I have been in this industry for a long time and have and have seen a lot of technologies that have impacted the world each in their own way. There is, however, one thing that remains the same no matter what decade we are in, and no matter who the producer of the technology is…and if it was not for the title of this article, I would be willing to bet you would not be able to guess what that constant is. The truth is that “shelfware” has, and always will, be with us. What is shelfware you ask? Simply put, it is technology that you purchase but fail to implement properly. Because of the failed design and deployment, it sits in the box on a shelf never to be heard from again.
There are a number of reasons that we end up with this situation. It could be a result of product complexity, or a lack of technically skilled staff. IT operations have continued to streamline as technology has become more and more automated. While the end result is often a simple and easy to manage solution (hopefully) the implementation can be anything but. This article will focus on the Nutanix Global Services Organization. Headed by Nutanix Vice President for Global Services and Customer Success, Parmeet Chaddha spent thirty minutes with me and shared why Services remains a vital part of outstanding customer experience.
DM: What is the biggest challenge of coming to a company like Nutanix and building a Global Services team? I mean, we don’t have an unlimited budget, so we need to be really smart about where dollars go. What challenges do you face?
PC: It’s not so much of a challenge growing the organization, but rather growing the impact of the function, because it is the impact that actually matters. Lots of companies have Services organizations, but what impact do they have on not only the company, but the customers that they are serving? Traditional services generally push skilled labor to bridge significant product gaps. We have been selling Services for about a year and a half (at the time of the interview), and it is becoming abundantly clear that services deliver significant impact throughout the sales process…before and after. This is true particularly when working with Global clients with complex data centers and frankly, complex problems. A big part of my Nutanix journey has been internal evangelism. I mean, we talk about how simple we are, so one might ask why we need Services. In reality, we are not looking to build a Services organization unto itself. The sole purpose of Nutanix GSO is to be an enablement function for the success of our customers with our product. Period! So when you have that mindset toward Services you are able to make decisions very differently than you would if you were only focused on services profit and loss. While I have my P&L to contend with (as you said, “we do not have unlimited budget!”), we make decisions on individual project with customer success lens, not just billability lens.
The differentiation and customer success of our services is singularly tied to its productized nature. I view Services is a product of Nutanix. The service-product bridges the gap between customer requirements and our software capability. The service-product leverages IP and automations to shrink time-to-value while maximizing quality of service.
In summary, for me, internal evangelism of services and delivering on the promise of productized services is the biggest challenge as well as opportunity at Nutanix.
DM: I am continually amazed when I talk to our Executives because I think you have a secret chat window open. Each and every time I interview one of you I hear similar messaging. Similar goals. I hear the success of the customer comes before revenue, and I hear that from the top down.
PC: Well you know I wear two hats. Yes, I am the Vice President of Global Services, but I am also the Vice President of Customer Success, and that is the design point that Dheeraj had when he designed the role. You know, I don’t come from a background of running a Global Services organization. I have a Products and Engineering background Dheeraj didn’t care that I did not come from a Services background, because the goal was Services as a product leading to customer success. That is what makes my journey as a Nutant fulfilling … very challenging but fulfilling.
We need to look at customer success and its leverage of services at two levels – are they making an experimental decision with Nutanix or a transformational one. If customer is simply experimenting with Nutanix product, not a problem… we can make them successful with simple services but that is not the tall order. However, if the customer is at a stage where they are transforming their data center…where they are moving from legacy IT systems and a three-tier architecture to a Hyperconverged solution from Nutanix, then Services starts to become critical. At a bare minimum, Services becomes an insurance policy against the risk that the customer might be assuming by making the wholesale switch-over. There are a lot of things to take into account when making the transformation. There are years and years of lessons on legacy systems. Years of “hard knocks”. To get the customer to a web scale environment with a “soft landing” we need to do a lot of planning and prep work, followed by constant attention to many areas – migration design, migration execution, capacity planning, business continuity, process transformation and reskilling the data center resources. The increasing attach of services across more and more mission-critical projects, as well as superior quarter-on-quarter results indicate that GSO is continuing to build on its promise of customer success.
DM: I think your background really fits nicely because you know what is needed from a product standpoint. When I look back at nearly every company that I have been a part of, the overriding message was “sell Services” and it was beaten into your head. When I look at some of the software companies I have been a part of, it was clear that when Services was not involved the product would become “shelfware”. Here, there are some additional dynamics in play, but at the end of the day I feel like building a Services organization might be easier at a company like Nutanix. What say you?
PC: Actually, it’s harder, but amazingly fulfilling and rewarding. The biggest challenge is the initial perception that, given the disruptive nature of our product, why do customers need services that they have been buying when dealing with “legacy” systems. But that is not what they get. Remember, we are building a productized services that deliver maximum value to a customer by leveraging IP and best practices. Think about it. Why do you need a Statement of Work for an installation? For legacy infrastructure, you do. With GSO, you don’t. Why does the cost of services need to be close to 1/3rd of the cost of the solution? For legacy infrastructure, services costs are astronomical. With Nutanix, services costs are appreciable lower. And, our white-glove service is not just looking to rack & stack, cable it and turn it on. Instead, our services extend to design rigor and knowledge transfer. We are constantly striving to educate the customer on how best to deploy and manage complex workloads. Nutanix services is disrupting the whole notion of IT services fundamentally – IP-enabled, financially viable, product-centric. Not just skilled labor. Setting the bar this high while building the relevance and effectiveness of services is hard. But my team will not have it any other way!
DM: I wanted to switch gears for a minute and talk about something that continues to amaze me, and that is the diversity of employee that are here at Nutanix. And really, it is not just Nutanix, but the entire Bay area…there is just not a stereotypical employee other than to say they are all passionate about the technology and those that use their technology. But when you look at a Global organization, and I am talking about cultures, countries and such, how do those things impact you as you run an organization like GSO? I mean, do all these things just sort of take care of themselves, or just how do you manage it?
PC: Well, they certainly do not take care of themselves. It’s a small world, but it is not one world. We have tremendously diverse viewpoints and ways of doing things. Think about education and training. We need to make it English centric because that is the language of business around the globe. But that does not work in every geography where the local language trumps English. When you are talking about a company that is regional, that has a certain set of requirements and ways of doing business. But when you are working with a company that is truly global in nature you have a completely different set of processes that need to be followed. That can be a challenge when you are dealing with complex Statements of Work. I mean, if you start the conversation in the corporate office in Florida, but the project is actually being executed in China, you need to know how to manage that because there are a lot of sensitivities that need to be taken into account. We are by no means perfect at that, but I think we are doing a good job and we are constantly reviewing to improve. Our march of establishing a global footprint for services is motivating us everyday to understand local nuisances and bake these into our service delivery processes.
DM: I am curious…what makes a great Professional Services Engineer? You come from a similar background as me in terms of companies, and we know that the definition can often vary between companies. But in your experience, what do you feel makes a truly great Services Engineer? Are there some traits you look for, or better yet, if you could build your ideal Services Engineer, what would that person look like?
PC: The number one thing I look for is passion for truly great customer service. That is number one. You know, it’s Thursday afternoon and Friday you are going to fly home to spend the weekend with your family. However, on Friday a curveball comes at you. The customer planned on going live on Monday, but because of this issue they are clearly not going to have a very pleasant weekend. Do you stay at the customer site and work through it or do you go home? It is that type of thing that I am looking for…a real passion for customer success. We’ve done an excellent job of attracting and hiring the right kind of people to this point because all of the jobs that we have sent our consultants on have had great results and very happy customers. And yes, very deep technical abilities are also vitally important, but without that passion for customer service, it isn’t a fit. The second thing that we need is someone with a very broad spectrum of skills that can understand where the “Invisible Infrastructure” fits in relation to applications, business services and really, the business in general. Our people need to know databases, directory services and things of that nature, and they need to understand them very well. So building that diversity of skills that does not just focus on the infrastructure but everything that rides on top of it inside this “invisible infrastructure” is also important. That is where the business outcomes come from.
Now clearly, I can’t just go out and hire one of everything I need, so we need to build smartly while leveraging resources outside of GSO. We work very closely with Solutions Engineering and that allows us a great deal of flexibility. Other things we look for, and it might be a little controversial, is what aspects of the services capability can we make irrelevant by codifying it, by writing software for it. If we keep pushing at that, then the individuals we have will keep pushing higher and higher to deliver greater value to the customer, and in the end, that will also be very fulfilling to them. We are talking about moving past being the rack and stack guy to being the strategic partner that the customer is looking to for recommendations. Those are things that will help the customer decide how they are going to spend their money over the next five years. You don’t need services for the mundane. You need services for the complex and the special.
DM: I want to make sure I am respectful of your time, so I just have two final questions. First, what keeps you up at night, and secondly, what helps you sleep good at night?
PC: What keeps me up at night is the intense level and passion I have for starting something new from scratch…the GSO. It is an honor to be asked to do this. While I am getting help and input from those around me, there is a high level of anxiety that comes when you accept that role. The function is doing very well when you look at our goals and the results, and clearly we are making more right decisions that wrong decisions. So that is also a source of what helps we sleep well at night. On the other hand, though we are nowhere near what I would call “steady-state”. I have to work on our services partner program, which is a huge part of the strategic side of the services business. I have to figure out the economics of the services business whereby it is accretive to our overall business. Last but not the least, I always worry about job satisfaction aspects of my team. We have tremendously dedicated road warriors. They also need think time. They need family time. Building that balance for employees is, perhaps, the most important part of getting to “steady-state”. But these are all things that go along with growing something in a rapid velocity company like Nutanix. It’s kind of like building it while you are flying it at an insane level of velocity. I don’t want to get satisfied with what is in the rear view mirror. I want to keep looking ahead.