Leverage new technology to enhance the customer experience. With speed and convenience now ubiquitous, digital transformations should be used to focus on providing unparalleled customer experiences including greater customization.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ernie Sampera.
Ernest Sampera is a co-founder at vXchnge, a colocation services provider with facilities across the U.S. and one of the top 50 data center companies in the world according to CRN. vXchnge is dedicated to empowering companies’ digital transformation through unparalleled visibility and control over their collocated assets. For more information, visit vXchnge.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have worked in the data and technology space for decades and have a passion for helping companies grow through the effective use of technology.
Back in 2013, I was part of the founding team that started vXchnge. We were seeing that businesses were growing frustrated with their third-party data centers and saw an opportunity to provide customers with a better data center experience by focusing on performance, reliability and innovation. An essential part of this was to build facilities and services that provide customers with unparalleled transparency into their deployments so they are empowered with the information they need to make smarter business decisions and use their collocated deployments as a foundation for their growth. Over the past eight years it has been such a pleasure to be a part of the growth of so many businesses across the country.
Ultimately what we accomplished is really something notable. We’ve shaken up the colocation industry and set new expectations for what colocation partners can and should provide to their clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
This isn’t a mistake, but something that happened early in my career that has shaped my perspective and helped me take challenges in stride. I grew up overseas and am fluent in four languages, so when I graduated college I was hoping to secure an international assignment. I had a finance degree and my first job out of school was with a company building hospitals.
I approached my boss to ask for an international assignment and they sent me to Saudi Arabia. I flew into the capital and then had to fly to another city, Taif, which I hadn’t heard of at the time. I met up with the driver with all the enthusiasm of a young graduate on their first international assignment. We drove and drove until I could see nothing but desert. I remember seeing two trailers off in the distance surrounded by desert and feeling badly for the people who lived there until I realized it was where the driver was headed. It took nine months before there was even a road built to the site and I spent the next 18 months there as we built the infrastructure for the hospital. In hindsight, it’s kind of funny, but it shaped the way I view professional challenges. When people complain about minor challenges, I think back to that experience and know that most things pale in comparison to those 18 months.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Keith Olsen, one of my partners at vXchnge, is that person for me. We have known each other for more than 24 years and have worked together at a number of different businesses. We work well together because he knows his strengths and I know mine, and we are able to leverage each other effectively to grow a business.
Many years ago, when Keith was just looking to bring me on at AT&T, I was once again looking for an international assignment. He sent me on a trip to South Korea, but when I got back he told me to forget the work I had done over there because we would instead be building a new business for AT&T. Together we then built the indirect sales channel for AT&T into a 2 billion dollars business with about 60% of the net new logos for AT&T. It was the wildest growth business I have been a part of within a large company.
We’ve since worked together to grow a number of businesses, including founding and growing vXchnge which has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are a couple of books that have really resonated with me, but perhaps one of my favorites is a Brave New World by Huxley. In the World State, where the book takes place, everything is programmed and preordained, but as anomalies pop up, they start to make changes and dismantle the institution. Ultimately, to me, it’s all about breaking the norm. I guess that theme resonates with me as someone who has found that stepping back and rethinking the normal ways of doing things has helped me make great strides in my career.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
As I alluded to earlier, we started vXchnge with the goal of reinventing colocation to provide a better experience to customers. That hyper focus is what led us to ask the questions that weren’t being asked in the industry at the time. We spoke with businesses to understand their frustrations with their current providers and asked what they really wanted from colocation. The answers were clear — transparency and location were the two top priorities. Business leaders wanted to maintain visibility and control over their assets when using a third-party environment and they also wanted to have their IT infrastructure close to their customers to deliver the best possible service to their customers with minimal latency. This knowledge drove us forward with the single-minded focus of changing the colocation space to meet these needs.
In response we committed ourselves to building new tools and solutions to address the existing pain points in the industry and empower our clients to make better business decisions. That led us to develop in\site, our award-winning intelligent monitoring platform. Unlike anything else in the industry, in\site provides our clients with unparalleled visibility and control over their co-located assets to power their digital transformation.
Understanding that location was another essential need, we positioned our data centers in growth markets around the U.S., allowing our clients to position their services closer to their customers and to expand their IT infrastructure geographically as their businesses expand. This edge data center strategy has helped many of our clients with their digital transformation strategies.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
With data centers, we aren’t looking to rework the basic infrastructure. We aren’t looking to reinvent a generator. That’s not where the innovation happens. Instead, everything we do is about people, process, and tools, or even more specifically about customer experience. Where we are headed is to look closely at why and how companies are using our services for digital transformation to understand how we can best help prospective companies with best practices that will yield results. For IT directors, the shear amount and complexity of decisions they have to make is overwhelming, so we want to be able to provide them with value-added insights to get them on the right path.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
That’s a good question because the term digital transformation has become a buzzword that has a variety of different meanings ascribed to it. At the basic level, digital transformation means the process of implementing emerging digital technologies in order to modify a company’s essential processes, operations and services. Typically, a company engages in digital transformation to position themselves to address changing market conditions and set themselves up for success in the future.
Effective digital transformation requires companies to take a step back and rethink how they can use emerging technologies to radically shift the way they do business. For those who focus on incremental changes instead of transformation, the threat of competitors and startups leveraging available technologies to change the game should be a significant concern.
When developing a digital transformation strategy, we believe it’s important to first define a specific goal. This means not diving into the process and adopting new technology just because it is new, but instead having a clear picture of why this transition is needed or how it will solve an existing business challenge. Then companies must have an understanding of their existing technologies. This may include a formal assessment of the existing IT infrastructure and how it will — or will not — play a role in the company’s technology after the digital transformation is complete. When completing this assessment, it is important to keep the goal in mind and to have a long horizon. It is tempting to try to keep existing systems to produce short-term savings, but unless those technologies set the company up for a successful transformation, that decision can pose significant long-term challenges.
- Creating a timeline for the strategy provides an essential planning tool for the process as well. If the digital transformation strategy is comprehensive, it may require a staged approach. Some aspects of the transformation may be simple to carryout, while others will require significant planning and coordination by the IT team. The timeline should also account for time to train staff and potential roadblocks that may arise during the transition.
- Another thing we recommend to businesses is to look to other industries for inspiration. While it can be tempting to look to competitors, digital transformation is about more than keeping up with others in your industry. It’s about changing the game completely. Frequently the transformations happening in other industries can provide an indication of how your industry will or could be changed permanently. It’s important not to be left flat footed when that change happens.
- Lastly, keeping customer experience central in the process is essential. With internet connectivity, wireless technology, cloud platforms, and edge computing available to businesses of all sizes, businesses need to make sure they are providing a superior customer experience. While this can feel secondary to a digital transformation, it should be kept at the forefront when planning the strategy.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
There is no one type of company or even industry that will benefit most from digital transformation. Today’s economy has been permanently changed by decades of technological advancement and digital innovation which has forced nearly all companies to reframe how they see themselves. Most companies today would benefit from looking at themselves as a tech company and consider how they can change their digital strategy to transform their business and prepare it for tomorrow.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
We focus most on supporting our customers with the performance of their applications which comes down to two things: location and infrastructure. For instance, we have a customer in Austin who, as part of their digital transformation, made a strategic commitment to build everything into the cloud. But now, they are being careful about selecting which pieces to pull back out of the cloud for security, latency and compliance reasons. Navigating the establishment of this hybrid approach is an area where we have been able to provide them with both expertise and infrastructure. We have the knowledge to support them through this shift, and because of the way our centers are built, we can allow them to leverage things like Outpost from AWS which extends the cloud and is seamless, but relies on a high-density cabinet that we can easily maintain. Not to mention, as they build this hybrid environment, we provide them with the tools to closely monitor their deployments to ensure they are achieving their digital transformation goals.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
One of the challenges we see companies face is the decision to leverage public vs. private cloud for their IT infrastructure. The complexity and volume of IT decisions that need to happen around a digital transformation is another area that companies struggle with. We take a consultative approach to helping them architect their footprint, interconnect their systems, reduce their total cost of ownership, and ensure everything runs flawlessly. We are also able to be part of their flexibility story which is essential as companies evolve. A company may start with 60 cabinets and overtime reduce that footprint significantly because of changes in IT architecture or use of higher density cabinets. And because we provide co-located space, we are able to give them that flexibility without sacrificing performance or cost.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Leverage new technology to enhance the customer experience. With speed and convenience now ubiquitous, digital transformations should be used to focus on providing unparalleled customer experiences including greater customization.
- Focus on the most effective use of the cloud. Digital transformation doesn’t mean companies need to move all of their applications to the public cloud. Instead it’s important to evaluate the effective use of the private and public cloud, and ensure that everything is seamlessly integrated. For example, we have one client that was “born in the cloud,” but soon realized that having 100% of their IT infrastructure in the cloud was not serving their needs. They came to us looking for greater reliability, privacy and control, as well as more predictable costs, and we were able to help them transition their architecture to meet their strategic goals. With cloud architecture becoming extremely popular, many companies flocked to take advantages of the promises of the cloud, but now companies are realizing that they need to weigh the pros and cons of each type of architecture and create a customized approach that fits their unique needs.
- Prepare for big data. Big data is changing every industry from healthcare to retail. Any effective digital transformation strategy must include plans for how to ingest, house and leverage big data safely and compliantly.
- Look inside the company. Many companies think about using digital transformation to change the way they interact with customers or the external world. Digital transformation, however, can create significant growth for a company by overhauling the essential internal processes and operations of a business. For example, this is actually what we did when we created the in\site platform. We created a platform and information management system that provided our teams with the depth of intelligence and information we needed to manage our data centers. It revolutionized how we manage our clients’ deployments and we subsequently made it available to our clients to give them transparency into their usage and performance. Today, in\site is a key differentiator for us against competitors.
- Don’t forget the edge. The last mile between a company and the customer is often an essential piece of the puzzle. Leveraging a strong edge computing strategy can help companies to prepare for an increasingly interconnected world in which customers demand high-speed and low-latency while also employing an ever-expanding number of connected devices.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
There are three general things that I believe help create a culture of innovation. First, is being careful to never stifle ideas. Second, is creating a culture that is accepting of confrontation or professional disagreement. And, lastly, is to never accept bifurcation of the plan. While you want to cultivate opinions and ideas, once the path is set the team needs to fall in line to put their efforts and minds behind the plan.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that comes to mind most often in my career is, “you can’t make this stuff up.” It’s often said with a chuckle and a shake of the head. In my line of work, every client has unique requirements so over the past 17 years I have heard some great stories.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’d invite readers to join me at an upcoming webinar with our partners from Amazon Web Services, Cascadeo, and Megaport on Wednesday, May 19 at 12pm EST. We’ll be discussing the best practices for cloud transformation including app modernization and addressing migration challenges to maximize business agility. Another great way to follow our work is on our blog where we provide valuable insights for companies to better understand how to leverage colocation to enable growth and business transformation.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!