Technology Reseller speaks to Simon Payne, CEO of self-styled ‘Enterprise Performance Partner’ CSI, about the company’s rebranding and why MSPs are a legacy concept
No one brought in by a private equity company to evolve and grow a business they have invested in can expect a quiet life. Just ask Simon Payne.
Following his appointment as CEO of CSI by the company’s new owners in August 2017, he has been kept busy, building a new leadership team from a mixture of old and new blood, acquiring and integrating recent acquisition New Solutions, moving to a new 16,000 square foot HQ on Birmingham Business Park, opening a new client executive briefing centre and, most recently, unveiling new branding and positioning for the company.
It was the latter – clearly and strikingly evident on CSI’s bold new website – that piqued the interest of Technology Reseller and encouraged us to pick up the phone to Simon Payne. That and his assertion that MSPs are legacy. More on that later, but first we asked him what attracted him to CSI in the first place.
“In essence, I saw a business with strong foundations – CSI had a set of very loyal, long-standing clients; it was very client-focused; its proposition was strong; it had a very good financial history – and if you have solid foundations in a growth market, i.e. cloud platforms, you can do a lot of exciting things to take the business on the next step of its journey,” he said. Inevitably, this involves migrating more of its customers to the cloud and to a much greater extent.
“Some legacy clients take traditional monitor and management services from us – traditional managed services – but by far the largest growth area of the business involves us taking all of a client’s workloads to the cloud and delivering them back to the client on a capacity-on-demand model, which gives them true ﬂexibility,” Payne explained.
“The other massive growth area is security. We have a very robust managed SOC and SIEM set of solutions which we wrap around all our cloud delivery services.”
This is just as well, because CSI’s clients – it has around 1,500 across the UK, built up over 35 years – tend to be upper mid-market and enterprise businesses with complex applications, complex security requirements and complex compliance obligations.
“If you are one step below the top level of enterprises, you are off the radar of the top management consulting firms, but you are very firmly on ours. We understand that those sizes of business – upper midmarket and enterprise organisations – have the same requirements as the largest enterprises; they are highly complex, highly regulated, highly sensitive.
“We operate with clients that have critical applications that underpin their business performance. In some cases, because of their strategic importance to the business, they need to be very carefully migrated from a co-lo or a premise-based model to a cloud model. We have a very consistent set of services around mitigating the risks and adding value along the way as we pick up those workloads and move them to the cloud and then deliver them back to the client in a very secure environment.”
Focus on outcomes
Over the last 14 months, as well as investing heavily in technology so that its cloud platforms meet the needs of customers, CSI has re-evaluated its go-to-market strategy to differentiate itself and highlight the value it brings to clients.
“This is effectively nothing to do with our technology,” explained Payne. “It is about helping clients to grow their businesses, save money, innovate and protect. We have completely rebranded our business around outcomes as opposed to technology, which is why we now call ourselves an Enterprise Performance Partner. Our single aim is to improve the performance of our clients’ businesses. We deliver cloud services and security services and we optimise and automate and provide AI and cognitive services. But ultimately it is about focusing on one of those four things – growing, saving, innovating or protecting.”
This approach is evident on the company’s rebranded websit, www.csiltd.co.uk, which quite deliberately uses high impact colours, inspirational messaging and unexpected imagery to create debate and discussion.
“We wanted something that clearly articulates our focus on outcomes and clearly shows how we go about that with a 6i process of identify, imagine, initiate, integrate, improve and immunise, which is the security piece. We want to do that in a fun way because our research shows that everyone in our marketplace articulates themselves in the same way – cloud provider this, cloud provider that, reseller of this, reseller of that.
“We realised quite quickly that we didn’t fit into those traditional categories. We are not a VAR, we are not an SI. We do elements of that, but ultimately what we do is drive business performance for our clients.”
Nor, says Payne, is CSI strictly an MSP, which he sees as just one stage on the journey to becoming capable, as it is, of delivering managed cloud services on one’s own platform.
“To start with, people owned technology, which they managed themselves. Then, some outsourced some of the management of that technology, with hosted or probably co-lo environments, which then evolved into an MSP service, where all of that environment is managed, even if some of it might be owned by the person managing it and some by the client,” explained Payne.
“That’s one stage before the next logical step, which is when the client says ‘I don’t want an MSP, I want a fully managed cloud solution. I don’t want to own any of the technology. I don’t want the responsibility for its uptime/downtime. I don’t want to be responsible for its investment strategy. I just want capacity, uptime and analysis around that so I can start making proper business decisions and doing what I do best whether that is retail or pharmaceuticals or finance’.”
“To do that, we have built a very high capacity platform based on IBM technology. We chose IBM technology, because our clients’ heavyweight, critical applications need that level of computing power. Simply put, our clients have very complex applications that when in the cloud are very heavy on compute power. We would not put something like that in Azure or AWS, where you get more of a vanilla service. We can offer Azure and AWS, but we would use them for associated applications and keep critical applications in our private environment.”
Over the last few years, CSI has enjoyed strong growth, with profts increasing by about 20% year-on-year. Most of this growth has come from existing clients whose requirements are becoming more complex and their need for security greater. Even so, a significant amount of total growth – 35% to 40% – has come from new client acquisition, which CSI’s new positioning could increase further.
Although the outlook for 2019 remains uncertain, Payne says that CSI is well positioned to take its business to the next level both through organic growth and acquisition.
“Whatever happens with Brexit, it will certainly drive a bit of data repatriation to the UK, which will only be a good thing for us. I think the increasing complexity of security attacks means that businesses will continue to look for companies that can offer a proper security offering around a cloud service. Another big thing for us is the delivery of AI and cognitive services on top of our cloud platforms. Once a client has moved all their critical applications to you and you are delivering that back in a capacity-on-demand basis, and you are providing all the reporting and the uptime on top of that, you almost reach the stage of ‘what next?’. Our response has been to develop a number of cognitive and AI services that give clients a deeper insight into what’s going on within their workloads. That is a huge growth area for us,” he said.
Summing up, Payne added: “Because we operate with critical applications and have our security offering, we have a very unique set of services. We are enjoying some really good growth. We are incredibly excited about our new brand and go-to-market strategy. We have invested heavily in our new HQ on the back of the growth we have enjoyed, and we have some aggressive growth plans for this year and next year, both organically and through acquisitions.”