Ten years ago today oobe officially became “a thing”. While we had worked a few months in advance of this to build the structure and capability, it was at this point that we decided it was game on.
It all started when Defence decided to go to market for a capability a few of us were delivering collectively as independent contractors. Over a few coffees our confidence built to the point where we had the belief that as a team, we could do this better than anyone else. It was only whilst working on the response (the first any of us had attempted of this size) that we realised it wasn’t just about how good individually we were, it was what collectively we could do for the department that could be our real differentiator.
We won the tender and embarked upon building a state of the art remote access system for the Department of Defence. Aptly, Defence named it DREAMS. We had an amazing amount of support from a director at the time - Kevin Wode. His belief and support in us meant that we, in turn, would move heaven and earth to make sure we didn’t let him down. While others have long since taken over the solution it is a pretty good track record for a startup to have kicked such a big goal first up.
Over the next 3 - 4 years we plugged away at improving the solution, keeping it going, fighting off those who didn’t want it or had their own ideas of what users should get. It was an interesting time to be in ICT as we were shifting the paradigm from the IT department telling users how they could work to users demanding flexibility in order to improve their work life balance and productivity. A security oriented organisation like Defence was caught up in the challenge of how to provide a secure solution balanced against remote access. There were many battle scars on both sides of the fence.
Three years into the Defence contract the local Citrix rep (Mark Hazell) kept asking us if we could help other agencies. We became a bit of a first aid post for Citrix implementations. It was this experience that defined our business model going forward and put us in the position we are today. Quite simply, we made the observation that a large proportion of the customers we encountered had an almost religious dislike of Citrix and the functionality it provided. We had an awakening that most of the big system integrators would say they are Citrix experts but left a train wreck in delivery. Multi-user environments are different, and to this day I’m still astounded at how many so called ‘experts’ still don’t understand this fundamental fact. We would go into agencies and be beaten up about how bad Citrix was and we were embarrassed for our industry, that the technology was being blamed when it was really poor craftsmanship during implementation that was at fault. I’ve never heard a system integrator say “...We didn’t have the expertise to do this job”, I’ve only ever heard “...It is a problem with the software - it can’t do what it said it would do!”.
I’ve now been around for awhile in this business and it isn’t just Citrix that gets beaten up like this. There are quite a few technologies that get a kicking from IT and end users. Yes, vendors do roll out some crappy versions of products I’m not trying to pretend this doesn’t exist but, in my experience, this is the exception not the norm...anyway I’ve digressed.
This became our mantra and go-to-market for the next seven years. If we say we can do a job, it is because we believe we can not only do the job, we can excel at it. Over the years we have had customers ask us to undertake many, many projects outside our skill set and we have turned them down. “We’re specialists - not just another IT company that claims to do everything. Our entire focus is on how we can make an end user have a better experience and how to make them more productive”. That is how we view the world, it is as simple as that.
This is why we have made sure that not only are we the best at what we do, we have the credentials to back it up.
When we found out that the highest tier a Citrix partner could achieve was Platinum that became our goal. When Citrix opened up the MVP program we were honoured to be invited to be part of it. We are proud that we now have six Citrix MVPs on the oobe team. When Citrix launched the specialisation program it was our goal to be the first in Australia to achieve a specialisation. We then had to achieve all four. We were the first in Australia to achieve this as well.
Fast forward a few years and we began to see some pretty obvious patterns emerge in how we delivered technology and what made for a successful project. We weren’t the masters of our own destiny in delivery of desktop virtualisation and it was our observation that we needed to ensure we had meaningful input into the keys pieces of the infrastructure that ensure a great user experience. When we noticed the IOPs continually let us down because your average data centre storage specialist doesn’t always understand why a virtual desktop needs dedicated IOPs, we partnered with NetApp to make sure we knew how it all worked and we trained and hired some of the best in the storage business. We knew early on that any remote access system depends on the internet gateway so we have always ensured that we have dedicated network specialists in the company to augment the desktop and data centre teams. Being able to have someone who knows networks and how to provide that information back to the customer's network team is important.
The one big mistake we made early on was our decision not to dedicate team members to Microsoft products. It was always our view that to know Citrix you had to know Microsoft so why bother being a specific Microsoft specialist. A great friend of oobe, Derek Moir, continually berated us for not deepening the relationship with Microsoft. We just couldn’t understand how the local Microsoft team couldn’t see the oobe goodness. About 2 - 3 years ago the revelation happened internally, that our piece of the Microsoft pie is miniscule in the scheme of things and that quite simply our implementations were successful and they had much more difficult things to do with their time. We got serious and ramped up our certifications and applied the same logic as we did with Citrix to the local Microsoft team. One of our vendors often says to us “...When oobe is involved in a customer I rest easy that the customer is getting the best and I can focus on more of my other customers”. This is how we want it to be in our relationship with vendors. We want to talk about the future and the exciting things that we can do for our customers and not be discussing a support call that has been open for 3 months.
It is pleasing that while our Citrix practice has continued to thrive and grow, our Microsoft practice has surpassed it and is growing rapidly. If only we had listened to Derek years ago.
Many people don’t know about our enterprise search business and it is probably the best kept oobe secret we have. Our Mindbreeze and Google Enterprise Search Appliances have made business information attainable for users. We apply the technologies everyone knows and uses on a daily basis on the internet to business in a secure way. People can actually find what they are looking for and in multiple locations. We have universities in almost every state and territory in Australia and both islands in New Zealand. We have Government departments from the biggest to the smallest agencies. We have multinational finance customers. We’re in biotech, charities and retailers. Businesses being able to find and use existing data, as opposed to reinventing, saves hundreds of thousands of productivity hours every year. Enterprise search is the quiet achiever in oobe.
Internal culture within oobe is a living thing. What was great culture 2, 5 , 7 and 10 years ago isn’t always what makes great culture today. Our team drives our culture internally and my job is to fan the flames of their enthusiasm to make sure this is a great place to work. We do everything we can to try obfuscate administrative minutiae from their day to day activities. Great technicians do great work when their day isn’t spent filling in a form for a new set of whiteboard markers. If we have the culture right then that stuff doesn’t get abused. If we have the culture wrong then we have a really good indicator of a problem. I’ve never seen regulation solve a problem entirely; it just makes some people feel good about being able to issue a ticket. Life should be more interesting for those people.
Customer success is what keeps us up at night. When we get it wrong from time to time, what is important to us is how we fix it and how we learn from it. The question we ask of ourselves on an oobe engagement is this; how can we make our customer successful? How do we make what we deliver something that people don’t despise using? Something they really want to use. How do we make the system secondary to the function the person is doing? While a Windows 10 upgrade is nice, what is the point if the tools and apps a person needs to do their job aren’t there for them? When we undertake something like a Windows 10 upgrade, we make the desktop a place where apps come to meet and the place that make the user, and the business, productive.
This brings us to enjoying what we do. While culture and customer success are two very important pieces in achieving this. To enjoy what you do you need to do the work you enjoy. We never apply a financial lens to our first assessment of an opportunity. As a capitalist, this is a very hard thing to do because a financial win is hard to turn away. We have turned many projects away over the years because it just wasn’t a good fit for oobe. The reasons are varied and it isn’t easy for a salesman to say no. What I have found is if we don’t think we can do a job and enjoy it there are plenty of other system integrators who can. Exchange or Sharepoint on-premises isn’t our thing so it pays for us to have relationships and work alongside integrators who are good at other technologies. In my entire career I’ve seen plenty of integrators (mostly the multi-nationals) who see success as owning as many pieces of the solution as possible. I’ve never seen one who can actually do it all and in most cases they do everything with mediocrity.
So what’s next for oobe? Last year we opened our office in Brisbane and it has grown beyond expectations simply by using the knowledge and culture we have learned over the past 10 years. It is refreshing to see a team come up to speed so quickly. In April this year we will launch our Melbourne office. As I walked around the Melbourne CBD a few months ago I looked around me thinking “...Surely there must be 20 - 30 customers here who would like to have the way they work transformed”. Now I just need to find them. We want to continue to grow but on our terms, at our speed and with our success measures.
This is what we will do.