5 Chicago companies using cutting-edge tech to build better businesses

by Michael Hines
March 28, 2018

Chicago is full of companies using cutting-edge technology to meet the ever-changing needs of customers and stay ahead of the competition. The technologies these companies use and the approaches they take in evaluating and incorporating it into their products vary. Some try to stay ahead of their customer’s ever-changing needs; others try to keep pace with a rapidly growing user base.

We spoke to five Chicago companies to learn more about how they vet and incorporate new technologies and how a willingness to live on the cutting edge has impacted their businesses.

 

bswift Chicago tech company

Founded in 1996, bswift’s software is designed to make the complex world of benefits easier to navigate for companies, brokerages and exchanges. As the company has grown, the tech team has been tasked with reducing its turnaround times. Instead of going on a hiring spree or outsourcing development, Head of Digital Transformation Devin Parsons said his team sought out a tech-based solution.


What is your company's approach to evaluating and incorporating new technologies?

As a technology-based benefits administration company, everything we do is in service of our clients, their employees and of course, bswifters. Machine learning, low-code development, bots or biometric authentication — all new technology must first and foremost have the ability of delivering amazing experiences to our users. Once that bar has been met, our cross-functional teams rapidly prototype a solution candidate based on the new technology and validate that our non-functional requirements related to areas like security, performance, compliance and total cost of ownership are in reach.

All new technology must first and foremost have the ability of delivering amazing experiences to our users.

How has embracing cutting-edge technologies impacted your business and the products you build?

Our willingness to embrace cutting-edge technology has enabled us to become one of the fastest-growing and most successful benefits administration-focused technology organizations in the nation. Our adoption of rapid product development enabled by a cutting-edge, low-code platform allows us to more completely address the complex needs of our clients in a way that reflects both our focus on achieving a fast time to market coupled with industry-leading security and performance guarantees. And, leveraging the resources of our parent company, Aetna, we are creating a next-generation authentication experience that is light years ahead of traditional methods by proactively identifying risk and taking action in real time.


What technologies have you recently adopted and what are you keeping your eye on?

Traditionally, we have used the Microsoft .NET framework to build our enterprise applications and have done so with great success. However, as our business grew at an ever faster pace, we were being asked to collapse quarters into weeks and months into days. The tried and true approaches of rapid hiring or outsourcing development were not going to work for us. We turned instead to a low-code development platform that leverages all of our investment in .NET while allowing us to design, prototype, build and deploy products with fewer resources in a fraction of the time. We investigated a number of low-code platforms and ultimately chose OutSystems. Beyond low-code, we are also exploring Amazon Lex and Connect to improve our assisted service delivery experience and Kinesis to support interaction analytics.

 

FTD Chicago flower deliver company

FTD is one of the world’s largest floral companies with thousands of florist locations across the country and a strong international presence. Vijay Sekhri, Principal Member of Tech Staff, said the company’s willingness to embrace cutting-edge technologies enables it to both create solutions its customers love and keep developers happy.


What is your company's approach to evaluating and incorporating new technologies?

For large-scale technologies with a big impact, we typically evaluate and score more than 200 dimensions before moving forward. As an example, if we were evaluating what cloud provider to go with, we’d look at dimensions such as how the provider performed in the industry the last few years, their current offering mapping to our needs and their future roadmap. Smaller-scale technologies are much simpler to choose between; we just compare features and architectural fit. Whichever the approach, we try to keep an open mind and make a collective decision as a team.

Our developers love being some of the first people to work on these new technologies.

How has embracing cutting-edge technologies impacted your business and the products you build?

It definitely helps our business, our products and our culture! For example, we’re building our front end in React Redux, which allows us to use similar code for our several thousand florist websites, re-using the functionality with the option to allow the look and feel for each business to be completely unique. Our developers love being some of the first people to work on these new technologies, which helps with retention and hiring. There’s never been a better time to join our team and be part of building a microservices architecture from scratch.

 

What technologies have you recently adopted and what are you keeping your eye on?

In addition to React Redux on the front end, we’re also using Spring Boot, Netflix OSS and Google Cloud to build our microservices-based platform. Everything we are building is in containers in Kubernetes. We use Dynatrace for application performance management, which I call the Lamborghini of APM. On the database side, at least for our first release of our new platform, we’re using the NoSQL database Datastore from Google, which is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution. For future releases, we’re looking at using open-source databases like Cassandra and Mongo, service mesh like Istio and a deployment package manager like Helm.

 

10th Magnitude Chicago cloud consultancy

Cloud consultancy 10th Magnitude develops software powered by Microsoft Azure that’s designed to help companies become more agile, customer-focused and efficient. Senior cloud engineer Ryan Lee, director of consulting operations Casey Ryan, application architect Scott Nowicki and senior cloud automation engineer Larry Mulligan all weighed in on how their company stays ahead of the curve when it comes to new tech.


What is your company's approach to evaluating and incorporating new technologies?

We have to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of tools and platforms that are fundamental to our customers’ success. Learning is central to our culture, which lets us focus our solutions to leverage the good and learn from the not so good. We attend numerous conferences, trainings, workshops and leverage computer-based training tools. Furthermore, we have internal communities of like-minded folks who are continuously improving our solution offerings by working with our partners and sales team to evaluate customer requests and market demands.

We have to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of tools and platforms that are fundamental to our customers’ success.

How has embracing cutting-edge technologies impacted your business and the products you build?

We are much more prepared when we know what is out there and what is coming, which has allowed us to easily respond to the market as well as our customers’ needs. As a trusted cloud strategy advisor, customers depend on us to leverage what is fitting to achieve success. We also use a number of tools for real-time collaboration with our customers.

 

What technologies have you recently adopted and what are you keeping your eye on?

Platforms, managed offerings and automation are hot right now. With an increasing push to be cloud-native, you have containers and container orchestration platforms in Docker and Kubernetes, respectively; managed Kubernetes offerings further add to that story, such as AKS on Microsoft Azure. On the infrastructure automation side of things we use Terraform and Packer from HashiCorp extensively, as they are powerful, flexible and easy to use. We are also seeing an uptick in requests from customers who need assistance building out continuous integration/continuous delivery pipelines. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and general data analytics are also on the upswing.

 

Future Finance Chicago fintech company

Future Finance is an online lender providing students with loans that can be used to pay for both tuition and everyday expenses. Chief Architect Chad Slaughter said the company’s approach to evaluating new technologies is key to helping it stay ahead of the competition.


What is your company's approach to evaluating and incorporating new technologies?

We recognize that there is no silver bullet to solving complex problems. We are looking for technologies that help us create value for the business and our customers by providing improvements in orders of magnitude to our processes and products, which allows us to focus on our core competencies and not waste time on commodity features.

We are looking for technologies that help us create value for the business and our customers.

How has embracing cutting-edge technologies impacted your business and the products you build?

By embracing cutting-edge technology, we increase our speed to market for new products and new features. This also gives our engineering staff the leverage to have a large impact with less effort.

 

What technologies have you recently adopted and what are you keeping your eye on?

The technology we select provides our competitive advantage, so instead I will give three technologies we are using: something old (Haskell), something new (Elm) and something blue (PostgreSQL).

 

Semantify Chicago startup
PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

Semantify’s platform makes it easier for companies to gather actionable insights from their data by allowing users to ask questions written in plain English, not code. VP of Product Strategy Arjun Dutt said the company’s use of cutting-edge tech has helped it appeal to both enterprise customers and young tech companies alike.


What is your company's approach to evaluating and incorporating new technologies?

We view everything through the lens of our customers’ problems and focus on a subset of relevant technologies and avoid distraction from our core mission. To achieve this, we monitor developments within our area of interest and adjacent spaces and constantly explore how new technologies in artificial intelligence, business intelligence, search and semantic modeling can help address the key problems our customers face. Once a key potential customer problem is identified, we classify the new technology as either a core product enhancement or an opportunity to create solutions in partnership. This results in a win-win for both us as a product company and our customers.

Adapting new technologies has helped keep Semantify ahead of the curve in solving customer problems.

How has embracing cutting-edge technologies impacted your business and the products you build?

Adapting new technologies has helped keep Semantify ahead of the curve in solving customer problems through innovative approaches that combine robust enterprise-level solutions with state-of-the-art semantic technology, which is relatively recent. This has allowed us to stay relevant to established enterprise customers with mission-critical applications and to an emerging group of young technology companies who are addressing what has traditionally been a white space in the field of information analysis and discovery via semantics.


What technologies have you recently adopted and what are you keeping your eye on?

We’re monitoring the AI space, including language processing and conversational analytics, visualization, business intelligence and semantic modeling. We also contribute significantly to the industry innovation in these spaces.

 

Jobs from companies in this blog49 open jobs
All Jobs
Finance
Data + Analytics
Design + UX
Dev + Engineer
HR
Marketing
Operations
Product
Project Mgmt
Sales
Operations
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Marketing
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Marketing
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Sales
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Developer
new
bswift
Chicago
Developer
new
bswift
Chicago
Product
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Product
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Developer
new
Future Finance
Chicago
Developer
new
Future Finance
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Developer
new
Future Finance
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Product
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Design + UX
new
bswift
Chicago
Developer
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Marketing
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Sales
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Sales
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
HR
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Developer
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Design + UX
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Finance
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
Developer
new
10th Magnitude
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
FTD Companies
Chicago
HR
new
bswift
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago
Operations
new
bswift
Chicago

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Inside the Best Software Engineer Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Tour the Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Inside the Best Sales Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Your Guide to the Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Your Guide to Healthtech in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Inside the Best Data Science & Data Analyst Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Inside the Best Marketing Jobs in Chicago