Managing the cloud

3 min read MSPs
Scott Dodds, CEO of Ultima, talks to Comms Business about blending the MSP and product worlds.

Ultima is an automation and infrastructure service provider with offices in Reading and London. It aims to be a long-term transformation partner to its clients through pairing technical innovation with service excellence. Scott Dodds recently marked five years as the company’s CEO, leading it to an annual turnover of £123m.

Having worked in the European IT industry for over 30 years, Dodds is somewhat an industry veteran. When we caught up, he joked, “I pre-date the PC. I started in the industry before the PC arrived and back in those days, there was no channel. It was very early, so we were literally building the IT channel. It's changed a bit since then!”

Ultima was founded around the time that Dodds was starting out. The company celebrated its 30th anniversary remotely last month, but Dodds is keen to “catch up on that when we can!”. The business developed as a VAR consulting business throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. As such, Dodds explained, the company has “had this long relationship with all the big vendors as a partner selling directly to our customers”.

Now, the company is stepping into a new era. It has just announced the launch of IA-Cloud, a new proprietary automated cloud platform. The IA-Cloud platform is designed to enable managed services providers (MSPs) to transform the way they manage and optimise workloads for their customers in the cloud. Put simply, Dodds explained, the company is moving to be “more of a software developer for other partners”.

This new product started its life supporting Ultima’s direct customers in the delivery of automation and cloud services. Dodds explained, “We realised that we had built these platforms for ourselves that could be used by any MSP. Then, one or two companies started talking to us, liked what we had because it could save them time, and money and cost.

“One key development over the last 20 years is that the world is much more collaborative now. The concept of partner-to-partner is something that vendors, particularly companies like Microsoft, encourage and drive forward. [This is great for] collaborating on customer technologies [to build the solution together].

“We spent two to three years developing this technology which essentially manages a lot of the infrastructure around Azure. It introduces automated documentation and all sorts of things that you'd otherwise have to do manually. That's expensive, and you’d need to have a lot of people, particularly you scale your business up.

“Having all these services automated takes an enormous amount of load off of your own resources. More importantly, it increases the quality of the service, which is what everybody needs to aim at. In a managed service environment, you're aiming at high customer satisfaction.

“That's really what this tool set supports. It might not change customer satisfaction or human interaction, but it really dramatically improves the ability to spend more time on customer satisfaction and customer engagement, rather than just managing the back end.”

So, what does this mean for Ultima’s path forward? Dodds said, “We have been a direct to customer organisation for all our entire history, and that's not changing. What’s interesting about that whole issue about competitive partners working with partners, is that some of the feedback we've had from early engagements with other partners is that they're much happier working with us because we understand the challenges of being an MSP. It’s not, ‘Oh you're an MSP, therefore we can't work with you’. It's the complete opposite. That's certainly changed over the last five or ten years. There’s been this shift towards working with people who understand the market in very detailed ways rather than at just a high level.”

Dodds points to the continual innovation necessary to succeed in today’s world of fast-moving technological progress as one driver behind the company’s new venture.In the old days, you could build a piece of software and it would have a shelf life of many years. Now, unless you continue to innovate on these platforms, you'll become stale very quickly. To a point, relationships with companies like Microsoft is critical because they are constantly developing these platforms that we're managing. Azure, for instance, is not a product. It’s a whole environment with many hundreds of different services and areas that you can develop on top of. We’ve got to be ahead and make sure that we're plugging gaps with our own services.”