The Cloudside Chat Series Welcomes Bill Coppens, "The Architect."
Bill Coppens has had quite the career. From war games creator to legacy systems designer to enterprise software architect, he’s been a serial builder for decades.
Today, Bill is reinventing CRM architectures and optimizing industry cloud performance for future generations. He recently sat with me to discuss his professional journey and what it takes to be “The Architect” at Vlocity.
Rip Gerber: Bill, thanks for being here. Always good to see you, my friend. You are known here at Vlocity and with our customers as, “The Architect.”
Bill Coppens: With a capital “T.”
Rip: Exactly. Can you tell us what that means?
Bill: Thanks, Rip. It’s good to see you, too. Architect means I get involved with all our complex problems, both internally inside the product, as well as externally with our customers. I also head up ATG, Vlocity’s “Advanced Technology Group,” where we prototype and conduct advanced R&D for complex problems.
Rip: That’s both deep and wide. So how does one become “The Architect” for the fastest-growing company of the Salesforce AppExchange?
Bill: As you can imagine, it wasn't a short path. I started out in a college program working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Argonne National Laboratories. I was converting War Games, Tacwar and Inbatm, to database technologies at the time called Ingres. I eventually ended up in California working for Ingres. I was one of only two Ingress database tuners in the world.
Rip: A database “tuner.” That is some deep tech stuff.
Architect means I get involved with all our complex problems, both internally inside the product, as well as externally with our customers.
– Bill Coppens, "The Architect", Vlocity
Bill: After Ingres went public, I went to work for the commercialization of Postgres. Postgres was the program at Berkeley for Michael Stonebraker. Then I moved on to Siebel Systems. At Siebel, I headed up the telco vertical. I was the first Director of Engineering there.
Rip: So you were at Siebel in the very early days. That company is still cited as one of the fastest growing tech companies of all time.
Bill: That’s right. After that, I did a sabbatical and retired. Then Vlocity brought me in to help start up our Communications & Media vertical. But because I had a broader appeal to all industries and all things Vlocity, I became “The Architect”.
Rip: That's a fascinating journey, going from War Games to legacy systems to industry cloud apps with Vlocity. What does it mean when “The Architect” comes into a big transformation, say at a Tier 1 telco? What does “The Architect” actually do on the ground?
Bill: It really depends on where the project is. We look at what they currently have, and where they want to go. It usually comes down to the question, ‘How do we connect these systems together and where are the API's?’ To quote the famous line, ‘Where’s my endpoint?’ Once we map those elements, or as we say, ‘define the architecture and data models,’ we can leverage the latest cloud technologies and move incredibly fast. Disparate systems that used to take weeks and months to integrate, we can now align in days.
...we've designed our technologies to work from clicks, not code. So you can have teams that have deep business knowledge making design decisions with software, versus going back and forth between developer and business teams.
– Bill Coppens, "The Architect", Vlocity
Rip: Because you define the endpoints?
Bill: Well, it’s not just knowing where the endpoints are. The traditional way of doing it is to write a lot of code, but we've designed our technologies to work from clicks, not code. So you can have teams that have deep business knowledge making design decisions with software, versus going back and forth between developer and business teams. “Clicks not codes” eliminates a lot of redundant and wasted time and code build.
Rip: That’s a great way to put it. Bill, I have to share a story here about your Advanced Technology Group. Your's was the first group at Vlocity who wanted their own T-shirt. And your team had some unique ideas on new taglines you wanted printed...
Bill: There were all kinds of them. I think the one we ended up with was, “Legacy Systems Are Better Left In The Past.”
Rip: A team favorite was: “ATG: Bring the Wrecking Ball.” Because a big part of architecture and ATG work is excavating the existing legacy systems and saying, ‘Okay, how can cloud architecture replace all this cost and complexity, and how do I quickly move those legacy systems out and enable the company with more agile cloud and mobile software?’
Bill: Right. And it is actually moving to the future. A lot of companies want to do a lift and shift. But just taking existing processes and moving them to the cloud often doesn't work. These systems have been optimized for that environment for twenty years, so moving them to the cloud takes some reworking. We advocate for doing things so the older generation, like my parents, can actually self-serve. This means that training time for call center agents and salespeople goes down.
Rip: So you really shake it up and get people thinking in different ways about these new technologies and innovations.
We advocate for doing things so the older generation, like my parents, can actually self-serve. This means that training time for call center agents and salespeople goes down.
– Bill Coppens, "The Architect", Vlocity
Rip: So you’re with customers all the time. You're flying all over the world on these projects and deployments. What do you do for fun in your spare time? Tell us a little bit about “The Architect” when he's off duty.
Bill: Well, I’m actually still building. I build additions to homes on the side. Greenhouses, for example. I'm currently building a log home in Colorado. Because I'm on the road so much I have a contractor helping out, but I like to do a lot of the work myself. One of my favorite things to do is to take my Caterpillar 416D backhoe and dig stuff up. There's nothing like operating heavy equipment to take the stress off. It's just a lot of fun.
Rip: Some people meditate to unwind, but “The Architect” digs a huge hole in a mountain after a long week doing architecture deep-dives for a big telco.
Bill: When you build software, you don’t see it except for lines or codes, or user interfaces. Sometimes in software, people will say, "What did you build?" A call center system or CRM app is a little bit hard to explain. But when I say, “See that building there? I built it,” people get it.
Rip: Well Bill, please keep building. And thanks for spending time with us today for a Cloudside Chat. Look forward to seeing you in Colorado and that log cabin, and of course, seeing all the great digital transformations you are architecting around the globe. Keep on building!
Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer
Rip Gerber has 25 years’ experience inspiring and leading great people to build disruptive, market-leading companies, raising over $500M in venture and IPO funds that have delivered a collective 5x return on invested capital. He currently serves as Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer of Vlocity, Inc. where he leads all go-to-market activities, brand strategy, and global business development. Gerber has helped propel Vlocity as the fastest-growing Salesforce partner (out of 5,000) for four years in a row.
Rip is also an international best-selling author and accomplished musician. Throughout his career he has driven a dual agenda of ‘pragmatic creativity’ and ‘warp-speed innovation’ in the enterprise software, mobile, and Software-as-a-Service industries, where he has served in CEO, GM, Board Director and CMO roles for several venture-backed and seed-to-IPO companies. He started his career at the CIA and has served in management roles at Firestone, American Express, Nokia, Publicis, as well as founding and selling several tech companies including @once, Commtouch and Locaid. He has a biochemical engineering degree from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Harvard University.