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An interview with Richard Thomas, CEO of Highlight - Part 2

Continuing the interview with Richard Thomas, CEO of Highlight...

What has changed since you established Highlight?

Highlight is built around the services that Providers offer, rather than the technologies of Cisco, Juniper, HP and Wi-Fi, which is how the enterprise products work. 

In 2000, Service Providers were offering internet access. This is where we started too. As Providers evolved they added Virtual Private Networks to give customers a level of security; so we started monitoring these. Providers then began to offer Class of Service so customers could prioritise their voice traffic above email traffic; so we monitored that. Then Providers wanted go inside the firewall and monitor the customer’s own technology such as Wi-Fi, switches and servers; so we added that capability.

We now monitor applications and software defined networks because Providers realise that they have to go beyond just delivering bandwidth, which is a real commodity, and get involved in how customers are using it.

Today, Service Providers need to show that they understand their customers’ business and demonstrate how they can help to deliver improvements. For example, a Provider is starting to say to customers … ‘we realise that more of your customers are shopping online and that’s a difficult transition for your business. We can help you to understand how your customers are using your applications and how your network is being used’.

How is the Enterprise IT Department changing?

As enterprises move to the cloud, the central IT teams are losing control and becoming isolated. The corporate IT role is becoming less about managing the systems and more about governance and security. They need to keep track of which applications people are using and keep the data safe. Cloud apps and shadow IT are reaching a critical mass and are being taken seriously but this is also helping the centre of gravity within big enterprises to move away from the central IT role.

Over the next five to ten years, I believe there won’t be an enterprise IT department. There will be a few people who look after the switches that glue peoples’ workstations together, but this will be like having an electrician or a plumber rather than a specialised role. All the complexity will be in the software and managed elsewhere by Service Providers. Highlight’s role will remain the same – to give the customer that clear visibility of what the provider is delivering – without needing to understand the engineering behind it.

As the role of IT department begins to shift, this is a big change for big Service Providers to manage. They need to look very carefully into their enterprise customers to see who they will have relationships with, if the IT department is no more; and most importantly, how they can communicate with this less technical audience.

What has stayed the same since you established Highlight?

This ethos behind Highlight has stayed the same since we started, and that’s really gratifying. The market hasn’t wanted us to change and the reaction we still get from partners is that ‘this is really clear, I can understand this and it’s a step change from what we used to use’. 

In the past, Providers were able to tick a box that said ‘yes, we provide monitoring’, but that didn’t mean the customers actually used the service or liked it. That’s the problem.

Frustratingly, what hasn’t changed is that product and engineering teams take a while to ‘get’ Highlight. Sales people get it straight away. We can go to a salesperson and they will absolutely love Highlight because it enables them to answer the questions their customers are asking, and have a basis for a conversation with that customer. But if you show Highlight to the engineers inside the Provider, their reaction can be ‘we have a tool in the engine room that already does that and if anybody wants that information, they can come and ask for it’. This is massively frustrating to the customer facing people within the Service Provider.

The team at Highlight continues to be obsessive about making information clear and simple. We strive to make Highlight a business friendly solution that is simple to use and gives the right information to the right people at the right time.

We have had some big wins recently with new and existing clients, what has made them choose us?

Providers have become more willing to take us to their customers. They’ve realised that rather than keep us a niche tool, we can help them get closer to their customers and help them to develop their business pitches.

Our latest contracts tend to be based on rolling out Highlight’s basic capabilities across a partner’s whole customer base; this really gets the conversation started. The Provider can then sell in more advanced features that add value to their products, such as Application Awareness. What’s really important is that each time they upsell, they get a better understanding and therefore a better relationship with their customer.

This is the complete opposite to the old techy, clunky monitoring packages that nobody used and didn’t help the salesperson to do their job. With Highlight, the salesperson can learn the basics in three minutes and start learning about their customers. They can look at Highlight together, understand what is happening and identify problem areas and opportunities.

Where next?

We won’t be changing our model. We will continue to sit between the Providers and their customers and provide a really clear picture of this changing landscape.

We’ve always worked really closely with Service Providers with a product set that fits around them. So we will continue to support Providers to manage the big technologies and industry trends that are coming down the road such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Software Defined Networking (SD WAN), virtualisation and Unified Communications (UC). And we will also support the little things that help the Provider in this multi-tenant environment – and that’s a big thing.

We will evolve with the market and scale up because the market is asking us for more. But we are in the right place at the right time; we are definitely catching the wave.


Interview with Richard Thomas Part 1