In an era dominated by talk of transformation, it can be easy to lose sight of the realities associated with such an ambition.
Change is more than a new website or PR strategy, multiple variables exist which make strategic theory difficult to implement in market reality.
The examples are endless, on both sides of the transformational fence.
Closer to home, look at Insight. A technology titan with more than 30 years of expertise, a Fortune 500-ranked provider of hardware, software and service solutions across the world.
Housing over 7400 staff, the Arizona-based business is Microsoft’s largest global partner, with operations in 19 countries.
“We sat down with Microsoft in Redmond in December and they referred to us as a partner of the future,” recalled Mike Morgan, vice president and managing director of Asia Pacific at Insight. “There’s a big market misconception in Asia about what Insight stands for.”
Such a label, handed out sparingly by a vendor heading towards a modern-day channel, is reflective of a transformational change taking place within the walls of Insight.
From a strong traditional and transactional heritage as a License Solution Provider (LSP), the business has evolved to cover four core technology areas, spanning cloud and data centre; connected workforce; digital innovation and supply chain optimisation.
Servicing a new market
Underpinning such a shift is services, with more than 4,800 sales and service delivery professionals now serving customers at a global level.
“Looking back five years ago, I don’t think we had a single services employee,” Morgan acknowledged. “Insight has been known as a trusted partner of choice with a strong transactional machine, now we’re adding services capabilities to this equation.”
Central to success in services is Ignia, an Australian business technology consulting and managed service provider (MSP) acquired in September 2016.
Headquartered in Perth, the business specialises in digital transformation, delivering solutions for organisational agility, productivity and competitive performance.
The MSP also provides end-to-end service with capabilities spanning vertical industries, including resources, utilities, healthcare, education and government.
“Ignia has allowed our business to provide a stronger proposition to win the services race in market,” said Morgan, who joined Insight in early 2017.
From January 2019, all acquired brands were dropped by Insight at a global level, creating a single services organisation across Asia Pacific in the process, spearheaded by Phil Rickson, former CEO of Ignia.
“We’ve folded the Ignia brand into Insight and remain aligned to our post-acquisition strategy,” Morgan explained. “We have countries across Asia Pacific that are deeply focused on services and we’re rolling out that capability now.
“The first two years following the acquisition was to grow footprint across the east coast of Australia which we have achieved. We’ve spread our expertise across Perth, Sydney and Melbourne and we’re now self-sufficient in that respect.
“There’s little value in operating as nothing more than a software reseller. Selling a license and seeing the customer in three years for a renewal is not good enough, our role is to ensure we can deliver deeper levels of value and meet business outcomes.
“That’s why our four solution areas are important because when we take that to market, we’re providing full value to our customers. This is our differentiation and the transactional element becomes table stakes.”
Some 33 months since the acquisition, Insight has slowly built a foundational services layer, realising long-term ambitions over short-term gains.
“We can’t turn a ship our size as fast as we would always like,” Morgan said. “But we’re continuing to pivot and we’re winning new customers and new types of partnerships along the way.
"We’ve had some great success crossing over in both directions, but they are very different sales motions. An Ignia customer requires three to six months to build a relationship, then a proof of concept is rolled out and within two years, we're developing a portfolio of projects.
“There’s fewer customers but they are significantly deeper relationships, whereas we could add ten customers in a month to our traditional supply chain business.”
Innovation at heart
In an honest assessment of the transaction, Morgan - in drawing on more than 25 years of management experience - said Insight acquired a brand renowned for “cool digital innovation”, counterbalanced by a traditional reseller.
“It’s one of the main reasons why we acquired the business,” he said. “We went to market with separate brands because we didn’t want to confuse the market, and we were in the process of repurposing Insight as a bigger brand that what it had been historically.
“We also had two distinctly different sales team, and we needed two sales teams. Ignia sold projects to business decision makers and Insight sold to IT and procurement around supply channels. We kept both teams very separate by design."
Morgan’s logic and approach reflects the changing buying behaviours of customers, with spending becoming divided across technology and business divisions.
“In some instances, the technology function is becoming the part that looks after keeping the lights on, while the business is taking ownership of their own innovation,” he observed. “This creates an interesting strategic challenge at Insight, because we have a capability that spans keeping the lights on to cutting edge innovation.
“It’s unreasonable to expect to have a single salesperson, for example, to manage a customer in this way. We can own the entire relationship of an account but the keeping the lights on element could sit with the IT director or even procurement in larger organisations.
“Then the person trying to drive innovation through technology in the business could be the CMO or even CEO. So you have to play in all areas. Yes, everyone would like to have a whole of account relationship but the truth is, our approach is multi-faceted.”
Across the region, Insight has scale in five countries, namely Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
“We service significantly more countries than that and do so out of our respective locations,” Morgan added. “Most of our demand comes from global and regional customers who have multi-country requirements.
“Very few providers could cope with rolling out a global or regional technology strategy, but we leverage our direct country presence to handle projects directly. We provide local billing and fulfilment and in countries in which we are not represented, we partner accordingly.”
Alongside housing global appeal, Morgan said Insight is attracting new customers through “bleeding edge” innovation, originating from the provider’s digital division.
“We’re running an augmented reality project for a university in Sydney, helping students gain a real-world view of the campus,” Morgan said.
Another example is Newcrest Mining, which embarked on a digital transformation program which turned to Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced analytics to enable early detection of constraint conditions that prevents its mining sites from achieving peak production rates.
The key objective was to build a platform capable of capturing and processing 40 billion records of machine sensory data, from 100,000 sensors across their 24/7 mining operational internationally, captured at 2-3 second intervals.
In response, Insight architected and implemented Newcrest’s Data Science Platform, built on Microsoft technologies, to transfer the massive amount of sensor data into a data lake, with best-in-class in-memory processing capability that could allow for "quick data preparation and discovery", and to leverage machine learning models from the R & Python communities.
“Ignia has been a strong partner, helping us set the foundations for the future by looking into newer-technology edge based computing, advanced pattern recognition and integration to cognitive computing,” said Travis Ray, enterprise architect of Newcrest, at the time of the deployment.
“This is helping us to achieve further production optimisation and reduce unplanned outages of our core processing facilities.”
According to Ray, the use of this platform has helped Newcrest establish itself as a leader in innovation for the mining industry.
“Our focus is centred on providing the best products and the best technology in the market to help our customers be more productive,” Morgan added. “We are still world leaders in Microsoft licensing but our focus is on innovation in 2019, that’s our main priority."