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Collaboration in 2019 with Owen Allen of Zones

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Show Notes

Link to Michael Sampson’s website – https://michaelsampson.net/

Danny Ryan:All right. Here we go. Hello and welcome to The Two Bald Brothers and a Microphone podcast. This is your host, Danny Ryan. I am here with Tommy Ryan, the other Ryan brother. Hey, Tommy. How’s it going?

 

Tommy Ryan:It’s going well. It’s always a good day when we get to speak to Owen Allen.

 

Danny Ryan:Yes, it is.

 

Tommy Ryan:It is.

 

Danny Ryan:Owen, how are you doing?

 

Owen Allen:You know, I’m doing pretty good. It’s good to see you guys. I’m in the lobby of the Bellevue Hyatt in Washington. You guys probably heard I joined a company called Zones and we’ve got a sales conference going on this week, and so, I’m double duty here. I’m doing a podcast before the sales conference, so thanks for inviting me one.

 

Danny Ryan:Absolutely. Well, thanks for meeting up with before the conference. I appreciate you doing that. So just to get us kicked off here, tell me more about who Zones is and sort of what your role is at Zones.

 

Owen Allen:Zones is a fun little place. It’s 30 years old, if you can believe that. If you remember the magazines the Mac Connection and the PC Connection, that was where Zones got started and I remember. I remember buying floppy disks and sleeves of CD-ROMs from these guys when I was younger. So, they moved from a catalog company into doing everything for IT. It’s crazy what we do for IT. We’re lifecycle management for IT. People buy machines. They buy servers. They buy equipment. We stage it. We deliver it. We ship it all over the place. And along with the transition from physical products to the cloud, a few years ago, Zones moved into a cloud services business, and I recently joined them about six months ago as a Principal Solution Architect for Office 365 helping build their Office 365 business. And so we have a set of solution architects and a set of consultants and we work with the sales people to close sales and try and move the world towards Office 365. It’s really a fast-paced and busy business.

 

Danny Ryan:Nice. Very nice. When we first started working together way back in the early days, you were at Microsoft and I still … I have to tell you this. Recently I’ve been working with Tommy on some cornerstone content for our website, so, creating guides, and actually picked up our old whitepaper on the benefits of SharePoint as a-

 

Owen Allen:SharePoint as an application platform.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah. Yes. I looked back through that.

 

Owen Allen:That’s my favorite.  One of my favorites.

 

Danny Ryan:Well, I loved the … and it’s one of those things I keep thinking, and I know it would take a long time to do, but I just loved one of the diagrams that you had in the back about the different products and the different industries and what products were addressing what. That was a really good … I enjoyed doing that with you. It was a great little venture that we had together with that.

 

Owen Allen:You know, with you two brothers and with myself, we have seen a lot in this SharePoint journey that the world has been going on. And those definitely were good times. You know, when SharePoint 2010 was being [inaudible] and it ruled for six years, seven years. I mean, you still find [inaudible], however, [inaudible] of support in a few years, and more and more companies are moving now to Office 365 and SharePoint online is becoming such a solid platform now finally that it’s taken the mantle of being where you should be developing your collaboration and your productive work applications.

 

Tommy Ryan:And we’re seeing the same thing. I’m surprised how much SharePoint [inaudible] that instead of them moving to the next version of SharePoint or going to SharePoint 2019. I’m seeing a lot of move from 2010 to the cloud. It’s very-

 

Owen Allen:Yeah. When you put that in combination with the Windows 7 end of life and the Office 2010 end of life that are both happening here this year, that is providing a large impetus for companies to move and to rethink this, and they might as well rethink and do all of this at the same time.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, absolutely. More recently we’ve been talking to a lot of companies who are building products. I think over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of SharePoint intranets in a box that have been developed to sort of add on top of what’s being put out by Microsoft, and it’s been interesting to see those come along, and that part of when we first started talking, we were talking about Sam Marshall and some of what he’s seeing in the marketplace, and where things are going. And I’ll tell you, to be honest with us, we’re having difficulty enough trying to keep up with what Microsoft is putting out there, and just the trying to take that and also the other products that seem to be developing alongside of what’s coming out.

 

Owen Allen:I think it’s so hard to achieve the level of mastery and knowledge and familiarity that we had over the last … that it felt like we were able to have over the last 15 years with products. It’s hard to transition ourselves as professionals to a place where we’re like, “hey, we need to work more real time and just in time consulting,” because things change so much. If we take the time to change all of our processes and all of our documentation every time Microsoft does, we’ll never ship. And so we have to ship as fast as … and by shipping, I mean your consulting processes, our consulting processes. We have to keep shipping and keep adjusting. We can’t try and pretend we’re ahead of it like we used to. And that means customers have to do that too, and we have to change how we talk to customers and how we train sales people. Oh, my gosh. That’s one of the challenges I have here is we’ve got wonderful sales people here in zones, but they’ve been selling in a certain model, and now we’ve got to teach them how to sell with cloud services that are changing all the time.

 

Talk about user adoption. How about sales person adoption? It’s a different style of collaboration.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, yeah. And we’ve been really trying … how we’re engaging. We’ve had conversations about this for this year, which is we want to engage in sales the same way we deliver. And so we’re very early on in the sales process, we’re trying to give them a taste of how delivery goes, and so we’ve even recently been getting people more involved in Microsoft teams and how we’re collaborating with the client is really a part of our differentiation between other service providers out there as well.

 

Tommy Ryan:Yeah, and I think also, with things changing so frequently, there is a lot of just in time calibration to where things are at because what you say today, back in the past when they were three year cycles of updating SharePoint, you could say something and it stayed true for a year, two years, three years. But now you can say something and it can be false three days from now with something that get released or changed in the platform. So I think you have to approach it with, “Let’s embrace what’s there,” but understand the general direction and something that you don’t like today, be careful in trying to invent the wheel around solving that problem because the innovation at Microsoft is so quick that you’re going to see that come on board, and you just need to have a sense of, “When is it coming?” So we know how to time, how to solve a problem today that is cost effective and keeps in mind where Microsoft is going, and that can be tricky. But I think it’s exciting to be able to see a roadmap and don’t feel like you’re stuck with where you are today that you can see where things are coming in the next quarter or two within the roadmap.

 

Owen Allen:You’re absolutely right and it makes it harder-

 

Tommy Ryan:And I don’t-

 

Owen Allen:Go ahead.

 

Tommy Ryan:No. Go ahead, Owen.

 

Owen Allen:It makes it harder for software companies to deal with this. A surface company at least can react and change the processes more flexibly than a product company. Take the portals in a box that you’re talking about. Two years ago, three years ago, four years ago there was a big enough gap that they could invest in it right now but now Microsoft is pushing stuff out. Are they creating new portal in a box companies? So Sam Marshall did say in his report that he had another 20 or so new companies this last year, and [inaudible] more companies [inaudible] this year. But from what I’m seeing there, they’re not complete. Their methodologies, their approaches, their collections of pre-built web parts that are fashioned together and [inaudible] a little bit. But I’m tempted, and I haven’t done the numbers here, but I’m tempted to say that you can take what Microsoft is doing out of the box and you can meet 80% of what those companies are doing. And it’s just the final finish that you’re paying for. Heck, I don’t think there’s a business model there anymore because of what Microsoft has been doing, and so ISVs have a much different [inaudible] situation [inaudible] when thyre looking at that kind of thing.

 

They have to be thinking more … they have to be looking rhythms ahead of Microsoft. Not just, “What are the gaps today?” It’s a hard [inaudible].

 

Tommy Ryan:Yeah, and what I’m seeing in the market is, yeah, I think it’s [inaudible] where it’s not making as much sense to try to bridge that gap and provide an overlay, [inaudible] because of the capabilities that are coming onboard and what’s becoming more real within the modern experience. I’m seeing some of these internet in a boxes. They’re trying to broaden their applicability that they’re thinking we’re more than just an internet portal overlay. We have capabilities that integrate with other platforms or we have our own platform where they realize that they might not be able to out-innovate Microsoft and they have to have some unique, maybe focused segment that they have to go after because they can’t do that broad internet in a box because there’s not as much pain as there was, say, two years ago with Office 265.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, and this probably isn’t a good time but part of the reason why we were calling you, Owen, was to announce that we have a new SharePoint internet in a box.

 

Owen Allen:Two Bal Brothers and an Internet. Two Bald Brothers and a Box. What are you going to call it?

 

Danny Ryan:It’s called Prepoint. It’s called Prepointer.

 

Owen Allen:Prepointer. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty good. Coming in from Downtown.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, that’s our tagline. “Coming in from Downtown.” No, but Owen, there’s been a lot of services we’ve dabbled into creating, and I think a part of that report that Sam did, one of his graphics that he created was which ones were accelerators?which were more products? And really try to differentiate what were people putting out there, and I say that. I sort of joke around but we look at, if we’re going to do an intranet right now on SharePoint online. We have a lot of things that we would bring to the table but we’re not going to call it a product. They’re practices.s they’re things we’ve developed already in the past but we … I think Tommy and I have … we’ve learned our lesson of mixing services businesses with the product business, and we’re really … I think if Microsoft wasn’t innovating in this place we’d have to maybe focus in on a solution that’s out there and really get deep and heavy with it, and I think we are. We met up with your friends over at Akumina and continue to develop relationships with them because it is more of a platform type of approach and more of, I think, something that will have a place that it needs to be in the future.

 

But we’re running into on client sites, a lot of them, people who have put these solutions into play, and we’re thinking … I don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Let me put it that way,

 

Owen Allen:I’m a big fan of Akumina’s approach. I enjoyed my time working with them and Akumina has treated SharePoint as platform rather than treating the home pages as a canvas. And a lot of these intranet in a box companies are just using SharePoint as a canvas to do the assembly and the finish. But Akumina is using SharePoint as a data store and a permission store, and then it was able to push the data anywhere, maybe to a SharePoint page or maybe external, and I think that’s a good approach for the future and for building apps. If you have to build an [inaudible] that you can then maintain, and that’s your longterm services business.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep, absolutely. So I sent over some questions, some different topics. Did any of them jump out to you or anything that you’d love to discuss here or catch up on? They’re mainly collaboration related, but just wanted to see if there’s anything you’d like … any maybe trends that you’re seeing with collaboration or any insights that you’d like to share with us.

 

Owen Allen:My favorite thing right now is to go to sales people and go to customers who have recently decided that they need to migrate to the cloud, and enter into a super long conversation about the word, “collaboration,” and the word, “Digital Workplace.” I think those words are so overloaded and so academic right now that their purpose has been served, and now it’s all about, “How do we work better?” It’s [inaudible] simply [inaudible] better so I don’t even [inaudible] and avoid [inaudible] in the Digital Workplace now. Sorry, a little sarcasm there earlier, but I think talking about collaboration just means, now, how are we going to work better. This new agile way of working, this new world of work, whatever. Those are all … they’ve served their purpose. They’ve gotten us to where we’re at and now it’s, “How do we work better?” And the other thing that I’m really excited to explain to people is that governance and user experience shouldn’t be two completely separate efforts that governance and user experience need to be … those committees, which are different sets of people need to work together, and the closer you can get them working together, even if it’s on the same project team, the better your user adoption will be, the quicker you’ll find return on investment, the quicker your users will be able to work more.

 

And so I really think that helping a company understand that the IT folks who worry about governance and security, and the user experience folks [inaudible]. They need to be on the same committees and I think that is one of the steps towards getting people to work together faster. I know we’re covering something. There’s one more thing really fast and that is that when somebody’s migrated, I think another important thing that [inaudible] how fast can you … once they’ve migrated to Office 365, which [inaudible] how alive and well the migration business is. I never hear about it from Microsoft anymore although I’m sure there are fast track businesses continuing to grow. But the migration business is still crazy popular. But then after somebody’s migrated, how long does it take before they can start to think about their next level up. And trying to reduce that time is high on my mind right now. I’d be curious to hear what you guys think, but I think there’s such a change in their processes, once they’ve migrated to Office 365, the getting them to think about, “Okay, how do we move ahead again? How do we jump ahead again?” And shortening that time is something that is fun to talk about after the project’s done and you’re at dinner with the client, figuring out how to accelerate that is pretty significant.

 

Tommy Ryan:It’s interesting you say that. I think for us, what we’ve learned recently and how we’re approaching this year with our migration projects, especially the Jive, the SharePoint migrations that are really popular. Where we used to do the migration and then say, “What can we do to improve your Digital Workplace or improve your [inaudible] and we’re stepping back and saying, “That shouldn’t be the question you ask after the migration.” It’s a question we ask before the migration. And how do we incorporate a target that’s highly collaborative versus just getting the content over, and that’s a big change for us to say we want to talk about your Digital Workplace first. I know that that term is a marketing term. It really doesn’t talk about business value but it’s the term that people use today that we’re all “talking about the same thing.” But in that work stream of talking about the Digital Workplace, it’s all about, for us, work together better, so it’s interesting that you said, “Work better.” And that’s what we care about. We care about impact, that we’re not just saying we’re checking a box that we’ve got your content over, but that content can be just as valuable or more valuable in this new platform. And we’re trying to move it to it’s not, you’ve preserved your content. You didn’t lose it.

 

We’re moving it to your content is more valuable now because we’ve thought about how you’re going to collaborate with it before we move it, and that’s exciting [inaudible] because that’s where we want to be. Migrations are just a means to the end. We feel like if we do the migration we’re part of that conversation of, “How do you improve collaboration” but we’re doing it in a very late fashion. We were kind of migrating, waiting a year later [inaudible] and [inaudible] actually happened [inaudible]. That takes some patience [inaudible] migrate so they hold on. Don’t just jump [inaudible] talk about how we’re going to provide the value with that concept [inaudible] so you get more excited about it. There’s a bigger impact when the content is finally being published.

 

I think you’re thinking and caring about some similar things that we are that migrations are popular. It’s almost overcoming what we do as a core with collaborative solutions. But we feel that we’re just in that [inaudible] so [inaudible]. We’re just trying to get [inaudible] over there and people have held out for much longer than we expected. We’re seeing a lot of organizations finally making that move.

 

Danny Ryan:Well guys, I think we could probably talk for hours about this. It’s almost like I feel like I could say, “Okay, collaboration. Ready? Talk.” We could probably go for quite a long time but is there any sort of last things to wrap on, Owen, that you’d like to mention just to put a button on this?

 

Owen Allen:One of the questions you asked is if there’s any particular books about collaboration that I’ve really enjoyed, and I wanted to give a call out to the collaboration books that Michael Sampson has written. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Michael Sampson but he’s at michaelsampson.net, and he’s written a number of good books about collaboration, and I’ve enjoyed almost every one of them except for that one. Michael knows what I’m talking about. Anyway, but those are great books about collaboration and they’ve served as models for the work that I’m trying to do for here at Zones.

 

Danny Ryan:That’s great. Well, I’ll put a link to those in the show notes for this. I’ll look those books up. I haven’t read them but it gives me something to read now so I appreciate that. That’s great.

 

Owen Allen:There’s one called Collaboration Roadmap, which is very usable. And there’s another one called Reimagining Productive Work with Office 365. And it is like a workshop that you can do with customers and that you can build right on top of, so I would recommend both of those to you.

 

Danny Ryan:That’s great. Is there one that you would start with over the other or which one would you recommend to start with?

 

Owen Allen:If you’re trying to figure out how to teach somebody ant Office 365, go to the Reimagining Productive Work, and if you have a client, and you’re trying to say, “All right, now how do we up level their collaboration?” Or, “How do we figure out how to replace some of their tools?” Or, “How should we prioritize the work that we’ve identified?” Then go with the Collaboration Roadmap.

 

Danny Ryan:Wonderful.

 

Tommy Ryan:Awesome.

 

Danny Ryan:Great advice. That’s perfect. Thank you so much, Owen, for your time. It’s great staying connected through the years and we really appreciate your ongoing relationship, and just wish you the best.

 

Owen Allen:It’s good to stay in touch.

 

Danny Ryan:It is very good to stay in touch and we wish you all the-yeah, let’s write another whitepaper.

 

Tommy Ryan:All right.

 

Danny Ryan:Sounds great. Sounds great

 

Owen Allen:Have a great day.

 

Danny Ryan:You too. Thank you so much. Thank everybody for listening.ty, Tommy for jumping on as well.

 

Tommy Ryan:Sure thing. Have a wonderful day everyone.

 

Owen Allen:Thank you.

 

Tommy Ryan:Bye bye. See you, Owen.

 

Owen Allen:Bye.

 

Danny RyanCollaboration in 2019 with Owen Allen of Zones

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