23rd May 2017
Join Ronnie Altit on the couch as he chats with Cogmotive VP Alan Byrne about Cogmotive, their services, the benefits you get from using Cogmotive and how they are working together with Insentra to bring innovative reporting solutions to the Australian market.
SOME KEY POINTS IN THE VIDEO INCLUDE
[00:00:41] What was it that originally made you think of creating Cogmotive?
[00:06:43] One of the best things that we’ve been able to offer our partners is a white label version of Cogmotive.
[00:07:28] How does the Cogmotive toolset help in that scenario?
[00:11:16] The biggest thing that’s coming very soon is the alerting on the Discovery and Audit piece.
[00:18:26] Where’d you come up with this name?
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
Ronnie Altit: I’m joined here today with Alan Byrne, VP of product from Quadrotech. Quadrotech’s one of Insentra’s strategic partners that we’ve been working with now for over seven years. Alan was the previous managing director of an organization called Cogmotive, recently acquired by Quad. I thought I’d have a chat with Alan and have Alan share a little bit of the history of his organization, what made him think of it, et cetera, and share some of that with you our audience. Alan, mate, thanks very much for your time.
Alan Byrne: Thanks for having me.
Ronnie: It’s great to have you come in. You’d just flown in this morning, right?
Alan: Yes, I flew in this morning, 24 hours, just to come and see you, and have a chat.
Ronnie: Lucky we have good makeup. Alan, tell me, what was it that originally made you think of creating Cogmotive?
Alan: My co-founder and I, were working on a project to migrate 750,000 mailboxes from on-prem Exchange into Office 365. It was just brandnew then, at the time, from BPOS directly in Office 365. We were trying to do this migration and all these project managers kept coming up and saying, “Is anyone actually using these mailboxes that we’re moving?” Looking around for information inside the portal of Office 365, there was no information. We had to run PowerShell scripts. It took forever.
We had to do this throughout the whole project with different bits of info from different people inside the organization. Tried to find an off the shelf product to port in so we could our day job, but there wasn’t anything out there. When the project ended, we got together in a pub and thought, “Other companies probably going to have this problem as well. We could probably build something that would help them.”
We put up a proof of concept. Couple of weeks later, someone signed up and started using it. Couple of weeks after that, someone said, “How much is it? Can we buy it?” We thought, “Better register the company. Maybe there’s something we can do with that. That was six years ago and here we are, five years ago.
Ronnie: Wow. Actually, the product was born out of a used case during migration to see what the adoption rate was.
Ronnie: Since then, it’s grown. It’s got a life of its own.
Alan: Absolutely, yes. It started off with just Exchange. And then we were seeing companies migrate first on Exchange to Office 365 slowly start picking up those other work like Skype, SharePoint, OneDrive. Our part has evolved alongside the way that these customers are adopting these services. Now, we’re going to move into groups and all these other new services, teams as well. Just follow where the customer goes and build something that they need.
Ronnie: You’ve got Exchange reporting, SharePoint reporting, OneDrive reporting, Skype reporting. What are some of the unique things that you are able to report on, let’s say, with standard Microsoft tools you’re not otherwise going to get.
Alan: It’s about the depth of the data that you have. Within Microsoft, you get a list of people who are using Exchange. It just has their name and their login name, what department are they in, what country are they in, who do they report to. Is there anything similar about these users who are using it compared to the ones who aren’t? What we allow is large enterprise organizations to filter down that data and get that right piece of information in front of the right people.
That’s something that you can’t really do with the built-in tools. Even the newest stuff that’s coming out is really geared towards the small business side of the market. Enterprise has this big gaping hole that they can’t get any information out of. That’s where we come in.
Ronnie: Are you suggesting your product is more targeted at enterprise or is it very much across the board in terms of people being able to utilize it?
Alan: There’s a lot of value for small organizationss as well, but we tend to find people who get the best bang for their buck, the large enterprise, the multiple teams, different people needing different sets of data. When you’ve got 20 people in a company, you tend to know who’s left or who hasn’t left. When you’ve got 20,000 people in a company, someone doesn’t tell the IT department that someone’s left the organization, you may still pay for that license every month even though it’s not needed.
Ronnie: Speaking of paying for licenses, one of the used cases that I think is really fascinating with your toolset is the ability to look at things like chargeback. Do you just want to talk to me a little bit about how that evolved and what you can do in that space? Because chargeback’s a big thing in the enterprise. Even in medium markets, it’s a big issue.
Alan: Anyone who wants to recover the cost of an IT, doesn’t mean the builder’s IT normally, to a single place, and then you unbill those services internally. Even franchising type companies, we’re seeing a lot of. They have multiple franchises. They need to put that cost back down onto the franchise owner. It came from when I used to work in large– Citibank was one of the places I worked. We used to have to build all these manual reports in Excel. There was some sort of VBA magic that happen in the background, ran all these macros.
We just have a report now where we can group by any active directory attribute, what licenses are there. Click a button and offer goes to whoever it needs to. I’m trying to make it easy for people to get the boring part of their job out of the way so they can focus on being proactive in their IT department.
Ronnie: You’ve got modules around Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, and in the Exchange module you include Skype. Could you do that report across a user, across all of those different things in 365? A department, for example, is using these many licenses of mail or this much of SharePoint, this much data they’re using in SharePoint and bring all that together?
Alan: Absolutely. We have similar to an Excel pivot table functionality that allows you to pivot any of the datasets; which department is sending the most instant messages, which ones sending the most volume of email, who’s not sending any email. We can group all that information together and put it into the same report. If you want to see if one department is sending a lot of instant messages and are they sending a lot of internal mail as well because you would expect them to replace internal mail with instant messaging, for example. You can really group this data together to find out what’s happening in the organization, how are people moving their workloads, are moving their work across the different workloads.
Ronnie: Okay. Insentra, we call ourselves partner-obsessed. Our clients are the channel, and then the channel’s clients that we work with. Where do you see the value for a channel partner in leveraging–
Alan: If you’re a customer or a partner with many different customers using Office 365, you want to be able to find opportunities for consulting, training to add value to these customers. When you have data about how things are being used, you can more effectively find opportunities within your existing customer base, and then be more efficient with those opportunities as well.
You can see, firstly, that this customer is struggling with Skype usage in some parts of their organization. They’re paying for 50,000 Skype licenses but only 20,000 of them are using it, but then you can actually go deeper within that customer, and go and look. We’re not going train the people who are already using it. That will be a waste of everyone’s time; your time, their time, money. You can be more efficient about where you target those certain training or consulting services within that organization as well.
Ronnie: What are some of the other benefits that partners would get from leveraging this tool?
Alan: One of the best things that we’ve been able to offer our partners is a white label version of Cogmotive. They can, without our name in it anywhere, provide that service under their own branding. Especially if they’re rolling that into a managed service along with a bunch of other things.
They can have it look and feel like the rest of their website, the rest of their service offering. Any emails that go out as a scheduled report have the partner’s logo on it. It’s got a whole different name and tagline. Whatever you want to do, we allow you to customize that.
Ronnie: That’s much as the same as what we’ve done at Insentra so we can provide that service to our partners, so that our partners can deliver that to their clients as well if they want to. That’s really interesting. One of the things partners always struggle with as well is the DPOR and doing a reconciliation between what marks off to saying as being used, et cetera. How does the Cogmotive toolset help in that scenario?
Alan: With DPOR, you need to show active usage. You get paid when someone is using the license not just for selling it. What we can do is help you find where the license is unused. Again, target that training and increase the DPOR kickback you get from Microsoft.
Ronnie: It actually becomes a really interesting tool that you can then report back to Microsoft about the active usage of your client’s that you’ve sold things to as well.
Alan: We’ve seen in the past, maybe Microsoft have missed a few things that the partner believes that customer is using and not used our tools to help validate that. It’s also with DSLAPs as well. Our service data’s reports, we plot that information up on a calendar so you can see how long the service was down. Then you can use that to show Microsoft Look Exchange Online was down for two days in the middle of the month. Can we please get some service right back and to validate.
Ronnie: We haven’t really seen it go down for two days at a time now, right?
Alan: No. I mean, that we have seen other services go down as well so people get service back for the–
Ronnie: Okay. I think, probably, six months ago where they were about to add in a new capability which is called “Discover and Audit”. What’s the essence of the Discover and Audit capability? What does it do differently, again, to the Microsoft toolsets that are otherwise available?
Alan: In our first three modules in Office 365 and SharePoint Online was about what could be done, who has got access to a mailbox, who has got access to a SharePoint library or file? Discover and Audit’s a bit of a shift away from that to show you actually did do something. The two really complement each other very nicely. The differences between the built-in tools analysis is how visual it is. There’s a lot of data that’s generated from audit events in a large organization.
Every time you open a file in SharePoint, do anything like that, it will generate an event. If you’re looking at log lines, just text streaming then, you can’t see what’s really going on. But plotting that data visually, allowing people to filter and drill down just by clicking on things, it allows people who may not be unique style savants that like looking at text in a terminal window, allowing compliance officers, security officers to actually visualize that information on what’s going on and get it be more of that needle in the haystack approach.
Ronnie: You’re speaking about compliance officers. That’s always a really interesting thing because compliance tend to be that one step removed from IT. Almost the police, if you like, around what’s going on. With the toolset, you can create different dashboards, can you, so that compliance can see certain things? The permissioning, if you like, within the tool is flexible enough to allow different people access to different types of reports?
Alan: Absolutely. That’s one of the things that compliance teams actually like. You don’t want to give everyone Office 365 administrator access just so they can look at reports. Which is what you have to do at the moment in the built-in reports so you can create, for the compliance officers, access to just see the permissions reports or whatever they need from there.
You can give the finance team access to look at the licensing information only. They can log in without any kind of Office 365 admin access, without any kind of admin experience, and just see what licenses are being used by who. Not see any other Skype information or any of that other information. Trying, again, get the right information in front of the right people.
Ronnie: That’s fantastic. You’ve got, right now, four million seats that you’ve–
Alan: I think we’re pushing five now.
Ronnie: Pushing five million, so it’s usage for the product?
Alan: Across all our customers, yes.
Ronnie: In terms of what you can share publicly, at the moment, what are some of the new things that you’re looking to bring out in the next generations? Your product just evolves as Microsoft release new things like Groups, like Teams, et cetera. You just start to report on those as well. It naturally evolves just by owning, much in the same way as 365 evolves. We thought that is part of your roadmap.
What are some of the really unique and funky things you’re seeing from clients, those four million, five million seats that you’re monitoring today? You must be getting a bombarding of questions around, “Hey, can you do this? Can you do this? Can you cut this? Can you skin it that way?” What are some of the cool things you’re about to bring out?
Alan: The biggest thing that’s coming very soon is the alerting on the Discovery and Audit piece. Not just logging in to see when someone’s accessed a file but actually be notified. If you’ve got a secret Coca-Cola recipe, for example, up on your SharePoint and you want to make sure that whenever someone changes the permissions in that area, someone is notified. We can then send a text message or an email based on that. Trying to prevent mistakes from happening before they do.
The other piece as well is then extention on from that, probably closer towards the end of this year, will be automatically fixing things that we see happening. If you know, the In-Place Hold has to be on for anyone in this department. If someone goes outside of that baseline, we’ll be able to automatically fix that again if you want us to.
Ronnie: That’s kind of a panacea of IT because now you’re getting into proactive rather than reactive. A lot of people think, “Oh.” The Discovery and Audit today is largely backward looking so this has happened. Now, something happened, let me go and check it out. What you’re doing now is moving the tool to go that one step further, which everyone really wants. Which is not only do I now know that something’s happened but for a machine learning, or whatever process you’re going to take, that it will just automatically say, “I know what that is. That doesn’t meet policy. I’m now going to revert that back to normal.”
Ronnie: It started to happen in the server world, which has been taken up significantly by organizationss. I think that’s going to make a really big difference to the take off of the product. That’s great.
Alan: Like you said, it’s just a constant evolution when 10 customers all request the same thing. It’s probably pretty big deal and we prioritize that up the queue because it’s a size-based application. There’s nothing to patch, nothing to update. You log in one day and there’s the new feature available too.
Ronnie: One of the big questions we always get, and it’s a really interesting one, is how it’s great but what data are you actually taking from a client? From a security standpoint in terms of with GDPR in the UK and privacy regulations here in Australia, and the similar things that exist in the US. That’s what people really want to understand, is what is it actually that you are capturing? Should they be concerned that they’re going to have data taken out of their organization that’s going to be stored in the Cloud. What do you guys actually take out?
Alan: It’s mainly metadata which is people’s names and email addresses, which is probably the most personal thing that we collect of people. We don’t look at subject lines of emails or into anyone’s mailboxes. We don’t have access to do that. We don’t go down to the file level on SharePoint, we only go down to the folder level, for example. If there’s a hell and burn firing plan document in there, people won’t be able to see that.
In the auditing piece, we go into a lot more detail because it’s important when you’re auditing something to have all the information available, but that’s why it’s an opt in service to go into that. The data’s always encrypted at rest and in transit. We go to very, very great lengths to make sure that customer data is protected and secure. We document online exactly each attribute that’s collected so that customers can decide for themselves if they’re comfortable.
Ronnie: Is there a way that customers can ask for certain data not to be collected if they want to, obfuscate some of that data?
Alan: Yes, it’s not whether it’s collected but whether it’s displayed. What we can do is we can anonymize user information, so the email addresses that I was talking about and the names, certain people can log in and only see anonymized reports. Whereas other people may be able to log in and see all of the reports, for example, all of the user data there. This is incredibly important in Germany, in places, France, and Europe where customer data and personal employee data is very, very secretive and important, and is collected and handled in the right way. This is where these features come in.
Ronnie: From a government perspective, for example, we got many government agencies leveraging that toolset today on a global level that really have those, typically, more stringent data management policies, et cetera. Do you have a bunch of organizationss that are doing that? Clearly, you can’t tell us who, but in principle–
Alan: Yes, absolutely. It’s really interesting with governments because they have this Cloud first mandate in a lot of countries now where they have to look for a Cloud solution before an On-Prem solution. They also have these stringent privacy laws. These two things often butt heads against each other, but we have a lot of customers in the US, the UK, even in Australia here that the government customer’s using our tool. We’ve been able to satisfy them with their security requirements.
Ronnie: Alan, we spoke a lot about 365, SharePoint, et cetera. What are you doing today or your plans with Azure reporting because that as well is another big quagmire in terms of what that looks like. What’s happening with the toolset today, and then the future with that?
Alan: At the moment, we’re doing user ID reporting because it links in nicely with Office 365, that user accounts, that sort of thing, the grouping information. We haven’t really looked too deeply into Azure reporting. If we did, it would probably be first around the billing piece to do the chargebacks internally with the developers. If someone’s developing in this side, they are being built for these resources.
Microsoft are really focusing on building in a lot of reporting into the Azure platform. We don’t want to take on Microsoft in this because we’re bound to lose no matter how we go. It’s the way we would enter into that space if we were to do so.
Ronnie: That’s fantastic. Just lastly, Alan, because I know you’re probably tired and want to get yourself some rest. It’s very good of you to come and spend the time with us as you got off the plane. It relates to where the data is actually stored. Obviously, it’s a big question here in Australia, the data sovereignty, for example. Where is it actually located. If you are in Australia, should you be concerned? If it’s not located in Australia, et cetera, what’s your view on that?
Alan: Obviously, you’ve got to follow the regulations of where you are. We store the data either in the US or Europe. Currently, they are the two options we give our customers so they can have it in one of those two locations. We will open up more locations if the need is there, the demand is there. Again, because it’s just email addresses and names not financial information, medical information, information about children, these are the usual protected categories. We don’t access any of that. We tend to be able to offer it from these locations without too many problems.
Ronnie: Fantastic. Alan, thanks very much.
Alan: No problem.
Ronnie: It’s been great to have you joining us here on the couch.
Ronnie: We’ll let you get on with your catching up on some sleep and enjoying your time back here at home.
Alan: Thanks very much.
Ronnie: It’s nice, by the way, and congratulations. It’s always great to see your good Aussie company, good couple of Aussies starting an organization and growing that globally, and making it the success story you have.
Alan: I’m the Aussie there and he’s the English guy. We’ve always argued over cricket and other things. It’s great that I can go across the world and have an impact over there which may not have been possible in Sydney.
Ronnie: That’s fantastic, well done.
Alan: Thanks very much.
Ronnie: Thanks very much.
Ronnie: Alan, Cogmotive, great name like cognitive. Looking at your t-shirt there with all of the links, et cetera, and what you guys do. Where’d you come up with this name? It’s almost a wonderful name.
Alan: We went through a lot of discussion, I should say, about what we’re going to name the company. We didn’t want it to say 365 because we may want to do other things with the company going forwards. We sat around for ages, many beers were consumed, names got thrown out, domains got purchased. One of the names we came up with was Shu Reports, S-H-U, because Shu was the Egyptian god of wind and air. We went down some weird rabbit holes.
Then we went online and found a website that had logos, domain names, and company names just listed out. You could buy them for 120 bucks. We scrolled through this list, page after page, and there was Cogmotive just staring us in the face, 120 bucks. Bam, we got it. Since then, we’ve had so many conversations with people saying, “It’s great the way the cogs all interact. The way that everything directs it.” The name, the brand got built around this $120 online purchase.
Ronnie: Sometimes the greatest ideas come out of the simplest things.
Alan: It was really embarrassing when we’d gotten this and it got no briefing. We just bought it online. We can’t take credit for it.
Ronnie: That’s just fantastic.
Alan: That’s where the story comes from.
Ronnie: That’s brilliant.
ABOUT ALAN BYRNE
Alan is currently heading up Product Development at Quadrotech. We develop applications to help enterprise Office 365 customers move their data into the cloud and then help them understand how that data is used, secured and accessed.
Recently Alan had much more practice at navigating the shifting sands of an extremely fast growing company. Alan finally started putting the stuff I learned in my Masters of Management Degree to good use
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