Applied Visions


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June 1, 2015 Issue

The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information


Visual Software Solutions for Government and Commercial Clients


Frank Zinghini

President & CEO


Applied Visions


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 1, 2015


CEOCFO: Mr. Zinghini, would you tell us the focus of Applied Visions today?

Mr. Zinghini: We actually focus on a number of different areas. The core business of the company, that we’ve been doing for twenty-something years, is to develop applications for commercial customers. We develop products, web-based services and applications, mobile applications, embedded devices, and more. We are in the business of creating software solutions, primarily revenue-generating solutions, for customers in a variety of industries. We work in transportation, market research, finance and consumer spaces, among others: we’ve built applications for a broad array of industries. In addition, we have a practice that is focused on cyber security research and development, primarily government-funded research. We work for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, and it is all focused around dealing with the massive amounts of cyber security data involved in that work, providing tools and techniques for managing that data and getting a clearer picture of what is going on in a network from a security perspective.


CEOCFO: Is cyber security the future of Applied Visions?

Mr. Zinghini: It is the future and the past: we have been doing that for about ten years. Part of our future involves spinning off technology from that research. We’ve created a company, called Code Dx, to market tools and technologies, developed as part of our research for DHS that help people write more-secure software. Code Dx helps people find the flaws in their software that attackers can exploit to get into their applications and do harm. We’re very excited about that, and it is going to be a product company spinoff. A third leg of our stool is that we also do research and development for the government in the area of mission planning -- primarily for military applications, but also used in other environments -- where we provide tools and techniques to conduct route planning for mobile missions like convoys or dismounted infantry (people out on foot patrol). We use 3-D visualization and computer gaming technology, together with artificial intelligence, to make it easier and more effective for warfighters to find optimal routes to their objectives and plan their missions. That is primarily funded by the Army, but we’ve also received funding from the Navy and other agencies.


CEOCFO: What do you understand about security that sets you apart?

Mr. Zinghini: We’re not arrogant enough to think we know things that others do not. I think we understand the topic well, and our real value is that we know how to create tools that people can actually use effectively to secure their systems. The real talent is in building the tools and understanding the problems well enough to create solutions that people, just like us, can use to build secure applications and systems.


CEOCFO: Would you give us an example of something you take into account when you are developing a solution that others may not realize is important?

Mr. Zinghini: One of the areas that we have particular strength in is understanding how people use these tools, and how people interact with software, websites, and devices: the whole concept of usability and user experience. All of these issues about how real people interact with software is something that many application developers do not give enough thought to. They create things based on what they, as engineers or developers, think is the right thing to do, and they just build it. Then when normal people like you and I sit down to use it, we are confused and get lost and make mistakes. It’s not because we’re dumb, but because the software we were given to use was not designed for people like us to use. It’s all about usability, and that is something we take to all the work that we do. We always approach it from the standpoint of making it as easy and effective as possible for normal people to use.


CEOCFO: Did you understand that from the beginning?

Mr. Zinghini: I learned that over time. A long time. I’m an engineer myself by training, and a computer scientist. I started out in the earliest days of DOS applications and embedded systems, where things were just naturally hard to use and meant for experts like other engineers, but then many things happened to make this more accessible to normal everyday people. That’s when the PC was developed, Apple came out with the first graphical user interface, and Microsoft released Windows. There was a general understanding that we had to do a better job of making these tools useful for normal people, because as these things got cheaper and more common, more “regular” people would be using them. We got into this early, and were early adopters of Windows development. We did a lot of work in those early days of helping customers migrate their products from the old MSDOS platform to the new Windows. It is hard to remember that there was a time when Windows was new. In doing that, we gained a deep understanding and appreciation for issues of usability and user interface design.


CEOCFO: How do you overcome the fact that you know intuitively what to do but the user will not?

Mr. Zinghini: I would not say we know intuitively what the steps are, but we know what the need is and we understand the problem that the user is trying to solve. The only way to find out the right way to help them solve it is to talk to them and study them. We are very good at talking to users, and we even have a formal process that we use at times, called cognitive task analysis. That’s a structured way of talking to people to understand how they do their work now, how they might do their work differently given the right technology, and what the actual problems and questions are. We’re getting the information out of them in different ways to understand what they really need to do, which is often different than what they think they need to do. If you just walk up to a user and ask what they need, they will tell you what they think they need, but they’re telling you based on the framework of their own experience with previous tools, and their own day to day life. They are not going to tell you what is possible based on the technology you are building, because they don’t know, and that’s why we’re there to build this stuff. You have to take the time to talk to the users and understand their needs.


CEOCFO: Are clients coming to you because they understand the difference at Applied Visions or are they often surprised to realize how you are working with them to get the best result?

Mr. Zinghini: It is a little bit of both. On many occasions we pleasantly surprise people by producing something that they did not expect to get, because we go through this process. Others seek us out because they understand and appreciate our process. Still others come to us because they’ve had some previous project that has gone badly because they did not do these steps, so they’ve learned the hard way. Yes, some people are surprised, and others expect it.


CEOCFO: You mentioned that you work with companies on revenue producing apps. What do you mean by that?

Mr. Zinghini: What I mean by revenue producing is products and applications that in one way or another affect their customers, and affect their ability to bring in sales and grow revenue. It doesn’t mean we don’t work on other things. But if we work on some internal application for some business function, and as a result of our work they improve their efficiency in that function and save 14% on the cost of doing that function, that’s good the company: it doesn’t increase their revenues, but it does increase their profits because it reduces their expenses. I’m happy to do that kind of work, but what really excites us is helping our customers serve their customers, because that is where real growth comes from. Helping them do a better job of bringing their product to the marketplace, serving their customers, helping their customers do more business with them, and creating new products and services that they can sell to their customers.


CEOCFO: Working with government agencies is sometimes viewed as more difficult. What do you find?

Mr. Zinghini: I do not view it as more difficult. I love working with government agencies for many reasons. First, we feel like we’re doing our part to help this country. All of the work we do is in areas that help secure the country, and help the people who are working so hard to keep us safe. I find that very gratifying. Working with the government is certainly different from working with commercial customers, but it isn’t any harder easier – it’s just different. Commercial companies can be difficult to work with at times: they have politics, complex organizations, and all sorts of internal things that you have to deal with. The government has its own issues, but one nice thing about working with the government is there is a very clear rule set for how to work with them. It’s all very carefully contracted and managed, for all sorts of important reasons. The government has strict procurement and project management processes, and I am perfectly happy to participate in that. It’s symbiotic, in a way: our experience working with commercial customers and developing products makes us better at the research we do for the government, because we naturally focus on the needs of the end user. And the discipline and rigor we have gained from government work helps make us a stronger partner for our commercial customers.


CEOCFO: Having been in the tech industry from way back when, what have been the changes that have impressed you the most?

Mr. Zinghini: There are some obvious ones. For example, I’m fortunate enough to have been around at a time when computers were unusual, and then there was this incredible transformation in our society where all of a sudden computers were commonplace and everybody had one. That was an enormous shift, and affected the way that I went about building software, from building highly technical applications that were meant for narrow audiences of specific people, to building things that my mom could use. That was a big inflection point to me in how we do the work that we do. Mobility is a similar thing, where now we’ve gone from the computer being a fixed asset sitting on your desk to having the computer be everywhere at all times. It’s fascinating to see how all this has changed, and how it has changed the way we live our lives. It has certainly changed the way we build software.


CEOCFO: Are there any areas that you think should be further along by now?

Mr. Zinghini: One is the general notion of usability, and the fact that while a lot of people are trying to do it right, there are still so many things that are so hard to do with computers. My mom is not a technologist, and she’s the one who calls me up telling me that she’s trying to “figure out how to do the thing with the Microsoft.” My heart goes out to her because she has a valid expectation that all of these things that are presented to her should just work, and make sense, and yet there are still so many times that things do not make sense. As a technologist I understand how hard that is to achieve, and we’re often frustrated because we work hard on this one thing, and we’re proud of it, and the first thing our user says is that when they do this other thing over here, something else happens that does not make sense. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s our job to make it better. There is still a huge amount of work to be done to make all of this just work smoothly and seamlessly for “regular” people -- people not trained as technologists.


CEOCFO: Why choose Applied Visions?

Mr. Zinghini: What I believe distinguishes us is that we get it. We understand the role that software plays in the overall business, and we understand the whole process of how to take a problem from first idea all the way to the end where it just works reliably and securely, gets the job done, helps your business grow, and gives your customers a better experience. We just get that end-to-end thing. Too many people in my business focus on some slice of that process along the way, or some specific technology, but do not look at the whole process. We strive to become real partners with our customers: I want to help them grow their business. I’m not there just to write code or do some specific technical task: I’m there to help their business succeed, and to do that with technology. That is why I think people should come to us, and we look forward to delivering on that promise.


“We strive to become real partners with our customers: I want to help them grow their business. I’m not there just to write code or do some specific technical task: I’m there to help their business succeed, and to do that with technology. That is why I think people should come to us, and we look forward to delivering on that promise.” - Frank Zinghini


Applied Visions


Frank Zinghini








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