Advizex President C.R. Howdyshell Is Driving An Everything-As-A-Service Revolution
“We are seeing tremendous growth in our Everything-as-a-Service funnel,” said Advizex President C.R. Howdyshell. “These are customers that want us to run and manage their IT for them so they can focus on their business. Our brand as a company has been and will continue to be our technical excellence as an Everything-as-a-Service provider.”
When Advizex President C.R. Howdyshell was a 16-year-old high-school football player at Sistersville High School in West Virginia, he learned a valuable lesson about not quitting and doing what it takes to win.
Howdyshell remembers the principal of the small-town high school threatening to shut down the football program, and one player after another walking away after several lackluster years. But the head coach, Lou Nocida, and his assistant Bob Daquilante “Coach D”—who is Howdyshell’s son Drew’s godfather—refused to throw in the towel and let the team down.
With barely enough players to field a team, the two coaches drilled into the young men the drive, determination and commitment to not give up along with a fierce will to win—even as the number of players dropped from 26 at the start of the season to just 12 players with an 0-8 record. The commitment to do what it takes to overcome insurmountable odds to win with just 12 players made a lasting impression on Howdyshell, who remains close to both coaches to this day.
[RELATED: Former CIO Superstar Kurt Schnieders Is Now Upping Advizex’s Services Game]
“Coach Nocida and Coach D taught us about being mentally tough, being committed and preparing,” Howdyshell recalled. “It’s not just saying it. It is doing it and preparing to do it with hard work. After going 0-8, we won that next road game by one point with just 12 guys.”
That mental toughness and will to win took the Sistersville Tigers team to an 11-1 season the next year. It also helped transform Howdyshell into one of the leading all-time rushers in Ohio Valley high-school football history and the Sistersville program into one of the top programs in the state. “That taught me about commitment,” said Howdyshell. “It taught me about life and doing what it takes to win.”
Howdyshell has taken that hard-earned grit, determination and commitment from his high-school and college football days and applied them to the business world and a 37-year career in technology solution sales.
Now president of the $200 million CRN Solution Provider 500 star Advizex, Howdyshell is taking the lessons from the grid iron to the technology sales trenches to remake Advizex into an Everything-as-a-Service powerhouse. The commitment and determination he took to heart as a high-school football player has been key to transforming Advizex into one of the leaders in the Everything-as- a-Service market.
“We can’t just say we are going to do Everything as a Service, we have to step back, get prepared and do what it takes to win,” said Howdyshell. “You have to be committed to the cause, committed to the team and committed to the strategy. And then you have to execute. You can’t just blow by and think it’s going to happen. You have to go help customers and be accountable. We have to compete and win against the big guys. We don’t need to be the biggest. We just need to be the best at what we do.”
Making Investments To Be The Best In Everything As A Service
Being the best in the Everything-as-a-Service market, said Howdyshell, means making big investments in talent to build out the managed services portfolio. That technology and sales talent has powered a dramatic increase in as-a-service revenue for Advizex with one big customer win after another, leading to a 27 percent increase in services sales in 2021. Among the most notable wins: a deal with $2 billion chemical manufacturer W.R. Grace & Co; a marquee deal with a genomic research startup that opted for a secure on-premises cloud service from Advizex rather than inking a deal with a public cloud provider; and a complex Epic medical records health-care deal with Mohawk Valley Health System of Utica, N.Y.
“We are seeing tremendous growth in our Everything-as-a-Service funnel,” said Howdyshell. “These are customers that want us to run and manage their IT for them so they can focus on their business. Our brand as a company has been and will continue to be our technical excellence as an Everything-as-a-Service provider. We have to be better than the companies we compete with and even the technical talent at the companies we work with or they don’t need us.”
Among the changes powering the Advizex transformation: the hiring of former L Brands and Dick’s Sporting Goods superstar CIO Kurt Schnieders as COO; the appointment of 29-year tech sales veteran Joe VanPatten as vice president of cloud consumption; and the recent addition of former Xerox executive and MT Business Technologies President Jeremy Wood as chief transformation officer.
Key to Advizex’s success is having business-outcome-focused discussions with IT leaders and CEOs, said Howdyshell. Those business discussions are eye-openers for IT and business leaders who are unaware of the on-premises pay-per-use cloud service models.
Howdyshell’s no-holds-barred bet is turning the heads of the bigger competitors that are scrambling to make the Everything-as-a-Service shift. Advizex, meanwhile, is on track to hit $70 million in recurring revenue services in 2022 as part of a march toward $100 million. “The energy of the organization is all coming together around this Everything-as-a-Service push,” he said. “They see what is happening in the market. Customers want this, and we have a head start over our competitors. We are accelerating and making the investments to be the leader in Everything as a Service.”
Among the areas where Advizex is seeing the biggest recurring revenue services gains are security services, cloud services, IT automation services, Microsoft services, VMware services, infrastructure monitoring and management, and on-premises cloud services with the HPE GreenLake pay-per-use cloud service. The success with GreenLake led to Advizex being named Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s U.S. As-A-Service Partner of the Year in 2021.
“We’re demonstrating really strong growth,” Howdyshell said. “The single bill and single point of accountability that we bring with an Everything-as-a-Service subscription model is resonating with customers. It lets our customers focus on running the business while we focus on running IT. This has changed the game for Advizex.”
That Advizex single point of accountability for complex secure cloud services is backed up by the 47-year-old company’s “Customers for Life” credo. “That Customers for Life philosophy is part of our DNA,” said Howdyshell. “This is not about doing what’s best for your customer once. It is about doing whatever it takes to keep that customer for life like funding a $50,000 fix for a customer that was caught in a crossfire between two vendors. It’s not words for us. It’s what we do.”
Managed Services Momentum Is Fueling Everything As A Service
Advizex’s momentum is being fueled by its long-standing managed services prowess, where profit has doubled over the course of the past year, said Advizex Chief Marketing Officer Matt Gaudio, who oversees the 74-employee managed services organization. “The world changed to this recurring revenue consumption model and it enabled our managed services offering to be front and center,” he said. “Now it is all coming together with the ability for us to provide a single monthly bill for customers for cloud, product and services. Our growth with net-new customers has been substantial over the last six months.”
But it’s not just net new customers—the Everything-as-a-Service charge has opened the eyes of longtime customers to the managed services portfolio, including Database as a Service (a 15-year Advizex crown jewel service that few MSPs have mastered), Infrastructure as a Service, Disaster Recovery as a Service and Help Desk as a Service.
One of Advizex’s biggest managed services wins came late last year when a 20-year Advizex customer—a consumer packaged goods company—inked a multimillion-dollar, multiyear Database- as-a-Service deal, said Gaudio. “They looked at our talent and realized that we had been doing this for years,” he said. “Even these very large historic customers are seeing the value that we are bringing to the table with our smart technical consultants and engineers. We are managing databases from the ground level all the way to the penthouse. We are doing clustering and segmentation, very high-end work. The value we can bring to customers is a no-brainer. They don’t have to find, hire or train people. We do all the work for them and are an extension of their business.”
Advizex’s long-standing technical excellence is the differentiator for the managed services business, said Gaudio. “We win customers over with how smart our consultants and presales teams are,” said Gaudio. “We are solving problems that customers don’t have the time or ability to get to. With the consumption model, customers see the technical excellence and the real value we are providing them. Customers know we can provide these as-a-service offerings with super, super technical talent. The value for customers is immense.”
The Advizex Everything-as-a-Service consumption model is “three steps ahead” of competitors, said Gaudio. “We have a little bit of a head start; we just need to continue to improve our offerings and maintain our lead. We have to just continue to put the pedal to the metal and continue with the strategy that we have gone all in on.”
The Customer Benefits: A ‘Push-Of-The-Button’ Model
Customers like W.R. Grace are anxious to get out of the business of managing data centers so they can focus more on driving competitive advantage, said Advizex Vice President and Northeast General Manager Steve Kucker, a key executive helping drive the Everything-as-a-Service deals. “Customers want to manage the business—not the infrastructure,” he said. “It takes the risk out of IT for them and allows them to focus on making advances in the business. It turns IT into a business driver.”
That was certainly the case at W.R. Grace—which adopted the HPE GreenLake on-premises cloud service 18 months ago and has since then added 20 percent additional capacity on CPU and storage, SAP services and Disaster Recovery as a Service, said Kucker. In addition, the Advizex offering has allowed W.R. Grace to quickly add an acquisition to the as-a-service platform.
“We are running a complete IT as a service for them,” he said. “The great thing is with GreenLake they don’t have to come back for firmware upgrades, technology refresh, capacity planning, performance or scalability. We do all of that for them. It’s basically a push of the button for them for a change order.”
The on-demand consumption model has helped customers avoid supply chain issues because of the proactive capacity management planning that takes place with GreenLake, said Kucker. “The consumption model has allowed us to plan ahead of time on capacity, performance and scalability without supply chain issues,” he said. “We have foresight into what they are doing to avoid those issues. From a financial, operational and business perspective, there is not a better way to sell in the market today. Customers are very happy with this model.”
A ‘Land-And-Expand’ Services Advantage
Advizex has implemented a “land-and-expand” strategy to drive its wide and deep services offerings into customer organizations, said Advizex Vice President Dave Gibbons, a former EMC executive who joined Advizex nine years ago and now heads up the Ohio market. “Once we get in with a service, we just land and expand,” he said. “It comes down to the confidence and trust that CIOs and their teams have in Advizex to deliver and meet all their needs and requirements. We have reached a point where we get what service is all about and we do it well. It is our differentiator.”
One example of Advizex’s success is the services growth the company has seen from what started with a small Office 365 engagement with a Washington, D.C., mid-Atlantic bank. That initial services deal expanded to Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Active Directory on to a full-fledged disaster recovery and business continuity service. Most recently, Advizex has been given the green light to migrate the IT systems of multiple banks that were acquired by the customer. “What we have done with them is establish ourselves as one of their trusted advisers and go-to consultants,” Gibbons said. “Besides all the other services we have done, we are now doing a complete ServiceNow implementation for them. This is a multimillion-dollar services engagement.”
Advizex’s services success is a testament to the high-quality services consultants and teams in the trenches making a difference for customers, said Gibbons, a 40-year technology veteran. “It’s the consultants, services teams and troops that make us successful,” he said. “They are the face to our customers. You have to have people that are able to deliver for the customer.”
The Advizex services talent has been a critical differentiator with companies unable to find high-priced, top-notch technical talent in the midst of the pandemic and the great resignation, said Gibbons. “We are talking about people power,” he said. “This is not about product. This is about coordinating all of the services we have and complementing the entire IT staff of a customer to get things done faster and at the highest-quality level. I can go to each one of the services teams at Advizex whether it’s VMware, Microsoft or ServiceNow and have a plan that works for a customer. What this all comes down to is the confidence I have in our team’s ability to step up quickly and deliver high-quality services.”
The Everything-as-a-Service shift at Advizex is a tribute to Howdyshell’s ability to drive a cultural transformation at the company with a razor-sharp focus on business-outcome-based services from an elite team of technologists, said Gibbons. “C.R. has established a master plan for us,” he said. “Our team is executing on that plan. We are very nimble. We have the ability to make decisions quickly and deliver with high quality. That comes back to the technical knowledge we have and our people. It’s not a matter of us taking the hill, it is a matter of how fast we are going to take it.”
Opening The Door To Top-Notch Technology Talent
Howdyshell’s leadership has opened the door for the company to attract top-notch technology talent that has put Advizex into the Everything-as-a-Service fast lane, said Advizex Chief Technology Officer Chris Miller. “We have created an environment where smart people want to come in, join the team, and test out ideas,” he said. “CR is 100 percent behind that. The culture he has fostered is a big part of our success. It’s all about the culture and the people.”
Advizex is always on the lookout for top talent to add to the technology team, Miller said. “If we don’t have an open head count and we run across someone that we know is a rock star, we’ll pick them up. We’re not afraid to do that; that has paid off big time for us,” he said. “We are seeking people who can adapt and learn new approaches and new ways of doing things faster than the customer. Because if we are not smarter than the customer, then we are no good to the customer. Everybody on the team has that aptitude.”
One of the fastest-growing services areas is Advizex’s IT automation practice. Advizex’s automation business workshops for customers are aimed at identifying cost savings through IT automation and have led to a dramatic increase in automation deals, said Miller.
In fact, nine out of 10 times the Advizex automation workshops result in significant cost savings for the customer, said Miller. One midmarket customer deploying an Advizex automation solution for a VMware environment got a return on investment in a year with five-year savings of $500,000, said Miller. “We’re helping customers look at automation from a pure business-outcome- based standpoint,” he said.
The business-based workshops drill down on specific processes such as IT provisioning, carefully calculating the steps involved and how much time is spent on manual labor, said Miller. “We collect all the information and then we have a spreadsheet that calculates how long it takes for the process,” he said. “The math doesn’t lie.”
Those kinds of business-focused workshops are demonstrating to customers that business and IT are one and the same, said Miller. “IT is the business,” he said. “That gives us an advantage when we are talking to customers.”
Making Investments In Customers
Advizex Vice President Ed Pruett, who oversees the Southeast market, said he sees the Advizex model as a game- changer for customers. “Cloud is an experience, where that experience sits doesn’t matter, it can be on-premises, public cloud, hybrid,” he said. “Customers want everything wrapped around it in a service. We are saying everything can be wrapped into a service, we put it in place and manage it. That’s where we have an advantage. We can do it all, bundle all the products and services together and then manage it. It saves costs and man-hours for the customer. It lets customers make IT a part of the business. It lets IT be a profit center rather than a cost center.”
Pruett sees legacy enterprise licensing agreement renewals as a prime opportunity for the Advizex Everything-as-a-Service offering. “That gives us an opportunity to show customers how we can save them money, help them operationalize IT and make it predictive,” he said. “We can show the ROI. On top of that, we can manage it for the customer and let their IT team transform the business in a different way for IT.”
Ultimately, what separates Advizex from the pack of competitors is its talent and willingness to “invest” in its customers, said Pruett. Case in point: When a prospective customer had a backup issue, Pruett sent one of the company’s top technologists —nationally renowned for her backup expertise—who worked for two weeks at no charge to the customer to fix the problem. “She fixed everything,” he said. “She blew the socks off the customer with her technical knowledge. Our engineers are some of the smartest people you will ever meet. The guys and gals we have on our teams are like unicorns. That is unique. I would put our technical talent against anybody’s. I don’t care who it is.” In another case, Advizex pulled a piece of IT equipment from its own lab for a customer who couldn’t afford a replacement, said Pruett.
It’s those kinds of investments in customers that have led to astronomical sales growth for Advizex since Pruett began heading up the Southeast region five years ago. “Customers know if they are in trouble and need something, we will be there for them,” he said. “We invest in our customers. We do it all the time. We take care of our customers. There is a difference between a partner and a vendor. We are a partner.”
Ensuring Customers Don’t Get Walloped By High-Priced Public Cloud Bills
Advizex’s ability to provide much-needed cloud expertise around private, public and hybrid cloud has been key to the company’s success, said Joe Clarke, director of cloud architecture at Advizex. He pointed to a disaster recovery and backup solution for a financial company on a tight budget that incorporated both on-premises and cloud backup, ultimately saving the customer hundreds of thousands of dollars in cloud charges.
Advizex’s cloud expertise has been key to making sure that customers don’t get walloped by unexpectedly high-priced public cloud bills—no small matter in a high-stakes digital transformation market where some CIOs have moved lock, stock and barrel to the cloud and then been hit with higher-than-expected bills.
“Understanding the vantage point of customers is what separates us from our competitors,” said Clarke. “It is understanding their problems. We hear their problems—not just technical problems, but business problems. It is understanding they have business goals they are trying to reach and seeing the business from their perspective. We listen to customers. Before I came to Advizex, I was a customer. I will never forget my experience as a customer working for a bank and hospital.”
Advizex’s technology vision with an eye toward identifying game-changing technology services has also been key to the Everything-as-a-Service transformation, said Joseph Mixon, an automation architect at Advizex. “Somebody has to have that vision and leadership to see where the puck is going, to be able to get there ahead of time,” he said. “That’s what we do. You have to know what the customer is going to ask for before they need it. We have that vision. That starts at the top of our organization.”
The cloud and automation teams are focused on making IT as seamless and simple for customers as clicking a button, said Mixon. “Everybody knows they need cloud and automation, but nobody knows how to get there,” he said. “That’s where we step in. We help customers down that path. We lock arms with the customer, take a look at where they are at and what are their business objectives and then we give them a road map to get where they need to go.”
Doing What It Takes To Win
As Howdyshell pushes Advizex to do what it takes to capture the burgeoning Everything-as-a-Service opportunity, he sometimes finds himself reflecting on just how critical the lessons he learned on the Sistersville Tigers football team are to the business challenges he faces today.
“It all comes down to that small town, Sistersville, West Virginia, where we went from almost dropping football to the highest winning percentage in the country,” he said. “It’s the same thing in business. It’s the same thing with Everything as a Service. No. 1, you have to be committed. We are committed. No. 2, you have to execute. We are executing. No. 3, you have to be committed to win. We are three for three.”
Winning that high-school football road game by just one point with only 12 players was a pivotal moment in Howdyshell’s life. The offensive scheme for one of their games—referred to as a “raindrop offense”—required him to run the ball nearly every play. Howdyshell ran the ball 53 times in the game—at that time a state record. “We did what we had to do to win,” he said.
After that losing season, the players who returned for the next year went 10-0, (11-1 with playoffs). After that, the Tigers were in seven straight West Virginia Class A football championships (and won five of them). “Over time, people realized if you were going to play football here you had to be serious,” Howdyshell said. “They respected the coaches’ commitment. People knew we were going to do what it takes to win. That’s the best lesson in life I could ever have received and I owe that to Coach Nocida and Coach D.”
Howdyshell feels the same kind of energy and excitement that he did as a standout at Sistersville High School as he drives the Advizex Everything-as-a-Service transformation. “The team understands Everything as a Service and how important it is,” he said. “I couldn’t be more energized about the company and what we are providing our customers. We have an opportunity to take this straight up and accelerate like it’s a rocket booster.”
Although he is heartened by the gains Advizex has made, Howdyshell is determined not to let up. “What C.R. really stands for is ‘Can’t Rest and Can’t Relax,’ because the lead we have can go away,” he said. “That goes back to the energy we have at Advizex. You can’t look behind you. You have to keep looking ahead. We know what it takes to win and are willing to do what it takes to win. We have the team to make this happen.”