Meeting needs

3 min read MSPs
Building a products and services portfolio that delivers on partner and customer needs is essential. Andrew Gilbert, founder and CEO of Node4, speaks to Comms Business about how his business has evolved.

Andrew Gilbert, founder and CEO of Node4, has taken the company on an adventure during its nearly 20-year history. He explained, “We started off as three guys and today we’re 430 people. This market is so dynamic and goes through so much change within a three year cycle, that the business has morphed and evolved over time.

“Today, what we see ourselves as a mid-market, UK-centric managed service provider. The depth of our product portfolio has increased a lot, and the range of services that we deliver has become quite significant. The channel is a big part of our business, and we continue to invest in the channel, and it’s still a focus for us.”

When Node4 started out, it found some more traditional voice services partners were hesitant to shift to selling hosted services. “It was a hard sell and, in a way, we were probably too early for it back in those days. Even now, 12 to 14 years on, only in the last few years has it started to get some momentum. If we’d have waited that amount of time, I don’t think we would’ve survived.”

Some in the Channel perceive one company having a direct business alongside a partner programme as incompatible, but this has not been Node4’s experience. Gilbert said, “The market is vast, and because of the breadth of our product portfolio, some of [our products or services] aren’t sold through our partners because they aren’t relevant to our partners. The market is still very, very fragmented. The amount of times that we would be in a situation where we’re having to manage a conflict with a partner is literally one or two occurrences a year, and [in those instances] we work with the partner to manage that.”

He added, “The channel is an important part of our business, and it has served us well. We’re still very committed [to the channel], and we’ve never stopped supporting the channel. We ran the two things in parallel, and we’ve managed to make that work for us.”

The Comms Business Awards has one category that is decided by our readers, where an individual is recognised for their services to the Channel. Gilbert was named the winner of our 2020 award in January, so his contribution to the Channel in the UK is undoubtedly felt by many of you.

Supporting employees

The pandemic has disrupted every business, but Gilbert said that Node4 has weathered the storm well. “It’s been a very interesting 12 months, for sure. The first three months of the pandemic were difficult, because nobody knew what to expect. How long was it going to last? How much was it going to impact our business and our customers? We’ve been very fortunate throughout the whole pandemic as we had a strong pipeline of business that had been won. We were able to continue to keep the workforce busy in dealing with our work in progress. April to May was the slow period for us, but by early June we started to see progress again.”

“From that period on, we’ve seen a gradual improvement in both sales opportunities, and the progression of our existing opportunities. From a staff morale perspective, it’s been challenging. Keeping our team motivated and productive while at home, and supporting everyone has been a big challenge.

“As an employer with this amount of employees, there is a big weight there in the sense of how we manage our employee expectations and their mental health. People have made a huge shift and are finding it difficult to create that balance between work and home, because it’s just a blur at the minute. Personally I feel driving people to go back into the office, when it’s safe to do so, is a really important thing. A lot of our teams are saying they want to socialise again, and they like that [face-to-face] interaction with their colleagues.”

Expertise and relationships

As for the future, Gilbert said that the company will continue to ensure its portfolio meets the needs of customers and partners. He said, “The reason we have long-lasting, deep relationships with customers, and why organisations choose to work with us, is because of the strength and depth of our product portfolio. We find that customers want to reduce the amount of suppliers that they use, and they want suppliers that are much more integrated across different services.”

Node4 acquired Starcom Technologies, the MSP division of K3 Business Technologies Group, in February in a deal worth £14.7 million, and Gilbert explained that acquisitions will continue to be part of the company’s strategy going forward. He said, “For us, acquisitions are about acquiring a skill set, a talent, or increasing our capability in an area [that is] an early-stage product for us. Previously we’ve acquired businesses that have skill sets that are complimentary to us. With Starcom, one of the drivers for that acquisition was their ERP platform [expertise]. [That] technical skill set and knowledge is something we see is going to become important to us.”