Named a leader in the 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics, Riverbed is on a transformation overdrive. Known for its WAN optimisation hardware for many years, the company is going through a massive brand makeover as a ‘Digital Performance Management’ company post its acquisition by the PE firm Thoma Bravo in 2014. Not only is its customer base growing steadily, its SaaS subscription business grew by almost 300% last year. Transitioning from a traditional network appliance/hardware player, to a full-portfolio software provider in the digital performance space isn’t an easy task.
- How will the company achieve this?
- What are the unique offerings it has to help CIOs in their digital experience management?
- How is the company doing on the brand transformation front?
dynamicCIO.com (DCIO) spoke to Subbu Iyer (SI), SVP and Global CMO, Riverbed on a range of issues.
Below are the excerpts:
DCIO: One of the biggest challenges that the CIOs face is their ability to measure effectiveness and ROI of their transformation initiatives. They don’t know where they are heading. This absorbs a significant portion of their time and budget. What role is Riverbed playing here?
SI: It’s a very relevant question. Let me begin with the repositioning of the company that started last year. We always had this desire to have a broader portfolio and also enter new markets. While WAN optimisation is still a relevant part of business and fuelling the growth, the brand positioning and affinity doesn’t work for the company anymore. The term ‘Performance’ has been in our DNA. Riverbed has always been about performance management and measurement. Corporates identify us with delivering, improving and enhancing performance. So, when we looked at different possible opportunities to reposition the company, digital performance was the one where we found a fit. With proliferation of cloud and mobile, the legacy technology architectures are getting redundant. E.g. earlier, most companies were sending traffic from remote branches to headquarters or to the central datacentres. That doesn’t happen anymore. While using SaaS apps like O365, or Workday, it doesn’t make sense to route traffic from a branch to the HO and then to the SaaS app. The entire architecture, both from a network and infrastructure perspectives, has changed dramatically. There was a need for a seminal shift in how IT needs to align with business to meet the objectives. That was the rationale behind the rebranding as digital performance management. It actually resonated really well with our customers.
We also recently commissioned a study with The Economist Intelligence Unit to benchmark the key competencies that a company requires to be perceived as a leader in digital performance. The two key competencies highlighted in the study are: ‘digital experience management’ and ‘IT infrastructure modernisation’. Anybody who looks at that report will also get an assessment tool on our website where they can do a quick assessment and see the scores.
Going back to your question about CIO spending millions of dollars and not being able to measure ROI. This approach of ours will provide a framework to see how the organisation rank vis-à-vis peers in a particular industry within India, and also globally. Our professional services group has digital performance maturity models to fast track the journey for a CIO to take them into the leadership position.
DCIO: From a traditional, hardware-oriented company, are you moving into a pure-play, cloud-native space or progressing slowly via SaaS to being Cloud-native?
SI: Again, a great question. All of Riverbed’s solutions are now available in a SaaS subscription model. Secondly, customers want to buy more software-based solutions. They want to buy more virtual form factors and pay for a subscription-based model. Nothing that I am stating is surprising. It’s not as if the appliance-based solutions are completely out but going forward, it will be more software-defined. Customers are looking for more modern platforms thus software-based solutions are the way forward. When I say digital experience management, the key component there is the end-user experience on the device whether it’s a mobile phone, a tablet or any other endpoint devices. It could be, for example, a retailer using a scanner, that’s an endpoint for him. We have customers who have deployed our end-user experience management solution, where they want to measure the user experience. In that case, the user of that device happens to be an employee. But that employee is serving an end customer too, which adds to the overall experience quotient.
Another example is deployment of Aternity solution in call/contact centers, where agents talk to customers for problem resolution. Workforce productivity is a big differentiator there. Workforce productivity adds directly to the end user experience. So, we have taken a series of steps both in terms of our business model, pricing, licensing and also the product transformation.
So, the momentum is shifting to software-based SaaS model and we are following it.
DCIO: What does Aternity add to the existing portfolio of Riverbed and from a customer’s stand point? Which are the industries that you are catering to with this addition?
SI: It was probably one of the best acquisitions we’ve made. And the reason is that it resonates well across industries. When you think about digitisation, user experience management, employee productivity, digital experience, who cares about it, it’s usually the CIO, the chief digital officer who takes the call. Aternity has enabled us to have this conversation at the executive level who are looking at these strategic choices of delivering and measuring experience. E.g. a retailer in US, which, after the recession of 2008, decided not to build any new physical stores, and invest that money into an omni channel experience. They needed a consistent user experience across channels through call centers, website, an app, or a physical store. When it came to the IT team and the CIO, they were challenged on measuring the experience. They deployed Eternity on their checkout counters. Whether it is a clerk-assisted checkout counter or a self-service one. Another great example was in the banking industry for loan processing where they use Aternity to measure how long it took for the loan to be processed. The conversations in such cases move from network teams to the CEO’s office. The CEO and executive team would be interested in that. In India, customers like Cox & Kings use Aternity to monitor applications, O365, and their travel mobile website and performance of that and user experience. Logistics company Blue Dart, with over 35,000 is monitoring the performance and the user experience on their applications. Bajaj Electricals today provide a mobile to their retailers. The company never had end user data. So, they didn’t have marketing information. They now use the mobile app given to their retailers to actually capture user information. These are relevant use cases to demonstrate the leadership of Riverbed.
There’s another great example of a customer in the Philippines called NWTF working to achieve the mission to alleviate poverty by extending developmental services to the poor. They offer micro-financing for women in remote islands for making them independent, and productive. What we have done to enable them to do is open up branches in locations where they don’t even have good network connectivity. And that helps them really reach out to the farthest places to hand out loans, via debit cards. Although, it’s still about optimisation but in a very different way.
DCIO: How big a role will SD WAN play in the Riverbed’s future?
SI: The rebranding that began a couple of years hasn’t yet finished. We are looking at further rebranding of our portfolio. When we did the digital performance positioning, we said, it’s a digital performance platform which delivers the industry’s best user experience. There are two components to it. The first is digital experience management and the second is what we are now calling next-generation infrastructure. We are trying to establish a connection between the two. The integration between the digital experience management and next-gen infrastructure can open up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, when digital experience management solution sees that there’s a degradation in user experience, can it auto-magically trigger the next-gen infrastructure platform to actually rectify that? That’s the area that we are working on. If we realise this there is degradation in user experience at a particular location and it has performance issues due to network connection or network fabric, maybe we can open up a new connection and divert some traffic over to it. This can be done auto-magically, not automatically. I think about SD WAN as a link to a broader conversation. I will take you back to my comment that digitisation really necessitates for the companies to reimagine their entire infrastructure. As companies are looking at cloud to move apps and data there, they also need to look at their network architecture. SD WAN plays a critical role here. It gives them the agility and cost savings. In the first innings of SD WAN, it was primarily a cost arbitrage But, today we ask what more SD WAN can do for me. Riverbed, because of its install base of SteelHead, has a significant opportunity which we are leveraging to engage in the conversation with the customers. It can help in optimising traffic from your edge location to the datacenter.
DCIO: Finally, from a customer stand point if I may ask a very straightforward question: If the customer has to be told about the key advantages of working with Riverbed, what would those be?
SI: First and foremost, we are the only company that can help you measure the progress on your digital transformation journey. Are you delivering on the promises? Are you able to measure your digital experience? Are you able to measure your user experience at the end of that journey? Once you measure it and you know you are doing good or you need to improve, we can also help you improve and tell you those exact points of improvement. Riverbed can give you that end to end story. Whether you are on premise or whether you are on the cloud or whether you are in the SaaS, it doesn’t matter. What we tell the CIOs is that their world has changed. There was a time when everything was captive in the datacenter and the users were tied to a physical location with ethernet cables. That was actually a much simplistic world. Now both ends have disintegrated. The user has become mobile, the endpoints have become mobile. People have multiple endpoints and they want that same gratification no matter where they are. We can help organisations see through all that and help them grow in the digital age.