Insentra Insights - Architect as a Service

Insentra Insights - Architect as a Service

In this episode of Insentra Insights, Ronnie is joined by Lee Foster; Insentra's Head of Global Solutions. They deep dive into specifics surrounding the newly developed 'Architect as a Service' offering targeted at executives. This service facilitates business transformation and improvement by leveraging an architect focused on understanding the true business objectives of an organisation.


Ronnie Altit: Hi, everyone, welcome to Insentra Insights. This is where I get the opportunity to share with you what some of the experts in our business develop,  create and bring to our partner channel.

Today, I'm joined by Lee Foster who's the Global Head of our Solutions business. Lee, thanks for joining me on the couch. 

Lee Foster: Thanks, Ronnie, great to see you.

Ronnie: Mr. Foster, you've been with us now for nine and a half years, crew member number three.

Lee: Correct.

Ronnie: What a journey you've had since you've been with us.

Lee: Phenomenal journey.

Ronnie: Phenomenal right, from starting as a Veritas expert to becoming a security expert, a Red Hat expert, a Microsoft expert. You've had your fingers across so much in our organisation, and that's why we've now got you as the Global Head of our Solutions. Firstly, congratulations on the role, very very well deserved.

Lee: Thank you, Ronnie.

Ronnie: One of the things which you've identified over the years that you've been with us, and the previous years when you've been working at vendors, a couple of core issues which customers were having. You developed the concept of Architect as a Service. 

Lee: Correct.

Ronnie: Tell me, what's led you to create this? What was the problem which you were trying to solve?

Lee: Great question, Ronnie.

It comes from where you said, a journey from back in the UK when I was consulting for Veritas. At the time I spent a lot of time in London’s square mile working on core banking platforms, trading systems, payment gateways, and so on. 

Almost every time I was working in one of those hedge funds or banks, I would always come up against the frustration of ‘there's more to do’. I'm only solving part of the problem. If I took that back to people within the Veritas business, and said, "We can do more here." Veritas said, “No, we can't talk about this, we can't talk about that. We can't really add any more value.“

We didn't really have the channel opportunity which we have here at Insentra. No way to take it back into the business and turn it into something else. That's carried on through my career, even when I've been an Insentra consultant. Same way we, find ourselves in the industries, delivering outcomes for partners who aren't tightly connected with the client. 

Therefore, there's dollars left on the table. There are outcomes that can't get completed, we're just doing bits and pieces of it. It really got me to thinking how can I - how can we - craft something which allows a Partner to take a message to a client, that is, ‘so we can understand the bigger piece of what you're trying to do.’ 

You may be engaged in a client on a discreet piece of work, and there's the opportunity for us to help solve more of their problems. The landscape is ‘fix this problem for me, this is my immediate perceived plan.’ My view is, thatif we can have a broader conversation, I guess, higher up the value chain, as to what truly is the outcome that you're trying to achieve or the vision that you're trying to get to, not the technical problem that you're actually just trying to solve.

Ronnie: Why are we doing this project? That's the question.

Lee: Exactly. It's been calling me for a long while, it always comes back to the why. We can always do the what, that's easy. What is this, can we fix this? Yes, but the why is always the harder question to ask. Why is this project not being completed? Why are you not able to execute on your vision? How can I help you become more successful?

The intent of the service is to work with those individuals to deliver successful outcomes and move forward with their vision.

Ronnie: But more at a high level. They might come and say, "I need to do a Win10 rollout." It's great, we can go in and we can scope up the Win10 project and we can do autopilot and Intune, and all of that lovely stuff.

I think, what you're trying to say is, "Why are we doing Win10 and what's the objective of it." It can't just be, "Oh, we're going to get rid of Windows 7 because it's an opportunity once you're doing like a Win10 transformation." Or if it's, "We move to Azure, we want to move to some Cloud services, or we want to put in a desktop virtualisation solution."

Lee: Exactly.

Ronnie: The desktop virtualisation solution is one thing, but it's got so much else wrapped around it technologically. But, really, what you're interested in is, what's the business outcome we're trying to solve.

Lee: Absolutely.

Ronnie: The vision, you say.

Lee: The vision, exactly. What I experienced a number of times, as you've heard me say, is that the move to just say, "We need to do this thing," is driven by a much broader business requirement that's just not being met. Someone in IT, for example, may say, "We have to do this." In your example, we have to go to Win10 because Win7 is end of life. That gets pushed up in the business, so we have to do this.

Really, a lot of businesses don’t, or they're not empowered to actually go and push that message down. We're going to move to Windows 10 because we want to take advantage of the new Windows virtual desktop, for example. We want to take advantage of DR in the Cloud; we want to move away from commodity hardware.

They could be corporate directives around industrial waste, for example, an IT person might know about. That's understanding what those bigger objectives and directions are, and there's turning those into an actionable technical delivery roadmap for a client.

Ronnie: How do we start this? What is it when we're having a conversation with a Partner or we're having a conversation with a Partner and their client, and we're going in and we're talking, we have the opportunity to talk to an Infrastructure manager or CIO, because it really is pitched to that level, what are some of the questions you're asking them in that initial discussion?

Lee: Great question. One of the biggest ones by far is what in a monthly or quarterly review, in any executive meetings that you have, what are the top three agenda items? If you won't mind sharing them, what are the top three, and why are they never resolved? 

For example, with your CXO or CIA, you've been tasked with driving down cost of consumption in Cloud. Why is it, month after month, you just can't show those savings? Highly likely, that you just don't know where to look. There could be other things, like compliance, ‘we have to be compliant by this day….’

Ronnie: With?

Lee: With our GDPR if it's a European unity, in the European Union. Or if it's something as simple PCI DSS for people to collect credit card information. They might just want to be compliant with ASDA. It could be a burning need to be compliant or they could have a pending audit. 

How do I get prepared for this audit, how do I not waste time? How do I not ultimately face the risk of penalties and fines? Those are the kinds of things which just keep going around. If I'm a CXO, as you are, and you sit in your board meetings, what are the things that we can't solve in our business? Why can't we solve them?

That's the intent. It's to get into that cycle and build trust so that we become the guy the CXO calls from the golf course, to say, "Hey, Ronnie's telling me this. Are we looking at it? Is it on our roadmap?" We want to become that. 

Ronnie: It's really engaging at the business level to understand what the business objectives are, and then to see what falls out of that, technologically, to support the business. 

Lee: Yes.

Ronnie: As opposed to, let's go do a tech project, without necessarily understanding the bigger why. And maybe, not solving everything around it. 

Lee: Correct. 

Ronnie: Give me an example, you developed this what we call, Architect as a Aervice. Which is an interesting name because it's not just an architect that we're delivering as a service, right?

Lee: That's a good point. 

Ronnie: Let's start there. What’s the difference between what we would do in an Architect as a Service engagement, and say, what one of the big four would do, or a big consultancy would do. It sounds to me like there's a little bit of business strategy, let us understand your business strategy and let's unpack that into technology, but it's not that, right?

Lee: No, good call. The concept of this service is short and sharp. It's get-in, understand some pain and immediately show some value. 

Ronnie: Time to value is--

Lee: Time to value is critical to this. Often. you'll find that the big four, they would do a six-month piece of work, really high-level strategic work, and deliver; I call it sometimes a trophy. Otherwise, it's called a tombstone of something which never gets looked at.

It sits and gathers dust, nobody wants to look at it. It's a lot of money and a lot of time. This is aimed at truly understanding, as I said, short and sharp. I use Ronnie, as an example, what are the top three things which are a pain for you? Let's remove the pain and show some value. 

Ronnie: Like the needle shifting things, which a CIO can go into board meeting, or an infrastructure manager can take up to leadership and say, "These are the core things. We know these are the big problems, and here's my strategy to address them."

Lee: Exactly. 

Ronnie: When you say, short sharp, define short sharp.

Lee: Two to four days, at most. 

Ronnie: Two to four days?

Lee: Two to four days.

Getting a day with a CXO, is an almost impossible task. In real terms, we've done a lot of work developing questionnaires which lead up to an Architect as a Service engagement. 

Ronnie: When we identify an organisation needs to get some core initiatives taken care of, we'll send them a questionnaire before we even turn up? 

Lee: Correct.

Ronnie: That's awesome, right? We do that across our business. I actually think it’s one of the things whichdifferentiates our approach. Because a lot of times, when you're going and doing presales, as it's called, or architecture type work, or solution architects go in, half the meeting is spent fact-finding. 

Lee: Yes, which is to my point. I'm going to use you, again, as an example. If I'm going to get a day with you, a half day with you, or two hours with you, I don't want to sit and waste your time asking you questions which I could have got from other people in your business a week, a month before. 

I'm going to be able to make sure that I gathered everything which is in your head out of your head. Got you to think the right way as to how we're going to interact in the session.

Ronnie: What are some of the questions which go into this topic questionnaire then?

Lee: Things like I said earlier… what are the top three things on the executive agenda that don't get addressed? One whicht people might see as a bit of a cliché, what keeps you up at night? - Something always keeps somebody up at night.

What's the thing that if you are the guy—(I will get to an example a bit later.)

If you are the guy who’s responsible for dispensing, as you are, or given that platform, and you know you're not making those savings, every night, you get into bed and you're sweating over, "Where can I find these savings? I need to show this before my next board meeting."

As the time comes closer, your anxiety goes up, you can't find it, you start clutching at straws. That's when a trip from the hip happens. I'll just go and do this piece of work to drive some costs down, it might be the right thing for the business.

Ronnie: The difference between the big end of town consulting, and even the middle end of town consulting, is that this isn't designed to be able to say, "Here's how you're going to fix every problem."

Lee: No.

Ronnie: This is designed to say, "Let's understand the problem before we even come in, understand what you're trying to achieve, and then let's unpack ways in which we might be able to address that problem," and we look at that.

Give me an example-- Let's take, for example-- because I know we've done this with a client, recently, who had concerns over their data security. Let's just talk our audience through what happened to that, how did that come about that we got the engagement. What came from it, what are the next steps?

Lee: Great example. This particular client, they're a big marketing organisation and their data is their competitive edge. They very quickly identified, the more data they create and the more campaigns they create for their clients and their tier one clients in the US, that is their competitive edge. 

So  that data is at risk, somebody else could take that campaign data. It could just destroy their business overnight. They identified quite quickly that information protection was what they needed. They needed to protect themselves from data loss, IP theft, typical data loss prevention type controls. 

They reached out via their Partner, and said, "Look, we identified that this is a pain." We said, "Why?" Why is it a pain? Why are you concerned?, and we unpacked that a bit more. It’s like, "You know what, we've got people who kind of come into our business on contracts." They log in from locations we don't know or trust. 

We trust them when they're working on a campaign for us and we give them stuff, but we don't know where they are and what they're doing. Quite quickly we are able through those why questions. It's okay. It is an IP theft, the problem that you have, but what you're really telling me is you don't trust your people. 

You go a bit further and, "Actually, I don't really trust the devices. I don't know them. They are BYOD  devices, I have no control over those. Quite quickly, where will it take you from the what, through the whys, up to the higher level, let's do it right. 

First off, let's agree that identity for you is actually the problem. Do I know, and can I trust, who these people are and where they're coming from? If I can get that right, I can get the people right, I can understand process. Once I know that, I know what devices they're on. I can automatically fix my problem, but throwing in a product to try and fix.

Ronnie: Like a data loss prevention solution?

Lee:  Yes, exactly. 

Ronnie: I’ve got to control my data, quick, put in a DLP. But you’ve still got this fundamental issue over here. 

Lee: Absolutely. You’ve got a product there, really doing nothing that costs a lot of money. It doesn't even know what to do because it doesn't know who the people are and what devices are there, and what's good and what's bad. You’ve got to teach it that.

For that organisation, we were able to deliver a roadmap that talked to a couple of core things. The first one was, what do we need to do first and how quickly can we do it, which is  all great, that's brilliant. That starts the problem-solving, but how quickly can we do it? 

The bit that I like to slice for you there is the time-to-value bit that we talked on earlier. In this particular organisation, 1200 or so seats, licensed quite heavily for the Microsoft stack, and really not consuming that part of the product set. It's all there. It's like having all of the toys but not being able to play with them.  

We were able to say, "Give them what you already own and what you already pay for, we can show you quickly, value." If I give an example of what that means, the first thing we say we would fix, is identity. 

How do you fix identity? We get essential source of identity which we can trust, but to show the value, I take the most-risky people within the business. The people, an example user who has access to that information, and I put them into a controlled-- it's called conditional access.

I don't want to get into the technical terms, but put them into an area where I can say, "Where you login from your boat next door, or the cafe, or the football club, or wherever it is you log in from, you're not going to be challenged. That's going to be new to you.” 

As an executive or as our sponsor in the business, who’s responsible for these outcomes.  You're immediately going to feel that benefit. Going back to the executive example, when you walk into the board, and you say, "Hey, this is what we've done in order to fix this information protection problem. Straight out the gate and quickly, I'm talking about in one month.”

We're able to say, “these five individuals have come from five parts of our business that we deem the most-risky. We’ve now got them under our policy that says, When I log in from somewhere we don't know or on a device we don't understand, we're going to be challenged to prove you're there.” That immediately elevates that CXO's position in front of the board because, now, I'm sharing value, I'm sharing wins and I'm reducing the problem. 

Ronnie: And at no point, though, you're telling them what technology you're going to use necessarily. 

Lee: Absolutely.

Ronnie: Because at that level, it's like-- really, what I'm hearing is that, again, it's not like-- We call it Architect as a Service. It's not really an enterprise architect because it's not doing broad stuff around. 

Lee: Correct. 

Ronnie: We'll bring in the necessary depth of skills as we unpack what it is. This is an individual who gets business, gets technology, can try and bridge the gap but do it very very quickly, and ultimately carve out, like you said, a roadmap where it's like, “we know we need to do DLP. But unless we get identity solved first, given you haven't got that fixed, then that's the path we need to take.”

Get that solved, maybe then get the devices issue solved, then get out under what the data reads, et cetera. It becomes a process but there's quick-- There are wins along the way. 

Lee: Everybody loves a quick win, right? 

Ronnie: Right, and so ultimately, in that scenario, the win could have been—“But I still don't have this protection on my data, but it's like if you had it, it wouldn't matter.”

Lee: Exactly. 

Ronnie: It's like, “I've got these really big wheels on my car, but they don't fit.”

Lee: A hundred percent. 

Ronnie: They look right, but they don't fit. 

Lee: Exactly, right. The two pieces which really stand out for me are value and productivity. If you try and compromise on either of those, it's not a good ending. If you can deliver value, and make people successful, the productivity pace gets impacted only if you do things like DLP wrong. 

If you put DLP in to fix a problem, like a timebomb, it's going to be exactly that. It's going to sit there, and sit there, and sit there, and then it's going to start to block productivity. What was an easy business process before, is now hindered and broken because you put a product in to fix a problem you don't understand. That's fundamentally what it is, getting those two pieces right. 

Ronnie: Get the right people in the room, but before you get them in the room, gather some information. It's not how many services do you have?

Lee: Absolutely not. 

Ronnie: It's not those kinds of questions, because we're not interested in that, it's the why questions. What are the big problems you're having? Why are these problems? How have you thought about solving these problems to date? What have you considered? Those kinds of questions.

Lee: Exactly. There are other questions, Ronnie, that we get, that we put in. To a client, do you have an existing roadmap, do you have an existing strategy? In lots of cases, you're going to get bold, individuals who've all been bold, "Yes, we got a strategy," and, "You know what, Lee, if I'm really honest with you on that score of one to ten, I've a strategy that looks like a ten. It's a nice glossy, but my ability to execute, it's probably a four because I don't understand, and I don't know how."

One of the questions would be, if somebody can validate your current thinking and your current strategy, and as an independent mind, that is not biased on any vendor or technology who would just sit and listen, look at what you've got and say, "Given what you have there, if you execute it in this fashion, you will be successful." Conversely, given what you've got, and you try to execute that way, these are the reasons. 

Ronnie: Expert as a Service, right? 

Lee: Yes.

Ronnie: It's like someone who can-- or like independence as a service. There's lots of different things that it does. It's not an enterprise architect, it's not a big end of town consultancy engagement. It's very specific, it's very targeted at picking the big business problems that need to be solved, working out how they might be able to be solved. And then, whatever comes out of that, is whatever comes out of that. 

Lee: Correct.

Ronnie: We're no longer going in and just doing one Win10 rollout and getting out, we're actually working with a client to help them get the most benefit out of what it is they're doing, based on the reason why they're trying to achieve something. 

For our Partners then-- For all of you who are the partners, who are watching this, what you'll find is that the outputs which come from this, turn into potential projects that you can take on. It's not always about Insentra taking on those projects and delivering them on your behalf. We can uncover those. Then we can help you work with your clients, and actually continue to add value, rather than go in and do a project and get out. 

That's really what we're trying to do here. If you're an end client who works with some of our partners, and you're interested in this service, that's how it will work for you. We're not there to try and sell tech, is what I'm hearing. We're not selling a lot. We don't sell licenses, any of the tier one product licenses, anyway.  

It's not an attempt to try and drive more hardware or drive more software sales, or anything like that. We're really interested in the outcome. Even if the outcome is that we're not the ones delivering the services, that's okay because that's the value we try to bring to our Partners and their clients. Does that summarise it?

Lee: A hundred percent, Ronnie. I think, to talk to one of our core values being trust. One of the big value points is building trust with that client and the partner, in this instance, so that they feel that they can come to us in a very unbiased way, and work with us to get to that point of an outcome, without the concern of ‘you're trying to sell me more, you're trying to push more. You're trying to get me to do compliance with true-up or something like that.’

Ronnie: Have we been in an engagement with a client where we've gone in and had a chat, and said, "You know what, we actually can help you but here's what you got to go do. We can help you find someone who can do it."

Lee: Yes, we've been in engagements, absolutely, where probably two thirds of the outcome is not something we do. But, again, the beauty of our model is, "You have some choices, Mr. Client. We can deliver this. We can absolutely deliver the roadmap. We're able to tell you what you need to do and in what order."

This particular piece if there's a whole collaboration piece that they want to integrate with CRM and Dynamics, and so on, and that's just not something we do.

Ronnie: Take it to our Partner.

Lee: Take it to our Partner. 

Ronnie: Let our Partner work it out. If the partner can't do it, then it's up to our Partner to decide who they want to take it to and help the client out. The reason we call it as a service, because we want to stay engaged there and monitor the projects, and make sure that those things are actually happening. 

It could involve a project oversight, it could involve-- They're all things that fall out of it, but the key is in two to four days, very quick roadmap. In that roadmap, what do we provide?

Lee: Great question. Here's the example I gave around the information protection example. That was a roadmap that arrived, that four phases or stages. Phase one, we already talked to, was identity. 

Effectively, what we want to show in a roadmap is kind of cliché, but we want to show continuous improvement and risk reduction over time. Which is, if I'm a six out, that's what I want to see. That's success for me. 

A roadmap would exist of a column, be in phase one is identity. The very first thing in that column is going to say, time to value. That's core to the offering there. If I’m going to do identity, how quickly am I going to get value from it? What does it mean for the next stream or the next phase of this delivery?

Time to value, and then a duration like one month, then you can have duration. How long is it going to take to complete this identity phase piece of work? Might be six months. And then what everyone wants to know is what's the rough order of magnitude price to do this. 

From an executive standpoint, it's almost like a two-page, front and back. High-level roadmap, these are the four things we need to do, identity, devices with security, information protection, and then migrate our user’s devices and workloads into that platform. 

Ronnie: Across that, I imagine, is a whole change management component.

Lee: Correct, yes, absolutely. How we get this delivered, who we get it delivered with, who's responsible for what RACI and everything else, comes as the next, sort of, iteration of the deliverable. 

On the second side of that, the same columns are a bit more detail but more fat into what we're going to do in identity. Because once a CXO-- We have two or three hours with a CXO, and they get the roadmap and they buy into it and has agreed to-- That's a critical part. It's not something where we listen to you go and craft something, and then throw it back to you. 

All the way through the process, we would say, "This is why we're thinking this needs to be executed this way." Some dialogue, get some input from you, "Do you see that as successful?" The point being, at the end of that session with the CXO, we got agreement on that road-mapping principle to solve the problem. 

At that point in time, we haven't got the time to value and the duration and the cost, but they know what to expect, "This is how my problem is going to get solved." Then that gets passed down to probably someone more in the technical realm, I might give it to a CIO or infrastructure manager to unpack a bit more and raise any questions.

That's when in identity, we talk about some of the value pieces and how we're going to do it, based on what we've learned about their entitlement subscription, what they have available, incumbencies, and so on. 

Someone technical can look at it and say, "I can see why you're doing that. I can see why you're going on that journey. You're not just plugging in product to fill small holes."

Ronnie: Effectively, then, for an end-user client who works with one of our Partners, they can get us in for two to four days. At the back end of it, we will, ideally, have worked out a way to solve for their big problems. 

I imagine, if we can't solve a problem, we'll know that early up just from the questionnaire. We won't even bother engaging and taking money for no reason. 

Lee: Correct.

Ronnie: If we can see that there's somewhere, we can add value, then we will. If it's not in our wheelhouse, then not-- If a CXO comes and says, "My biggest problem is I'm worried about cash burn," that's not us. We can't help you with cash burn unless your cash burn is because you're spending too much money on Cloud infrastructure.

Lee: Which is the why.

Ronnie: That's what we can get. Why are you concerned about that, exactly? All right. Architect as a Service, expert as a service, legend as a service, someone to come in, it's really an extension of an organisation's team. Independent pair of eyes coming in, helping to solve the critical business problems, giving people very very quick time to value.

Short, sharp, not a big tombstone of data. Not a whole roadmap which is detailed, but these are the things we need to address, and then that will spawn off a project which may address that particular item, and see where it goes. 

Lee: Execution.

Ronnie: Fantastic. Is there anything else around this service that you'd like to share with our Partners and their clients?

Lee: I just think, from my own experience from where I've come from, if this was available to me when I was consulting or even when I was in client land- as you know from my previous life- I'd be all over this. 

We're finding that clients are loving the agility of the service. It's not a, "I have to buy it in this way," or, "It has to be delivered in this way." What if I change my mind along the way or we acquire a company?” It's the modern workplace of architecture. It's evolving, it's agile, it's fast. It's the way people want to do business today. 

I don't want to spend months talking about a problem that six months from now won't exist because something else has happened. Which is the last thing I have had, the agility and the speed, and the value we're able to bring. With that, you associate, immediate savings. 

Ronnie: We're seeing an incredible uptake.

Lee: Yes, it's at least three or four days in a week, we've got clients or partners registering an interest via the web, or calls, or referrals. Once we deliver this to our client, those CXOs who play golf together, or they water ski together, word of mouth… it's just flying. It is phenomenal. 

Ronnie: Fantastic. Well done for coming up with this, identifying a gap in the market, plugging the gap, doing it in a novel and new different way which kind of goes with the first line of our vision statement of daring to be different. 

It's always tough when you're taking something which nobody's done before to market. You're going to educate the market. Let you guys understand a little bit more about it. Particularly, with something like this where it can be a bit nebulous, but it also is very targeted, and it has rapid return. 

Ideally, I call it crawl, walk, run because I'm going to crawl with the customer, a partner and their client. We want to build something, then walk together, and then once we work this out, we start running. We stay engaged; we're going through those challenges together to get to an outcome. Thanks for joining me on the couch, buddy.

Lee: Thanks, Ronnie It’s a pleasure, thank you. 

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