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NWN CEO Jim Sullivan On Doubling Down On Services With A ‘Killer Differentiation’ In Management, Analytics

Sullivan speaks with CRN about the launch of NWN’s Experience Management Platform and five new solution-as-a-service offerings.

As NWN begins its next chapter, the solution provider powerhouse is focusing in on expanding business in its core "as-a-service" solution areas while bringing powerful new management and analytics to customers, CEO Jim Sullivan said in an interview with CRN.

Sullivan, a former executive at companies including EMC and Acifio who joined as NWN's CEO in May, said that there is plenty of room to grow even within NWN's existing base of 1,300 customers, as most do not use the company's full portfolio of solutions.

[Related: NWN Launches New Solution-As-A-Service Portfolio And 'Powerful' Management Platform]

On Tuesday, NWN said it is expanding its push into services by launching a new portfolio of solution-as-a-service offerings, complemented by the new NWN-developed Experience Management Platform that provides enhanced business intelligence to customers.

Less than 20 percent of customers have even two NWN solutions currently, and the management platform may help to demonstrate the value of adding more solutions, he said. The company's five integrated solutions are in unified communications services, managed security, contact center, Device-as-a-Service and advanced technology solutions.

“Every customer has the management platform touching it, but not everyone has every service. So there is a lot of upside with the current customers,” Sullivan said.

Waltham, Mass.-based NWN, No. 76 on CRN's 2019 Solution Provider 500, is also launching a new brand identity as part of the rollout.

What follows is an edited portion of Sullivan's interview with CRN.

How have you approached your time as CEO at NWN so far?

When we came in, we really just met with employees, met with a ton of customers. And we basically said, ‘What do you want? What's working, what's not working? How do we make it better?’ Then we dialed it into the research of what was really selling, and what customers really want. And it came down to two pieces—the five core offerings, and then everything that the company already was doing around the management layer.

The management layer was really extensive. So the five core offerings are the unified communications piece, the Device-as-a-Service piece, contact center and the overall ATS—advanced technology solutions—supporting all those offerings and environments. And then security wrapped around all those environments.

The management layer was the most incredible thing to discover in the company. It was full monitoring, provisioning and billing with an interactive knowledge database that provided any type of data analytics. This all existed. It’s amazing.

And then there were other things that the company was doing. But we really are focusing around these core tenets, which is about a $50 billion market in the U.S. and a $180 billion market globally.

What does your customer base look like right now?

We have about 1,300 customers, which is about half SLED and about half enterprise accounts. We have really strong customers, and almost all of the revenues are recurring. Because it's long-term contracts—really stable contracts in these environments. But then in each customer, we probably don't have one customer buying all five offerings from us. Every customer has the management platform touching it, but not everyone has every service. So there is a lot of upside with the current customers.

The killer differentiation with the Experience Management Platform is that everything is tied together. Your device systems are tied to a phone system, everything's off a network, and then driving it. And then the other piece is, we have three data centers. So we do full cloud hosting, cloud testing. We can also do it with the public cloud or an on-prem private cloud. So from an end-to-end solution, we can manage the entire environment with a lot of really strong functionality.

So there was a solid foundation for you to build on when you arrived?

They were great at delivering the systems and management. What we're going to really build on is the continuation of the management platform and the data analytics piece, meaning what's really happening in environments. And customers can have the self-service portal to provision things, but also to just have real-time access to all the data in their environments that we provide. ...

Customers have business challenges, and they need partners that can address those business challenges and deliver business outcomes. We are delivering a solution-as-a-service with a view on what is the business problem the customer is trying to solve and where do they want to take the business. Ultimately, the customer is looking for NWN to solve the problem. In order to solve the problem, you have to have the full breadth of the solution that requires the capabilities that are in the NWN Experience Management Platform.

The technology for the management platform already existed in some form?

The company had it and was offering these incredible capabilities for customers. But they didn't really market, didn't really showcase it. They definitely didn't charge for it. And it is the biggest differentiator and it touches every customer we have. It's unbelievable technology and it has been proven at scale.

How are customers specifically working with the Experience Management Platform? Who will be using it within the business?

The people who would really interact with it would be two types. They would more likely be a VP of infrastructure, or a VP of communications/director of communications. The CIO has an ability to come into that, but probably is just going to get a report. On what information you get, it really depends upon who the audience is. If you're a branch manager, you're going to want different information about the system. If you're a compliance officer, you're going to want different information from the system. The system will be able to provide different data for the business based on who's important to the business. For the chief security officer, that's going to be a whole different thing of what they care about, and someone on compliance regulations is going to care about something different.

Could you speak about the brand refresh and the significance of that?

With the brand refresh, there will be much more on the website around these focused solutions, around business outcomes. A lot of customer videos and stories. Ultimately, I think one of our strengths is that we have a lot of customers—it's a big company. And so a lot of customers want to learn best practices, what's working for somebody else, how can we engage with the community. I think you'll see us continue to build a community around how they engage. And a lot of the branding is just sort of fresher, cleaner, tighter around what resonates with people.

When you look at where the rest of the channel is at, how do you compare in terms of how far along you are with services?

There's very few people doing this. I'd say most are still resellers, predominantly. And there's nothing wrong with that. I've got friends running resellers—and they do really well, and they make a lot of money, and customers like them. And what we're doing is just different. We can fully solution these environments and drive the end-to-end experience. And our view is in order to have that full solution delivery, you have to have the management layer as well. And you have to be really focused around this environment and doing it as a service.

The second thing is, the company's big, and the company has made a lot of investments. We have three data centers. It's just not a comparison to the VAR world. We're still a solutions company that has services, that has product. We're going to work with customers, whatever their needs are.

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