A Head in the Cloud
Steven Murphy, CEO, Metalogix
It's never immediately clear how these "Meet The Leaders" interviews will go. But I had a pretty good start with Steven Murphy, CEO of Metalogix. During the warm-up, getting-to-know-you chit-chat, I thanked Steven for his time, and asked what he would be doing afterwards. "We'll do some paperwork, some invoicing, and then go out for some fun. And then we'll start all over again."
I had a feeling I'd like this guy.
So immediately I wanted to know more about his background. I have found, doing these interviews, that there is almost NO predictable path to what leads a person to become a successful business leader. Sometimes they have a technical background, but sometimes they don't. Sometimes they have a business education, but sometimes they don't.
"That's an interesting question, because I think there are a few things that people like me DO have in common," Steven says. "For one thing, I grew up in a military family. I've traveled around the world all my life." That's not uncommon for agile business leaders, thinks Steven. "That kind of life leaves you open to different ideas, and cultures, and that's a very common denominator."
Before the eighth grade, Steven had already lived all over the world, but it sounded pretty cool. Hawaii, California, overseas many places. "Played college basketball. Became an accountant. Was a terrible accountant. Therefore I got into the software industry."
Things transpired. Steven went on to sales, did well, and moved up the ranks. Great American story when you think about it. He got involved in mergers and acquisitions, through the old Fujitsu US organization, and turned out to be pretty good at that, too. He ended up buying a Fujitsu company called Softek. That was 2004, and I remember that. Some of you really old-timers will remember it as Amdahl. Not particularly critical to the story, except it places Steven on the emerging edge of the "new age" computing industry, just when we needed people like him. "I got into growing software companies," Steven modestly says.
Eye On The Horizon
And he's still doing it. These days his focus, like many of his contemporaries, is on building a SharePoint infrastructure business, focused on content management, and building it through development and acquisition.
Guys like Steven fascinate me. They—he—saw SharePoint coming down the road. I'm still running to catch up, and I'm only starting to get it. But how you read the tea leaves ahead of time to build a solution that will support an emerging technology is beyond my grasp. That's why I love doing these interviews. "At about 13,000 customers, we're doing pretty well," says Steven, modestly. But he deserves the pride. "We get to talk to those 13,000 customers out of the total 75,000 that have adopted SharePoint. So we see a pretty darn good cross-section." And it's growing.
"The storage platform is growing so fast that the business is getting a little cloudy. I don't mean that as a pun," he laughs. "But things are changing. There's always going to be a category of content that will be on-premises. But there's an emerging type of content that will need to be available to an always-on mobile world. That's where you need to be creating cloud-first applications, and be able to adapt and change to that, because that's the dynamic world that is growing faster than other segments of the marketplace."
When Steven talks a lot about "cloud-first" applications, I think he's really talking about hybrid approaches to adoption... a little cloud where it's OK; a little on-prem where it's scarier. He is realistic about that. "The more complex the content and the more mission-critical, and the more exposed to internal or external threat, there will be less adoption in the cloud. Or if it IS in the cloud, it has to be in a more governed and compliant environment."
"The hybrid cloud is the new way of life," he says. Plain and simply. "There will be more provisioning to different tiers of storage. Highly secured, sensitive information will be on-prem... private cloud maybe, but protected. Non-mission-critical content will go to low-cost, less-structured tiers of storage. It's a little more lax an environment. When it's a low-security application, companies use Box.net or such. But if it's a secure environment, companies are adhering to SharePoint or Office 365, which are very intense, highly governed environments," Steven says. "It's all part of the stack."
It makes sense. Protect what you need to protect. Allow access to what needs to be shared. And one of the opportunities for independent software vendors, thinks Steven, is providing and understanding the division of the most critical information (protect) from the "wide-open" information (share). That, he thinks, is a key differentiator going forward for both knowledge-based companies, and their partners.
Who's In Charge?
"Do information leaders want to share information?" asks Steven. "Yes. On a collaborative side, they do. But on a business side, they think you can share too much." Steven is very pragmatic about the balance. He calls it the "third rail" of data exposure. "Who has access to my content?" The cloud has muddied the water and is becoming a serious concern for organizations.
This is not going to sound new to anyone who's been paying attention for the last 20 years, but Steven says it anyway: "You've got to focus on it all. People, process and infrastructure. You need to communicate what the policies are, first of all. And you have to have processes in place to support the governance of those processes. And as for the last piece, you have to have a strong-enough infrastructure that creates that balance between the collaboration needs of the organization, and the explosion of content. You've got to have controls, good service levels, big pipes and lots of storage to make this all work," Steven says.
Big tasks, all of them. It's a first-world problem, to be sure. I realize that, and everyone reading this knows that. But it's also on the daily desk of every knowledge worker on the planet. "It's about availability, throughput and serviceability."
But the main question is "Who's in charge?" Steven doesn't hesitate: "The CEO is in charge. The fish rots at the head. You need to line up your organization, your infrastructure and your business strategy together, and then delegate the responsibility," he says. "If not, you inherently see a conflict between strategy and execution, and that's where you see things fail."
Steven is a big believer in delegating. "If I'm not spending 25% of my time with a customer by noon, I readjust my schedule." He counts on his management team (which I have learned is top-drawer) and relies on his company's technical infrastructure to create the culture he prefers. "We're moving into the Asia-Pacific area a lot more, so we use Skype a lot," he says. "I roll up the whole company every Friday morning—to report on their key performance indicators. By about one o'clock on Friday, we all have a pretty good heartbeat on where the business is."
He considers himself lucky. "We're in a high-growth market with lots of pull," he says. "We don't need to convince customers they need to take more advantage of their content. They already know that."
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