In this edition of ARN's 'One-on-One' interview series, we speak to Neville James, A/NZ director of channel alliances at NetApp who opens up on the fundamentals about building agile, relevant and strong businesses; what's in store for NetApp partners and the best advice in managing stress.
What was your first job and how did you get started in the IT industry and progress to where you are today?
I spent the early days of my career in franchising and running indirect networks, starting off at Shell Oil and Toyota, before moving to Ericsson as the NSW franchise manager. Working at Ericsson alongside their mobile telephony business was how I would say I began my career in IT.
I bought and sold a few businesses following my time at Ericsson, before joining the Nortel team as channel director – they were looking for someone who had previous channel experience from the owner’s perspective rather than a vendor view. I then went from working in telephony at Nortel, to virtual desktop software at Citrix, to now channel director with NetApp where I’ve been for nearly seven years.
For me, it’s always been the commercial and business elements of the IT industry that I feel most passionately about, rather than being a technologist. Technology is ever changing but the fundamentals about building agile, relevant and strong businesses that serve their customers well, is a constant and exciting challenge alongside the ebbs and flows of technology trends.
What are some of your plans for the next few months?
Our number one focus is expanding our existing service providers and recruiting new service providers. Whether the solution is ‘backup as a service’, ‘telephony as a service’ or anything that creates ‘data as a service’ the applications are really endless, but to do it in a niche way in the Australian marketplace.
The second priority is leveraging the evolving alliance with Microsoft Azure.
The third priority lies within our commercial segment. Historically, NetApp has held a very high market share amongst the enterprise marketplace, but in the last year or two we’ve started to focus more on trying to capture the commercial market segment. Moving into 2020, we have dedicated resources to grow our business in a market that traditionally NetApp hasn’t been a market leader in.
What are some of the hottest trends in the market right now and how are you helping your partners capitalise on them?
I would have to say the desire for customers to choose a hybrid multi cloud solution as opposed to sticking with an all public or all private cloud.
We’ve had a lot of demand from customers wanting to move to a hybrid multi-cloud common data management platform, near the cloud, and with our software being common across all three hyperscalers, we have a really unique offering. None of our competitors are able to claim presence in all three of those environments, and purchase it through a consumption model, so we’re really fortunate to be able to bring that solution to our customers and view it as our differentiator in the A/NZ marketplace.
Are there any new initiatives that NetApp will bring to the market?
NetApp has recently brought to market ‘Keystone’. Essentially, the concept sees NetApp become a utility provider of storage to any customer. Our service providers can use Keystone as their platform to build their service, and our reseller partners can resell our NetApp provided storage as a service. Keystone allows us to provide flexibility and true off-book consumption for the partners and customers, which is probably our single biggest initiative.
With the massive growth of unstructured data like video and medical imaging, for example, another interesting trend is around the creation of object storage. Working with our partners to bring object storage-as-a-service to the marketplace is another key priority for NetApp at the moment.
What are some of your biggest ambitions - personally and professionally?
Personally, I look forward to seeing my kids continue to prosper and grow up to contribute to the greater good of the world – I believe they’re doing a pretty good job at the moment and I’m very proud of them. On an even more personal level, I joined CrossFit gym almost two years ago and have managed to keep going (even though I’m the oldest person there) and I’m holding my own.
Professionally, I want to continue maintaining the single best channel team of professionals in the business. Ultimately, with a really good team, it will generate the right outcome for NetApp. In my opinion, there’s plenty of good technology out there, but it is the quality of your people and teams that make all the difference at the end of the day.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
A long time ago when I had my businesses, I often let stress get the better of me. One day, a very good mentor of mine came into my office and said “Everything that annoys you, write it on a post-it note and stick it on the wall. Then, come back in a months’ time to see if that same thing is still annoying you.”
A month later he came back and drew a giant ‘tombstone’ over all my post-it notes. He asked me, “Are they worth dying for? Stress is going to kill you if you don’t get a better way of managing it.”
None of those issues were in fact, life and death situations, but it was a very salient lesson I learnt in life. It’s true that you can manage stress or stress can manage you. I reflect on “Tom’s Tombstone” when things are annoying me – it’s probably the single best piece of advice I’ve ever received.