Compugen CEO Zarek On Hybrid Work, XaaS Plans And Tackling Cloud Opportunity

The veteran North America solution provider founder talks with CRN about the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and the uncertain economy, and potential opportunities for the channel in hybrid work, cybersecurity and as-a-service IT.


It takes a lot to surprise Harry Zarek. The chief executive officer of Ontario, Canada-based Compugen took a one-man operation and turned it into one of Canada’s biggest IT solution providers with more than 3,000 customers in North America.

But the past couple of years have taken enough twists and turns to keep the 41-year channel veteran on his toes. A global pandemic, historic inflationary pressure and supply chain issues had the entire industry rethinking its approach over the last two years. Zarek (pictured) said Compugen, Canada’s largest privately owned IT solutions firm and No. 55 on CRN’s 2022 Solution Provider 500, has forged ahead by creating stronger bonds with customers, focusing on customers’ increasing hybrid work needs, and continuing an accelerated migration to the cloud.

“For all the grief the [pandemic] situation caused… at the end of the day, customers turned out to be very reasonable and patient,” Zarek said during an interview with CRN. “They read the same headlines we all read. And they realized there was very little they were going to be able to do to accelerate delivery of product. So, it was a good bonding opportunity. We had to figure out how to manage our way through that. I think that’s a net benefit for all of us.”

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Zarek said hybrid work opportunities are changing the ways MSPs think about operations. Compugen has been expanding its own modern work spaces, opening a new co-working office in Regina, Canada featuring more than 40,000 square feet of workspace, 60 private offices, 100 workstations, 12 meetings rooms and a games and meditation room.

The following is an edited transcript of Zarek’s interview with CRN:

How is hybrid work changing the way you do business?

“Obviously, we need to get lots of technology into homes. But we also need meeting rooms that allow you to bring in people who are remote in a more natural way. Everything to do with meetings is going to be big for us going forward. We have to think about the sociology of how you get people to work collaboratively and what’s the purpose of wanting to come into an office versus working at home. The big issue with every customer is around how to manage it – because there’s really no agreed upon model. There are layers of complexity. And we’re getting drawn into all these conversations around technology and the future of work.”

In light of all the headlines about economic headwinds, can you share how your own business is holding up?

“I feel like I’m living in an alternative universe. So far our customers haven’t asked us to cancel orders or slow down orders. It is a surprise, to be honest. Because, everyone’s talking about recession and layoffs. And public companies – at least those that are in the traditional arenas like PCs are saying sales are way down. But we’ve got a broad portfolio that doesn’t depend on a single category. That said, we’ll be cautious.”

With supply chain challenges affecting hardware across the board, are you placing more emphasis on cloud business?

“Oh yeah… absolutely. The increased migration to the cloud is really a continuation of what we’ve seen over the last number of years. I would say cloud is a high-growth opportunity that we need to capitalize on even more than we have in the past – which means dedicated investment in cloud specialists on the sales and consulting side. So we need more specialists that sell only cloud infrastructure, versus the historic model. Cloud will continue to be a multi-year transformation for customers.”

As the future of work changes, what about the future of IT security?

“That’s a big issue: security, security, security. And it’s not going away. Our focus need s to be on how to build resiliency and recoverability. You’ve got to assume you’re going to be affected by an attack or security issue in one way or another no matter what you do. So, how quickly can you restore operations? And the industry has done a very poor job in managing our way through that. So we’ve got to solve that problem in 2023. It’s not a trivial problem.”

How has Everything as a Service (Xaas) evolved and how is Compugen utilizing the concept?

“The whole ‘as a service’ model has become a mantra for us,. It’s become our directive. Everything as a service. Have we done enough to prepare? No, we all have a lot of work to do in terms of development because the traditional model has always been professional services, assessment, do the design work and implement and hand solutions over to the customer and manage it. Now the management has to be baked in right from the very beginning. And that’s what we’re working on. We’ve got to get there and Compugen will start in a big way in 2023.”