In this very special episode, Brian Glick, CEO of Chain.io, is joined by Johnny Bilotta, VP of Product, to share about some exciting new features on Chain.io's roadmap including:
- Launch of Open Connect
- New EDI Capabilities with STEDI
- Custom Processors Feature
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Brian Glick 00:04
Welcome to connections by Chain.io. I'm Brian Glick chan as founder and CEO. In this episode, we're going to do something a little bit different. Normally, we spend time interviewing external people outside of chain IO and discussing career paths and our views on the industry. But we've had a lot of exciting things going on lately. So we're hoping you'll humor us and listen in as we talk about a little bit of where we are in the channel journey. And a few really big features that we're releasing this month, and sort of over the course of the summer, that are going to transform quite a bit of how we engage with the community, I thought this would be a good thing to do, because it really will help illustrate where we see the industry is going and I thought that would be a really good thing to share. Gonna bring on the line here with me, Johnny Bilotta, who is our head of product, and has been with the company for Johnny, how long have you been with the company?
Johnny Bilotta 01:07
About eight months now?
Brian Glick 01:08
Eight months, I was gonna say a year or so? I guess maybe?
Johnny Bilotta 01:12
Four? Yeah, I guess soon. Soon. There'll be a year.
Brian Glick 01:16
So before we dive into everything, why don't you just give everyone a little bit of your background? And sure, and so on?
Johnny Bilotta 01:21
Yeah, thank you. So hello, everybody. Thank you for welcoming me on the podcast. So my background is primarily in software product development, mainly within software startups. And I've known Brian for several years, we've worked in the same co working space and got to see each other at work, you know, several times and, you know, one of my responsibilities here is to, you know, make our product much more customer enabled, get it to be expanded in terms of his features to help our customers build better solutions. And my primary responsibility here is making sure that things are always moving, that we're always getting improvements in the product and making sure that we are getting features out on a regular basis. But a lot of my background is in big data, big tech, finance, FinTech, healthcare, technology and such. So Brian said that he was looking to do some really awesome things with Chain.io and the things we're going to discuss today are some of the things that attracted me to it.
Brian Glick 02:11
Awesome. And so it's been really a breath of fresh air for us to have somebody who comes from an outside supply chain come in and give us some critiques along the way. So that's been a lot of fun. Yeah, I think there's three big things that we're going to talk about today. So we're calling open connect our integration to a platform called steady, which is an EDI processing platform, as well as our custom processors feature, which was just released in beta the day before we're recording this. Yeah. So Johnny, one of the things that we're really excited about, and one of the new big features that we've talked about a lot is open Kinect, can you maybe give us a quick description of what that is? Sure.
Johnny Bilotta 02:55
Open Connect is our newest feature, which allows customers to tap in or build adapters to be used in on our network, it's a way of chain already functions as a company that links to adapters together. But we wanted to offer the ability to our customers to build adapters that are specific to their needs. And on their timeline.
Brian Glick 03:19
Yeah, so to give everyone a little bit of background on what we're talking about there, the adapters are essentially the plugins to our network. And so the way that channel works is we'll have a plug in to a TMS and a plug into a rating system or visibility platform. And, you know, when I started the company six years ago, the vision was that the industry would be able to build these plugins, and they would all interact together. But what we learned very, very quickly in our journey as a company was that the industry wasn't quite ready for that six years ago, and that they also weren't ready for building a network that didn't exist yet, right? We didn't have any plugins, so it's kind of like being the first person to sign up for Twitter, retweeting it. So we had to wait. And so six years along in the journey, we really felt like now is the right time to open the network up. And we've had incredible amounts of demand over the last year for many, many software companies saying hey, how can we participate in this? And the scaling of Chain.io employees, building all of these plugins just doesn't work with the explosion of text. So your journey, kind of what are some of the categories that we're attacking first with this open connect?
Johnny Bilotta 04:31
So we're attacking co2, We're attacking ASN milestones, visibility integrations, we're also attacking accounting automation. You know, they're some of the biggest ones that we're starting off with. They seem to be the ones that are the most in demand, and the most sought after,
Brian Glick 04:47
yeah, these are areas where there's been a lot of investment in the startup community. And so, you know, while we have the existing plugins to some of the really big systems, there's, you know, huge amounts of investment and visibility and carbon. And all of those companies need to interact with each other and interact with these large transportation systems and ERPs. And what have you, that's on our network. So again, very, very excited about this. You know, for me personally, it's kind of the culmination of a big phase in our journey, which was getting a network built out that people would be interested in building on. So, you know, it's pretty exciting. I think we're having our first one go live next week, as we're recording this at the end of June, and many, many, many more to come. So I think the next one is our EDI integration STEDI. And maybe if you could give a quick breakdown of why that's important. And what that does for our customers.
Johnny Bilotta 05:45
Certainly, the integration of STEDI, which is a third party partner that we have, they have given us the ability integrating study into our system has given us the ability to have EDI transactions, processed and executed directly within flow executions inside of chain, which means that you don't know any longer have to use an outside system and then bring it you know, log into one system log into another system into another to get your EDI information into chain, which is a big improvement to our workflows. It means that all those EDI transactions, guys mappings and all can seamlessly be worked on within Chain.io flow executions.
Brian Glick 06:27
And the way we worked in the past was that if a customer came to us, for a traditional EDI transaction, we had plugins in our system that would facilitate that. But then we had a professional services team. Sure we still have and who we still love. Yeah, and they would use an internal tool that we had to build the actual mechanical mapping to the EDI platform. So it was not 100% Self Service it was we took the generic capabilities of Chain.io and the ability to connect all of these different systems and then have a PS person go and map that to your customers EDI specification. And you know, with this new tool, it's now visual, it's inside the application and RPS team will help many of our customers who maybe don't have EDI expertise to use that same tool. But where it gets really powerful. Even if you don't have EDI staff, many of the requests that we get have had this EDI running forever. And the customer just asked me to move this one field around like I just you know, they get this purchase order number in there. And you know, we kid here and operations once the kid here because of an upgrade in our system, you'll be able to go in and just sort of drag and drop and fix those little things without having to go reopen a PS project. And it also creates a lot more transparency. Yeah. So you know, again, we're really and then our customers who have EDI people, they can just go in and do it right and don't have to wait on POS at all.
Johnny Bilotta 07:53
Now, that's a really powerful feature is that putting that control in the hands of the customers, more of that control makes it a really powerful feature?
Brian Glick 08:01
How does that line up with some of the big themes that we've been working on this year as far as control and self service and all that?
Johnny Bilotta 08:09
Yeah, well, we've been I mean, we've really been trying to transform the product into being a much more customer enabled product, meaning giving more control to the customer giving better support to the customer step by step, this is what you will encounter when you set up a flow. We've also improved a lot of the ergonomics within the application to allow users to navigate through it and get to the tasks that they want to get through. So things such as the new landing page for workspaces, which now gives you insight into your integrations and the flows that are within those that directly allows you to set them, that was something that you had to hunt for before. And now we're trying to give you a little bit, the customers a lot more control over how they use chain, and the less need of a chain professional to be able to step them through all the things that need to be done. You know,
Brian Glick 08:55
One of the things I've learned again, over the time since we started the company, was when we initially kind of went to market. And so this is before the pandemic and before the real explosion of startup investment in the space that our customers very much needed end to end support. And there was, you know, especially for our what I call our mid market customers, which would be you know, shippers and freight forwarders, who maybe have, let's say, between 100 and 1000 employees, so they're sort of in that, you know, not the biggest brands in the world that they really didn't want to log into our product. And they were sometimes a little intimidated by all of this data moving around, and this and that the other and so our focus was on building a product that our team could help our customers with, whereas, you know, in the last two years, especially, there's been that change in the tone in the industry that people have caught up to some of these concepts and you know, really do want to Just kind of get in there and play around and move. So, you know that focus. In fact, this morning, I recorded someone else's podcast. And I mentioned on that podcast how in 2017 2018, I was speaking at conferences and the first question on every panel was, can you explain what an API is? and the host of the podcast who's not technical just started laughing? Like, how could that be a question? And it's amazing how far we've come out so fast, that people are surprised that five or six years ago, in this industry, that was a legitimate thing that we had to explain even just a basic concept of, I can take data from one computer and do send it to another computer in a organized way that doesn't involve a massive IoT project. Right? So very exciting stuff.
Johnny Bilotta 10:48
Yeah, indeed. Well, that should lead us to the next thing, right? We're talking about enablement and customer this ability. so have at it. Yeah. So we've had thanks, I've kind of still a little bit Brian's thunder here, you know, we now have in beta, and we should be at our next release, on the fifth of July, you will see pre and post processor areas within our flow executions, which allows customers to put in custom code to the flow that allows them a little bit more control over how that flow executes, and gives them a gateway into editing. Certain things that happen before and after the flow processes to to give them the ability to edit any code or processes that happened during that execution, whether it's pre processor, or post process, this is really powerful, because it doesn't require users to download a code or to, you know, get into our source code or anything, but allows them to customize their executions in a way that they'd never have been able to before.
Brian Glick 11:47
So think of this as sort of the Swiss Army knife. You know, we've had a, it's funny, as soon as we started building this, our solutions and client success team, it's like, every day in our internal slack and say, oh, man, I wish we had that preprocessor, a post processor, because, you know, the customer just needs this one little tweak. And it's always and this is the thing that you know, those of us who have processed the freight, know, you know, that SOP with the customer is always full of that one little tweak, right. But you know, the example you and I were talking about before recording was, you know, let's say you have a customer sending you, you know, bookings for your shipment, and they send you the purchase order numbers. And because of the legacy system, they use all the purchase order numbers of 20 digits, but the first 15 are always all zeros. And so you take that data in, and you put it in, and you send it to them on a report, and it's got all the zeros, and they complain about all the leading zeros that are coming from their system, because internally, they don't talk about those zeros, right? They just talk about those last five numbers, it's order for 5812, not 00000. So on 45812, well, you know, to come back to a professional services team at chain and say, Hey, I need you to put a checkbox that says, take off all the leading zeros is a lot that's very hidden, you know, and with this new thing, which we have to do is whether it's you or somebody from our client success team, depending on the team is really just upload, like literally four or five lines of code that just say, find the purchase order number, take off those five zeros, and then run it through all the power of the of the chain IO engine and these data flows that we build. So, you know, we found so many use cases over the last, you know, it's probably been a couple of months, we've been working on this. And you know, there's another one the other day where somebody said, Hey, we have one customer who the file name that we'd put when we send the customer the file has to be like, it has to start with the origin location code, and then an underscore, and then the destination location code and then an underscore and then the House bill. Well, that's not going to ever be a generic chain o feature, because there's an infinite number of things that customers want with this with this, because of what we call post processors is, after all the things we've done, and we've taken the data out of the TMS and we've taken it from that format and put it in the customers format and done all of this lifting, then the last little bit is you can just put in a couple lines of code. That's a rename of the file to this. And that's just going to be super powerful. Yeah,
Johnny Bilotta 14:19
I mean, even the simplest poster preprocessor can be powerful there, right? I mean, it just seems like such a great addition to the flow process that I'm really upset that we didn't do it.
Brian Glick 14:30
I know it's so fun when you're building software and you get something out and everyone's like, Well, why didn't it just work this way all along, and you go, Oh, my God, we've been building, building, you know, a million lines of code worth of infrastructure to get us to where you get those little things. So that is probably one of the great frustrations when you're doing product management, right is everyone's like, Oh, why did you just have all of this on the first day?
Johnny Bilotta 14:51
Yeah, we're constantly getting great ideas from our employees. We're getting great ideas from our customers. We really encourage that and some of those ideas I want To get started on right away, but like you said, you have to put the cart before the horse before the cart.
Brian Glick 15:04
Right. So one of the things I promised in the introduction that we should probably take them and talk about is why now is the right time and why we see all three of these features as sort of one feature, I think we touched on a little bit, but there is a newfound technical maturity in the industry that I'm seeing every day. And when I go to visit our customers, and I just got back from five country, an eight day trip of visiting customers and prospects, and you know, at our smallest customers, their ability to go, Hey, I opened up this air table or Smartsheet online sheet, and we're doing that as our TMS. And we've already put a couple little scripts in it that automate this, that and the other, that stuff is so much more mature than even five years ago, where it was still, you know, I'm emailing Excel file around every day. And then at the kind of mid and high end, the access that operations has to a call them IT resources. But that line is really blurring of these, you know, analysts who know a little bit of code or, you know, developers who are sequestered in with a business unit to go get at these problems and either build a full, you know, plug into a legacy ERP that works with our open connect, or just add that five lines of code to fix the problem with the preprocessor or, you know, just get an EDI mapping to get an invoice out to a customer without having to go, you know, make a whole thing out of it. That didn't exist five years ago, in the same way that it does today. And it's really, it's exciting to me personally, as somebody who has been 25 years in the industry, you know, to finally see that happening. I don't know what your thoughts coming from other industries? Where do you think we are in that spectrum, or, to be
Johnny Bilotta 16:56
honest with you, Brian, I'm excited about this time in this industry, because there's an outsider coming in, it seemed like one of the few industries that was not yet disrupted by tech in a way that, you know, made a big boom, right. And the opportunity to be a part of that with chain is exciting. And I'm starting to see it a lot more now. But when I first researched the company and came in even in the last few months, I've seen a rise in different technologies, different requests, different attitudes towards tech, startups, software, API's, even, you know, and then being used a lot more than I had thought before. So I think it's a wonderful time to be in essentially, and I'm glad to see that the industry is starting to all the chips are rising, right, that's a pun totally intended, but you know, about everybody rising on the success of the software driving it.
Brian Glick 17:45
One of the things that actually concerns me a little bit as we look at these new features, and I think it's a good kind of warning for everyone in the industry is, you know, there's a lot of low code tools out there. And low code is, you know, this term for sort of applications where you can very quickly drag things together or stitch them together, and they look sometimes a lot like chain, but one of the things that programmers are really good at, or should be really good at hopefully, is thinking through the edge cases, right? The the exceptions, the, you know, what happens, when, for some reason I get shipment instructions, before I get a bill of lading, or before I get a booking, right like that things are out of order, or there's fields missing. And that's a lot of discipline that comes into that, you know, one of the things we've had to be really thoughtful about, and you know, that everyone in the industry should be is appropriate uses of these tools, right. And, you know, knowing that anyone can kind of write little scripts outside of chain IO, and just drop them in places and make things happen. But, you know, we're very conservative and cautious about making sure that all of this is built on a really strong foundational infrastructure, right, and that these are not just kind of flippant little things that you do, but they are very powerful, you know, kind of fine tuning knobs around this much, much bigger core. And, you know, I do get nervous sometimes that people may, you know, I see this all the time, and, you know, but like, people build things that they go, you know, I'll just buy this, you know, account with Microsoft, or Amazon or whoever. And we'll just write this little script, and we'll just throw it up in the cloud, and then they don't realize that has to be maintained, and it has to do error checking, and it has to do with alerting, and it has to do all these things. So you know, I guess my, my kind of caution to everyone who's excited about all this boom, is that you make sure you're doing it in a very disciplined way, which we're hoping to really facilitate.
Johnny Bilotta 19:45
So, yeah, I agree. And I will just wrap that thought up with this and that every industry has that same problem, like the low code problem, especially when people get excited about the technology coming in and it's very easy to get seduced. Just buy it. But I agree with you that although things may look like chain, or look like they can do the same things, this is built on a very stable core thing, that it's a foundation that we can keep building upon for years to come. And others with that low code stuff can't really say that.
Brian Glick 20:15
That's awesome. And I know we're kind of running up on, you know, and try to our self imposed half hour limit here. So I know you and I could literally actually talk about this all day, every day. But I'm gonna throw you a curveball here that we didn't prepare for just because it's Friday afternoon when we're recording this. And I feel like screwing it up a little bit. So what do you think a generative AI, generative AI, let's hit you with the buzzword just to throw you off. So
Johnny Bilotta 20:39
cool. So I've been talking a lot about this with peers, both in the design community, the digital product community, and I believe that generative AI is a great assistant. And should be used as such, and can be used as such good for prototyping, good for getting quick concepts out there, both on the visual side and the coding side, but cannot be relied upon to give foundational and sound structure for anything to me that would be used as in a professional setting, by anybody who wants to be reputable.
Brian Glick 21:11
So you're not kind of let it gives you legal advice, you
Johnny Bilotta 21:14
know, but I have used it, Brian. It's for stuff for us to build, you know, a prototype of a component that I was unsure on how to do, but it was just the beginning, right? It just gave me the start, which I thought was great. It also has helped me lay out some things for personal projects, but gives me like, Hey, I just need a quick layout for an idea. I don't want you to do the whole thing. So as an assistant, I think it's great. I'm not gonna have it, watch my dog or do anything like that for a while.
Brian Glick 21:40
Awesome. Awesome. Well, you know, again, thanks for taking the time and you know, getting this out there. I think we're both really excited about this stuff. So we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with the next episode. And thanks, everyone for listening. Thank you all