SADA CEO On Google’s AI ‘Distinct Advantage’ And Thomas Kurian’s Winning Strategy
SADA CEO Tony Safoian explains Google’s generative AI market advantages, driving AI sales in the market, and how Thomas Kurian made Google Cloud into a force to be reckoned with.
SADA CEO Tony Safoian is ecstatic that he placed all his bets on Google 17 years ago and believes Google Cloud is in prime position to win the leadership throne in the new era of artificial intelligence as customer demand is at an all-time high.
“We are having more conversations with almost every customer about the realm of the possible with AI, in which Google Cloud is seen as the market leader,” Safoian told CRN.
“Vertex AI represents a breakthrough set of building blocks to be able to build applications that solve real problems at a speed that was never possible before,” he said. “We’ve never been able to build production applications in four to six weeks in the history of time. Now you can. The only limit is your imagination.”
In an interview with CRN, Safoian talks about Google’s distinct advantage in generative AI, driving net-new AI services sales, and the “critical” impact Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has made on the company in just a few years.
“Thomas’ biggest achievement has been credentialing Google Cloud in the eyes of both the traditional enterprise and the most innovative digital companies—at the same time. That’s no easy task to do one of those things, let alone two,” he said.
‘No Partner Sells And Supports More Google Cloud Technologies’ Than SADA
Before diving into Safoian’s interview, it’s key to note that Los Angeles-based SADA recently won the 2023 Google Cloud Global Sales Partner of the Year award.
The win came after massive sales success around Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Workspace, which is a Google collaboration suite that includes Gmail, Sheets, Meets and more. Customer wins came in verticals like health care and life sciences, retail, financial services, digital natives and in the public sector. This year SADA has delivered a slew of services from consulting work to professional services to enterprises like Sony Picture Imageworks, AccuWeather, WeWork and Digital Turbine, to name a few customers.
“It feels good to be able to say no partner sells and supports more Google Cloud technologies anywhere in the world than SADA. That’s a pretty big statement,” said Safoian. “It’s about relentless focus and customer obsession. We say that our strategy is actually quite simple: All we need to do is win hundreds of new customers every year and never lose the old ones.”
Click through to read CRN’s in-depth interview with SADA’s Safoian.
How is Google Cloud going to win the generative AI arms race against its competitors?
There are two main categories in the world of gen AI. Looking at Vertex first, Vertex AI represents a breakthrough set of building blocks to be able to build applications that solve real problems at a speed that was never possible before.
You have your language models and you’ve got your other data sources, and you’ve got your code builders and all of a sudden in four to six weeks you can solve a workflow problem that would have taken nine months to develop by hand only a couple of years ago.
So we’re in this weird environment where there’s no shortage of ideas or shortage of capability really as far as how fast things can be done. There’s still a shortage of talent of people who can do it effectively, which is the value we bring to the table because we have those people, but now it’s really about helping our customers work on the right things that gen AI capabilities uniquely solve.
We don’t want customers to get stuck in ideation land forever.
We don’t want them to get enamored with things that look cool but don’t produce ROI. A lot of our work we do with our customers is helping them not only ideate, but then cross the chasm into a real production application of this technology that will produce business results that are measurable. So Google has a distinct advantage in this category.
We’ve never been able to build production applications in four to six weeks in the history of time. Now you can. The only limit is your imagination.
What’s the other gen AI market differentiation Google has?
Then there’s the Duet AI track. [Google CEO] Sundar [Pichai] described it in the leader circle [at Google Cloud Next] in a way like, ‘Imagine having the best developer in the world be someone you code alongside of. That’s always there for you, that’s omnipresent, that’s guiding, coaching and fixing the application for which you’re writing code.’
That’s one application of the Duet AI capabilities that Google’s made available.
But similarly, what if you had a great writer to help you draft the perfect summaries, or the perfectly toned email to your organization about a new announcement? That gen AI, copilot-like innovation is going to be there with Duet AI. It’s someone who’s by your side to make your productivity-related tasks faster, high quality and smooth.
For example, I’m not great at making slides. So it summarizes content and turns it into your presentation. You’re talking about major compression in time to value. Like this could have taken three hours, now all of a sudden it takes four minutes. Yeah, I’m still going to refine it and fine-tune it myself. But everything that used to be menial and non-value-adding has the potential to be transformed and disrupted in the next several years.
I feel like Google Workspace gives Google and Google Cloud a unique role in that transformation of collaborative work. Because they have that foundation of millions and millions of Google Workspace users around the world who are going to be able to opt in to those capabilities. And over time, just make all that work more efficient, more accurate and faster.
Was Kurian instrumental in building what Google Cloud and Google AI is today?
Yes, he was critical. Thomas’ biggest achievements has been credentialing Google Cloud in the eyes of both the traditional enterprise and the most innovative digital companies—at the same time. That’s no easy task to do one of those things, let alone two.
Google says 70 percent of AI startups have picked GCP as their primary platform. So that’s 70 percent of probably the fastest-growing set of new companies in this era, right? That’s a huge testament to the technology and the credibility of how Google is seen as a market leader.
Google Cloud pre-Thomas Kurian I still feel was the best technology. But to credential technology inside of enterprise was the most critical task that he’s done very, very well. Because we know, enterprise technology—unlike consumer technology—it’s not a foregone conclusion that the best product will just automatically win.
In the enterprise, there are many stories over the last four years where the better technology has lost because of execution or because of go-to-market. My father was a technologist. He reminds me that [IBM] OS/2 Warp was a way better operating system than Windows 3.1. But IBM lost because Microsoft sold better.
What else has Kurian done to make Google Cloud a market leader?
Another thing Thomas has done is do a very thorough job in recruiting a partner ecosystem, including the GSIs [global systems integrators] that are the ones alongside partners like us, who are the ones doing the work on the last mile with traditional enterprise customers.
How do you make the technologies land and work in an environment that is legacy and maybe old-fashioned in their thinking? So where there’s lots of political things going on that sometimes hinder the best decisions that leaders can make because of the ‘sacred cows’ they may have developed over time or technical debt they may have developed over time.
I think working really hard to win the top ‘X’ number of companies in each industry has allowed every other customer to be like, ‘Oh, nine out of 10 retail giants of the world are relying on Google Cloud.’ Or the same for telcos, banks, manufacturing companies, energy companies, etc.
That is what he’ll go down for maybe as being his prime achievement. That probably also defines how the revenue has grown so much as a result. I mean look at the numbers: $5.8 billion [annual revenue in 2018] to now a $32 billion run rate.
What are the AI sales-driving opportunities that SADA and Google Cloud partners are seeing in the market today?
Since the only limit in AI is your imagination, the question then becomes, ‘So what are you going to focus on?’ That’s some of the work we do.
Even our most technologically advanced customers—who are digital customers themselves and have the world’s best engineers working for them—are for the first time hiring us for professional services.
They’ve been so self-sufficient for so long. These are customers we’ve worked with across different vectors, except for professional services for seven or eight years. And they’ve always been doing everything themselves. Now, they’re actually engaging us to help them improve their products and help innovate with internal processes and product-related features and function.
Because they don’t have the knowledge around Vertex as well as we do. And time to value is important to them. So it’s a completely new and amazing opportunity.
In the same way, we are having more conversations with almost every customer about the realm of the possible with AI, in which Google Cloud is seen as the market leader.
We’re not accustomed to going to market as a market leader. We’ve almost never been in that position. Workspace, even GCP, obviously talking broad strokes—they’re No. 3 still in the market. For the broader set of potential customers to view Google as a leader in this is a gift. It’s something we’re getting used to, but it’s a phenomenal position to be in.
So we know that OpenAI and Microsoft really broke through the general public opinion and feeling of what AI could do by launching this amazing innovation which was ChatGPT and up to GPT 4. So regular people can understand what this is. In a weird way, that was the best gift to Google that anyone could give because it allowed Google almost permission, but also created urgency around Google launching these technologies that they’ve been using themselves for a decade-plus to other customers.
Did SADA make the right bet in picking Google versus the competition? And what’s your wining strategy for the future?
We definitely bet on the right horse at the right time.
When we decided to go all in with Google Cloud years ago, we didn’t even know that Thomas Kurian was going to take this job. We had no idea. So we made the bet back then on the belief in the technology, and the belief in [former CEO] Diane Greene and all the great things that she had accomplished in her several years there.
We’re putting a lot of emphasis on our work around gen AI.
We’re also just moving upmarket with the traditional enterprises who now need and demand our services who can’t be completely be serviced by their existing vendor relationships. They need new approaches and new delivery models, which we’re bringing to the table. So we’re very excited about the work we’re doing and how we organize our go-to-market with solutions that are with Google and other ISVs that are building on Google around storage, data, security and productivity.
We’re in this remarkably fortunate position. We don’t take it for granted. We’re pushing ourselves with my existing leadership and some of our new leadership to continue to build the capabilities that are relevant in every transformation. We’re going to continue to evolve to be exactly where our customers need us to be in making this technology work for them.