By Donna Goodison and Azure Sentinel News
Solution providers must take innovation very seriously and promote rapid technology acceleration and digital transformation to continually match the market and customers’ needs, says Bob Keblusek, chief technology officer at Sentinel Technologies.
“Innovation is alive,” Keblusek said. “It needs care, it needs feeding. It grows.”
That’s the approach taken by Sentinel, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based business technology services provider named to CRN’s 2021 Tech Elite 250 Company list.
“We adapt digital technologies for our customers,” Keblusek said during The Channel Company’s Best of Breed Virtual Series today. “We adapt it to their business needs, we help them with the adoption. We aren’t necessarily inventing things — in some cases, we are — but it’s often around efficiency and customer experience.”
Sentinel, which got its start in 1982, saw more rapid innovation growth when it became a cloud service provider, according to Keblusek.
“Becoming that cloud service provider gave us a platform to accelerate innovation,” he said. “The disciplines that we formed during that period of time make a big difference on the customer side of the experience. Customers now lean on us for managed services, whether it’s on our own platform or our own cloud services.”
Through Sentinel CloudSelect, the company offers cloud-based, as-a-service and hosting options including infrastructure, collaboration, security, wireless, storage, backup and disaster recovery.
“CloudSelect really represents private cloud, public cloud, AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform,” Keblusek said. “We can deliver services across all of those platforms today, because we created agnostic platform services. (And) we’ve done it with our services and our platforms that we use in house, including ServiceNow, Splunk and also a lot of open source (offerings) that we’ve put together.”
Sentinel has an enterprise architecture and innovation team and “tiger” teams of people from across its organization, including admins and pre-sales engineering, sales, post-sales deployment and managed services teams.
“All of that really comes together to define innovation at Sentinel, and we measure this,” Keblusek said. “We measure the innovations we’ve launched. Depending on any given year or any given market condition, it can accelerate, increase or decrease, but we built an infrastructure that is prepared for that.”
Educating Sentinel’s sales force and customers is part of Sentinel’s approach to innovation.
“It’s really more of an agile approach, because there may be innovations in process, and then something happens — maybe a pandemic — and we have to pivot, we have to change, we have to accelerate in other areas,” Keblusek said. “It’s really about a system, and it’s about taking it seriously for your organization.”
Sentinel’s history of innovation enabled the company to adapt to the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and, in turn, help customers make the transition as they faced remote work, security risk and an increase in incident responses in a period of rapid digital acceleration within a few months.
“When our customers called and asked, we were prepared,” Keblusek said. “We had customers in manufacturing that had different needs than our healthcare customers, than our education customers, and we were able to help all of them in all industries because of the things we’ve done in the past.”
Sentinel created visual task boards and quickly introduced customers to partner offerings that fostered collaboration, including Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex.
“We were able to help our customers to accelerate their production lines from a manufacturing perspective to meet the new demands — many that were unexpected,” Keblusek said. “So some of our manufacturers that actually expected declining revenues saw increasing revenues, but they now had to fulfill that demand via social distancing. All the innovations that Sentinel had done in the past, such as our public cloud adoption, our SaaS adoption, accelerated security, our incident response…came together for us to bring our customers solutions to their needs in a very, very accelerated way.”
And that acceleration isn’t going to stop, Keblusek said, noting that a hybrid workforce is “here to stay,” and a digital-first strategy is required to accommodate it.
“One of the things that happened during the pandemic is people deployed a lot of technology very rapidly — the two years of digital acceleration happened in two months,” Keblusek said. “That was done with some shortcuts. Things like security, governance, risk were not taken into account as they would have had that taken two years.”
Sentinel is ready to help its customers turn those rapid deployments into permanent deployments, according to Keblusek.
“We really look forward to the future,” he said. “We think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity.”
Sentinel has an office of innovation that includes enterprise architects who continually examine where the market is headed and what new offerings are needed.
“We measure the impact, the pipeline, the pace and the involvement necessary in order to innovate,” Keblusek said. “We’re trying to do those things before our customers even realize they have a need. We listen to our partners — they’re coming out with new products, new innovations themselves. We map those into a customer’s business needs, figuring out what will be next, what will they need, and we offer that to the market.”
Establishing offices of innovation requires executive sponsorship and cross-disciplinary teams. Their mission must be aligned with a company’s business and those of its partners and customers to differentiate the company’s offerings, according to Keblusek.
“It’s also culture: You need to promote ideas, you need to create a culture where ideas are received,” he said. “Not all of them can be addressed, but many of them will come from the field, will come from customer experience, come from your sales team. And these are great ideas that you can take in, and you could build innovation around. You need to eliminate obstacles — so promote and encourage that communication throughout the organization, and do it with purpose. You need a clear definition and scope.”
Solution providers also must ensure that innovation and outcomes are measurable through key performance indicators.
“We check the outcomes against initial expectations,” Keblusek said. “It’s agile, so those can change on the fly, but we put a system in place, some measurements in place, in order to accommodate that.”