Ensono Exec: Allyship Is Lacking, We Want Better Relationships With Vendors

‘We‘ve had good luck finding talent, but we know it’s tough,” says Brian ‪Klingbeil‬, chief strategy officer at Ensono. ‘A newfound stress on cost saving will probably mean data center closures, some outsourcing and that continued trend of cleanup with cloud environments and optimizing for cost.’


Ensono’s Brian ‪Klingbeil thinks there’s a lack of relentless allyship in the channel, so the Downers Grove, Ill-based solutions provider made it the company motto.

“We think that the IT industry tends to work against the CIOs of large enterprises, like they‘re always swimming upstream,” Klingbeil, chief strategy officer at Ensono, told CRN. “We wanted to create an entity that was on their side, that would truly be an ally.”

Since its inception, the company has grown by 15 percent year over year, he said, which he attributes to the company’s culture and its ally-focused mentality.

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“In order to do that we hire to a culture and then we have a portfolio that allows us to win when they win,” he said. “We come at it from an objective point of view, so we‘re able to be on their side. I think people appreciate it.”

Just short of a billion-dollar company, Ensono­ - which is on CRN’s 2022 MSP Elite 150 list - has 10 global offices and more than 200 clients.

“A lot of people talk about being client obsessed and all that but you have to build a company that puts people in a position where they don‘t have to fight anything,” he said. “If you only had one particular thing for sale, you’ve got to sell that thing. We wanted to create a company that was built to be objective, then you hire really good people, put them in a position where they can be objective and they don’t have to fight the tide.”

CRN spoke to Klingbeil about the company’s vision for 2023, competition and how the company is positioning itself for a possible economic downturn.

Where did Ensono see the most IT spending in 2022?

Data center evacuation and cloud migrations is probably the biggest trend. I would also say, for lack of a better term, cloud cleanup. The initial flight to cloud, especially when it comes to closing data centers, is a good move. But a lot of people did what they call lift and shift. We never advocate for lift and shift, at a minimum we do lift and optimize. There‘s still a continued trend of outsourcing and movement of on-prem into off-prem, could be private cloud or public cloud. We just got in the business a couple years ago of cloud native development, so building out data platforms and e-commerce sites using cloud native. Instead of building things with traditional servers and storage and that type of thing, it’s about adopting cloud native services to build out things. One particular e-commerce site had to recreate everything from scratch, what they called the big ball of mud. We were able, over the last couple of years, to rebuild their e-commerce site - which is their only site - from scratch and do things like identity and access management.

Where do you think most of your IT spending will go in 2023?

I think we see macro economically what everybody else sees, and usually when there‘s some sort of recession, we get a tailwind. There is a bit of a push toward outsourcing when people need to save costs. So I anticipate 2023 will be a little bit about moving toward cost savings. The second one is skills. Moving things to cloud is hard, and when it comes to recent trends we’re seeing a lot of examples of it being done poorly, sometimes by the clients and sometimes by other service providers. I think it‘s because the skill shortage is particularly relevant in technology. It might be getting a little better but the last couple of years have been really, really tough for people to find good technical skills, in particular cloud and cloud migration skills. So I think that’s starting to lighten up a little and we‘ll see if that persists, even on our side. We’ve had great success, we‘ve grown the company 15 percent year over year and probably equivalent in a number of people. We’ve had good luck finding talent, but we know it‘s tough. A newfound stress on cost saving will probably mean data center closures, some outsourcing and that continued trend of cleanup with cloud environments and optimizing for costs. People are inspecting the cost and starting to optimize. Luckily for us, that’s one of our core services. We have a managed service around managed to public cloud and one of the elements of that service is perpetual cost optimization.

You mentioned a possible economic downturn. How are you positioning your business to sustain a possible economic recession?

We‘re sort of lucky. Ensono is almost a billion-dollar company but we only have about 250 to 300 clients, and it’s because they‘re all really big and complex. The applications that we support are what we call non-discretionary, it’s stuff they can’t turn off. It’s insurance providers, it’s insurance claims processing engines, it‘s e-commerce sites, companies that only do e-commerce, so they’re not optional. We tend to do okay but it‘s more about can we sustain our growth. We’ll focus on our knitting and what you‘ll definitely see, and what we’re already seeing, our projects that are new this year… a lot of that stuff is getting cut back. We anticipate more of that in 2023. So we‘ll focus on the elements of our service that save cost because people will be looking for that sort of thing. Everybody is kind of battening down the hatches.

What is your biggest challenge right now and how do you plan on tackling it?

The biggest challenge is, although we‘ve done quite well, it’s finding talent. As I said, it was getting a little bit better so hopefully that‘ll continue. I want to stress, we’re only seeing the first signs of it getting better. Another thing we focus on is culture. In a post-COVID world, there‘s a whole new set of requirements or things that make a person want to stay at a certain company. One thing we do here is we’re big into community service. The premise is the kind of associate that will be attracted to come work for a company that was involved in the community and fundraising will also be the kind of person who‘s good in customer service. We have a corny line where we’re a service provider, not a server provider. It’s a two-letter difference but it‘s a massive approach.

You would think the talent shortage will get better because of all these layoffs we’re seeing. There’s all these people looking for jobs, but apparently it’s not that easy?

I think it is helping a little but the specific skillset, like technical cloud and cloud migration, those aren‘t the people being laid off. It’s a whole different subset. The type of talent that‘s being put on the market isn’t the hardcore technical talent that is truly in demand.

You mentioned culture, how would you describe Ensono’s culture?

Relentless ally. If you ask any client why they chose us or why they stay here, one of the first words out of their mouths will be culture and that idea of being on the client’s side. A lot of people talk about being client obsessed and all that but you have to build a company that puts people in a position where they don‘t have to fight anything. If you only had one particular thing for sale, you’ve got to sell that thing. We wanted to create a company that was built to be objective, then you hire really good people, put them in a position where they can be objective and they don’t have to fight the tide. You will reward them for saving the company money. If you reduce a customer‘s bill, you’re going to get an innovation award at our quarterly town hall. It‘s a new world, people want to feel like they’re part of something cool and good, helping clients and helping people through community service. This is the kind of thing that we try to ingrain into the culture.

What do you want to see more from your IT vendors?

To act like us. I want to see more people focused on long-term relationships versus short-term tactical sales. Make the occasional sacrifice for me for the good of having me here for 20 years. If I take my car into the shop because it‘s rattling and I’m bracing myself for that guy to come out and tell me how much it‘s going cost, if he comes out and says, ‘You have a lose sparkplug cover. No charge, get out of here,’ I am never going to go to another mechanic for the rest of my life. I’m going back to that guy all day every day. That‘s how we make our money. It’s not altruism, we‘re not charity. We just know we make our money through long-term relationships. Work with me and look for the long term versus the short term. That’s going to be really hard in 2023 because a lot of people are going to be under pressure to hit a sales number, decrease costs and increase the bill to clients. We have to stay true to who we are during 2023. What I would want out of my vendors is think about the next 10 years, not the next 10 months.

That’s a perfect segue to my next question. Where do you think Ensono will make the most money this year?

We were very fortunate to have a good second half of 2022. Our sales were by far the highest we‘ve ever had in this company. There were a number of large-scale projects where we’re helping clients consolidate their IT, exit data centers and move stuff to the cloud. The first half of the year, we‘ll be executing a number of big projects but that’s probably where we‘ll make the most of our money. On a more minor note, I’m anticipating we‘ll see a tailwind as people start to rethink some structural things.

What separates Ensono from competitors?

It is culture and a long-term approach versus a short-term approach. This notion of flexibility, we basically allow people to move from platform to platform without penalty. Now again, we‘re not a charity, it’s not altruistic, we want a long-term relationship. It might give us short-term pain, but that means that client is going to have faith in us and be with us for the long haul. Culture and flexibility I think are what differentiates us.

What can we expect from Ensono this year?

We‘ve certainly been a little bit acquisitive. We rebooted this thing about seven years ago, renamed it and since that time we really did a couple of acquisitions to fill out the portfolio. So that client…I want them to stay with me forever so I have to have elements of the portfolio if they need to shift their application to AWS or Azure or Google.

One of the more recent acquisitions we did is in the cloud native space where you‘re adopting microservices. So you’re not putting operating systems on servers, and then putting applications on that, you‘re actually creating applications from the microservices made available from the cloud providers. That was an acquisition we did in the U.K. but we’re importing that skill and doing more and more for our large US clients. That’s probably the thing we’re most excited about. And it’s the focus on data platforms, helping people make the most of their data and monetize their data. One example is a trucking company that uses telemetrics in trucks. So they’re monitoring everything for driver safety, like engine maintenance. One of these trucking companies figured out, ‘I keep buying the same truck. I‘ve got all these telemetrics. I can sell that data, when it’s organized nicely, back to the company who makes the engines so they know how to optimize a certain part.’

Monetizing data can take on many forms like how to use it to optimize your business.