Ultima is a longstanding Citrix Platinum partner. Established for 28 years and with 420 employees, Ultima has grown through purely organic means. Today it has ambitions in the digital transformation space, to incorporate emerging technologies such as AI, RPA (Robotic Process Automation), and intelligent automation.

The company’s main business is comprised of three parts: fulfilment (the traditional reseller part of its business), professional services and managed services. In terms of its core technologies, its modern data centre incorporates both cloud and modern workspace, as well as a huge networking and security offering. Its strategic alliance with Citrix crosses all these key areas.

We spoke to Gareth Meyer, Ultima’s Director of Sales Operations, who has been at the business for just over a year, to gain his perspective on how the industry is changing. This interview is the second part in a series of conversations with our key Citrix partners in Northern Europe (find the first part here).

Cloud is a key theme for the industry right now. Tell us about cloud transformation and where you see it heading.

Cloud is core to Ultima’s business. This year, we have noticed a huge uptake in cloud services, not just in terms of how our customers are consuming licensing, but also in their actual deployment and consumption of cloud services. Ultima utilises cloud significantly in house, too. We are strong in Microsoft technically, and so we tend to stick with our roots and deploy a lot on Microsoft Azure.

Customers in the marketplace right now are showing preference for subscription-based licensing, which cloud falls in line with perfectly. My only issue, when it comes to cloud, is that I still don’t believe we (as an industry) are ready from a fulfilment point of view, to really give the customer advice on what cloud can deliver for them, both internally and back to their client base. As an industry, we still see cloud as infrastructure as a service, primarily, and a change in mindset is needed across the board.

What type of cloud deployment is proving most popular in the UK at present? For example, public/private/hybrid?

The transformation that I see in the industry today is hybrid: Customers are dipping their toes, and the modern workspace is often the first place they look to bring cloud into their business. We did the same ourselves, but we have adopted cloud in a way that is less dependent on applications and more dependent on our data streams, and how we cut and utilise that data internally.

What proportion of your business is focused on cloud right now, and do you expect this to change over the course of the year? What key factors will drive this change, do you think?

We have finally broken the 50 percent barrier, and 53 percent of our licenses sold today are through cloud technologies, including the migration of perpetual-based license clients onto cloud platforms. Most of our licenses go through the Citrix Service Provider platform. Even our RPA platforms are fully adopted to work on Microsoft Azure, which guarantees 100 percent uptime, true reliability and scalability. With Citrix there is no requirement for hardware, and our customers can consume the cloud platform as much and as quickly as required.

From what we see, in terms of revenue and growth, Microsoft is the biggest force driving the consumption of cloud at present. At Ultima we follow trend patterns, and we believe we are on the cusp of a huge adoption of management platforms, which will enable customers to consume alternative technologies and platforms that integrate well, and Citrix allows us to offer this. A consumer-based approach is key and thinking of cloud as an ecosystem is so important, giving customers choice in the platform they use which allows them to consume cloud at the pace they need to.

How has GDPR affected you and your customers?

I was part of our security board that looked at GDPR, and we also used the consultancy services of our sister business, Ultima Risk Management, to make sure we were 100 percent compliant with GDPR. We have gone to great lengths to remove uncompliant data across the business, and all of our data is now housed in a CRM platform where we can easily monitor it.

We also went through a ruthless task of educating our entire business in GDPR. The positives that have come from that exercise is that we we have cleaner data that management can see and that sales can utilise, and this has also forced us to target our customers in a manner that is more engaging and much more relevant.

The “work from anywhere” culture remains a dream for many businesses. How far away, do you believe, are we from achieving this as the norm across European businesses?

I am a firm believer in being able to work from anywhere, and I think people should be given the freedom to do so. The reality is that some roles will always pose a problem; for example our managed services practice will always be an issue on the grounds that we are fulfilling extremely tight SLAs. We also have certain skillsets and expertise that we need to make available to other individuals across our organisation, at any one time. But in theory, as a business, our staff are geared up to work from anywhere, and everyone is mobile enabled.

We use Citrix as a platform internally, and that allows us to take our legacy platforms and deliver our services from any location. We have a huge external sales force and we would much rather they were at customer locations, than stuck in traffic for two hours a day. I personally work from home one day a week.

What value do you gain through working with Citrix?

I am very fond of Citrix, and it touches every part of our technology stack. We see Citrix across our modern data centre piece, which also incorporates cloud, through to our networking business as well when we talk about things like SD-WAN. The Citrix virtualisation model also plays a huge part in our workplace transformation model.

We can go, from end from end, with a solution to our customers, entirely through Citrix. You can’t do that with many other vendors. Citrix also integrates very nicely with the other software vendors that we offer.

We also use Citrix internally, and there is a reason for it.

How do you think Citrix is moving forward as a business? What positive changes have you observed in the past 12 months particularly?

Citrix is in a fantastic place. The fact it is moving with trend patterns, into SD-WAN and consumer applications in the cloud, proves that it has a great future ahead. Its year-on-year growth figures are testimony of that, too, especially for the UK and EMEA team. You don’t often see such growth across an industry that is becoming quite stagnant. The way Citrix works and engages with the channel is phenomenal.

As a personal question, how do you like to work, and what qualities do you value most in a business leader?

Ultima has a flat management structure, and I always see myself as part of the team; I am not one to hide away in an office. It is important to be hearing what is happening at the coalface, from administration through to top sales staff, and some of our best ideas come at the grassroots level. I have 120 members of staff, and I sit in every single review. If you are not leading within the pack, you stand to lose a lot of your pack members. When I look at leaders who empower their staff, it’s when they become redundant in a business, that they know they have achieved their end goal.

How do you relax from the pressures of work? Is there one worry that sometimes keeps you awake at night?

My weekend is my weekend, and those days are for my two loves: my kids and my sport. I do a lot of sport including shooting, rugby, and fishing, and that helps me to switch off.

What keeps me up at night is the speed at which our industry is changing. The things we do today will build our business of the future, but currently we can only plan a maximum of 12 months in advance, which is scary, as you find yourself on the back foot all the time. I am concerned that what we deploy today will not be suitable in six months’ time, and I think a lot of industry leaders are feeling the same.

The size of the skills gap that we have in the industry is also frightening, and staff retention has become critical. It takes a long time to upskill people in the areas we work within, and if we lose any employees it sets our business back.

What area of innovation excites you the most within the industry, as we look to 2019?

RPA, AI, chatbots, intelligent venues, and workspaces. I love these things that help to make IT trendier and fun. We have built out an entire arm of consultants to look at these new services. I am very excited about the future of our industry.