Being An Innovator

Thomas D. McKechney, CEO

October 01, 2013
       A couple of weeks ago, I was notified by clients that a certain non‐profit had contacted them with a request to observe the processes supporting Credentials’ transcript print and mail service – eRoboMail.  It seems this same non‐profit is considering offering such a service, which Credentials introduced in 2011.  I would surmise that by asking to observe and document Credentials’ processes, this non‐profit is hoping to reduce the time and expense associated with developing a competing service in an effort to keep from falling too far behind the competition. 
 “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Albert von Szent-Gyorgy
        After writing a rather pointed email to the CEO of this non‐profit, it occurred to me that regardless of whether it feels like the non‐profit is behaving unethically, this is the nature of the marketplace in which we exist.  In fact, it is the nature of most markets. The nimble innovator introduces change and in doing so redefines the market in some small way.  Then the larger, less agile organization copies the innovation and ultimately contributes to market acceptance of the innovation.  In our own experience, this pattern has actually repeated itself several times over our 16 years in the business. 
        In 1998, Credentials introduced the concept of online degree verifications. Needless to say, we struggled to gain acceptance.  Only after the large non‐profit followed us into that business did the market become accepting.  And while we eventually sold the verification business to them, the entry of the non‐profit into the degree verification business ultimately legitimized the practice of outsourcing verifications and eventually became an industry “best practice”.  It is a little ironic that by following Credentials into the degree verification market, this large non‐profit legitimized our innovation and helped buy us time during our lean years and thus assured our survival.  Since then, we have consistently beaten the non‐profit to market with new innovations time and again with online transcript ordering, transcript order processing automation and electronic transcript trading.  And now, we’ve introduced paper transcript rendering and fulfillment.  This is the role Credentials plays in our market economy.     
 “Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.” Steve Jobs
        Credentials Solutions approaches the market from a very different angle than the large non‐profit.  Their ideas tend to come from an advisory board which observes things going on in the marketplace. The resulting services tend to be fairly rigid and designed with very broad strokes that will serve the basic needs of the industry as a whole.  This is a good thing.  At Credentials, our management team is “hands on” to the extreme.  The top management of our firm is deeply involved in everything from sales and product development to systems design and programming.  Our focus is firmly fixed on the quality, efficiency and emerging needs of the records office with no committees to navigate and no investors to satisfy.  Our sole focus is fixed on the registrar’s need to deliver student services faster, better and cheaper with fewer resources.  It is that level of focus that caused us to ask the question, “With all this movement toward electronic transcripts, what can we do to minimize the impact of a diminishing paper transcript function?”  Simple question.  Great Solution – eRoboMail. 
       Having asked that question and seemingly come up with a logical answer, Credentials spent considerable time and effort to measure market demand, design a solution and acquire the necessary tools to deliver a great service.  It takes a lot of effort.  Innovation usually does.  And it leads to other questions along the way that beg for an innovative solution.  So, by the time the large non‐profit introduces its transcript print and mail offering, there will surely be a whole lot more things for them to copy.  After all, it is the nature of our market economy. 
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