I find myself spending more of my time with EMC's partners these days. I can't help but study their businesses, their culture and their strategies.
Different partners have different approaches. But I really get excited when I meet an EMC partner who is betting so heavily (and successfully!) on key transitions in the IT industry.
I think their story makes an excellent case study in how focused IT partners can move from reseller to integrator to trusted consultant.
Besides sharing their story with you, I personally wanted to know what areas their team was focusing on going forwards.
Why? Because their past decisions have turned out pretty well :)
Meet Randy Weis
Randy's career path ought to sound familiar to many of you out there. Although he didn't start in IT, he found himself liking the work -- and engaging with customers -- over time.
He's been at GreenPages Technology Solutions over 4 years; prior to that he'd been involved with all aspects of storage – as well as the usual suspects in the storage business.
Currently, he's Director of Solutions Architectures at GreenPages, a decidedly non-storage role which we’ll discuss later in our story.
Randy is a hands-on technology professional, responsible for delivering the goods for the many hundreds of GreenPage's’ customers. He wasn't exactly 100% comfortable at the beginning of our interview, but as time went along, we found a number of things that we were both passionate about.
Randy, give me a quick sketch of how GreenPages has evolved since you've been there?
When I first got here, I was landed in the middle of the GreenPages storage practice, since that was what I knew. GreenPages was probably like so many other value-added IT partners: they carried an product IT product portfolio and wrapped it with the usual implementation services.
Around 2009, our CEO Ron Dupler made a strategic call that the industry was beginning to change: cloud, IT as a service and so on. He decided to move the company towards the new opportunities that he saw, but weren't that commonplace yet.
The results have been good: GreenPages has grown quickly to a $120 million company, with 190 employees -- and many hundreds of satisfied customers that depend on us for key aspects of their IT strategy. While we haven't completely exited the previous business model, all the investments are around the newer opportunities.
I remember that. I went up to keynote a few years ago at GreenPages’ annual Customer Summit and talked about cloud, and how it would change how IT was done. Pretty radical at the time. Not everyone was ready to hear that message. But we went with it ...
Yes, I remember you doing that. Ron and the leadership team wanted to be in front of the change, and not reacting to it.
Shortly thereafter, we got engaged in our first real cloud-building projects with some big-name customers. We were able to build on that experience to build a substantial portfolio of advisory, implementation and managed services.
The big shift came in early 2011 – we found ourselves spend less time having to evangelize, and instead found that many of our customers were ready to move in a new direction.
Managed services? How do those fit in?
Well, for example, we do a lot of great VDI projects. IT leadership decides it might make sense to subscribe to GreenPage's’ managed services for operations and optimization, so they can use their own headcount on more meaningful projects. From my perspective, it's just another way we deliver our expertise -- over a wire.
Our managed services covers a lot of ground that you would expect (network, server and application monitoring, for example), but we have been extending it into supporting our implemented virtualization and cloud solutions - server and desktop alike.
How is the profile of your customers changing?
That's a good question -- we're seeing a continual evolution in both size and complexity of our customer engagements. Years ago, it might be an isolated server, storage or network discussion with someone in a modest IT setting. These days, we're talking to significantly larger organizations, and it's a very integrated discussion: infrastructure, migrations, operations, etc.
We might get engaged initially around a specific piece of the infrastructure, perhaps servers. We start asking questions about what they're really trying to achieve, and -- more often than not -- leads to some sort of transformational engagement.
I have the same experience all the time. We start in one place, and end up somewhere entirely different.
Sometimes they'll use different words: modernization, consolidation, or something similar, but the intent is the same: they want to change the way they do IT.
Let's shift gears for a moment. At its core, GreenPage's’ value proposition is entirely dependent on your differentiated skills. How do you manage that portfolio?
I think it's a trap to simply think you've got to hire externally to get new skills. We think we've got great people, so we invest in them.
A few years ago, one of our VPs came to me -- the storage guy -- and said he wanted me to get cross-certified on VMware, Cisco and more. Personally, I was up for it, but it was a new sort of thought here at GreenPages. Over the years, we've evolved our approach around two buckets: keeping up with all the vendor certifications, but also investing in learning skills for which there might not be an existing program.
I think our people spend between 15% and 20% of their time simply improving their skill sets. They're probably sitting in a class one day out of every two weeks.
That's impressive, especially in a business that tends to be focused on billable hours and utilization rates.
Well, there are plenty of customers that try and shop certain skills as though they were buying a car or something. We get some of that, but -- since we invest so much in our people -- we can bring some very differentiated skill sets and unique expertise to the table, so there's less pressure to compete around commodity rates.
Like anything else, you’re only as good as your skills, so we invest heavily.
[note: the GreenPages technical staff writes a great cloud blog "Journey To The Cloud", worth reading]
Let's get back to managed services. I think that's going to be a huge opportunity, and one that isn't as capital intensive as trying to be an IT service provider. Where do you see that going?
Well, one of the things we'd like to invest in is offering cloud management as a service. Imagine an IT organization that's progressively externalizing different aspects to a variety of IT service providers.
We'd like to offer a set of services to help them rationalize what stays and what goes, evaluating the different external offerings, helping them migrate to different services, and providing a high level of operational support.
I really like that. I can imagine many of the customers I've met being interested in that sort of service.
We think so too.
So, let's talk about EMC. What are we doing right, and what could we be doing better as your partner?
First, you're not the same EMC I remember from ten years ago. You're an entirely different company now. I look at the technology you're bringing out now -- Avamar, Data Domain, VNX, VPLEX, Isilon, Greenplum -- and it's making me change the way I think about how I go about solving my customer's challenges. Isilon, in particular, is a huge game-changer in our storage world.
The more I work with EMC, the more I think about things in new ways -- especially in the world of big data.
So you like the products?
Very much, but you've still got a few gaps and problem areas – and we let you know about them on a regular basis -- but when I put it all together, no one has the storage capabilities you've got.
I hope you don't ever stop telling us where we need to get better. Tell me how you're doing with the newer converged offerings?
So far, it's been great. We were one of the first and most passionate adopters of VCE and Vblocks -- that's done really well for us. When a customer really wants to change the way they do IT, we're not shy about putting a Vblock in front of them. I was very interested in your VSPEX announcement -- there's a lot more there for us from my perspective than the competitive alternatives.
And -- just to be clear -- we're looking at VSPEX as complementary, not competitive.
That's good to hear. How is it working with the EMC field?
The EMC reps and presales engineers who know us, love us -- they know we do great work and take care of customers just as they'd do. But as we've expanded our business geographically, it takes time to build that deep trust with other regional EMC teams. It's a journey. We know we'll win them over, it's just a matter of time.
So there's still more work to do. Anything else?
You guys are cranking partner-relevant stuff out so fast it's hard for me to keep up. Just the other day, someone told me about the new vLab capability, which could be a huge game changer in our presales model.
My first thought was -- why didn't anyone tell me about that?
OK, so we should figure out better ways to keep you abreast of new things we're offering our partners.
Yes. Although we have people in our organization who manage the EMC relationship, we don't want all the information flowing through a single point. All of us touch EMC in some way, so EMC should be touching all of us.
Great point -- I'll take that one back. What do you like most about your work?
Being an IT professional can be a pretty frustrating job. There's more work than time, and rarely do our IT customers get recognized for the fine work they do.
My very best days are when I meet with a customer, and I can show them there's a light at the end of tunnel -- and it's not an oncoming train!
Roger that. I'm the exact same way.