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December 10, 2012

Q&A: The reinvention of Hitachi Data Systems UK

Stephen Ball was appointed head of HDS in the UK and Ireland in June 2011, having formerly been at Orange Business Services, where he was sales director. His 24-year career in IT has also included 11 years at Computacenter and senior positions at KPN Getronics and EMC. Jason Stamper asks the questions.

By Jason Stamper

Stephen Ball HDS

What were the first things you were tasked with doing or saw that needed doing when you joined HDS?
The acquisition in South Africa of Shoden Data Systems was going through, so I had to keep an eye on that; I deployed someone out there to manage the acquisition. In the UK business, the remit was quite simple. For the last three or four years HDS here had grown, but maybe not at the rates that we had been seeing in other parts of EMEA and other parts of the world. The remit was to get hold of the UK, shake it up, and focus on market growth and market share.

And how has that been going?
A lot of that work was completed by the end of June this year. We realigned our services organisations – I had two, and I put them together as one. We had professional services and maintenance and support services, and they’re now all under one head in the UK – there are lots of good reasons for doing that. The usual synergies you’d expect, but also to give people a career path. We’ve got a lot of bright young engineers in London that are wanting to move into consulting or project management.

We also redefined our sales strategy. 70% of our salesforce were what I would call account managers, ‘farmers’. You’re not going to grow a business by just having ‘farmers’ in the organisation. The days of relying on customers to deliver 10% growth for you year on year are long gone. So we redefined that and created a whole new channel and systems integrator strategy, and switched our salesforce to being about 40- to 45% ‘farming’, and 60-65% focused on new business. It was really a full-scale restructure.

We’re now seeing the benefits of that with a massively increased pipeline. We’re talking to customers that we’ve never talked to before. We’ve had 35 new customer wins in the last nine months, and some of them are big. We have two teams, one focused on what I would call large medium enterprises – about 22 of those 35 wins came there – the rest coming from the very large enterprises.

And what tends to be the thing that gets your foot in the door?
It’s really varied. We try and get to know the customer and sell them a vision, a transformational strategy. With one large bank we transformed their IT with one platform to manage their entire IT estate, using virtualisation to save costs and power, and really make IT more efficient. That helped to save them literally millions and millions. We’re hoping to have an official case study so we can use them as a reference customer soon because it was a big, big win.

Tell us a bit about HDS’ Unified Compute Platform [a family of integrated, converged infrastructure platforms. It is said to accelerate the most-used applications in desktop and server virtualisation, collaboration, database, data warehousing and business analytics]. I know it’s early days to be talking about customer wins but what’s interest like?
We’re getting a lot of interest. We’ve held a number of customer workshops and events, and our European CIO Summit in Rome, and the interest has been astronomical. We’re not an organisation known for server infrastructure but people think there’s something really exciting there.

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What do you think about the hype around Big Data?
IDC conducted some research for us and we found less than 10% are deploying a Big Data strategy right now. 30% are looking at it but 70% are doing nothing. I think it means different things to different people and a lot of it is marketing speak. And how a retailer might be able to use Big Data and how a bank might approach Big Data are entirely different. So yes we’re having conversations, but most CIOs want to make the business more efficient and open up new markets; they’re not saying, ‘let’s just do Big Data’.

You come from a sales background. What do you look for in a salesperson?
I ask for three things from our salespeople. I want them to be an expert in their customer’s business, so they really understand retail, or FS or whatever. They should be an expert in relationship management and that’s both at a customer level and internally; and then that they’re an expert in opportunity management.

And what I mean by that is that when you understand a customer’s business, then you can put together a capability for a client and manage several of those, albeit with the right people behind you. I want them to be outcome-based, which means talking to the customer about the end-goal and the business benefits we can bring to them. If we can do that then I think we’re a match for anybody in the market.

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