Industry Focus: Technology

Executives representing technology and communication companies met to discuss the challenges of their industry as options and demands become more complex.
BACK: Michael Beardslee, IT Strategies International; Leith Martin, Equiinet; Jeff Brown, Cobalt Data CenterMichael Bolognini, Cox Communications; Greg Tiedeman, T-Mobile;   Nathan Whittacre, Stimulus Technologies; SEATED: Ben Brimhall, Azul Technologies; Connie Brennan, Nevada Business MagazineJeff OberschelpCenturyLink; Gabby Hamm, Gordon Silver; Jeff Grace, NetEffect

Technology continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in today’s world, showing no signs of slowing down. Recently, executives representing technology and communication companies across the state met at the Las Vegas offices of Gordon Silver to discuss the challenges of their industry as options and demands become more complex.

Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.

What are some challenges facing technology companies?

Jeff Oberschelp: Our customers are seeing a rapid rate of change and they’re asking us to help them keep up with it.

Jeff Brown: In our industry where data centers take a lot of money and a long time to build, what you think is happening at this moment may be something entirely different a year from now once you have that asset up.

Greg Tiedeman: Businesses are trying to mobilize their workforce and maintain the security of information on these devices across different platforms. Largely, people are not aware of the security options that are available to them and therefore many are operating with a high degree of risk.

Nathan Whittacre: Our biggest challenge is finding, recruiting, training and retaining talent. With all the changes in the marketplace, finding people qualified to work on the latest systems and keeping them trained and up to date is one of the hardest things to do. There’s always the newest and greatest thing that everyone wants to work on so it is also about keeping them up to speed inside the organization.

Leith Martin: There are some things we do in the cloud and some things we do on site depending on what the efficiencies are of those applications wherever they might run. For us, the biggest challenge is having to evangelize a relatively unsophisticated customer about how these services are being delivered.

Michael Bolognini: What used to be what an enterprise customer was looking for, now smaller businesses are looking for many, if not all, of the same functionalities from an application standpoint. Our challenge is being able to take those and bring it down market while doing it in a speed to market environment where you can actually serve the customer with demands of what they’re looking for today.

How are client expectations changing as technology advances?

Ben Brimhall: We've raised expectations; things will continue to get faster and cheaper. The problems we have right now is that everything seems to be seamless but it’s not. Providers have to figure out how to make all that work. In the back end, it’s very complex. People’s data and security needs are very diverse, but on the surface appear to be fairly simple. The multi-users have very simplistic ways of speaking and thinking about the technology, but as a provider, we have to understand and translate their simple expectations and make it work without compromising a lot of things.

Oberschelp: Simpler and scalable are important. If customers’ businesses grow, they want to be able to give the same services to a larger portion of their company. But they also want to be able to scale back and get the economies of scale. We’re also seeing a shift to subscription-based services.

How technologically sophisticated are clients?

Brimhall: If you talked to someone about moving most of their IT assets off site five years ago, the percentage of people who would be willing to do that would be much smaller than it is today. People’s understanding of technology and the landscape of technology has increased dramatically. A lot of their core knowledge understanding of what goes into technology is still missing.

Michael Beardslee: Larger clients are not normally outsourcing and they are getting smarter about what they want because of large internal staffs. They want to supplement that staff with new technology that they bring in, and they are very demanding and very knowledgeable.

Oberschelp: The large clients are very sophisticated, but what we’re seeing today is they want us to take all of their pedestrian tasks and core running of their business off site. That’s the shift that we’re seeing. The core business that we all provide is given to us to safeguard while their IT staff focuses on top line revenue opportunities.

How competitive is this industry?

Martin: There is a lot of coexistence in the marketplace. We are constantly buying and selling services from each other in order to ultimately deliver what the customer wants, which is a single bill that might include 30 different services. There is a cooperation that has to take place because we are all customers and vendors to each other in a lot of ways. It’s an interesting environment that you can’t really burn any bridges in the market.

Brown: The customer is no longer making a long-term capital commitment. They’re making a one month commitment to use this service and if you don’t deliver, they will quickly and easily move to your competitor. The switching hurdles for a lot of technology services have come so low for the customer that there are always going to be choices and they can move very quickly between those choices.

Tiedeman: We’re finding a huge demand for our ability to deliver services without a contract, which requires us to stand behind the product and support it after the sale. The partnership truly has to be actively managed on an ongoing basis.

What are ways to mitigate data security breaches?

Whittacre: It’s a multi-layer approach. It used to be you could put a firewall in and have an antivirus and you’re good to go. Now the threats are coming from all over the place and in places you wouldn’t expect. For example, the Heartbleed Bug was a bug in the OpenSSL encryption tool that allowed attackers to get access to very confidential data on these networks including banking information. It’s been around for two years and they just found out about it recently. It caused many companies to have to go patch equipment very quickly. These attacks in the networks are happening pretty prevalently and you have to have a smarter consumer to be able to mitigate some of these things. It’s also about working with your service providers to make sure their networks and what they’re handing off is secure, along with having intrusion prevention systems and monitoring systems. A lot of small businesses used to think it’s not very important to have all of that stuff on their networks. Nowadays, it’s essential for all businesses to have enterprise solutions even for an office of five or six people.

Jeff Grace: Fundamentally businesses need to think of cyber security as an ongoing, never-ending discipline. Too often I see businesses come under attack or have a security issue that puts a project in place with great advice, then they tuck that away and go back to doing business. They’re surprised, or caught off guard, when the next attack hits because they haven’t maintained this discipline.

Gabby Hamm: It’s the same thing with respect to litigation concerns. Companies don’t realize they need to seek outside technology professionals to help them gather and preserve data when it comes to discovery requests and litigation. They try to do it themselves and create a disaster from the lawyer’s perspective and from their own financial perspective.

Martin: The other thing is what logging exists that allows you to forensically figure out what has happened. Often times you know that something’s happened but you don’t know what’s happened. The ability to log whatever’s happened on the network in terms of traffic, what’s been accessed or the point of access and the ability to know what’s been affected to rebuild or know what’s been lost is a tremendous value as well.

How has cloud computing changed in recent years?

Bolognini: It’s advanced from cloud computing to cloud services. So much now is providing businesses the opportunity to get those services that, in the past, they’ve had to spend more capital dollars and be higher staffed in order to get access. Now you have the ability through cloud services to actually provide those services to large companies all the way down to small businesses. They have a good feel for what it is they’re getting and especially when they look at the financial aspects of what it means to them, particularly the ability to change their business and to adapt.

Whittacre: The perception in this industry has changed pretty dramatically. The larger players are seeing that the software as a service (SaaS) and cloud solutions are where the industry is going. Clients are really liking that. To have a server in your office and making that capital expenditure every three to five years is a big capital in equipment. Now they pay a monthly fee and can have their solutions hosted.

Martin: There’s a considerable acceptance for cloud-based services at all levels of business. The network infrastructure built for all those services to be delivered efficiently to customers is still significant, and the way those services are delivered are important. Something on site that allows you to prioritize applications is a big deal.

How do mobile applications impact business?

Oberschelp: People are using their mobile apps for everything today and businesses are relying on them more. What’s interesting is what used to be a novelty or a fun device is how most of us engage with customers today. As a business providing the service, the mobile app has to be up 100 percent of the time, otherwise you’re losing revenue. We’re seeing our customers say they want a guarantee that their site is going to be up and providers have to be able to provide 100 percent uptime.

Where are the greatest opportunities for technology companies?

Bolognini: It’s further infiltration into the home. When we look at home automation, we look at security and providing additional applications to make the life of that individual at home easier, more effective and provide a comfort level. That same type of thing is really translating into the business aspect and that’s where we see additional revenues for our company. It’s in the adjacent aspects of our traditional core business.

Oberschelp: Business customers are asking us for subscription services. They don’t want to pay for the bandwidth, they want to pay for the stuff they’re using on top of it. We think managed services and subscription services are where the revenue opportunities are for us in the future.

Is quality technical talent hard to find in Nevada?

Beardslee: I do a lot of work in gaming and everybody wants gaming experience in each consultant, even if it’s a security consultant. There’s a limited supply. Finding the right talent because the clients are more and more demanding.

Martin: There’s a void here when it comes to developers and other technology talent. We recruit out of town a lot. We had someone flown in from the east coast last week that was here for two days to build a complete back-end infrastructure support for us. If I go out and try to hire that individual locally, it’s tough.

Whittacre: We have had to change internally and develop training programs to get people up to speed. We hire them in as a basic technician, then we train and develop them to provide new skills so they’re constantly learning new technologies. We’ve had great success bringing in new talent from the military because they have the right attitude and base of skills.

Grace: We always hire based on a candidate’s alignment with our core values and if they’re deficient a bit in the technical skills then we train them. With that perspective, I don’t find that great of a difficulty in hiring.

What is the future of technology?

Bolognini: You’re going to continue to see new enhancements, new applications and new services. There are really exciting things on the drawing board that will be hitting our market in the next 12 to 18 months here in Las Vegas and in other markets around the country.

Grace: There will be more and more choices both for the consumer and for providers.

Brimhall: April was the end of life (EOL) for Windows XP, but there’s still a lot of Windows XP out there. Next year will be EOL for Windows Server 2003. There are a lot of businesses out there that still need to get Windows XP and 2003 out of their networks. It will be a change for a lot of them.