Komprise Konnects: Staying Agile and Adapting at PKA

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to catch up with Paul Cohen, Sales Vice President at PKA Technologies. PKA is a great Komprise partner based in the US North East. Since 1996, PKA has been supplying IT technology services and products to Fortune 500 companies, to organizations in the public sector, large commercial accounts and to smaller companies that think big. They specialize in providing the next generation of network servers, Big Data Solutions, Enterprise storage, Cloud Services, virtualization migration, wireless, hybrid cloud, and handheld technologies that are indispensable to business.

Paul has a really interesting background. He started out as a customer – working in IT at Aetna and has gone on to run sales organizations at Lucent Technologies, Avaya, Carousel Industries and Hewlett Packard.

How did you make the leap from working as an IT consultant to software sales?

I was at a cutover in Cleveland, Ohio in January. It was a cold, rainy night – I can remember it like yesterday. It was a miserable night. Something started to go wrong with this datacenter cutover. I called my sales rep, who wasn’t there. I called his boss, who wasn’t there. They were in Hawaii. They had won the achievers trip on everything that I had bought. And I’m looking out the window in Cleveland, stuck with this baggage thinking, “There’s something wrong with this picture. I want what they got. I want to be in Hawaii.” That Monday, I called a friend in sales at Lucent and made the case that I had 8 years of customer experience. If there’s somebody who knows how to sell, it’s a customer. I got the territory sales rep role, and I worked my way up from there.

Eventually I was recruited into the channels and alliances organization at HP, which led to coverage in servers, storage, and networking. I was there when Meg Whitman came in and turned the company around with her 5-year plan. I enjoyed my time at HP / HPE.

Tell me about PKA?

When I joined PKA in 2018 there was a VP of technology solutions, but they did not have a head of sales. The company was about 90% HPE when I joined. In the first year we really diversified, with Nutanix, Palo Alto Networks, Qumulo, Wasabi, RedHat, Komprise and other partners, including a number of security technology companies.

I was very familiar with all of the channel partners in the North East and the New York metro for sure. I understand the business models of the channel partners and how they go to market, I understand their customers, their verticals, the segments they play in, the experience of the reps and the techs. It’s all very similar. One thing I’m very proud of with PKA is that our engineers participate in the sales process – from presales, they’ll get on the call with a prospective customer, they’ll design the solution, and then they implement the solution.

Most, if not all other partners have a salesperson, a solutions architect and an engineer. The engineers don’t implement what they design. We do. The containment for how we run things is so tight, there’s very little room for error.

PKA was founded in 1996. We started as a consulting firm – Peter Katz Associates, which morphed into the partnership with HP. We have about 30 employees today.

How do you work with your technology partners?

Some partnerships are stronger than others. HPE is still a very big partner of ours. Veeam, Cisco – we can do these implementations with our eyes closed. Some smaller vendors, we’re still learning. In some cases, we’ll work with our professional services partners if we don’t have enough expertise in house.

How has the pandemic changed your business?

Before Covid, a lot of what we were focused on was relationship based, solution selling, logistical – supply chain, for example. We were on a good roll. I joined 3 years ago in June. The foundation and trajectory were already there. There was some tightening. There are always relationships with OEMs you’re constantly improving upon, the support, the marketing. We were doing a bit of work in digital marketing in early 2020, which turned out to be very good investments – driving traffic to our website, social media, etc. When Covid hit we saw a lot of customers in New York and New Jersey pare down or even go out of business. We had health clubs as clients. They closed. We had higher education POs in hand that were taken back because of the unknown. Things improved in the summer, but still the unknown was there.

We’re a nationally certified women-owned business and a New Jersey certified small business. This has helped us with access to a lot of state and local education organizations. Large commercial accounts that have quotas they need to fill. We went where there was opportunity and need. On a normal year we’re probably 55-45 commercial to public sector revenue – this flipped in 2020. We’ve done a lot in the public sector and public-school systems 2020.

We also continue to be an HP partner. During the pandemic when everyone has been working remote, there’s been a greater need for VDI, laptops, Chromebooks. In 2020, we moved to Platinum-level partner with HP as a result of this demand and our expertise.

I don’t love the expression, but you can say we’re small by design. It allows us to be flexible and adapt as needed. And we’re big enough that we can facilitate very large deals.

What is happening now?

As I mentioned, there was a pause in many sectors. Take Higher Education as an example. There’s been a lot of questions about when and how students will return. We have a lot of flagship accounts that are still feeling their way through, not sure when they’ll need WIFI on the networking side, for example. The environment is still a wait and see. There’s not a 100% confidence that things will be back to normal in the Fall. It’s the same in commercial.

We’re seeing a big spike in the demand for HPE GreenLake and the as-a-service model – from CapEx to OpEx, pay for what you consume – this is very popular now. Companies still see the need to move forward with their IT projects. They don’t want to over-provision and overspend the CapEx dollars. With OpEx, they still have a revenue flow and can pay month to month. This model of only paying for what you consume is extremely attractive right now. You right-size their environment and that’s what they pay for on a month-to-month basis. It’s not a lease. Change orders in this model become cloud like.

We have done some managed service work at PKA, but we still primarily do statements of work, we’ll partner and we resell.

Tell me about the Komprise partnership.

Komprise came to us through HPE. Our HPE storage partner business manager (PBM) brought Komprise to us. It was part of their Qumulo sales strategy and they thought Komprise was a perfect fit to come in, assess the environment, understand hot and cold data, and offload cold data from expensive storage platform, free up the more expensive storage platform. I know this is a simplistic summary, but we thought, “Wow, that’s fantastic. Let’s see what customers this can apply to.” This is what set us on the journey with Komprise.

What is your guidance for enterprise IT leaders right now?

Most of our business is on-prem today with HPE, except with Nimble Cloud Volumes or Wasabi cloud storage. The traditional storage vendors are still out there. I see the hyperconverged market as hot. Nutanix, SimpliVity with HPE. The server, storage bundle – hyperconverged all in one. A single pane of glass to manage, administer, eliminate silos. Everybody wants everything simpler now. GreenLake, or AaaS makes total sense. You’re not over-provisioning, which is key.

I’m all about simplicity. If an IT manager can make their life easier, that’s attractive. The cloud has been popular for simplicity, but a lot of customers are finding out that with egress fees it’s actually quite expensive. We overpaid and we don’t have control. Many IT organizations want it back and they want it more manageable – they’re bringing infrastructure back on prem. Hybrid is the way to go.

There will definitely be a component of data going to the cloud. It’s all about doing it right. Find ways to move your less-critical data workloads, so it’s not all expensive and keep your most precious data on-prem, that’s the way you need to go. A lot of our customers agree with that.

There is definitely a need for a tool that will help an organization know what to move to the cloud before some of these basic mistakes are made. Then we have a compelling argument for more of a hybrid strategy. Offset or augment some things (management, admin, security) and establish a happy medium.

The world is going to be hybrid.

How have you had to change your game over the past year?

In sales, you’re a creature of sociability. We’re in New York. We want to be out. You have to adapt. When Covid hit, nobody was prepared for the new “normal”. We’ve never seen anything like this. We’re all working from home. Businesses are shuttering. People are afraid to go outside.

You have to be nimble and adapt. That’s what we did. We sent people home right away. I haven’t been back to the office since March 11th. It became Zoom and Teams. We had to find ways to keep customers interested, connected and engaged online – pizza parties, bourbon tastings, beer tasting, comedians. Even that got old. We had to keep it fresh. We tried to do everything possible to keep it fresh month to month. Keeping company morale up has been key. Keeping people productive. We had to keep things fun and lively, but also disciplined.

We had to find the industries that were thriving and needed what we do most – media and entertainment, healthcare, state and local government. We went to utilities – everybody still needs gas, water and utilities. We found the verticals that had stronger demand on them.

Now I’ve been vaccinated. I still mask and social distance. I’m optimistic, but I still wonder what the world will look like 6 or 7 months from now.

Thanks Paul! Interested in becoming a Komprise Konnect partner? Visit komprise.com/partners

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