Picture Tom Koulopoulos in a dark room, hunched over a radar screen. He's not looking for colliding weather systems, but that's the analogy he uses to describe what his consulting company--Boston-based Delphi Group--does. "The weatherman on the evening news uses radar to see what weather is coming," says Koulopoulos. "We scan hot issues so we can address our services to the most important trends at the intersection of business and technology."
Koulopoulos is president of The Delphi Group, author of five books, a frequent columnist and a lecturer at Boston College. An influential consultant, he is on the road 150 days a year speaking on such topics as vortals and the ground rules of the new e-economy.
An insatiable technological appetite fuels Koulopoulos' dedication to such subjects--an appetite developed when he was a boy. "I grew up in my father's shadow," Koulopoulos says. "He was a mechanical and then electrical engineer for DEC and Honeywell. At six or seven, I was taking apart TVs. If it's not genetic, it's environmental."
After graduating in 1981 from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. with degrees in accounting and computer information systems, Koulopoulos started his career building relational databases. During eight years in the trenches, he realized that a major point of pain for companies was finding ways to deal with unstructured information and documents. "Companies were infatuated with the relational database to solve this problem," he says. "But I thought there must be something better." Approaching problems one nugget at a time with customized point solutions wasn't the answer either. So, Koulopoulos thought, "Why not educate companies about alternative ways to better share information in the enterprise?"
Koulopoulos, along with a co-founder, started The Delphi Group in 1989. "We began with education," he explains.
"We held seminars in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. On our first road show, I think half the audience was family and friends. Most people only came because we offered free lunch. But we struck a chord. People came up to us afterward and said 'no one's talking about that at my company.' Shortly afterward we started offering consulting and market research."
The Delphi Group focuses on a few important trends at a time. "We offer depth, not breadth," Koulopoulos says. Over the last 12 years, Delphi has gone from focusing on text retrieval and imaging technologies to covering document management and work flow processes, business process modeling, knowledge management, portals and e-business. Currently the group is focusing on three trends: e-learning, enterprise wireless and collaborative commerce.
"We see a natural progression of these technologies and issues," Koulopoulos says. "They all relate to how companies deal with unstructured documents. They are undercurrents to applications." According to Koulopoulos, applications deal with three touch points: Customers (CRM), partners and employees. "You could use all the technologies we cover on all the touch points. We try not to get involved with the applications themselves. We build our services around the core trends, addressing both the technology and the business methods."
It's interesting, says Koulopoulos, how these trends have short lifecycles of about two years. "When a trend ends, no one wants to talk about it anymore," he says. "So we have to constantly reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the curve. We have to figure out how to serve the members of our basic community as they are dragged kicking and screaming into the new trend."