Extreme Networks’ Joe Vitalone On Restructuring And The New Focus On Networking As A Service

Extreme’s new chief revenue officer, Joe Vitalone, who joined the ranks in June, talks about the company’s executive shuffle and new hires, channel changes, and how the networking industry is ‘late to the as-a-service game.’

Extreme Moves

Joe Vitalone, Extreme Networks’ new chief revenue officer, has a lot on his plate. The former unified communications sales and marketing veteran is now also overseeing global channels for the networking specialist.

Vitalone, who joined the company in June, is taking over for Bob Gault, former CRO and services officer for Extreme Networks and interim channel leader, who left the company in January. A global pandemic aside, 2020 has been a year of flux for the San Jose, Calif.-based networking provider. Extreme Networks in April completed a round of layoffs aimed at restructuring the company to focus on cloud and the as-a-service selling model.

Vitalone caught up with CRN about how the company’s efforts around networking as a service couldn’t have come at a better time as customers adjust their buying preferences around brand-new needs sparked by the pandemic. He also talked about joining Extreme during the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes that needed to be made from a people and process perspective and reshaping the channel strategy.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

How crucial is Extreme's shift to the as-a-service selling model right now?

This industry is late to the as-a-service game. I started in software as a service and then UC as a service, and now we‘re seeing network as a service really move and we are leading in that effort. We are the fastest to the cloud and growth in the cloud right now; making sure we are able to provide customers networking as a service from the enterprise all the way to the edge. Utilizing our analytic management tools in the cloud, we have been really effective at doing that. That’s one of our initiatives we have in place for developing MSPs and creating really strong MSPs around the globe. Our MSP platform has grown readily and we have a lot of partners stepping up to become MSPs and providing [customers] networking as a service and paying monthly, instead of one big upfront sum, which has been the history of this industry.

When you think about the timing of when [COVID-19] happened, most companies are on a fiscal calendar year. [COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns] happened around St. Patrick’s Day in March when budgets were already baked and a lot of money was already spent, and now all of a sudden, we all had to retreat into our homes. There wasn’t a lot of money from a capex perspective to be spent on the second half of the year, but there was huge demand for data networking, videoconferencing and a lot of different tools. Helping our partners be able to afford to do this, we did things like our [Lending Enablement and Assistance Program] LEAP program, we assisted through our distribution partners with extended payment terms and selling more networking as a service. We‘re doing a lot as a manufacturer to provide our partners and customers with the opportunity to still to buy the equipment and be able to source and scale that business. We’re seeing just huge demands for the technology.

How has Extreme's restructuring helped to refocus the business during these challenging times?

Coming in as CRO was a challenge at this time, so the most important things we needed were the right people and the right structure to work together more effectively, given that we can‘t travel anymore, and then working on process.

The people piece has come together great. We restructured the company so there is a lot more teamwork between the channel and regional teams in the field. Given that I know a lot about collaboration tools since I’ve been selling them most of my life, the people at Extreme are now using these told very effectively. We’re able to appear bigger than we really are, we are attending more meetings than we’ve ever attended -- those were major priorities. And then, growing our channel and new routes to market, which will probably be most important piece going forward.

Extreme in January decided against having a global channel chief and, instead, divided channel responsibilities by region. Is that still the strategy?

Yes. We chose to not have a global channel chief and as it stands, I‘m kind of filling that role, having been that many times in my career. I felt like I could assume that responsibility. So, the international and the Americas teams are separate, but they work very closely with our global accounts and certainly our partners. But we have it set up right now to push a lot of power into the regions and all the authority is in the regions, and that’s helped us be really effective in short order. Due to the lack of travel, we are as close as we can be to the partners and the customers at this point, and we are meeting with them on a daily and weekly basis.

With the channel now under your purview. What are your plans for building out the channel and growing revenues through partners?

Partners can look for me to help them go into new markets. Before we add new partners, we‘re going to ask them to expand. You’re going to see new buying vehicles, contracts, and investing in [partners], if, for example, they’re in Phoenix and they want to be able to move into the Denver area, we’re going to very much encourage that and be behind them with trainings, marketing programs, discounts and things they need to help them get started financially. Then, from a people perspective, we’re going to get behind them so they can grow in those markets effectively. And we’re going to be doing that all around the world.

Our “effortless networking” model is called Empower and it‘s been transformation for us. It’s making it easier for partners to order their equipment, receive their discounts, have the discounting authority for pricing. We just went past our biggest hurdle in terms of numbers – we’ve received over $1 million in orders. We should see this scale exponentially. It’s a lot less touches where a partner can very quickly source product and get a very impressive discount that has been pre-approved through me, through our office, and it goes through the system in literally an hour, rather than days.

Extreme has recently formed a Corporate Social Responsibility Council and is growing its leadership team. Can you tell us more about these efforts?

Wes [Durow, chief marketing officer for Extreme since April] and I worked together at Mitel very effectively while I was there -- we acquired a lot of companies and grew that business significantly. They went on to buy my former company, ShoreTel, so this was a good opportunity to rejoin Wes, someone I knew from a joint sales and marketing standpoint and knew we could work together symbiotically. Sixty days in, it‘s already very obvious.

To have the group that we have on the [Corporate Social Responsibility Council] -- Katy Motiey [the company‘s first Chief Sustainability Officer] and Kimberley Basnight [Head of Diversity and Inclusion], we couldn’t have two better ambassadors. We’re seeing a nice shift in our business as well with more inclusion and diversity across the board, on a worldwide basis. Social responsibility is emanating through the whole organization. It’s being discussed and embraced by our executive staff, our board of directors, and the entire management team. It’s something very needed and something we are taking very seriously. We’re fortunate we have the people we have working for us that will make us even better.