CEO and MD of Enablis (formerly Azzurri Communications), Jon Evans, started out in Australia painting boat hulls in a shipyard, and now heads up one of the hottest mid-range telco MSPs in the country, posting growth of 46 per cent in 2014, and appearing in Deloitte’s Fast50 for the last three years. Its technology portfolio has developed to include hosted Cloud voice, hosted unified communications and next generation Cloud, Wi-Fi services and video collaboration. With a long history in the communications end of industry, including roles at Verizon, Optus and a host of IT channel resellers, Evans sat down with ARN ahead of the company’s relaunch as Enablis to discuss what makes his company’s business model so attractive, how they compete with telcos in the channel and what we can expect from his company in 2015.
Allan Swann: So how did you get into IT, given your background?
Jon Evans: I started off with an engineering degree, but it nothing to do with electronics – it was Material Sciences. I graduated in 1989, but had no electronics background, and I’m not very technical. I then travelled all around the world as a backpacker, and through various jobs I got into selling. My first sales job was selling encyclopedias door to door in America. When I first went back to the UK I worked in media sales, for four years, until 1993.
My first break in IT was with Cabletron Systems where I worked until 1996, back when LAN networking was just taking off. They were a bastion of training. They just wanted sales people, the rest they wanted to train into you. After that I went to 3com, before I jumped the fence and went to a start up - I always wanted to be my own boss. From 2002 - 2005 I moved to Australia where I was the Verizon partner manager in oz, working with a lot of integratrors and system resellers.
So what made you make the move to Australia?
I actually came here to do my Yachtmasters. I’d been here as a backpacker 25 years before, but I think it was the weather, the climate and the quality of life. For a while I was scrubbing boat hulls down in a shipyard while I was working on it, living on my brother’s floor out of a bag. At that point I had earned some money in IT, but I was happy as a pig in sh*t doing what I was doing. But eventually I had to earn some proper money, so got sponsored by Verizon. I then did the same role at Optus.
Bot those roles gave me a great insight into the partner dymanics here vs the UK. It was good to see a lot of business ideas and figure out what works, and what doesn’t.
How did you get Azzurri started then?
I started the business originally in Australia as a company called Sirocom, they got acquired by Azzurri in late 2006. Azzurri is a British company, and had STA Travel as a major client in Australia. They bought Siracom to establish a local presence and service that client. They remain our longest serving client, we’ve had them for 10 years. We’ve had a very strong, fruitful relationship.
Azzurri in the UK had a buy and build strategy. They acquired 16 companies in five years. Siracom was pretty much the last one they acquired. It might’ve given them a bit of indigestion. I ran it here as an Azurri business, and then bought the Australian shareholding from them about five years ago.
So we were Azzurri from a branding perspective, we had a trademark agreement with them, we still do a bit of work with them, but all the companies and customers we do have here is organically grown. We do have some international partnerships with them, where some of their bigger clients, we help them out when they launch here.
We’ve hit a critical mass size to our business, starting with literally one person seven or eight years ago, we now have 30.
So why the name change to Enablis?
We recently reviewed its core values and proposition in the market, prompting the name change. So you remain Siricom by a different model, as an Azzurri franchisee?
Not really. We don’t really have much of a connection with them anymore, to be honest. We used to do some support through them 24/7, but we’re now doing all that here.
The reason why we are doing well, and have done well, is because we have decided to have a very sharp, very specific focus around mid size enterprise with a lot of sites.
So who are these key clients?
We have STA Travel, Pet Barn, The Co-Op book shops, on the retail side. These guys are all about 50-150 sites. We’ve also got quite a lot in aged care. So we’ve just re-signed Bupa Care Services, that’s about 75 sites. We also just recently won Uniting Care, which is around 180 sites.
Why should customers choose you over the major telcos and their channel subsidiaries?
We’re generally only aiming at companies that have around 10 or more sites, to around 250 sites. If you went to Telstra for all of that, it would be very expensive. If you went to Optus it’d only cover 30 per cent of it, and you’d need Telstra again. If you went somewhere else, like a PIPE or a TPG, then you run into the coverage problem again.
What we generally do is we look at that whole dynamic, and create solutions that use three to four carriers across 40-50 sites you’ll get the most optimal network, commercially that you can. It’s our focus on a company with a wide variety of sites, highly geographically dispersed, where our value proposition is very good.
The midsize enterprise, they’re not spending over $2m. They’re not going to get the whole get into the whole Telstra vs Optus game. I think you have to be a big operation to get any kind of margin out of a Telstra sales – I only see that getting bigger as a problem.
What is your business model/focus?
It just used to be the data networks four to five years ago for us. It’s about giving customers the very best foundations for their business, so they don’t have to keep reviewing it – it’s not going to hold you back at an application level. Then we turn back and take a look at what the network can do to drive better outcomes for their business.
Now that’s really about over-the-top, post-IP telephony, Unified Communications (UC), IPTV. Most of the big clients we’ve picked up recently have been moving towards the UC-collaboration piece. Its all Cloud based with SIP, because the savings are astronomical - that makes for a very compelling sell for our customers.
Where do you see the market going as a whole in 2015?
M&A will mean the market is still very competitive. I don’t think competition will go down, but up. From the customer side, there is so much noise, and so many different options. Its quite hard with all this emerging technology for customers to see the wood for trees.
There will definitely be integrators and resellers that will struggle to migrate to new service models which will see some customer bases being sold.
Are you looking to acquire in that space?
Yes, we would if it made sense.We’ve just set up a Melbourne office and have some new staff starting there, including a BDM. We have clients nationally, so there’s no reason why we wouldn’t look to expand our footprint further. An acquisition in another city is definitely something we would look at. That’s still a challenge for us, not to get too defocused.
So who do you see as your key competitors?
Definitely the carriers – the last seven to eight deals that we’ve won, we’ve always come up against the main carriers. There are a few others coming into the marketplace, BlueApache is one, but they’re more Melbourne based. Brennan IT possibly in Sydney, although I wouldn’t see them squarely as a competitor.
You aren’t concerned that the telcos will continue to acquire in your space?
It’ll be interesting to see how Optus and Telstra manage to bring all their purchases together. Telstra, for example, didn’t exactly do a great job of buying up KAZ. Have they fundamentally changed as a business to make any of their acquisitions any better since then? Time will tell.
What about the NBN? Is that a threat to your model?
Really until they come out with something that’s business grade, its not going to really have any major effect on us. When there are people like the TPGs of the world pumping fibre into the ground, front, left and centre, there’s little alternative to that in a lot of commercial areas. NBN has never really been a big threat, its just another nice tool to have in our bag. We cherry pick it.
So what will be Enablis’ focus across 2015?
A lot more of the same. The UC play still has a long way to go. Most people are still very on premise, so there’s still a lot of room in the hosted UC-collaboration market.
This year we will maintain a level of growth that is between 30-40 per cent, and I think we’re in a nice position. Because a lot of the market, if you’re a traditional PBX vendor or seller, the rug has been pulled out from under you. So we’re talking to a lot more of the voice related partners.
Bandwidth has just come down so much in the last 24 months. What we can do for them is give them significant savings at the network level, while still giving them everything else they need – quadruple the bandwidth and scaling. Which makes all the rest on top more compelling.
We want customers to just use the network, use it well and get the maximum return on your investment. We really want to make sure our clients have really high levels of customer service. We aim to be that trusted advisor, so close interaction with clients’ IT managers, but we also want to value add on top of that too.
Our premise is that our clients should never want to leave us. We’ll be there permanently enabling them. It’s a managed service, with literally just give them an SLA, but we’re de-risking it all for them.
We’re really pushing our R&D/Innovation piece - to make sure we’re delivering continuous value on top of our services piece. We aren’t developing our own software, but analysing the marketplace and looking at where customers have a few challenges and filling those solution gaps.