Novell vice-president of alliance and channel sales, John Donovan, has 25 years experience in IT and channels. He speaks to MATTHEW SAINSBURY about the importance of 2009 as a global tipping point, interoperability between competing vendors, and the importance of iPods over razors.
What was your first job?
My first job outside of doing data entry work for a bank was working after hours for free at Computer Land in Chatswood, North Sydney, doing technical and repair work on computer systems. I did it because I had such a love of working with computers, and I had a friend who worked there who would sneak me in after hours.
How did you progress to where you are today?
I’ve been working in IT for about 25 years, so there have been lots of different diversions. I spent a bit of time working in technical support, physically fi xing busted computers, which led me into software support. That led into a sales role in the retail environment, then a sales role in the corporate environment, which led into a marketing and product management role. That got me my start in distribution.
From there, I moved to marketing, then to true retail product management – I got a position with Net- Comm for a year before I moved overseas, and ran consumer marketing. I was in the US for a couple of years and joined Symantec, running distribution marketing, and then came back to Australia, where I ran channel sales for Symantec for about 18 months before taking over as general manager for A/NZ operations. In 2003, I took over running channels for Asia-Pacific.
In 2007 I left, took six months off and started up at Novell about July last year.
What’s the difference between working the channel in Australia and the US?
The US is a very low-cost model. I’ve been doing some research because I’m focusing on developing the value-add in the distribution community for Novell. If you have a look at the US model, they are operating off incremental point distribution, which is fine if you have a really broad portfolio, if you’re able to operate on minimal operating costs and if there’s no value-add. In Australia there is a space for broad-based distribution, but increasingly if you look at the services partners are looking for, it’s more around that value-add, and that costs more money. In general, vendors in Australia do have and should have a greater reliance on distribution partners to provide more of the services for them.
What has been the biggest achievement of your career?
I look to the successes I’ve had as a manager of people. Having enjoyed working with people in very diverse groups as well, I’ve tended to populate my teams with people who are vastly different to myself – and I think that’s the testament of a good manager: The ability to recognise what other skills people have that complement what the manager has. I’ve got a massive amount of personal satisfaction from being able to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanics of IT in different cultures across Japan, the South Pacific and the US, and I think it has helped my understanding of general business drivers.
What will be the next big thing in the industry?
Lower-cost computing is driving a substantial amount of buying behaviours. Functionality is still important – people want increased functionality in their systems – but lower cost and easier manageability seem to be the main drivers. We’re seeing that in the commercial space with things like datacentre consolidation – companies have less money to spend on managing systems, so that’s an area that is becoming increasingly important – as well as the environmental impact of IT use.
Think about the world today. We’ve got a really interesting tipping point in a number of areas. There’s global fi nance, the way they were running was not sustainable because it was built on a model that says you must continue to grow and grow, and at the same time, there are significant environmental impacts. It’s a really interesting opportunity that we all have as individuals and as industry – 2009 is a really pivotal year from a global perspective.
What’s the main focus for Novell this year?
It’s helping organisations lower their management and operating costs. The time for vendors competing for business in an aggressive fashion, I think, no longer works. Organisations want to see vendors compete with each other, but in a more harmonious fashion. The old approach of marching to a customer and saying “your investment in that area is wrong, our technology is better”, doesn’t make sense. You need to have a clear understanding of the existing infrastructure investment that organisations have made, and show you can work with that.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I have two children, so they are priority number one. They’re both primary school age, so I’m constantly doing soccer and morning band practice and all that stuff. And sleepovers – this year seems to be the year for sleepovers, every non-school day of the week, I seem to have kids everywhere in my house. It’s wonderful, and I really get a lot of energy from my kids.
In terms of personal stuff, I play in a band that is great fun, and taps into a creative side of the personality that you don’t get to use that much within the office environment. Philip Cronin [Intel] tricked me into running a couple of years ago, and has now got me to the stage where I’m doing my fi rst marathon in Canberra next month. People often talk of work/ life balance, but there are not many people who get it right – I think I’m lucky because unconsciously I’ve found a good balance.
Do you like gadgets?
I do, I’m trying to wean myself off them, because they’re not good for you in many cases. I particularly like music gadgets. I’ve got a digital recording studio and speakers and an old-fashioned turntable. At one stage, along with my daughter and son, we had six different iPods. It’s the one thing – occasionally I’ll forget my razor or hairbrush when I travel, but I will never forget my iPod, it’s the fi rst thing I check I have with me.
What is your biggest ambition?
You ask any parent and the answer will be to be able to provide a safe and educational environment for the children. Outside of that I’d love to be able to tap into the experiences I’ve had and develop them further, and I’d love to be a better guitar player.