The CEO of critical environment specialist Intelli-Systems, Joseph Vijay, is looking to bring an IT philosophy toward his space. As a former veteran of the IT channel, Vijay knows how managed services work and the value they bring to organizations.
In the critical environment space, however, this approach is far less common. In fact, it’s never done. Vijay is now bringing his experience in managed services to the space. He has hired Phil Shead, another IT veteran, to join Intelli-Systems as its head of operations and engineering. The two have set themselves the challenge of bringing an entire industry on a journey that will transform the way support services are accessed and consumed, and significantly improve the value services providers like Intelli-Systems deliver to their clients in the space.
SEE: Discover how to tame IT complexity with managed services.
Vijay sat down with TechRepublic to discuss his vision and the gap in the market that he, Shead and the entrepreneurial team behind them see as such an opportunity going forward.
What was the motivation behind hiring Phil Shead?
At Intelli-Systems, we are a critical environment specialist, and that typically refers to data centers but also healthcare, industrial automation, clean rooms, etc. Critical environments are made up of five elements: power, cooling, fire suppression, access control and surveillance, and our industry is very fragmented.
So, what you find is that each solution portfolio typically has specialists in that space. Therefore, when clients need to manage their environments, they typically work with five or six different organizations to have that end-to-end solution.
What we’re trying to do is bring all those solution portfolios under one umbrella and evolve to be that critical environment specialist end to end.
In addition, the kind of services that clients who operate these critical environments have access to is probably best characterized as reactive. Something will break, and they will pick up the phone and contact somebody. This might be through a contract for parts and labor which may include some maintenance or remediation, and that’s the best-case scenario.
Often, they don’t have a contract, and they just walk in blind and try to pick up the phone, call somebody and bring them in to service the product. If all else fails, they may default to the vendor they purchased the product from who might then refer a contractor.
But, we are all relying more on data centers to capture our data and provide access to information. These data centers are also becoming more distributed. They’re no longer just large colocation facilities or hyperscale cloud facilities. They are moving to the edge, and they are becoming smaller and more niche.
To cater for this volume of data centers, this reactive kind of approach is just not going to work. We believe the industry needs to become more proactive through a managed services offering, which doesn’t exist yet, but it’s one we are invested in providing.
Therefore, we are potentially creating a new market here, with a service the market desperately needs. We’re bringing on Phil Shead to help us build our services, systems and processes to support our vision.
What was the appeal of bringing across someone from IT?
Phil doesn’t come from an electrical services and operational technology background, and people from IT don’t often choose to move to and join companies like us, because it is a different solution portfolio entirely.
So firstly, the fact that we can attract somebody like Phil to join us is an excellent validation of what we’re looking to achieve. It shows we’re doing the right kind of things and getting the right talent to join us. But equally for Phil, this is an opportunity to create something new and influence change.
With Phil on board, we can accelerate the systems, the processes and the people we need to bring on board to make this full end-to-end managed service a reality.
How aware are organizations in the critical systems sector of this managed services approach to engagement?
I’ve been with Intelli-Systems for 18 months myself, and we have about 1,000 clients. Over that time, I’ve been contacting those people that this solution will support the most.
Stakeholders from these clients do realize they need more proactive engagement for their data center. However, are they aware that that looks and feels like a managed service? It’s not that obvious.
Their team that deals with the critical environment and their facility is not the same as those who deal with IT equipment. To illustrate this, if you look at an on-premises data center in a mid- to large-size corporation, the IT equipment that sits in the data center racks is looked after by an IT department. That IT department is probably very au fait (familiar) with the concept of managed services.
In fact, they probably have a mix of in-house capability and outsourced services to a professional IT managed services company. Meanwhile on the critical environment and the infrastructure side of things, the facility management team has become used to a reactive service, but with the pace of change in data centers that we need to support, a reactive service is insufficient.
And so, it’s a case that while the facility management team and the IT management team are part of the same organization, they have a different perspective, and there doesn’t seem to be active collaboration to bridge the gap.
What we’re doing is bringing the IT fraternity and the facility management teams together. We’re highlighting that the level of service the IT team gets can also be available from a facilities point of view. We’re looking to highlight to them that we can monitor all their equipment and capture incidents.
We have a ticketing platform that tracks all these incidents. We’re able to provide a service-level agreement-based response to manage those incidents and then provide a continual service delivery, wherein we’ll be able to show on a regular basis what equipment is performing well and what is not. With that information, we’re then able to help the customer take preventative measures rather than bracing for a failure.
What kind of response have you seen from the initial engagement with the industry on this?
There is positive anticipation from the industry. I’ve often been asked why no one has done this before — it’s a good idea, but why isn’t it more prevalent?
One of the reasons is if you think about the way data processing and information access have been evolving, it started with people putting everything on-premises, and it was entirely siloed for their organization. Then, it moved to hosting providers and colocation in large data centers.
With these large data centers, it’s not to say they have a managed service figured out, but they have the funds to throw at large contractors, who then become the conduit between the data center operator and the various types of contractors to come in and support the various elements of the critical environment. So, they probably haven’t been as exposed to the rigor or the overheads required to bring something like this together for smaller and more distributed on-premises facilities.
SEE: Explore top criteria for choosing a managed service provider.
But now, there are a lot more enterprises and mid-market companies adopting a hybrid approach. They get a completely managed experience in a colocation or cloud environment for some workloads.
But then for more sensitive or legacy workloads, it comes back to their own premises, where they process and store very sensitive data they just don’t feel comfortable outsourcing. So now that they are responsible for their data center, they are becoming more aware of the impact of not proactively identifying vulnerabilities or being able to recover quickly from a failure.
This is where we believe we can add value. To an extent, we are adopting a “build this, and they will come” position, and there is a forward investment required which is a little risky; however, we believe it is essential. There is so much dependence on a data center working to house sensitive information that we see a proactive service that is going to provide the security, safety and access to information that will offer the peace of mind our clients are seeking.
What resistance have you encountered in the industry so far?
The challenge isn’t so much around customer resistance as it is from technology. If you think about the IT side of things, managed services have been around for at least two decades, if not more.
The IT vendors have built in functionality over time to meet the demand for their equipment to be managed remotely. The network protocols, patch and firmware updates along with device monitoring allow specialists to remote in and perform updates, changes and fixes as necessary.
Meanwhile, in critical environments, the technology stack hasn’t evolved as far, and that does pose challenges to overcome.
Having said that, I do think manufacturers have been doing a much better job of making that kind of remote access much more possible in recent years. The software that’s evolving to pick up alarms and alerts is a good example. Because of that, we can make sense of the alerts received and try to fix the issue proactively.
Why are data centers the right place to start pitching managed services for critical environments?
Firstly, there is an acute need to safeguard data and process information while minimizing the risk of failure. A data center is designed to last for at least 20 years. So if their equipment is 20 years old, we see an opportunity to advise those clients that there are better options available — options that not only give them proactive services but also more efficient equipment with better energy usage profiles. For new data center builds, we can collaborate to ensure proactive management systems are in place to give them the best return on their investment.
We see it as a transformation opportunity for our clients, where modern equipment is much better at utilizing the power they receive from the grid, eliminating waste and being much better at alerting us and them about what’s occurring in the systems.
But additionally, if they are on a path and they are serious about improving their sustainability — and most of them are — then leveraging a proactive managed service can help them make better decisions about their usage of energy and the life cycle of their infrastructure.
Can you tell me what Phil’s first priorities will be in his role?
He’ll certainly hit the ground running. While what we do is very different to what Phil did before, he has worked in the data center industry for 20 years, if not longer, and this experience will help him make a positive contribution earlier on.
One of his first priorities will be to stabilize and evolve our current services offering. There’s definitely the opportunity to simplify our model and to build even more integrity into the service offering. Beyond that, he will lead us to build the foundation blocks to create our managed service offering.
It is a bonus that he is a practiced developer. Previously, if we wanted to build a system that didn’t exist in the market, we had to subcontract, which is always challenging for a small business like us. Phil’s experience and skill will allow him to recommend what is fit for our purpose from the market and where we need to build code to bridge any gaps with those platforms. This will offer us a huge advantage to provide even more value for our clients.
How significant do you expect this managed services offering to be to Intelli-Systems in the future?
It will count for a majority of what we do, and it will build on our current service offering. We’ve been offering 24×7 on-call support for nearly two years now. We’re already offering preventative maintenance. So, we’ve got elements of services that support clients with their critical environment. What we’re talking about is building the systems and the processes to deliver an even more proactive service.
Once we have these systems and we can connect either our monitoring platform or a vendor’s monitoring platform to a client’s infrastructure, we can pick up early alarms, and then we can start triaging and managing those alarms even before the customer knows something’s wrong.
We can also use this information to track the effectiveness of any asset and help our clients make data-driven decisions to modernize or change rather than just relying on the recommended useful life of the asset to manage its life cycle.
Will you need to bring others from the IT industry across to join you and Phil?
We will need to expand our employee base and team to support demand. There are no two ways about that. But of course, we’re also going to have to take things at a pace we can manage. While we’re building those services and creating these new portfolios, I’d like for us to take our time and make sure we’re solid.
One thing I’m particularly keen on is getting the rest of our industry on board. Obviously, we’d like to have a first-mover advantage and some uniqueness about how we go about things. To be successful, our entire industry, as well as other specialists in our sector, must also subscribe to the need to move away from reactive services.
With that in mind, if there is a way we can create a program for young apprentices and young practitioners to be trained differently and that results in the whole industry developing a better approach to critical systems, then that would be a legacy worth chasing.