NEPS and APT: An Interview with Bill Lowe
As our readers may remember,
By Cary Sherburne
Published: March 29, 2007
As our readers may remember, NEPS, founded in the 1980’s by industry veteran Denise Miano, was acquired by Moore Incorporated in 1996 and renamed The Moore Emerging Technologies Division. Subsequent to the Moore/Wallace acquisition by RR Donnelley, NEPS was spun out as an independent company. When NEPS announced the acquisitionof Boston-based Art Plus Technology (APT) on March 7th of this year, it was one of the top three most read news stories on WhatTheyThink for the week. WhatTheyThink followed up with NEPS’ CEO, Bill Lowe, who many of you may know as the father of the IBM PC, to learn more about the future of NEPS.
NEPS produces software solutions based on open standards that support the front end processing and back end printing of specialized business documents, while APT provides a broad range of information design services for statements, policies and other documents in the financial services and insurance industries, including strategic consulting in integrated business communications, personalization, functional design, and usability testing.
Headquartered in Lake Forest IL, the combined company will serve customers with more than 50 employees and four offices nationwide. In addition to Bill Lowe, the management team includes Brad Wheatley, Chief Financial Officer; Cristina Lowe, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Sales; with Miano and APT’s Elizabeth Gooding as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Strategy Officer, respectively.
WTT: Bill, there was a lot of interest among WhatTheyThink readers in NEPS’ acquisition of Boston-based Art Plus Technology (APT). Perhaps you could give us a brief thumbnail of the history of the two companies and what drove the acquisition?
BL: First, Let me just say that I am really enthusiastic about the potential NEPS and APT provide as a combined entity, and the response, in addition to your readership response, has been strong from the companies that we have been dealing with, as well as companies we might expect to compete with. Most of what I am reading out of the responses I am getting is that people recognize that with these two companies, when you add one plus one you get more than two.
That being said, NEPS has been around since the mid 1980s, and was founded by Denise Miano to provide solutions for insurance companies—the first being her alma mater, AIG—to support the printing of insurance policies remotely from their headquarters. She brought to market the first instance of printing a customized version of a policy in front of a customer based on their requirements and characteristics rather than printing the policies in a centralized location and shipping them through the mail. This was an extremely innovative approach at the time, and not only did it avoid the time and cost of mailing and eliminate the need for a large inventory of preprinted documents which rapidly became obsolete, but it also was a very early example of the power of one-to-one communications. In a way, all of those elements that NEPS first provided are elements of what we today call enterprise content management (ECM) and customer communications management.
WTT: And what about APT?
BL: Elizabeth Gooding is another bright and talented executive that started a company focused on servicing her customers’ communications needs. APT is a Boston-based firm that provides consulting services, document design and application development services primarily around transactional communications, such as statements and bills. APT has largely operated in the financial and insurance industries helping them to communicate with their customers more effectively and to get more value out of the communications that they base their businesses on.
WTT: How did you first hook up with NEPS?
BL: I first met Denise Miano when I was at Xerox and we hired NEPS to provide systems that would be a critical part of Xerox’ ability to migrate from a copier company to The Document Company. We used her systems to drive early connectivity for the DocuTech. In fact, NEPS was there at the Javits Center in New York when we introduced the DocuTech in 1990. Through the years, Denise has continued to enhance her software offerings so that today, NEPS provides innovative solutions that help businesses develop and deploy effective business communications, in both printed and electronic form and leverage those communications to achieve better financial results.
WTT: Both companies were founded by women and operate in the high tech segment. While woman-owned companies in this segment are much more common these days, it was interesting to me that these two woman-owned conmpanies combined. Did they have a previous history together?
BL: Denise and APT’s founder Elizabeth Gooding have known each other and done business together for 15 years or more. They provide a foundation for a strong and proven management team, which has three extremely strong, talented women executives, with both Denise and Elizabeth founding and running successful high tech companies and gaining recognition from their peers for their achievements. And my partner and wife, Cristina Lowe, our CMO, was the Hispanic Businesswoman of the year in 1989 for the U.S. based on her sales, marketing and other contributions.
WTT: You have been very involved with a number of innovative businesses in your career, including your responsibility for bringing the IBM PC to market. What attracted you to NEPS, and then APT?
BL: Interestingly, the combination of NEPS and APT allows you to organize a customer’s information and then use that information to drive communications. We also provide the design of those communications as well as the architecture for those communications, measure their effectiveness, and provide a real value to the customers with that blend of ECM and customer communications management. Another important element of the combined companies is their shared expertise in regulatory compliance and in understanding documents relative to how they fit into a regulated environment.
As you say, I have been involved in a number of innovative situations over the years that have been quite successful, from the IBM PC to the Xerox DocuTech which evolved into the iGen3, to the Gulfstream G5 which has been a terrific base product for that company. I see the opportunity with NEPS, APT and the future plans we have for the company as another opportunity to deliver a high level of innovation into a market that can derive significant value from reinventing the way customer communications are developed, managed and measured, particularly in regulated environments where compliance is critical.
WTT: What are the combined revenues and number of employees for the two companies?
BL: We are a private company, so we don’t specifically disclose revenues, but we are aspiring to be in the $15 to $20 million range this year, and I would expect that as we progress through the year, we will be somewhere between 80 to 100 employees. That is our goal.
WTT: How would you define the market segment the combined companies are operating in and what makes you different?
BL: Broadly, it could be defined as customer communications management. We have been talking for years about the value of using data to develop one-to-one communications. What the combination of these two companies offers is the ability to effectively harness a company’s data and information in a meaningful way with very creative designs that make those communications as effective as they can possibly be. In offering these types of services, it is not only the technology infrastructure that is important, but it is also the quality of the people delivering the services, including sales people who can clearly articulate the value proposition and tie it to specific customer requirements. Though there are other companies trying to address this segment, I don’t think there is anyone else out there that is nimble and fast enough to respond to this dynamic market in an integrated way and in the accelerated timeframes companies demand today. I think we are unique in that respect. Our size and our expertise allows for accelerated implementation of unique and innovative solutions that bring real business value to the end customer.
WTT: Can you share your thoughts about where you see this market segment going?
BL: I think that the growth is going to be very strong in this segment, and it will be important for us to be able to step up to the opportunities it will represent. One of the next big requirements that our customers will have is the ability to deliver integrated communications programs globally. And we are preparing to address that requirement.
WTT: Do you have specific business partners you are working with?
BL: We are in the process of developing a cadre of partners that can expand our communications offerings. These are technology partners, printing partners, fulfillment partners, and other suppliers to the industry. While we have identified the core target group of partners required to do this right, we are open to exploring other partnerships that complement our offerings.
WTT: Any more acquisitions planned?
BL: Our investor is Hispania Capital Partners, and one of the things I am working with them on is defining not only how we are going to generate internal growth, but what other acquisitions we might focus on to accelerate the growth of our combined company. There are a number of other companies that I think would be natural partners for NEPS and APT. One of my jobs going forward is to continue to develop relationships with those companies and to identify potential opportunities for a close relationship or even an acquisition.
WTT: Anything else you would like to add before we close?
BL: I am very excited about being part of this team. We have the people and the technology that can help companies develop and deploy more effective communications and better manage their assets in the process. I am expecting that we are going to be able to add more elements to NEPS and APT to make the combined company even stronger and a bigger factor going forward in this dynamic market.