ICT suppliers unable to deliver converged solutions will soon reach a point of maximum exposure to the propositions of more rounded rivals, warns Cloud Business CEO James Butler.
According to Butler, the key to future success resides in understanding the relevance of comms and IT solutions to customers, and being able to monitor, adapt and optimise that mix of products. “If we’re not doing this our competitors will be,” stated Butler. “Customers are the most open I’ve ever seen to buying services from a single supplier. If you don’t offer both comms and IT you’re not going to be in that decision. We have to get much closer to the customer than we ever did before. You have to be a trusted adviser in that space – and we’re working with comms resellers to help them transform.”
The new technology areas that have caught Butler’s eye include Artificial Intelligence, especially its potential to help people manage mundane or manual tasks. Butler is also interested in ‘super clever stuff’ around protecting businesses through understanding how an attacker might try to infiltrate organisations, learning those behaviours and reacting to them.
But despite the attractions of new technology, Butler is always guaranteed to revert to what he says is most important – a straightforward conversation with customers to understand how he can support them and create value. “We want to make sure we’re part of their capacity to innovate and be successful,” he added.
“Therefore we will always be looking out for new trends and the types of products we need in our portfolio to help customers achieve their goals. Those trends at the moment are security, AI, remote working and the use of video and voice as productivity tools, which has grown exponentially during the last two to three years. Automation will result in a big shift and we need to work out what our new place in the market will be. We will be more about managing that automation.”
Customers are the most open I’ve ever seen to buying services from a single supplier. If you don’t offer both comms and IT you’re not going to be in that decision
Butler’s strategic vision was just as acute when he formed Cloud Business in 2009. The company specialises particularly in IT strategy, digital transformation, IT support, infrastructure and network and security. Its customers include ASOS, Tui and Everyman Cinemas. Growth has been organic and through the addition of good recurring revenue acquisitions – with innovation in services also being a driver. “We don’t stand still and continually evolve our services to help customers manage change, compete and grow,” stated Butler.
Wired for success
Butler has always had a fascination with computers but was never a good programmer – his brain doesn’t work that way. Nevertheless, aged 15 he undertook work experience in a computer shop. “I tilted towards how computers can be used in practice and helped people by translating IT speak into normal language,” he added.
Butler went on to join Microsoft in 2001, which was a much smaller business at the time with circa 500 UK employees. Just short of a decade later he established Cloud Business hoping to ride the wave of a new trend where organisations would buy services and technology as a subscription, rather than build and run it themselves. “I saw this big change coming and thankfully it happened,” he stated. “It was never guaranteed to work out. I also managed to get the cloudbusiness.com domain name. It had been registered, but I bought it for £800.”
The first big turning point, recalls Butler, was taking on his full-time employee. “Having someone to pay and everything that goes with that was a big thing,” he added. “And our first famous customer, in terms of a brand, was ASOS. That was what made it real for people... those who thought we were playing at having a go at a business and didn’t really understand what we did. Implementing a new email system for ASOS was a real pivotal point. In 2012, Cloud Business was hailed as the best Microsoft cloud partner in the world.”
But the main impact on the company was the move to hybrid working for staff and customers, catalysed by the pandemic. Cloud Business typically has 60 per cent of its staff working remotely on any given day. “There’s been a big shift in maintaining our culture and how we engage with customers,” added Butler. “That’s also led to many new opportunities: Remote working creates security concerns and device management issues. It also brings training opportunities around how to be exceptional on video calls.”
We have to get much closer to the customer than we ever did before. You have to be a trusted adviser in that space
According to Butler, Cloud Business’ biggest opportunity is to provide the ‘everyday services as a service’ – taking difficult to run services and providing them as an easy to consume high quality experience. “I also think we’re playing more of a role around employee experience,” he added. “If 90 per cent of the workforce is at home using their employer’s technology day-to-day, that plays a role in their experience. And whether they stay with that employer could rest on their experience. The job market is becoming much more competitive so we’re going to be more involved in that employee consideration.”
This high level of involvement is largely down to the impact on work patterns by Covid-19. For years Cloud Business pushed the message about work from anywhere and collaborative working but struggled to shift any collaboration tools. “The pandemic transformed everything overnight,” said Butler. “Now, there’s never been a better set of products for customers to buy. And there’s never been the ability to deliver the services we can in such a cool way.”
Just a minute with James Butler...
Champions of customer experience – Richard Branson stands out. And Steven Bartlett – he has an amazing podcast and is an all round nice guy.
Your biggest fear?
Not taking up as much opportunity as you can with your life. Regret is probably what I fear the most.
Your main strength?
I like talking to people face-to-face, so being a people person is my strength.
Three ideal dinner guests:
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who came up with the idea of Facebook and asked Zuckerberg to build it for them. Zuckerberg blocked them out and was sued by the brothers (Olympic rowers) who put their pay-off into Bitcoin and both became billionaires. Also, Elon Musk and Anne Boden, founder of Starling bank. She saw an opportunity where banks weren’t delivering on customer experience.
I probably would have started Cloud Business two years earlier. And I would have concentrated on hiring a management team earlier.
If you weren’t in IT what would you be doing?
A property developer.
How do you relax when not working?
I’m a big mountain biker and like getting out and about. I also enjoy tinkering with old cars.
How would you like to be remembered?
As ambitious, nice, a good husband and dad.
Technology wrapped in complicated language. We need to work on that as an industry.
Top tip for resellers:
Understand the relevance of what you provide to customers and constantly monitor, adapt and optimise that mix of products.