Industry Insights—A Conversation with John Dillon

For our latest Intacct Industry Insights post we interviewed John Dillon, an Intacct Board Member and the CEO of Engine Yard, a San Francisco-based application platform as a service provider. John has 30 years of experience building successful technology companies, including serving as President and CEO of Hyperion Solutions, CEO of, and CEO of Navis, LLC. He started his career as a systems engineer for EDS and held sales management positions at various high tech companies including Oracle Corporation. John holds a B.S. in engineering from the United States Naval Academy and an MBA from Golden Gate University. He served on active duty in the nuclear submarine service for five years before beginning his civilian career.

Our conversation with John covered topics including where to host cloud-based applications, trends in cloud computing, and the changing role of IT. Here are the highlights…

INTACCT: Engine Yard is a platform as a service provider. Are there different variations of that term in the market? Where does your company fit in?

JOHN DILLON: We focus on helping developers design, build, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud. We have 2,500 customers in 58 countries. Our company has been doing this longer than anyone else and we focus on orchestrating everything for developers. We run our service on top of third-party cloud providers such as Amazon, although we can work with pretty much any provider. Initially, we were focused on Ruby on Rails, but we have also added PHP and Node.js.

INTACCT: What are the top considerations for IT and developers today, when determining where to host their apps?

JD: Companies need a commercial grade product to build reliable and scalable apps that change all the time. Our job is to make sure all the pieces in the stack work together so the development team doesn't have to worry about infrastructure. Developers use our service to eliminate headaches, time, and expense, so they can focus on creating killer apps. Managing an application platform requires skills that aren't all that common and outsourcing this area allows developers to focus on design and writing code without distractions.

INTACCT: What are some of the important trends you think we’ll see in cloud technology for 2013?

JD: This market is happening very fast. We are re-engineering and upgrading everything in the application stack with cloud technologies. The question should be, what isn't going to change? Right now we are experiencing the most explosive growth opportunity in 30 years because of connectivity, low-cost computing power, data centers at your fingertips, and the fact that people can build apps from anywhere. There is so much unmet demand in the industrial and consumer population. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for investment in data center technology, infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and other tools that have historically been available in the on- premise world. All of those technologies are being redeveloped now by start-ups.

INTACCT: How long will it really take for enterprises to make the switch to cloud computing? Many of them are still nurturing their legacy applications.

JD: There's no point in ripping out something that is working well. But if you're looking at new applications, it's a great opportunity to use SaaS. It's been proven that modern, cloud applications can run more securely and reliably than internal applications. Consumers are also much more comfortable using these apps to manage their personal lives. Cloud vendors are more committed to working with you along the way instead of just taking all your money upfront. All that equipment inside companies is so expensive to buy and maintain, and that all goes away with SaaS. Large companies are building whole new app stores where employees just pick an app from the menu. At the same time, we're not going to shut down all the data centers. For those large companies that already have the infrastructure and personnel, it's going to be a slower transition.

INTACCT: You've held leadership positions at some very large, prominent tech companies. What lessons have they offered you to be successful at Engine Yard?

JD: It’s important to have a sense of urgency about everything we do. We have to make critical decisions to hire the right people, build the right product, and get it to market before our competitors. We also make sure we have a relentless focus on providing value to customers. That’s the only reason you’re in business, and you can never lose sight of it.

INTACCT: With SaaS and the Cloud, internal IT departments are undergoing considerable organizational change. What is the key value IT people offer today to their companies?

JD: There’s an opportunity for IT to partner with business managers and increase innovation. By embracing the cloud, IT groups can provide more resources at lower costs and in shorter time frames  The company can accelerate the pace at which it releases new products and services, which will drive higher customer satisfaction and engagement.

INTACCT: Now a few questions just for fun…

If you weren't working in your current role, what would you be doing?

JD: I’d want to open a chain of small boutique local food stores.

If you could go back in time, what year would you visit? And why?

JD: I’d go back to the late 1950’s in New York City. It was a place full of energy and new ideas where business, art and culture were changing the world―much like Cloud is today.

What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?

JD: Boulevard.

If you want to stay connected to John, be sure to follow him on Twitter (@johndillon). You can also follow Intacct on all our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To network with other people interested in cloud financial applications, join the Intacct Cloud Accounting group and the CFOInsights group on LinkedIn.

Do you have an idea for someone you think has interesting industry insights we should interview? Send us your suggestions for consideration.