Ed Daihl has a lot of flights to catch.
Daihl, whom Accela announced as its new permanent chief executive officer on Monday, March 27, will be spending the next month or so flying out to Accela’s offices around the country, along with visits to customers. Among them, a place near and dear to him — Baltimore County, Md., an Accela client.
“I want to go see how we’re serving the county I grew up in,” he said.
On those trips, Daihl will be learning more about what his new company does for state and local government on a day-to-day basis. He’s familiar with government — in a 40-year career with a variety of companies, he’s worked with the U.S. Navy, state governments, cities and counties — but Accela is the first company he’s led with its eyes trained so heavily on state and local government.
But he won’t just be learning about what the company does. He’ll also be laying the groundwork for how it will grow. And for Accela, there is room to grow.
The company has its hands in several emerging areas of government technology right now. As he begins, the company is in the midst of early pilot projects — though a spokesperson declined to say with which government customers just yet — to test software aimed at helping cities regulate gig-economy companies like Uber and Airbnb. The company is also providing services at the state and local levels to help governments regulate marijuana as they rush to accommodate the legalization referendums that passed in November.
He’s also going to be examining possible ways of expanding the company’s use of application programming interfaces, or APIs, as a means of enabling others to build applications on top of Accela software.
“I think there’s opportunity to expand that and build support tools and develop a system where we actually have support fees … so we become the vendor of choice for people to develop applications in the government area — become the Salesforce of government,” Daihl said.
Accela already has APIs in place. Daihl just thinks they could do more.
“Sometimes we’ve gone to market with partners where the API set has not been 100 percent as robust as needed and we’ve had to do some customization,” he said. “So what we need to do is build out the API so that it is a complete environment so we would never have to do a customization.”
As he becomes accustomed with his company and customers, Daihl will also be putting an emphasis on streamlining product delivery. When discussing his vision for the future of the company, Daihl turned to his past. Specifically, his experience at Surgical Information Systems, where he put new digital systems in place for county-run hospitals. During his time there, he said, the company was able to cut down the amount of time it took to integrate new systems from 21 months to four.
“That was with engineering — developing a bunch of tools and making things a lot easier,” he said.
Daihl said he thinks that model can translate to Accela too. He wants to get to a point where the company has a strong quality management-type relationship with the people who implement its systems while making sure the company is keeping up with its service for its existing products.
“When you do [software as a service (SaaS)], you need to be able to move to new platforms and new versions seamlessly,” he said.
And SaaS, Daihl thinks, is expanding in a big way in the public sector. In about two years he expects it to be the norm rather than the trend.
“We’re getting enough critical mass out there and enough people are starting to share their experience that more people are going to move into the marketplace … what I’ve seen in other markets is that it becomes — if you don’t offer SaaS, then you’re not able to make a sale,” Daihl said.
As for the possibility of Accela going public, which the board has been considering for months, Daihl’s mind is elsewhere.
“That’s not my focus at all right now,” he said. “It’s about running the company as we are.”
Still, he said, the company’s leadership now includes plenty of experience from publicly-traded corporations. He worked for one for two decades, and Chief Financial Officer Jim Burns has experience in that area as well. Accela is, according to Daihl, moving to align its accounting practices with those of publicly traded businesses.
Daihl will be replacing Mark Jung, who served as interim CEO of the company for about half a year. Jung took leadership of the company after long-serving CEO Maury Blackman stepped down in 2016.
Editor's note: The name of Accela's chief financial officer has been corrected.