Remote Workforce Solutions – Spotlight on Evolve IP

Mark Morgan, President of Intelisys, sits down with Scott Kinka, Chief Technology Officer of Evolve IP, to discuss the potential for a cloud-based workforce, and the ability to “work anywhere.”

Mark: I’m Mark Morgan with Intelisys, and today I have the honor of sharing a conversation with Scott Kinka, from Evolve IP. Scott is Chief Technology Officer and one of the founding partners of Evolve. Scott, great to talk to you, great to see you virtually.

Scott: Indeed, virtually.

Mark: So how’s it been going?

Scott: It’s going good. Things are great, aside from everyone’s disruption. I don’t think there’s a better time to be in the cloud than right now.

Mark: It’s interesting. The last time I talked to you, you had mentioned that you guys were potentially moving into a new office. Have you done that yet?

Scott: Well, on the day that we were sending everyone home for the quarantine, we told everybody to pack their desks and put all their personal belongings in their car, because we weren’t yet ready for the move. Which was an incredibly smart thing to do. The building did get done in the middle of the quarantine, as an essential business. We provide phone services to hospitals and health care facilities, so we were able to get a dispensation from the gov and work continued in the space. I’m actually sitting here in the new office. There’s no one here, of course, everyone’s still home, but the work’s gotten done and we’re prepared as soon as the state is prepared for us to go back to work, in a completely different environment.

Mark: That’s right. At ScanSource and Intelisys we, globally in two days, everybody went remote and it happened. Pretty much, it went off without a hitch. It’s been interesting. We were having some conversations in the company, in the business a couple of days ago and we believe at the very least, the majority of the company is working at least three hours more a day. So we’re finding ways to-

Scott: Adjust to your new norm.

Mark: Adjust to the new normal.

Scott: Exactly.

Mark: Well, great. Thank you for taking the time today.

Scott: Certainly.

Mark: I’ve got a few questions I’d like to ask you. You and I have talked about this a lot.
Last summer we made an acquisition of a company called intY, that’s based out of UK. But intY has been a Microsoft tier one and tier two indirect partner for years in the UK and also sales here in the U.S., and we made this acquisition for a couple of reasons. Number one, we needed a SaaS provisioning platform to augment some of the things we’re doing with Intelisys from a billing perspective, a seat management perspective. But quite frankly, having the opportunity to sell Microsoft in North America, and Brazil and the UK, but North America specifically, there’s a ton of opportunity for us to really drive growth and additional opportunities for our partners, both agents and VARs. Quite frankly, we’re heavily engaged with Teams inside of our organization, so with that Microsoft thread and specifically Teams in this go remote situation that we’re in. What are you doing with Teams, and how’s that different than the other solutions you guys are offering in the marketplace?

Scott: That’s a great question. We’re highly Teams focused. In fact, at the beginning of this we were in the midst of changing our tagline to, “work anywhere,” if you can imagine, so it fits well. I think, first of all what the situation has done, has forced Teams adoption to the forefront. So people are, the opportunity for partners is get billing straight, clean it up. A lot of people duct taped a solution together, so the conversation for partners is going to switch to one of permanence. We did this, we’re not going back. But I think, what one of the questions that was coming up before all of this happened, and it’s certainly highly prevalent now is, since we’re here now, how do I make this my business phone system? How do I go the rest of the way? I want the Microsoft dream.

That’s what we’re focused on. We’re partnered with Microsoft as a direct routing partner. What that means is, we are natively engaged in the platform, no plugins in the Teams client. In fact, Microsoft directly trains our customers because the experience engaging the Teams client with our backend voice solution works and functions exactly the same as if you were to just buy their basic voice packages. But what is different about it is that we’re not just delivering a trunk for dial tone. So every user that buys our Teams voice integration gets a full seat on our Cisco hosted PBX backend. And that enables a whole host of things that aren’t native inside of Microsoft. It enables DR, it enables you to get at the rest of the features that aren’t there in Microsoft, it enables hybrid scenarios.

Teams is great, but you still need a phone at the front door, or for information workers. It enables onsite devices, overhead paging, door lockers, and all the other things. Contact centers, call recording, our flow engine, IM&P, which is an IVR on steroids. All of that stuff is enabled in the seats that we are attaching to Microsoft Teams. So what it’s really enabling customers to do is stay where they’ve moved to in this quarantine, but get the rest of the features that are required in the office. And frankly, get a DR strategy around Microsoft because, as great as the product is, they’ve skinned their knees a couple of times in the middle of this quarantine environment.

Mark: When I think about Evolve IP and the range of managed services that you provide the channel, and you have for a number of years. How can you describe what you guys have learned from supporting others, end to other end customers through the channel, how can you describe how you applied those skillsets to your own business? As you just said earlier, everybody packed up their stuff from the office and took it home, so it’s the true meaning of home office. But how did you apply what you’ve learned and what you’ve been able to bring to end customers to your own business and your employees as they went from shifting from a company provided PC to their personal device, working from home? How does all that tie together?

Scott: It’s a great question. I think, the best part about this is that SaaS is here to stay, for people who are in the business. The worst part about it for the IT department… And thank God for SaaS. It’s the only reason all of the businesses that are communicating in this way are surviving right now. But the reality of it is, what makes it hard is the business perimeter moved. It’s great that we’re doing this. We can Zoom, we can Teams, we can communicate, we can email, but the edge of the business moved. So what about the legacy applications, the billing applications? What about endpoint security? What about patching on devices? What about all of those things? What we learned really, is that the story that we’ve been telling fits so incredibly well for where we are. If you’re having a disaster recovery conversation, it’s too late. If you’re having a business continuance conversation, it means you’re doing something different. And really where we’re going is to this remote-first model.

IT positioning needs to go the other direction to say, how do I make sure that I can provide the exact same experience end to end? What we’ve learned, and it’s not just about communications. A lot of it is around our workspaces product, that’s a SaaS authentication portal that enables individual businesses to basically say, “I’m going to log into all my Evolve apps, but also Salesforce, and also Office 365. I want to do this in one umbrella. I want to tie it to my ID. I want to do that because I don’t know what devices people are working on.” We’ve also learned that a lot of businesses are saying, “Hey, you know what? This is great. I can get 75% of the way there. We tried under duress and the world didn’t crater, but we really only got 75% efficient. We still have these other legacy apps out there. So how do we get them into this strategy and not play the clunky VPN business assigned PC model.

Mark: That’s a good point because I was talking to one of our channel managers on the West coast very early on saying, “What are you hearing? What are you seeing? And what’s the partner community saying, now that everybody’s gone remote.” And it was interesting because he said, “You know, Mark, my customers and my partners that have customers who are already in cloud, those guys are pretty much solid. But the guys that are on-prem are losing their minds.” You think about it, because if you think about the CTOs or the CIOs, or whomever that had been delaying, giving the Heisman to moving to the cloud, it could be for a multitude of reasons. It could be they’ve already got a CapEx expenditure there that might delay moving, or it might be that job security thing that a lot of people have said, “Hey, if I go do cloud, it’s going to impact my department.”

My question is that, thinking about what you just said is, what can we do? What can Intelisys, ScanSource, and Evolve IP do to help the partner community address what I consider to be an enormous amount of demand that’s here now, and that is going to get unleashed in the upcoming quarters? What can we do and what do we need to be doing to prepare ourselves, and most importantly the partner community? Because we’re making a lot of investments around support, et cetera, and both on the back office, but on the front end. But what are your thoughts on that and what’s your team working on?

Scott: That’s a great question. I think there’s a few things. We had an interesting conversation about this yesterday, in partner education. I had a partner I talked to a couple of days ago who said, “Hey, Scott, this is great.” We were having a conversation about business in the browser, which I’ll come back to that in a minute because that’s really where our strategy is. But he said, “You know what? This is all great, but I’m not ready for an access management discussion. I can see that it makes sense, but I’m going to ask the question and I’m not even going to know what the answer is. So how do I take advantage of this?” And it was interesting, we bantered it back and forth. And I said, “You know, think about this for a moment. With the perimeter of the business moving, there’s still elements that you as a partner community, or as a partner, are super comfortable with doing because the conversation’s changed.” He said, “What do you mean?” “All right, well, for your VAR partners out there, if we’re going to stay remote, how do we keep the camera experience consistent? How do we make sure everybody has the same headset so audio is good. Businesses are going to start thinking about, do we need to buy broadband or broker broadband and make it a benefit of being an associate in our business, because I want them to be remote and I need a consistent experience?”

So what I said to this partner was, “Maybe what you ought to think about is just saying, hey, you’re really good at broadband right now. Put a marketing campaign together and say, you know what I do? I consult on business broadband in the home, for businesses who are going to be staying there, and let that branch your way back over.” The key is embracing the strategy that the business perimeter flipped backwards. We’re going to go to the office to share space. We’re not going to go home as an alternative work mechanism. That whole story has changed. So how are we addressing that? It’s so funny because we spent the fourth quarter of last year saying, “What do we do in our business to address the new reality?” And COVID wasn’t even part of that reality at that point, and we came to an interesting conclusion, which I think that partners can take a lot from. We have to stop talking about locations and just talk about users. That alone sets up everything that we’re talking about here. What do I consistently deliver to a user that’s entirely independent of where we work?

So our entire strategy has been around taking, we’re in communications, we talked about Teams. We’re in contact center, we’re in the Gartner magic quadrant there, we do desktop as a service. They’re all technologies, but they’re not a strategy in and of themselves. A strategy for this is to build that business homepage and make every single application that we have, be device and operating system independent. Build a homepage, login with the business credential that’s consistent across all those applications and click an icon to get to legacy applications, to get to a virtual desktop workspace. To get directly into Teams where we’ve got voice integrated, to get into our Contact Center suite. So we’ve been spending all of our energy, one, adjusting that message, and two, weeding out the last apps inside the business that don’t play well in that strategy. If I can’t get to it from a web browser on a Chromebook, you’re not going to see us distributing it. That’s not our strategy on a go-forward basis.

Mark: It’s interesting, one of the things you said. We describe it as, I talk internally a lot about selling around the seat. And I talk to partners about, what’s your Trojan horse? Did you start with a circuit? Is it simply connectivity, did you start there? What are you doing next? And in many cases, they’re coming in with UCaaS, and behind that they might be coming in with a few seats of Contact Center. From my view, one of the advantages that the partner community has, one, with companies such as yourself that have the experience with delivering on a very tight and reliable managed service, of an array of managed services on behalf of a channel. And I think it’s very important because you guys are extremely channeled friendly, but I talk to partners all the time about, if you’re bringing in the managed service provider, we now can help you scale up when it comes to selling around that seat.

So if it’s a seated UCaaS, there’s a seated Microsoft. And if there’s a seated of Microsoft, there’s a Teams opportunity. And if there’s a Teams opportunity, there’s and Azure opportunity. So, as we go down the line, everything that we’ve been investing in over the past couple of years has been to enable our partner community to, it’s the old business 101 thing. How do you sell, what’s the fastest way to grow your business? Sell more to existing customers. Now more than ever in this remote environment, it is about what can you do for this guy standing in this office to make sure that they’re secure. So we’ve talked a lot to, you know our line card and a lot of the foundation of our business is around connectivity and carrier services.

When you think about it, you keyed in on something that’s very important to us, is what happens when business bandwidth goes residential? What happens? And we’ve been working closely with our top cable and fiber companies around, what can we do to secure the secure this? And to secure this as things continue to go remote? So look, I think there’s more to come on that. I would love to come back to you and talk to you about that.

Scott: Absolutely.

Mark: But I’ve got two more questions for you.

Scott: Fire.

Mark: One, what are you looking most forward to in your professional life coming out of this, but most importantly, your personal life coming out of this? And then we’ll close it up.

Scott: I think that we’re getting this incredible reset button around how we’re operating right now. There’s a lot of terrible news coming out of the pandemic, but there’s been a lot of interesting things that have come out of quarantine, too. I think we’ve gotten creative about how we work. I think we’ve gotten creative about how we socialize. I think we’ve embraced some of the time that we have been willing to not spend with our families in, and I don’t think we go back to the same business. We’re having conversations with our executive team, not just about how we address this with our clients, but how we address it internally. Do we insist on people coming to the office after this, and what’s this going to look like? I think that balance is really the word, is the thing I’m looking the most forward to. Is that home is not an ancillary, it’s an also, way to work. And I think that we’re going to realize that business still works this way. One, professionally, that’s a massive opportunity for everyone watching this video. That’s the professional piece.

The personal piece is, I’m intending on seeing my kids more. The personal piece is I’m intending on taking walks with my wife more, maybe in the middle of the day because I can. And then getting back to it, we’re international, so I’m taking calls at night anyway. Personally, I’m looking forward to, and we were talking about it earlier. I spent a decade touring the country, playing music, trying to work my way through college. In quarantine, I met up with all those guys online and we’ve been playing songs every week and putting them out on YouTube. I think that life is just, this has been an incredible pause button.

And I think we’ve learned we’re strong enough to be able to develop balance and still produce. That’s what I’m most excited about. I wasn’t ready for that question either, so thank you. That was a challenge.

Mark: That’s interesting. You know me, I have random thoughts.

Scott: It’s all good, man. It’s all good, I love random thoughts.

Mark: Well, thank you so much, I really appreciate your time. And we appreciate the partnership with Evolve IP, and look forward to helping the channel community do great things as we move through this and out of it. Thank you for your time, Scott.

Scott: Thanks for the time. I appreciate it, Mark. Good seeing you.

Mark: Yes sir, peace.