Business continuity is a key focus for our customers: HPE’s Som Satsangi

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Business continuity has emerged as the top need for enterprises and businesses today and even for the likes of tech giant HPE – enabling business continuity for customers remains a top priority amid the challenges of COVID-19 crisis and lockdowns.

However, in doing so HPE was well prepared to shift to a remote working environment, ensuring its productivity remains unaffected and continues to serve its customers and partners uninterrupted.

Not only HPE’s overall productivity remained unaffected and undisrupted but also its business worldover grew substantially amid the economic sluggishness and the on-going pandemic crisis.

In this in-depth interview, Som Satsangi, MD – Hewlett Packard Enterprise, India talks to on the COVID-19 crisis led-change in driving digital adoption among businesses and organisations with work-from-home and collaboration platforms and the role of HPE in enabling organisations with this new remote workforce shift and business continuity planning.

He also discusses HPE’s business strategy and operations in India amid the challenges of global pandemic and lockdowns, the demand of technology solutions enabling remote working, and shares about the company’s investment and initiatives on healthcare and agriculture front in rural India and much more.

Edited excerpts…

Q1. The COVID-19 crisis has given an unprecedented rise in remote workforce and collaboration platforms. Has this trend, given a new dimension to the digital transformation wave in India? What’s your view on this?
Som Satsangi: COVID-19 has absolutely begun an irrevocable change in the global economy. In a few months, businesses across the world have been catapulted into a digital-first world – and this is reshaping industries, business models, experiences and collaborations.

The world has had no choice but to figure out how to uphold productivity levels while empowering remote workforce and accelerate cultural acceptance and technological capability of virtual collaboration. I believe that the “new normal” will include far more workforces operating remotely and utilising worksites differently, perhaps for specific collaboration tasks in the future.

  • Intelligent Edge – Unsurprisingly, we are seeing an uptick in demand for those technologies that enable work from home (WFH) or remote working. In the midst of the current global economic downturn, HPE has seen momentum in our Intelligent Edge business. In FY20 Q2, we found the market for capabilities like remote cloud connectivity and virtual desktop solutions to be stronger than pre-crisis in certain segments.
  • As-a-Service – There’s also a noticeable acceleration in the existing trend toward as-a-Service consumption-based offerings. In the midst of this global pandemic, organisations are truly seeing the benefit of being able to deal with the unexpected demand for increased capacity as well as reducing the risk of financial exposure in uncertain times. HPE’s GreenLake offering is an as-a-Service offering which can be set up in a customer’s own datacentre, or at a co-location provider or even at the edge and therefore can provide an alternative when customers have workloads that are not well-suited to running in the public cloud. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gained traction in our HPE GreenLake business.

Q2. How has been HPE’s business in 1H 2020 in India amid the on-going pandemic along with the prolonged lockdowns? Are there any challenges for HPE’s business activities?
Som Satsangi: HPE was already very-well set up to shift to a remote workforce while maintaining strong productivity during the global lockdowns. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gained traction in our HPE GreenLake business.

In FY20Q2, our annualised revenue run-rate which shows the growth of our as-a-Services business, increased globally by 17% to $520 million. Our advisory and professional services saw an increase globally in remote delivery of projects from 65% to 90% in FY20 Q2 which helped to control costs and drive team member productivity rates. We also see data growth in the cloud, on- and off-premises, and increasingly at the edge where we are uniquely positioned.

At the edge, customers need persistent connectivity to bridge the digital and physical worlds. HPE Aruba Central is at the core of our edge strategy. It is the only cloud-native, simple-to-use and secure platform that unifies network management for wired, wireless and WAN networks – and soon, 5G and edge computing. In FY20 Q2, the number of unique customers using Aruba Central increased to 65,000.

In terms of challenges, HPE already had robust business continuity plans in place to mitigate disruptions, meet partner and customer demands, and protect HPE team members. And, long before COVID-19, we took steps to diversity our supply chain, and have worked closely with more than 200 suppliers to minimise the impact on partners and customers. I and our global CEO, Antonio Neri believe that with the HPE spirit of “Yes we can”, we will get through these challenging times.

Q3. In this scenario what has been HPE’s business and growth strategy for 2020 in India?
Som Satsangi:
Our goal is clear, in the face of COVID-19, we are prioritizing the things that are within our control – protecting our team members and their families, focusing on innovation and efforts to support our customers, and rising to the challenge of supporting the communities where we live and work.

The areas where we are focused on helping our customers and partners are as follows:

  • Ensuring business continuity and secure, productive operations in distributed and remote locations
  • Managing cash flow and ensuring financial health
  • Deploying technology solutions to meet immediate challenges and unexpected demands

Business continuity is a key focus for our enterprise customers who cut across several verticals like banks, insurance companies, telecom and IT/ITeS companies, chemicals plants, oil and gas, stock exchanges, state and central government departments, technology companies and others. Several of these organisations have mature IT practices, and have invoked their BCP protocols.

While the situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented, I must extend my congratulations to the IT leaders and their teams in these organisations for the agility and determination they have demonstrated to keep the core processes running, mitigating risk, and protecting the safety of their teams.

Q4. Has the shift to work from home (WFH) and collaboration platforms in India led to new business opportunities for HPE? Can you give a dissected view of the demands seen here and in which directions are these demands moving?
Som Satsangi: Every industry vertical is on its own journey of digital transformation. For instance, the ITeS companies, many of them have moved quickly to adjust to the new reality we find ourselves in. Or the telecom and internet services vertical, they too have done remarkably well to maintain services and manage the complexity of unplanned peaks and demands on the network infrastructure.

Banking and payment services has been another industry that has risen to the challenge – and thanks to the Digital India initiatives. On the other hand the manufacturing industry, hospitality, airlines, and few others are by nature perhaps the hardest hit, since it is very difficult to maintain the required workflows without staff on the ground.

To enable remote working, we have a number of solutions available and I have selected here a couple of examples:

  • A portfolio of solutions for remote access through Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) that can be implemented quickly and scaled rapidly
  • For work-from-home initiatives, pop-up locations, and temporary facilities, Aruba provides seamless and secure access to corporate resources at scale with Remote Access Points (RAP’s) or Aruba VIA (Virtual Intranet Access ) VPN access for single client solutions or IAP-VPN for multiple clients.
  • Aruba also offers an extensive portfolio of outdoor APs to be used in outdoor pop-up locations extending the corporate network. With these solutions, organizations can quickly and deliver secure network connectivity and the office experience to mobile workers and remote offices.

We have been one of the first tech companies to articulate that the world will be hybrid – we have consistently maintained this outlook for the last five or more years. Our customers are reviewing their IT architecture and blueprint to determine the best options – considering a combination of public cloud, private cloud, and edge environments for their data and applications. Workloads and their characterization of performance, security policies, compliance, data localisation, audit requirements, and cost will determine the best environments.

IT decision makers (ITDM) are seeking stability and service availability as a priority. However at the same time some organisations are facing severe decreases and others severe increases in demand for their products and services. From an IT perspective, this means that there can be extreme changes in capacity demand, and there is the requirement to support new workloads and services, notably remote applications and virtual interfaces.

Q5. Last year, HPE made two major announcements – first its move to be the as- a-service company over time and secondly, a $500 million investment in India. So can brief on these two initiatives and its progress in context to India?
Som Satsangi: As HPE enters its fifth year as a standalone company, we are distinctly positioned for our next chapter as the edge-to-cloud platform-as-a-service company. This includes our commitment to provide our customers, choice by offering our entire portfolio, through a range of subscription-based, pay-per-use and as-a-service offerings, by 2022.

Last year we made three primary strategic acquisitions – Cray, BlueData, and MapR to strengthen our portfolio of data management, AI and analytics solutions. Each of these companies are highly complementary to our core business. To successfully deliver on our vision to be the edge-to-cloud platform-as-a-service and are focusing on four key pillars of our strategy:

  • We have the expertise to assess, design, implement, optimize and manage our customers’ digital transformation through HPE Pointnext Services
  • We have the right tools to help customers accelerate their business—be it automation, artificial intelligence (AI)
  • We have the as-a-service consumption model to provide flexibility and optimize IT investments
  • We help our customers manage and monetize their existing assets in new ways and free up capital for innovation through Financial Services

Our $500 million investment in India is part of our long-term commitment to grow our business in the country, increase R&D as well as invest in technology initiatives to drive positive change for local Indian communities.Our investments in technology initiatives to drive positive change for local Indian communities has made a difference.

Last year we announced that apart from the 130 eHealth Centres (eHCs) and 150 mobile eHCs already operational across India, we will establish15 new centres across six states. We are delighted to share that we have expanded the network in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka and facilitated over one million patient visits across India in our 130+ eHCs.

In June this year, we made an announcement about the results of the work we have been doing in our centre of Excellence (CoE) for IoT-based agriculture in Gudipalli, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh – which has generated significant benefits for local farmers by enabling them to increase crop yields, nutritional value and revenue.

Faced with COVID-19 lockdowns, farmers were able to leverage drone imaging and analytics, edge computing, deep learning analytics and user interface dashboards to remotely monitor crops and make decisions related to irrigation, soil treatment and harvesting without needing to visit fields. We have already commenced construction on our extension to our Mahadevapura Campus in Bengaluru and increased investment in our R&D facility.

To assist the Government of India and state governments in their efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, HPE deployed four COVID-19 Test Labs and four Outpatient Department (OPD) Centres across the country (in Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow, and Dehradun) in May earlier this year.

These facilities have been established to provide additional authorised testing facilities and isolation beds to manage the increased demand across the country. Due to COVID-19, we are living in uncertain and unprecedented times but we are confident that we will be able to meet our commitment in the next 4-5 years as planned.

Q6. HPE has recently rolled out new tech solutions including the new Ezmeral container platform backed with BlueData and MapR buyouts. So have the enterprises in India expressed their interests and intent to invest in those solutions?
Som Satsangi: There has been disruption with the outbreak of COVID-19 globally, but we, at HPE have been fortunate to continue having the trust of India Inc. We have maintained our leadership in the server business, we are making strong progress in our storage business, and in networking business we have seen the emergence of Aruba as a leader in the wireless LAN segment.

From a services perspective, we witnessed several successful wins in smart city projects, and our differentiated as-a-service offering GreenLake has seen a sharp ramp in business.

Our recently announced Ezmeral container platform spans a complete portfolio – including container orchestration and management, artificial intelligence and machine learning and data analytics, cost control, IT automation and AI-driven operations, and security – enabling organizations to increase agility and efficiency, unlock insights, and deliver business innovation.

The new HPE GreenLake cloud services announced last month, provide an agile, low cost, and consistent cloud experience everywhere. HPE Ezmeral Container Platform and HPE Ezmeral ML Ops will be made available as cloud services through HPE GreenLake to bring even greater speed and simplicity to containerised application development, and DevOps agility to the ML lifecycle.

These are unprecedented times for everyone. While we have a wide range of technologies and capabilities that our customers value for their technology goals, the business needs are very different – every CIO in the country is working closely with his functional counterparts to ensure minimal disruptions.

We have a highly specialized portfolio of solutions and services to support enterprise datacentre infrastructure, workload optimised systems, and mission-critical technology installations. In these challenging times, our customers depend on our technology and our engineering teams to maintain service availability and rebalance their application workloads.

I’m so proud of our team of Pointnext service engineers who are ever-present to work with our customers. Several of the customers, we support are categorised as essential services like healthcare companies, or civic administrators like smart city command and control centres where technology is playing a crucial role to navigate these rough waters.

Q7. HPE and other vendors have come up with financing schemes for their customers and partners this year due to the pandemic crisis. So how has been the customers’ response in India?
Som Satsangi: We have seen a good response from partners and customers who have shown interest in our offers. In particular, our payment relief offer that allows the customer to pay only 1% of the total value every month in 2020 which lowers the initial cash outlay and eases their cash flow.

Customers are able to continue with projects required to get their business back on track and for long term investment that is crucial for their growth. This offer has been very popular and we are considering to extend this when it expires in July.

CFOs have expressed interest in ways where we can help them create cash and improve liquidity. Numerous discussions have taken place with customers who are currently invested heavily in IT assets and looking to convert them into cash through an asset transfer arrangement.

Q8. What’s your take in context to HPE’s business and the overall IT sector during 2H 2020?
Som Satsangi: What we have seen is a dramatic acceleration, evolution, adoption and creative application of a number of technologies that exist today. As the world emerges from the global pandemic, business continuity will depend on solutions that advance IT resiliency, empower remote workforce securely, extend connectivity, reinvigorate customer engagement and enable business model evolution. These realities mean that digital transformation will be more critical than ever.

We’re seeing increased demand for our as-a-Services offerings to deal with the unexpected demand for increased capacity as well as reducing risk and financial exposure in uncertain times. HPE’s GreenLake offering is an as-a-Service offering which can be set up in a customer’s own datacentre. It can provide an alternative when customers have workloads that are not well-suited to running in the public cloud.

HPE is proud to be a force for good in even the most trying of times. HPE’s Financial Services arm (which is an IT captive finance company, managing $13 billion in portfolio assets in more than 50 countries) can help alleviate some of the financial strain felt by businesses. Areas, where we are helping, include releasing capital from existing infrastructures to providing pre-owned tech to relieve capacity strain or new equipment delivery delays.

In addition to that, we announced in April this year that we would defer or reduce expense through payment deferral, enabling customers to delay payments for 90 days, or through the 2020 Payment Relief Program where customers can acquire the technology they need today and pay only 1% of the total contract value each month for the first eight months, deferring over 90% of the cost until 2021. This helped businesses navigate the financial impact of COVID-19 in the next few months.

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