Cayuse Technologies: A Decade Old, the Hunt for Growth Continues

October 2016, Tribal Business Journal

Rosenda Shippentower

Rosenda Shippentower in front of Cayuse Technologies on the front cover of TBJ magazine.

Rosenda Shippentower

Rosenda Shippentower in front of Cayuse Technologies headquarters.

Shawn Joseph

Shawn Joseph


 

As Cayuse Technologies enters its second decade of operation, its management team likens its continued growth to traditional American Indian hunters, who once tirelessly scouted for animals in order to maintain the sustenance of their tribes.

Cayuse Technologies, wholly owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), located near Pendleton, Oregon, provides business support and technology services for government agencies, large corporations and small to medium businesses that do business globally. Its technology services cover everything from design to testing and data analysis.

Since Cayuse Technologies is owned by the CTUIR, the continuation of the business enterprise’s growth is imperative as it contributes to the sustenance of the tribal economy.

“As far as growth, Cayuse is continually marketing and selling itself in a good way,” comments Rosenda Shippentower, a member of the Cayuse Technologies board of directors who also sits on the CTUIR board of trustees, the tribal governing body. “One of our priorities is to grow the people as well as to grow the business.”

Creation

Cayuse Technologies was created out of a vision by Randy Willis, one of the senior executives at Accenture, a leading global consulting firm and Fortune 500 company. Accenture wanted to keep jobs in America and tasked Willis of finding a place to further expand its operations. Willis wanted to find an entity in a rural location that could stand up a delivery center and become a sustainable alternative to offshoring some of Accenture’s work. Willis, from a Sioux tribe in South Dakota, first approached his local tribes, but could not find interest in establishing a technology company there.

“One day, he was on the CTUIR (which is where his wife was enrolled), and he was explaining part of his frustration to a couple members of the CTUIR board of trustees,” recounts John Duncan, executive vice president of finance at Cayuse Technologies. “They said, ‘We’re about to go into session, why don’t you come in and talk to us?’ And that started the ball rolling.” Launching the business was too beneficial for the CTUIR’s tribal officials to pass up, and Cayuse Technologies was established in 2006.

“Self-governance for the tribes was one of our goals,” explains Shippentower. “And the creation of Cayuse Technologies allowed us to promote our great strides in self-governance and for us to diversify our tribal economy.”

Business Model

Through Willis’ skillful work, an operating agreement was developed between the CTUIR and Accenture. As the agreement was developed, a business model for Cayuse Technologies emerged that allowed for the company to be wholly owned by the CTUIR, while Accenture was provided with a contract to manage the business. Accenture has never owned any portion of the business; the tribe instead contracted with Accenture to start the company and to provide management, training and guidance.

“In order to work with Fortune 100 companies, Accenture knew it had to have a large degree of independence from the tribal government, to stay outside of tribal politics and the needs of tribal programs,” says Duncan. “So, the board of trustees in the operating agreement delegated 100 percent of its authority to manage and run the business to a board of directors of Cayuse Technologies, which in turn could delegate part or all of its authority to corporate officers.”

Working with a major global firm like Accenture was unusual in Indian Country, and there were lessons learned. “Working with Accenture gave us exposure to big business and understanding how a global company works,” says Dawn Hagen, the company’s executive vice president of operations.

“In order to actually contract with significant Fortune 100 companies, the operating agreement waives sovereign immunity,” Duncan adds. “So, when Cayuse Technologies engages in a contract for a client, we do not have sovereign immunity, we are there commercially doing business as any other business would do.”

During its initial stage of development, Accenture provided the first eight to 10 classes, or boot camps, that took local people and trained them in software skills. It then sent them to Accenture locations to sit beside coders and testers so they could actually practice the skills they had learned. The first classes took place in a triple-wide trailer until the building was constructed. (Part of the agreement between Accenture and Cayuse Technologies was that the tribe would come up with the funding for the building.) The tribe owns the building and Cayuse Technologies leases it from the owners; the building was moved in November 2007.

Cayuse Technologies has a three-phase transitional management agreement with Accenture. In 2009, the first executives from Accenture started rolling off the project and were replaced by local talent.

Jobs

Economic development and providing jobs was obviously a focus of Cayuse Technologies from the beginning. The company has a vision of providing sustainability for seven generations – helping to grow a company where people can provide for their families for years to come. But staffing a company like Cayuse Technologies in a rural area has its own set of challenges.

Prior to Cayuse Technologies’ existence, unemployment was high in the Pendleton area, especially on the reservation. Ten years ago, unemployment on the Umatilla Indian Reservation was about 65 percent; now it is below 10 percent.

“Cayuse has been good for the Pendleton economy,” says Armand Minthorn, a member of the Cayuse Technologies board of directors. “Not only has Cayuse provided much-needed jobs, but it has been good to see people who never set foot on the reservation prior to being employed at Cayuse now spreading goodwill among the Pendleton community about the Umatilla because they enjoy their jobs.”

“The operating agreement was designed to help train tribal members, tribal members’ family, local residents and regional residents around the Pendleton area,” adds Duncan. “We recognized that with only about 3,000 tribal members, there was going to be a limited number that were available to be part of a workforce, especially since we are competing with tribal government, the tribal casino and the tribal clinic operations.”

He says the company draws employees from a 75-mile radius, and even beyond for some positions.

Future Growth

As Cayuse Technologies has evolved during its first decade of operation, it has become more self-reliant and seeks to improve its sales and people.

“The strategy always was to change our relationship with Accenture,” says Hagen. “They developed it with the understanding that they would help us change and grow to become a business that stands on its own. This year is the first year where we haven’t had anybody in the administrative portion of our company from Accenture. We still have a few Accenture people here, but it’s not about the company, it’s more about the projects that they are assisting with. So it’s more of a company-to-client relationship vs. a management relationship.”

“We’ve been here 10 years now, and we’re standing on our own,” adds Duncan. “The strongest thing that continues bringing us work is our ongoing Accenture leads, who say that they keep coming back because they get the service they need, when they need it, accurately and at affordable costs.”

“Those first 10 years were about, ‘Let’s figure out who Cayuse Technologies is,’” says Hagen. “As we talk about going forward, it’s more about lasering in on who we are, what we do, and really focusing on those areas.”

A major goal of the company is to create new and higher level jobs for the community. As such, Cayuse Technologies is aggressive in its expansion and evolution of its service offerings. It is building upon a foundation of proven methodologies and sustained services that it developed through a strategic relationship with Accenture.

Shippentower believes the future is bright for Cayuse Technologies and she feels good about how the company is being operated. “Our training programs are excellent, and Cayuse Technologies has a very good reputation for meeting the expectations of our customers,” she says. “We will continue to grow, but we are also aware that our tribal members must be included in that growth.”

Having established this unique facility in Indian Country, Cayuse Technologies is looking forward to continuing its hunt to grow the company for generations to come so that the tribe continues to benefit its tribal citizens and the Pendleton area.