offers all of the convenience of the Cloud – 24/7 access to documents from any Internet connection, a web portal for secure file sharing and collaboration, and a dashboard interface to easily manage multiple accounts or clients.
Eric Pulaski, SmartVault
SC: Tell me what makes your solution so unique and how QuickBooks figures in to the solution.
EP: What makes SmartVault unique is the combination of our easy-to-use document management capabilities integrated tightly within an application a user is already familiar with and the convenience and security of cloud computing for anytime-anywhere file access, sharing and collaboration. We also have a patent-pending toolbar that transforms the host application into a simple document management solution, as well as an inbox and unique scanning integration that allows users to go paperless with one click.
There are solutions out there that are great at document management and others that offer robust cloud storage, but SmartVault is the only solution that delivers on both fronts.
SC: I understand SmartVault integrates with several other applications, including Microsoft Outlook and the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner; in fact, I recently featured Fujitsu’s Kim Hogan in an AS411.com profile. How does the company decide what kind of integrations make sense?
EP: Our strategic vision is centered on being the “Switzerland” of document storage. We are dedicated to supporting integration with several of today’s most popular and highly used applications. Whether they are financial applications like QuickBooks and Peachtree, or productivity applications and tools like Outlook or the ScanSnap scanner series, the more SmartVault can seamlessly integrate or live in the background of web, desktop and mobile applications, the richer the experience for the user.
Imagine if a salesperson stores a customer contract in a CRM system like Act! or Salesforce.com. At the same time, a controller has access to the same contract within QuickBooks or Peachtree and the company’s lawyer has access via a web portal. That’s the kind of true integration SmartVault is all about.
We are working now with several beta partners within the accounting and finance ecosystem to integrate document management and file sharing capabilities into their applications. We also plan to launch a software development kit or SDK later this year that will allow integration with desktop, web, and mobile applications. It’s very exciting for us. Working with outside developers and application providers will remain a strong focus for the company going forward.
SC: Believe it or not, there are accountants reading this who have not gone paperless. What is your advice to them on an economical way to get started?
EP: Going paperless is no longer an “if.” The transition is inevitable for firms. My advice to accountants is to consider a SaaS solution. Today’s vendors offer powerful solutions at a low monthly price and no binding contract. As such, SaaS is a low risk option, and it’s just more efficient all around.
Next-generation firms understand the convenience and power of web-based applications and are adopting SaaS applications rapidly to improve workflow efficiencies. The value is realized through:
tremendous efficiency gains via fully digital, paperless workflows;
minimal training because SaaS applications are intuitive and easy to use; and
always-on, 24/7 no-limits access, which means time and distance no longer impacts workflow.
It’s also important to note that clients have come to expect this level of service. In fact, most clients demand online service capabilities from their accountant. Think about it … would you use a bank that didn’t offer online services? Web-based services are here to stay and are the future of how software will be distributed.
SC: I know you have a video blog. How has this been effective in helping sell product and educate your customers?
EP: Ah yes, the video blog. It’s a really easy way for SmartVault to push interesting and relevant information out to the community quickly. So, I’ll keep doing them as long as people can put up with me. When we have an idea that we think is interesting, we just pull the Flip camera out and roll!
SC: What do you say to the nay-sayers who think SaaS still isn’t going to take off?
EP: I guess I’d have to ask them to look at the way Salesforce.com revolutionized the CRM space – bringing affordable enterprise scale applications to the small- and mid-market customer base. I’d also remind them of all the web-based services they more than likely use regularly, such as online banking, social networking applications, and streaming music and video. So you see, it’s already taken off.
In relation to the accounting profession, SaaS did get a slow start, but has steadily gained momentum – and rightly so. SaaS solves so many issues for the profession. Accounting firms, small or large, are responsible for service level management, security and capacity management, not to mention IT and training for their partners, staff and clients. Ensuring security of data alone is a big responsibility when you consider physical security, server security, remote access, and disaster planning and business continuity. With SaaS, most of this goes away. SaaS is a way to reduce or eliminate these responsibilities so a firm’s focus can shift towards higher margin activities.
SC: Can you give us a glimpse of where you see SmartVault in three years in terms of product advancement?
EP: SmartVault will continue to grow and evolve our service offering in the accounting space. To accomplish this, we will continue to listen to our customers and enhance our offering in the areas of document management and file sharing via secure web portals. IN addition, you will see the system’s document management and file sharing capabilities integrated seamlessly with many popular applications. This allows businesses using multiple apps to benefit from a single, secure document storage repository with the ability to view, access, and share files securely online. If we do our job right, we’ll provide users with service that is so seamless you might not know we are there!