The Viewfinder

Celebrating 20 Years: An interview with Long View CEO, Brent Allison

Long View Systems has received numerous awards and accolades over the past year, including Microsoft’s Canadian Partner of the Year, Citrix’s Canadian Partner of the Year, and NetApp’s Growth Partner of the Year and after seven years running are a platinum member of Canada’s Best Managed companies. It is the market leader in each of its core practice areas thanks to a wide range of public and private sector clients representing every major vertical across Canada and the United States. As we begin the New Year, what will 2019 look like for a company celebrating its 20th anniversary with a leadership team and workforce laser-focused on building deep, long-term relationships with clients and partners and determined to lead the way in digital transformation?

When we think of great companies that thrive for decades, you’ll often find that an organization’s culture and guiding principles for how it interacts with customers are key components to success. Long View is very proud of its unique culture and has a leader at the helm that brings a wealth of knowledge to the table and understands “both the challenges and opportunities that digital transformation offers” for clients.

To gain deeper insight into Long View’s successes, their culture, and what’s top of mind, I connected with Long View’s CEO, Brent Allison.

Brian Clendenin: Brent, you’ve been the CEO at Long View for almost a year now … was joining Long View the right move for you and what surprised you the most?

Brent Allison: “Indeed Brian, I’m even more excited about being at Long View after my first year than the day I joined – and I was pumped up when I joined. No question the best surprise has been the culture and the joy of our 1150 Long Viewers’. I knew it was good, but I was undersold on our people – they are authentic, super talented and they have embraced our company’s mission – they are all in. I’m certain this deep bond stems from the intent of our chair and founder Don Bialik. Twenty years ago Don set out to build a 100-year-old company with the best of intentions – built first to foster healthy lives and prosperous careers for our team, our clients and our partners. It is definitely a special place.”

Brian Clendenin: Since joining, what have you seen in the market and what changes have you observed in your customer’s thinking about their business?

Brent Allison: “The coolest part of being at Long View is that we have a unique vantage point across our six North American branches and across many verticals – a vantage point we like to share. And there are common themes and some major differences emerging across our growing customer base. Most noticeably, we’ve been in high demand from large mid-market customers who are experiencing more and more complexity as information technology moves to operational technology and into the c-suite. These large mid-market customers are likely under the radar for the large system integrators and they continue to tell us that they want strategic and less transactional partnerships.

Technology transformation and roadmaps are difficult and complex – it is often tough to get the basics right and ROI moving in the right direction. These customers are demanding partners who can help them assess and fix the foundations of their information technology operations so they can shake loose some time and dollars to allow them to deliver on transformation.

It has become clear to me that this complexity – both real and perceived, is an obstacle to be overcome if we are to help businesses realize the full digital promise.

Sadly, it is a bit better in the US, where many of our customers are seeking out the latest and greatest solution and want to be first to implement a proof of concept or new idea. So we also see it as our job to import use cases and knowledge from the US while helping encourage our Canadian customers be a little more aggressive.

As you know, the situation in North America is complicated further by the fact that there is a significant industry talent gap or shortfall. As we speak, Long View has close to 120 open positions. Going forward our industry will need to build talent from within and ensure we partner with each other where it makes sense.

The good news is that Long View and our strategic partners are super well positioned to play an even more important role for years to come.We are working together with our partners to build talent and ensure the brightest and best choose IT careers and of course Long View.”

Brian:It’s your 20th anniversary … what can we look forward from Long View for the next 20 years?

Brent: “To start, our mission won’t change and we aren’t for sale – it’s a 100-year journey with a goal to deliver on client outcomes, provide healthy lives and prosperous careers for our team members and have a positive impact on the communities we serve. We have a goal to become the most loved technology services company in North America and we are well on our way. In order to make this a reality, we will continue to concentrate on what makes us different – our flexibility and our agility. As our founder, Don likes to say, it always has to be win-win-win, with our customers, our partners and our people. If it is not striking the right balance, Long View isn’t stuck to an old contract. This resonates with our customers and our partners who often come to us first for many new ideas and launches.

This all does not work unless we have great people and strong North American footprint. The good news is Long View will continue to hire carefully, locally and for the long term. We have well-established processes that ensures that Long View hires only those with integrity and competence, who care deeply about customer value – but who also want to have fun. As a result, our branches in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Denver & Houston are growing concerns with some of the best and brightest local talent each market offers.

If you apply a ‘Sunday dinner test’ which is simply to ask if I would invite any of these folks home for dinner – and the answer was a resounding yes. They are interesting, fun and purpose driven. Our customers and partners agree.

As we scale and grow to a $1B company, we believe that we can still keep the spirit of this flexible & agile customer centric culture. As they say, culture eats strategy for lunch!”

Brian: You say your partnerships with Cisco and Microsoft are complimentary – what do you mean by that?

Brent: “Our partnerships with Microsoft and Cisco are key to us and almost everything we do can be traced back to either or both of these companies – and we have been partners of some form since day one. Generally speaking, when we say complementary, we are referring to the fact that our ultimate end user experience, managed cloud, applications and procurement/licensing practices are composed of complementary elements from both Cisco and Microsoft. So, for example, our OneCloud offering is Microsoft Azure focused and our End User Experience offerings are heavily reliant on Microsoft technologies, but without deep understanding and implementation of the right Cisco network infrastructure the solution won’t scale and perform.

Here’s another way to look at it – if you are a retail business or a bank with a physical and an online presence you need a partner that provides the platform like Azure to build the applications that run your business and this is what Microsoft does. But you also need a partner that connects it all in a reliable, secure and scalable way and this is what Cisco provides and how they clearly compliment Microsoft in shaping the value added solutions Long View creates for our clients.

Microsoft and Cisco will be front and centre with keynote addresses at our upcoming Activate Digital conference February 28th in Toronto.”

Brian:Let’s talk a little more about your partnership with Microsoft; this past year Long View was recognized as Microsoft’s Partner of the Year. What does this award mean for your team members and customers?

Brent: “This accomplishment was first and foremost a result of our clients putting their trust in Long View along with our strong partnership with Microsoft. The joint efforts between our teams – our digital architects, our licensing specialists and account managers all came together to add value. With digital transformation being front and centre with our clients, we believe Microsoft’s digital roadmap is a winner; we are 100% aligned with our offerings and their cloud strategy from on premise to hybrid to Azure hyper scale. Our consulting DNA is steeped in the Microsoft ecosystem and has been for years. In fact, Long View has made a very significant financial investment in Microsoft – we are committed to and will grow with Microsoft for years to come.”

Brian: Security is on everyone’s mind these days, how is Long View addressing security for its clients?

Brent: “In the era of targeted cyber-attacks, it’s unfortunately no longer a question of if but when your company has been breached – perhaps the better question to ask may be … is your company aware of a breach when it does happen and are you capable of detecting and responding to known and future threats?

The largest risk to your businesses security is through employee email, connected devices and in most cases; this means smart phones, laptops, and workstations. Managing employee needs while protecting your business can be a daily battle. On average, it takes businesses 100 to 120 days to detect and respond to these vulnerabilities. The best situation is one where your business and employees remain productive while not having to worry about security threats.

We partnered and co-developed with Microsoft to create CyberTrust – our email, endpoint, identity/access and security solution that provides 100% protection against known threats. This is technology which is continually informed by over a billion sources of data – combining the best of machine learning and security research to stop threats. Your employees can focus on work while CyberTrust protects them in the background – wherever they go.

To further build on the CyberTrust solution – we have launched our new CyberWatch Managed Security Service. This offering provides remote monitoring detection and response on a 24x7x365 fully or semi-automatic service to remotely monitor, detect, respond and neutralize cyber threats, enhanced by our NERC CIP aligned Security Operations Center (SOC).

It is built on a next generation security intelligence and analytics platform powered by LogRhythm. The main objective of our innovative CyberWatch service is to deliver the right information, at the right time, with the appropriate context, to minimize the amount of time it takes to detect and respond to damaging cyber threats.”

Brian: As a high growth company in many North American locations what focus is put on customer experience?

Brent: “As I said at the outset, we’re on a journey to become a 100 company and that requires a laser focus on customer experience. This is so important to me that one of the few but significant changes I made to the senior leadership team was to appoint Long View’s first Vice President of Customer Experience. The mandate includes a relentless drive for top notch service quality in everything we deliver for our clients, managing our all-important Net Promoter Score (NPS), Gartner’s Peer Reviews and a number of internal campaigns such as our “All Green All the Time” initiative. This one in particular is designed to promote 100% execution on any number of fronts including our GSD (Global Service Desk), our Managed IT Services (MITS) dashboard and our AI automation projects. In times of big change it is very easy to get distracted on quality and delivery. At Long View we have our eye on this ball.”

Brian: What distinguishes Long View when it comes to launching new product offerings in the marketplace?

Brent: “First and foremost, our ideation process and discipline to develop ongoing and innovative solutions is part of our DNA. We have developed a methodology and framework for continued innovation inside our organization to build the mindset that we must always add value for our clients every day. We use a number of tools to facilitate “idea storming” and create an environment for our team and partners to collaborate and create value filled products and services for our clients. The real test, of course, is when the offering goes to market.

An ideal example would be our new Cloud Voice Collaboration service offering. In this case, our innovation framework and research confirmed that the marketplace was asking for simplified management for modern collaboration services and a better overall end user experience. Businesses today are looking for a simple, cost effective, scalable and intelligent communications experience for chats, calls and meetings – regardless of the device. To add to that, legacy systems are costly to maintain, support and replace. Our new cloud based solution can scale quickly and easily to meet the needs of today’s business – and the built in utility model is ideal for managing costs and expanding while providing a consolidated offering including phone system, calling plans, audio conferencing to enable a better modern collaboration experience.”

Brian: Looking out on the technology horizon, what do you see coming next that businesses need to address?

Brent: “One of the responsibilities we have at Long View is to invest in the future for our clients, staff and partners. One such investment is our CTO Office established way back in 2006. Its role is to research and keep tabs on all current and future technologies which will impact our clients and ensure we have line of sight and the runway to adjust strategy and create meaningful and strong value loaded offerings.

I think we are seeing one of the biggest technology shifts since the Internet. It is vitally important we adapt our strategy to these changing times and we are. Today there are a handful of key disruptors in our industry which are impacting our clients in some shape of form – artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, IoT, mixed reality and others are here to stay and it’s our role to understand and simplify the impact and competitive advantages they offer.

I would also add we are disrupting ourselves with these new technologies. In 2018 we focused on embracing automation and AI to help us become more effective and efficient internally – our centralized services business unit rolled out an automation initiative as part of our own digital transformation. We also made investments in AI, in our applications practice focused on IoT, data analytics, and Cloud Voice Collaboration. These are key areas for the future and we are ensuring that new offerings continue to emerge to stay relevant.”

Brian: Today, all organizations are thinking about digital transformation, how can Long View help organizations with their digital transformation journey?

Brent: “Reducing complexity and improving the value of IT investments will be our goal. In order to do this we proactively build all of our managed services and offers so they are secure by design and as such will reduce risk and reduce costs for our clients so they can reinvest in their own industries transformation of their operational technology.”

Brian: Tell me more about your upcoming Activate Digital Conference on February 28th in Toronto?

Brent: “Long View looks forward to playing our role and bringing our partners and customers together at Activate Digital 2019. We hope to make Canada as productive as we can for many years to come. While last year’s conference, which brought together for the very first time in one place the then new leadership from Microsoft, Cisco, and HPE created awareness, this year Activate Digital 2019 will take “digital transformation” in Canada to a whole new level of insight and understanding – and ultimately showcase it in real time. It is the ultimate opportunity for you to collaborate, communicate and cooperatively work together towards achieving your digital objectives, and I am pleased to extend this invitation to you to join us in Mississauga on Feb. 28.”

By Brian Clendenin @itworldca Published: January 24th, 2019

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