Welcome back to the MPN Thought Leader Podcast series. In this podcast, we speak with industry leaders about their perspective on doing business in the technology industry. Episodes feature interviews with inspiring speakers David Meerman Scott, Jo Burston, Dux Raymond Sy and Mario Carvajal, Carol Roth, Tim Hurson, Kris Plachy, and Mike Harvath and Reed Warren, covering topics from smarketing to management to the future of the Intelligent Cloud.
In today’s episode, we hear from Mario Carvajal and Dux Raymond Sy, Chief Technical Executives of Microsoft Partner AvePoint. AvePoint is a Microsoft Cloud expert company advising over 15,000 businesses and 5 million cloud users globally. Mario and Dux speak about how technical roles can better communicate solution benefits to non-technical people. To them, it’s about leveraging great resources like the Microsoft AppSource store, creating a great product experience and building a personal brand that connects you to your customers.
Share your thoughts on this latest episode in our Thought Leader Podcast series in the comments below.
[VOICEOVER]: Welcome to the Microsoft Partner Network Thought Leader Podcast Series. In this edition, we’re talking with Mario Carvajal and Dux Raymond Sy, chief technical executives at AvePoint. The company is a Microsoft Cloud expert, advising more than 15,000 businesses and 5 million cloud users worldwide. They discuss how technical people communicate solution benefits to non-technical people and how your personal brand is interconnected with and critically important to your professional brand.
INTERVIEWER: Hi, this is Bill Hole. I’m a Microsoft partner from the US licensing group based in Lake Stevens, Washington. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today. And today I have the pleasure of interviewing Mario and Dux. So why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourselves.
MARIO: Awesome. Well, thank you, Bill, for having us. Mario Carvajal, CTO of AvePoint.
DUX: My name is Dux Ramond Sy. I serve as the CTO of AvePoint Public Sector.
INTERVIEWER: Great, great. So can you tell us a little bit about what AvePoint does?
MARIO: Well, so we’re an ISV. We’ve been around for about sixteen years. Basically we’re Microsoft cloud experts. We build a number of technologies products that help our customers migrate to the cloud. And once they’re in the cloud, address issues around data governance, basically information management.
We offer a pretty extensive line of products that stem anywhere from SaaS based applications to on-premise applications. But basically our goal is to really help with the adoption of cloud and turn cloud into revenue streams for many companies.
INTERVIEWER: Outstanding. Well, that sounds like you have a diverse stack of different offerings.
[VOICEOVER]: Now, Dux discusses the Microsoft AppSource store, which gives customers a predictable experience to discover, test, provision, and purchase an ideal business solution—all without the need for a technical engineer or team.
DUX: First and foremost the message of the cloud started a couple years ago.
And every year when it started everybody was a skeptic. I was a skeptic. I’m like yeah, whatever; it’s a passing fad. But now it’s real. Everybody gets it, customer gets it. Customers are moving in droves. And one of the key learning is that as a partner, we should embrace the opportunity that Microsoft is providing for us.
We’re very grateful that Microsoft is continuously innovating with opportunities for partners to not only gain new customers but also to diversify our product. So what Mario was speaking about earlier is we had the opportunity to be part of this new cloud-based marketplace called AppSource. Microsoft announced this last week as a part of Dynamics 365.
AppSource is a business solution marketplace. The intent is for a business buyer to be able not only to find business solutions. We’re not talking about oh, I don’t want to buy CRM, I want to buy Power BI; not that, but a true business solution so that this business buyer will be able to find it, try it in a quick, easy way without needing a technical person or individual or team to help them, and then experience how this solution can help their businesses.
So that’s one of the key learnings where Microsoft is providing this phenomenal new platform for partners like us to grow and diversify our business.
INTERVIEWER: There’s been so many marketplaces over time. What makes this one different?
MARIO: There’s a couple of things. Maybe I can underscore that the product experience is the most important thing in a pre-sale cycle. We experience that oftentimes by bringing out products to market. With AppSource, the reason we were really excited about the opportunity was because within two clicks our customers can start to experience the product.
You can come in and see the persona and actually understand the value of technology. And as Dux mentioned, they’re not caught up with I need to understand what Power BI is, I need to understand what IOT is. They’re really simply saying here’s my business problem.
In our situation it’s about citizen services request management. If I need to report that a light is out, I basically want to experience what the citizen is going to go through. How many clicks; they enter the information, they take a picture of the light and now the request is in the system and now we’re processing that.
DUX: Bill, the analogy I use quickly is you mentioned there’s a lot of marketplaces, absolutely. But think about this. I’m sure you take your family to a nice meal and all that. You’re the buyer; you’re paying for it.
Perhaps you order a nice steak. For me it’s the experience. I want to fulfill this desire to have this nice steak. I don’t really think about okay, what kind of salt did they use, what kind of butter, what utensils; I don’t really care. I just want my nice steak. And in the past, if you think about this ecosystem, yes, Microsoft has a lot of phenomenal technology. There’s the Office store, Windows store, Azure marketplace. But it’s still very directed to the builders, to the technologists.
So in my restaurant analogy, the shift thinks about yeah, I need to make a steak, but this would be the perfect salt for it. But the buyer doesn’t really care. So all the other marketplaces are there intended for — for example, Azure marketplace; that’s for your IT pro, that’s for your dev. They’ll buy VMs for infrastructure management, for AD authentication, what have you.
But the intent of this one, AppSource, is for that buyer. And the intent is I’m going to go there, see it, try it and once I like it I’m going to buy it. Very similar to consumer experiences with our mobile devices where oh, I think I need a social media app.
Let me go and get my IT friend to put it on my phone. We don’t do that. We go to the store, try it; if I like I I’ll pay for the pro version.
MARIO: It’s very powerful. For us naturally, there’s two differences that AppSource offers versus let’s say Azure marketplace. We also have products in Azure marketplace but it’s for a different audience. In AppSource, this idea of experiencing the technology but also having the opportunity for us to integrate that at the beginning of that experience we capture the lead. We already know some information.
As they’re trying our application we can actually do some telemetry and see which features they like. It’s this whole idea of what we experience when we go into retail, for instance, with the showroom. So AppSource for us is a showroom. As an ISV, you’re always looking for ways to have your customers understand the impact and the value of technology without having to understand the architecture in the first experience.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. That’s definitely a differentiation compared to the others. The other thought that I had and question is if there’s a partner that’s considering getting into this marketplace, what does that journey look like? What’s the anatomy of getting a presence in that AppSource? What does that look like?
DUX: So today, a quick answer is just to take the first step; go to Appsource.com. There’s a link there that says list your app. So it provides all the quick information, fill out a form. And depending on the app and on the workload, once you submit your request, the appropriate team from Microsoft would reach out to you. And once they reach out to you they’ll go through the qualification process.
Keep in mind Microsoft does not intend this AppSource just to be a free for all. I mean think about like the Google marketplace, the Android market; it’s a mess, there’s so much stuff. Some are good but a lot of —
INTERVIEWER: A lot of it’s junk, yeah. Yeah, it’s not exactly — everything is embedded and you get a lot of apps that may or may not be legit.
DUX: Exactly. So there’s a rigor to how Microsoft vets this. So Mario, remember when we first participated in this; we went through this vetting process.
MARIO: Yeah, the vetting process was very helpful; for us to understand the criteria it was really important so that we can then focus on that end user experience. And I think the point you made, Bill, is really important to underscore which is that if the experience is about testing the application and actually seeing it in action, then our customers are not going to be confused and they’re also going to walk away with this idea that this marketplace is credible; it’s real.
These are real technologies. This is not just more material and more brochures. And then the other thing that it also is offering us is a storefront for software, which software tends to be abstract. So the storefront we can list videos. And Microsoft really in the onboarding process helps you with that curation of your content and gives you flexibility to modify the content.
INTERVIEWER: Mario, can you share a little bit about your particular app in that store and exactly what it does?
MARIO: I’m actually going to tee it off to you.
DUX: So our app is called AvePoint Citizen Services. So we intended this for government organizations, cities, state and local. So, for example, Bill, where do you live?
INTERVIEWER: Lake Stevens, Washington.
DUX: Lake Stevens, Washington. So on a given day, you go out and there’s a pothole. What do you do about that? How do you tell your local government about it?
INTERVIEWER: You don’t; you drive around it.
DUX: If you could how would you want to do it?
INTERVIEWER: Well, that’d be great if there was an app.
DUX: Yeah, if there was an app, right? So one thing I have to make clear; by the way, every government agency, cities, large or small actually provides a service to their constituents. If you find something like that, non-emergency needs you can actually call 311. Yes, call 311 and say I found a pothole here. But you don’t do it, and nobody does it.
INTERVIEWER: Nobody knows about that.
DUX: Right. However, if, for example, the government provides a way and an experience just like how we would in our personal lives; if you’re not happy about the restaurant what do you do? You go to Yelp and say the food’s not good. If you’re not happy about the phone you bought you go to Amazon and say two stars, or I want my money back, all on your phone.
So AvePoint Citizen Services step one provides the constituent, the citizen an easy way to report non-emergency services, be it potholes, broken streetlamps, noise complaint, graffiti, what have you. Second is once that complaint is made, let’s say if it’s pothole, you submit it and it’ll capture your geolocation, by the way, so you don’t have to worry about typing the address. You can take a photo. All that information is captured.
And once you hit submit you also have the option to be updated as to what the status is. Once you hit submit, the local government agency who is supposed to deal with it will get it. They’ll get an alert. Once they click on it, it’ll take them to CRM. In CRM online they’ll see outstanding service request, be it pothole, be it light fixture, be it streetlamps.
And now the third step is now that they know, they can send somebody to fix it. Now again, think about your local field inspectors or field engineers. The typical model is if they need something they go, they bring paper and pen. Here’s a form checklist. But what happens to that paper? They go back to the office and type it in something.
So the idea with this is once the request comes in, we can just hit a button and say oh, I’m going to assign Mario the engineer to fix that pothole. It’ll go to his phone; all his tasks are there. If there’s a standard operating procedure, it may be a Word document through OneDrive for Business.
So that’s the idea. But we took it further ‘cause some people may say well, this concept has been around. Other than your technology there’s a lot of other technology that does that. With the power of the Azure services we layered in IOT, machine learning, predictive analysis, Power BI.
For example, let’s say the mayor wants to see what’s going on in my city. I mean we can have the mayor log into CRM, which is great. But mayors love family fancy visualizations and dashboards. So we put Power BI in the same system. The mayor doesn’t have to know if it’s Power BI or whatever. They look at it, all their ports. Okay, today your people fixed three things, or there’s so many potholes that were reported, that’s one.
Second is through Azure machine learning, if you have IOT devices we can tap into your streetlights data and say you know what? In the last ten years this is the occurrences of lights breaking down and what not. So I’m going to tell in the next three months these ten other bulbs will die.
Think about that; intelligent proactive government. Implications are huge. Number one, you may be able to prevent crime because it’s not dark. Number two, I don’t have to stock up all these bulbs; reduce warehouse space. I can negotiate procurement with a vendor. And then the last point around predictive analysis, what if you instead of doing bulk orders of those ten lamps, you’re saying you know what?
I’m just going to tell the lamp or the streetlight a week before you break down remind us. So now we’re able to let IOT devices self report, ‘cause I can’t rely on Bill; he just said that. He hit a pothole but I don’t care. What if the streetlight, we tell it you know what? Seven days before we think you’ll break, let us know and we’ll fix you.
That’s the exciting part. But wait; one more thing. We hooked it up to Cortana assistant as well literally from Windows 10. Hey Cortana, how many streetlights are out? Power BI will show the report. Hey Cortana, how many field engineers are out doing this work? And that’s the power of the Microsoft platform through our technology and now it’s deployed on AppSource.
INTERVIEWER: That’s just amazing. What a great solution.
MARIO: It’s powerful. And there’s two things we don’t want to forget. There are other workloads, budget management. Safety, permitting, claims management. There’s a long list of real issues that we’re able now to address and help that city or that government official. Oftentimes it’s hard to anticipate where crime is going to happen.
Well, guess what? Now you have a sense of where perhaps light may be an issue. Playgrounds, are they safer? And the idea is that from here we’re going to expand. And the concept of IOT is the beauty is that now there’s a lot of infrastructure in many cities that’s been deployed.
It’s just sitting there waiting for us to tap into that data set. And we’re talking weather patterns, cameras and, of course, sensors that are not only in lights, but sensors that also dictate traffic patterns. So now imagine this. Parades are coming in; how do we actually prepare for the parade?
DUX: The amount of security you want.
MARIO: How much presence do we need, security; it’s really powerful.
DUX: So one thing I kind of want to come back to from a partner perspective, if a customer wanted to do this — forget AppSource. If a customer wanted to do this in the traditional room, what would it take to do a POC?
INTERVIEWER: It’s probably a lot more than what the average partner can do on their own.
DUX: Exactly. And even worse, fine; you build this POC, it’s great. And the customer decides you know what? I don’t want this.
INTERVIEWER: Right, exactly.
DUX: So with this, it’s built in a multi-tenant fashion. The mayor, the city planner, the city engineer can come in themselves and start trial. And guess what? It provisions in two seconds.
INTERVIEWER: Fantastic. What a great solution set through a great delivery portal. It sounds like a really turnkey solution that’s easily consumed. What would your advice be to partners that are looking to start down this path that you’ve already been down?
MARIO: Really taking their time to understand the business user experience, the persona they’re actually designing the system for. Oftentimes I think we over-engineer things. We get caught up in the cool factor of technology. And so if good advice would be focus on that, we focused on that from the beginning with the help of the team at Microsoft.
Once we started really just thinking through that experience, we realized that if we wanted to be intuitive and we wanted to actually emphasize, where do we bring in elements of the power of the technology that we’re actually connecting, of all the services so I would say that. And then secondly I would also emphasize that not everything in the context — so one thing we maybe didn’t mention which was quite surprising is we’re talking about a SaaS application; software as a service.
And if you have an extensive product line and you’re thinking of bringing some of those technologies to the market as a SaaS, not everything works for SaaS. So it’s important to be open to that; understand that there might be elements that may be working for you in your traditional software model.
Be willing to move those aside and just say is this a delivery service portal as you named it, or is it really just a matter of perhaps wait to invite the customer in to understand the technology through their own experience in their day to day sort of function.
INTERVIEWER: So just to follow up on that experience, when you get that feedback what happens to it? Are the people that are conducting these trials, are they able to tell you what they liked or what needs improvement? What does that look like?
DUX: So another exciting part about this is as soon as somebody trials, the leads actually come to us directly. So as a partner that’s huge. So in the AppSource model, when you become part of the — your solution is in the AppSource marketplace, you have the opportunity to connect your CRM system. It doesn’t have to be Dynamics CRM. It could be SalesForce; it could be Siebel; it could be anything you’re using. There’s a mechanism when somebody trials it goes directly so I don’t have to worry about the sales qualification.
And then once we have that obviously as a partner we engage directly with the customer. Microsoft doesn’t keep those leads. This AppSource marketplace is intended for partners which is phenomenal. And now once a customer trials we know who’s trialing.
Obviously as a part of the business we would follow up, we would talk to them and directly engage with the customer. So that’s how we can get feedback.
MARIO: Yeah. And then AppSource themselves are also capturing feedback. There are going to be a few more additions added that allow us as partners to actually provide information back to Microsoft, how our application is performing, where we’re seeing some of the add-ons, where’s the attraction in terms of the type of services that are working for us in our application.
And that’s also equally important as the product evolves, AppSource evolves, it’s important for partners to consider what else should I be doing when I design and think about my application as it is going to be inside of that storefront.
DUX: Yeah, the idea, really the long term goal of AppSource since it was just launched last week, it’s actually still in preview launch. It will be public launch — I guess that’s what you call it — sometime in the fall. But it’s really intended for a couple things. It’s the easy trial experience, and then as soon as the customers buy — so based on that trial, again, similar to what we’re used to. If I like it I’m going to buy it.
And then the easy way for the customers and also for the partner to manage it. And when we talk about partners it may sound like oh, this is only an ISV player, right? You’re building a product, putting it there; actually it’s not. So Microsoft intended AppSource — and there’s tons of sessions this week about it — both that will benefit ISV and even SI.
Now if you’re in SI you’re like what are you talking about. The ability now for SIs to not only offer system integration on the Microsoft stack, but also the ability to offer these business solutions as a part of whatever they’re offering to the customer.
MARIO: In their service catalog; that’s important. And what we will do as partners is also include the recommended set of SIs that actually have skills aligned with the application which is also important. So if it’s public sector you want to make sure that public sector SIs are recommended there.
DUX: I mean think about Office 365. Anybody can buy Office 365; you can try it out. But if you want to go crazy and do heavy customizations, line of business integration, you want to get an SI partner. Same idea; if a customer procures this self service, they just want to use out of the box stuff, good for you.
But if they want to go at it and do major integrations, there are going to be recommended partners that they can work with.
MARIO: And I think the illustration is that the Citizen Services is a platform for us. And the data broker technology that Dux mentioned before allows you to connect multiple data services. So we expect the SIs to do that. We have an implementation of this application. In a dedicated instance we have over 50 external systems connected, driving more value to the application.
INTERVIEWER: So beyond that, let’s say that obviously once this comes out of trial you’re going to have a lot of apps and different things available. How do you surface your app to the top of the stack or the search results? Is there something built in that you can leverage to get a higher ranking as we would say?
MARIO: Great question, Bill. One of the things that Microsoft did really well is they have part of the onboarding experience is your ability to start defining through a series of categories where you want your application to surface. Is it a customer service type application, is it an inventory management type system? And then the other aspect of it would also be the types of add-ons. So if I’m looking for an intelligent business app that actually is going to be using devices that will also help you filter out and get your search results in a more positive way.
INTERVIEWER: So I want to just change gears a little bit. We talk about presence in the AppSource. It all collectively creates a brand. And I would say Dux, you have one of the stronger personal brands that I’ve seen. You have quite a Twitter following as well.
Can you talk a little bit about branding? And for partners that are just getting started how do they build that brand, whether it be for their company or personal brand? What are your recommendations to help someone stand above the crowd?
DUX: I think at the end of the day you just have to be authentic. Again, this is my opinion, but the biggest mistake individually, because if you think about companies, companies are made of people. And the whole approach, number one, if you think about oh, I’ve got to have a brand, or my company has to have a brand, I’m going to hire an intern to do it for me.
That’s major mistake number one. You have to be authentic ‘cause that person most likely won’t be able to make decisions. Second is there’s no such thing as oh, this is my work Twitter and this is my personal Twitter. I laugh when I see people’s social accounts that say anything I say does not reflect on my employer. It won’t matter. It does reflect on your employer.
So first advice is you just have to be authentic. Show you’re a person. Show your vulnerabilities. Nobody’s perfect. Celebrate wins. Ask for help. Teach people what you learn. And I think that alone not only helps yourself but helps elevate your company.
Now from a company perspective, branding is very strategic. What’s your purpose? You don’t just sign up for social Twitter just because everybody’s there. In fact, I love to use this example. I see a lot of companies, especially on social becomes active when there’s conferences or events.
Just look at their Twitter accounts or LinkedIn. Hey, come to our booth; buy this. Well, guess what? Nobody cares. Everybody wants to buy but everybody doesn’t want to be sold to. You’ve got to be consistent with your brand and you’ve got to be authentic. And just this week alone absolutely helped elevate our brand as AvePoint, with the opportunity with AppSource. And we’ll continue to invest in that. Mario?
MARIO: Maybe I can add another few more comments made from a point of view as an executive in an organization that really factors in retention and excitement for the company. I also think that we’re in an era where individual brand is actually important to build the company brand.
Traditionally companies start off with their company brand. This is our message; this is our color palate. And I think today it’s so important to understand your employees and let their individual brand come out. And then use their individual brand to actually refine the brand of the company. Of course you’ll have a message.
In our company it’s migrate, manage, protect. But it’s really migrate, manage, protect and I want that to be spoken through Dux, for example. I want it to be spoken through my product management team. And it’s their brand because today more than ever they’re actually out there speaking on behalf of the ideas of the company.
DUX: Now when we say Microsoft people do not think about it’s synonymous with Satya. You think about Apple, who do you think of? Jobs. So the lines have been blurred.
INTERVIEWER: So now based on that, what you’re saying is you need to have the right team in place with a real genuine understanding of presence and availability and social and all of these components that maybe employees five or ten years ago didn’t even have to think about. And you’re really creating an umbrella around those people.
DUX: And one thing I don’t want to underscore though that’s holistic. We’re not saying that if you’re involved in the digital branding and social you’re good, no. Social networking is this. We’re sitting, talking; those are channels and means of communications to expose and reach out.
But at the end of the day, it’s over a meal, it’s over a drink, it’s over conversations like this that makes it real and more meaningful.
INTERVIEWER: So I really want to thank you both for your time today.
MARIO: Thank you.
DUX: Thank you, Bill.
[VOICEOVER]: Check out the other podcast episodes in this series to learn more from Microsoft Partner Network thought leaders. Keep in touch with us via LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube by searching for the Microsoft Partner Network, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @mspartner. And if you like the podcast, don’t forget to rate and review it.