Disruption is not just technology. Business models (SaaS/Consumption) and, now pandemics, have proven to be far more disruptive. While most technology disruptions take time to make a real impact — pandemics do not. Prepare for disruption on multiple levels, people, process, business, and technology.
As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant in The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Williams.
David Williams is the Vice President of Product Strategy and Product Marketing at Quali, a leading provider of Environments-as-a-Service infrastructure automation solutions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks to a summer job at a market research company working in their datacenter doing all the menial tasks IT operations people didn’t want to do, I was offered the chance of full-time employment starting at the bottom-rung of IT operations. This started a long career involved in all things network and IT operations. For many years I worked for Digital Equipment Co. and was a member of the team that delivered the first European ‘lights out’ datacenter. This planted the need to get involved in things that changed how IT was created and used. The need to innovate led me to an exciting product role in a disruptive startup called Tivoli.
It was with Tivoli that I left the UK and came to Austin, Texas. Something you would not have seen predicted in my school yearbook. After Tivoli was acquired by IBM, I eventually became the VP Product Management and Product Marketing. After leaving IBM, and with several startups under my belt, I joined Gartner as a Research VP. I was with Gartner several times, responsible for network and IT operations tools, IT monitoring, and automation tools. My last contribution at Gartner was to define and deliver research on DevOps tooling and practices.
After Gartner, I joined BMC Software as the CTO and VP of Strategy, where I was responsible for defining the vision and strategy for BMC’s cloud and automation product portfolio, then as the SVP Product Strategy at Computer Associates in Santa Clara, I was happy driving the product direction until being acquired, which gave me the opportunity to join RF Code, as EVP Products and Marketing focused on delivering Edge management solutions.
I joined Quali just over a year ago, where I have the pleasure building out Quali’s product portfolio, which has been a rewarding experience. As the VP of Product Strategy at Quali, I am constantly looking for ways to address new infrastructure challenges that software developers, DevOps practitioners and IT operations face delivering applications to the business.
Throughout my 35-year career, I have helped several startup companies through IPOs and acquisitions by establishing a vision and then developing, differentiating, and growing a product or portfolio of products.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I joined IT operations, it was at a time when mistakes were common, and rarely funny. As a computer operator my job was to keep the systems and networks running and performing. Days were about remediation and apologizing to users. Evenings were about offline administration and backups. The mistake I made early in my career sticks with me to this day. The bank went from one server and OS type to a new one. Changes were many, but subtle. One of the subtle changes was the command syntax order of ‘to’ and ‘from’ when backing up files. Doing it the wrong way over-wrote the live data with an old version. No prizes for guessing what I did. My first day of working with the new computer systems was nearly my last day with the bank.
What it taught me was. Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. Taking responsibility does. Mistakes happen but the same one should never happen again. Lastly, if the last syntax you see when doing a backup is “Confirm or Abort” you should always check that confirm is the right answer.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Thanking all the people who have been instrumental in helping me be successful would be an Oscars speech. If there was one person, it would be my mother, an early datacenter pioneer, who found me the summer job and supported my decision to drop further education and take a full-time high-risk job in information technology.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Since its inception, Quali has been focused on providing infrastructure automation at scale for developers.
The ability to deliver software with speed and safety at scale is more important to business success than ever before, and more difficult to achieve. By seamlessly removing obstacles and accelerating the complete development lifecycle at every level, Quali’s platforms deliver unbound environments fostering creativity, innovation, and transformation to enable organizations with the freedom to build the future, anywhere and everywhere.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Quali’s platforms create self-service, on-demand automation solutions that increase engineering productivity, cut cloud costs, and optimize infrastructure utilization. With Quali, engineering and DevOps teams can create environments within minutes to solve the pain points of provisioning, deploying, and orchestrating individual environments.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
In recent years, the DevOps methodology has vastly improved the speed at which businesses can deliver new software and update existing applications. The shift to DevOps has given rise to a proliferation of new tools and platforms designed to improve the way we approach and manage the DevOps pipeline.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Quali’s Environments as a Service solutions — for public cloud environments and for on-premises and hybrid environments — enable business units to create environments within minutes. Both solutions automate the decommissioning of infrastructure components, ensuring costs are kept under control.
Additionally, when using Torque and CloudShell, organizations can apply role-based-access controls and governance policies to control resource usage, cost, and security, while accessing real-time data that details environment utilization.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
I had the good fortune to meet with Lior Koriat, Quali’s CEO. We shared our thoughts on the role IT infrastructure plays going forward. We didn’t talk immediately about cloud, virtual systems, or containers but instead we talked about what was happening and how it was changing how infrastructure needed to be delivered and managed. We agreed that innovation is happening on all fronts, which is creating increasing demand of infrastructure. Application architectures have become increasingly modular, allowing continuous updates and changes to be made in smaller increments, delivering more value while reducing business disruption. 5G networking opened the consumer floodgates enabling businesses to deliver more and faster capabilities to the Edge. Data growth is immense delivering shared content at faster rates to more applications and consumers.
In most organizations infrastructure is treated as something separate, provisioned when needed, in ways that meet the need. Understanding the role and value of the infrastructure is hard. It’s fragmented, complex and increasingly ungoverned making the ability to scale expensive, labor intensive and fraught with risk.
This situation is due to more innovation, this time at the infrastructure level. Infrastructure can be quickly delivered from the cloud. It can be temporary, or it can linger without notice. However, infrastructure is a stack, it’s not just compute. We talked about the Quali platform and how it provides an infrastructure management control plane, connecting disparate IT infrastructure elements to a broad range of organizational use-cases. It was more than provisioning. The a-ha moment was once I understood how it could do this.
At the heart of the Quali platform is a blueprint model allowing infrastructure to be delivered in the form of environments. Each environment contains the infrastructure stack, any code or configurations files used to provision the infrastructure and most importantly, context. Context being the reason the infrastructure is being used, who uses it, why and when. This would allow organizations to protect existing infrastructure investment, embrace new investment faster, scale safely, provide a self-service portal and allow software developers to use whatever they wanted to provision without interference!
So, how are things going with this new direction?
The direction, Environments as a Service, continues to gain more attention. The term is now used and understood driving an increasingly number of people to Quali’s website to both learn and trial the platform. As agile and continuous practices, once considered high risk, have become the established norm more enterprises are reaching the decision to gain a greater understanding of how the infrastructure contributes to business value. It’s a maturity path helped by technology that can augment and enhance existing tools and does not dictate new processes or practices.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Early last year I spoke to a company considered a leader in the adoption of DevOps and continuous software delivery. I expected to hear how the organization had established agile practices for infrastructure delivery that were both pioneering and disruptive. For years teams were allowed to use whatever they needed to develop competitive and differentiated software. I was surprised to hear that fragmentation was the main challenge. There was limited understanding of overall company infrastructure use, spend or value. Teams were not working well regarding infrastructure choices or how they are used. No re-use or cross infrastructure optimization. The need now was to re-assess the culture and create a level of control, accountability, and visibility without impeding software development. This showed me that even the most advanced organizations see infrastructure as a challenge.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
‘The Great Resignation’ has created a raised awareness of what it takes to be a good leader. Having a great product is excellent. Having great people is critical. Being a leader is about creating a healthy team environment, listening and empowerment. With remote work locations time must be allocated to ensure employees have the opportunity to talk. Communication cannot not just be about work and asks.
The more traditional leadership attributes, smarts, focus, energy, and passion remain key, but this now needs to include the balance between what employees can do for the company and what the company needs to do to make the employee successful and appreciated
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
Transparency is critical. Explain clearly how the company is going to succeed and overcome potential threats. Involve, as much as possible and within reason, people in decision making. Provide a path for growth and improvement through a broadening of skills by education and mentorship. Act quickly when situation occur that create a toxic or hostile workspace. This is especially important with people working from remote locations. Uncertainty, and insecurity and a lack of communication will lead to personnel finding somewhere they feel more appreciated and respected.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Awareness and agility, change is normal, not an exception.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Panic. This is typically caused when a competitor announces something more than a feature or function. Most ‘devastating’ news is not devastating but deserves a quick answer on what it means and then a follow-up with the actions being done to address the news.
Creative positioning. Responding to something by changing the position or message fools no-one. Best to position with accurate information. Disruptive or not it’s going to have both strengths and challenges.
Ignoring it. It’s going to go away. The longer it’s left the worse it will get. Better to hit it head-on and if needed adjust strategic priorities accordingly.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Disruption is not just technology. Business models (SaaS/Consumption) and, now pandemics, have proven to be far more disruptive. While most technology disruptions take time to make a real impact — pandemics do not. Prepare for disruption on multiple levels, people, process, business, and technology.
- Disruptive change is going to happen. The best way to deal with change is to hire and train people who understand how to adapt quickly and positively.
- Continuous awareness, customers, market trends, community chat rooms, and tier 1 analyst firms. Disruptive change is rarely delivered without minor tremors.
- If disruption happens reach out to the installed base. Understand their expectations, concerns and thinking. This will establish the nature of the threat, the severity, and the speed it will have to make an impact.
- Adopt an agile methodology. This will ensure the company is able to pivot effectively and will do so with less disruption. Agile is all about effective change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two, one from Earth. One not.
“One original thought is worth a thousand mindless quotings”. Diogenes
“Do or do not. There is no try”. Yoda.
How can our readers further follow your work?
and follow me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-paul-williams/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!