Darin Andersen and Kim Hakim from Seamless Podcast welcome special guest Dylan Natter, in this podcast episode “Futurecon: The Digital Workspace.”
“It’s been a challenge to say the least. People have had to adapt and transform their skills almost overnight.“
In this Futurecon episode, Dylan speaks about providing IT services during Covid19, the transition from the Digital Office to the emerging Digital Workspace, and cybersecurity in remote environments. He also shares his 20 years worth of entrepreneurial experience and perspective of numerous topics related to IT and cybersecurity. Additionally, Dylan discusses a new MSP software product centrexIT is developing that will radically change how the MSP industry operates.
Listen here or on your favorite platform below. Quick transcript reference:
- 00:03:42 Darin introduces Dylan Natter
- 00:05:16 How “fire drill” practice prepared centrexIT to move to remote work
- 00:07:45 The digital workplace starts with communication
- 00:10:01 The challenge of working with dozens of clients’ applications
- 00:13:25 Securing remote workers
- 00:17:15 Great tech partners were critical for the large scale remote-work transition
- 00:21:57 centrexIT partnership with Dreamtsoft for platform development
- 00:25:32 Need in MSP industry for new IT management solution
- 00:28:15 Dylan’s thoughts on managing IT teams for success
- 00:29:42 Closing thoughts and contact info
Hey, welcome to the Seamless podcast. I’m Darin Andersen. This is the FutureCon cybersecurity series. I’m here with my co-host Kim Hakim.
Hey Darin, Happy New Year.
Happy New year. Gosh this is our first show of the year together. How did you get through the new year and the holiday season?
It was nice actually. I usually have a big ordeal on Christmas Day and I had just my kids and there was probably six of us and it was so nice. To not have to do all that cooking, it was more intimate, and it was great. How about you?
I understand that you’ve just released your virtual schedule for 2021. I think you’ve got over 30vents that you’re going to do virtual and possibly live towards the end of the year?
Can you share a little bit about the schedule and maybe a couple of the key events? And maybe one or two of the speakers that you’ll be planning to have at the event?
We have a great lineup. We had…We were juggling a lot of events that we had to reschedule from last year that are being rescheduled for this year that are being rescheduled again with live venues, so we have virtual up until… we have about 20 virtual events up until June, and we’re hoping to start, ’cause we still have all these hotels secured, so we’re hoping by late summer we can get back on the road.
We just had our first event two days ago. It was awesome. Our keynote speaker – he’s a chief security advisor currently for Central One, but he’s an analyst for Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg. He’s actually going to be my first guest on Voice America, which is launching next Friday and is called AN Security for All. But we had some great keynote speakers coming up. We have the CISO from 711, Synchrony Bank…
Which is, I think Amazon’s Bank of choice.
Yeah yeah. And Global Payments. We have a great schedule lined up for this year.
Awesome, we’re looking forward to it. I got to do an event with you late last year and I really enjoyed doing it. It was a really interesting event with a lot of good questions. Was that Morgan Wright from Sentinel? I think we had him on the show, yeah?
It was, it was. He sat on that panel with you, didn’t he?
He was on a panel and then you and I also did a show with him Q4 of last year.
And he’s great. Our audience loves him. He’s been a good partner. He’s been doing a lot of our events because of our partnership with SentinelOne. So it’s been great that we’ve had him as a resource.
Awesome, well that’s a perfect segue to another guest I think you’re going to love. That’s Dylan Natter. He’s the Chairman and CEO of centrexIT, one of the country’s largest MSPs (that’s managed service provider). They also provide cyber security services and have a new exciting new product that we’re going to talk about today. Welcome to the show, Dylan.
Thank you, thank you for having me.
Happy Friday. You and I talked yesterday and I had been hunkered down all day inside of the podcast studio here at Nes Co-Work, and you’re like “oh it’s beautiful weather out,” and I actually got out and took a walk thanks to you and got some beautiful Southern California fresh air.
Absolutely yeah, I remembered I had to grab a package from outside and open my garage door. I’ve been hunkered down in here and opened the door and went “I’m crazy for having the door closed.” Right now it’s like… Beautiful.
Yeah, well, I saw you, you know I I saw you on video yesterday and you were like kind of hunkered down in your jacket.
You know, I know you like to wear jackets to be comfortable.
But yeah, man I went outside, and I peel off my jacket and it was just like a great little walk around the block around our neighborhood here, so I had a good time.
But great to have you on the show, I want to talk a little bit about a topic we’ve covered before, which is the digital workplace with covid-19 starting in Q1 of last year. All of us in the IT world have had to make adjustments. I was wondering if you can share a little bit about what centrexIT went through with your portfolio clients and how you made the adjustment, and maybe a little bit of background and thought about where we’re going with this emerging digital workplace.
Sure, well it was… yeah, it certainly was an interesting start of the year. Our company had been doing different kinds of fire-drill exercises leading up to the beginning of March . For really the purpose of being prepared for a power outage or something where we couldn’t use our facility. So that was why we were running some of these fire drill scenarios. We had started to learn how to better use the collaboration platforms to communicate and, you know.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, we were fairly well prepared. We were just about getting ready to do another fire drill when we decided that we need to go home. And so we sent our entire team of close to 60 people home with the anticipation that our mission for what was next was probably going to be helping our clients do the same thing, and so we anticipated that we would need to be ready for that. A lot of the shift that’s been occurring since then is getting clients set up, not only to function, but to be able to function securely from their home offices.
It’s been a challenge to say the least. People have had to adapt and transform their skills almost overnight. I think in this new world…I don’t know how else this would have occurred, unless it would have happened at all one time where the entire workforce got used to this. It’s been an interesting year.
Well traditionally, you know, you’ve been masters at helping people manage their digital offices, and in a way that represents pre-covid paradigm about how most of us work. We got in the car, went to the office every day, worked at our desk with our colleagues. You know, working out of the office. IT was centralized in that space.
And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a kind of digital transformation, which is a term that’s been around for a little while now. But it really started to shape your vision, and what you talk about now is the digital workspace. Can you talk a little bit about the digital workspace or workplace and and how you’re adapting to that and your base of clients.
Sure. The way we look at digital workspaces starts with communication. What people are very used to, for instance, email – that is a is a form of communication. As we separated everyone into different spaces, the need for something well beyond just email and moving things back and forth, introduced the the use of Zoom and Webex and Microsoft Teams and Google, these types of tools, as a kind of a foundation for that.
As people have experienced that foundation, they’ve seen the transformation and how they’re able to communicate with their team members, the ease of being able to connect one-to-one or one-to-many groups of people. That become a foundation of the Digital Workspace, where that foundation of, first communication, and then having to secure how people access a variety of applications and being able to control which applications and how they access these applications from anywhere in the world. And so that was that, was really the cornerstone of that. That’s really been the eye opener and what’s enabling these businesses to really enable the digital workspace.
So Dylan, I was recently on a podcast this week and one of the questions that the person that interviewed me was about some of my challenges in 2020, and I was just talking about how we had to pivot fast, and go fast, and it was a lessons-learned year. So now 2021 is more “how do we get it right?” I feel like 2020 was “let’s just fly by the seat of our pants and then let’s try to figure it out in this new digital world.” So what would you say your challenges are with “getting it right” now, because I’m sure you were in the same kind of in a situation as everyone was.
Yeah, well, one part of it is the enablement side, so being able to turn on applications, to turn on these great tools, very powerful tools, to your workforce. It isn’t the most complex thing to turn them on and get people used to that.
It’s a whole another level when you’ve got half-a-dozen to many-dozens of different applications; bringing all of those together under one common umbrella to control access, control your data to control the security of all of those pieces is extremely complex. In the MSP space we’re used to working with many clients, for example we work with 60 to 70 at any given time. Each one of those clients can have again half-a-dozen to many-dozen applications, so learning and improving the ways that we help them wrangle in all of this technology so that when people do move on to another opportunity they’re not left with gaping holes in their environment, or potentially confidential or proprietary data leaking out of their business because doors are being left open. Where previously… having everything under a common network or a common umbrella, it’s a lot easier to control that space.
This is the challenge: really making sure that all of the doors are locked and there’s not anything left open. That’s really been the big shift over this year, is just bringing all those pieces together so that we can have confidence over the command and control of everything IT for these customers. You can imagine the multiplication of how many different pieces that contains… it’s significant, and so some of the big industry partners are really helping drive that innovation through the singular sign-on. Bringing these applications together has been really helpful and we’ve seen rapid innovation in those spaces because of that.
Well, the notion of digital transformation, which has been around for a while now, is a concept that started you started to hear about two or three years ago. Big companies like IBM and Deloitte were talking about this transition, sort of away from the traditional office, and I think no one excepted Covid to accelerate that process. But in this newly emerging digital workspace, first you have the traditional office, and there are still people working from physical space in their offices on a select basis. Second, you have a major shift of 40 to 60% of the workforce into a home environment. Then the third category that’s talked about is digital nomads, which again was a trend that was pre-covid, where you just had people that wanted to be very mobile. You can think of van life, or people going from city to city and choosing to live work and play in a city for a period of time, and then moving on to the next city and doing the same thing.
How have you had to adjust, especially from a cyber security standpoint, of securing those new environments? So you go from 90% office, where things are centralized, and all of a sudden we’re in a much more decentralized place.
Well, I think again like you said, it was already happening. So the ability to secure those workers was already happening so it wasn’t a completely new concept to us to how to control that.
What happened was the proportion of change. I’ve heard this story when someone said, “you know why we’re running out of out of toilet paper?” I said “No. Why are we running out of toilet paper?” He said, “well, it’s not because we have a shortage on toilet paper. It’s the manufacturers. There used to be 50/50 before of commercial toilet paper and home-use toilet paper. Then the proportion changed. It went from 50/50 to 95/5.
And the manufacturers weren’t prepared for that. So when we saw this shift in the workforce, it wasn’t so much that it was completely brand new, it was the shift in volume. Where we might have had five people using a VPN or having licenses for us to be able to access a certain way, we went from 5 people to 100 people overnight that needed that, so the infrastructure wasn’t necessarily designed or we hadn’t enabled it. It wasn’t a requirement of the business the day before and the next day it was a rapid change. So the the biggest challenge was just rapidly implementing more of this technology that enabled a larger group of people to be nomads in a way.
I know in my business we had to pivot from live events to virtual events, so my customers were like, “well, this is just short term, this will be over with.” So with the people going home and working from home and using your services, did a lot of people just try to get around it without having to implement a VPN because they thought this was not going to be a long term? Did you see more of an up-tick the second half of the year of people trying to do things more secure and follow more of the rules?
Yeah, certainly. Day one, we were not staffed to be able to have the influx of load to make all of that happen instantly. I don’t know what percentage of it was “just get it done at any cost…right now we need to be up and running.”
And then as time progressed, we were wrangling in making sure that everything was up to snuff as far as the security goes. Our customers require that we have a certain level of control over their IT and applications and data, so we had to go back through and verify that no doors were left open in that rapid movement. And that’s really what’s necessary. I mean, our whole industry’s dealing with the same thing: you gotta go back through and make sure that all of the controls are in place and that the practices are in place for their customers.
Did you find that the cybersecurity tools that you’ve deployed to help keep these this growing cadre of remote workers scaled nicely in the same way that some of your other network and IT infrastructure tools scaled? Was there any differences in the assumed role that you play in providing cybersecurity in all environments across all of your customers’ networks, how did that scale up? Was that challenging to roll out some of those tools to folks, or did that also go fairly smoothly?
I think it went fairly smoothly, thanks to having great partners that really played a key role in that. When we’re working with, for example, Cisco for infrastructure, although we might be working with one end of the spectrum working with SMBs, we’re able to leverage their technologies, knowing that we can scale that thing fairly quickly. Microsoft and others, these partners, really pivoted unbelievably quickly.
I can’t imagine what they had to deal with just from the scale, Microsoft going from 20 million collaboration platform users to 60 million or some number like that in a fairly short period of time.
And they did that pretty flawlessly. There were hiccups, but these big tech companies have really stepped up to the plate, and not only stepped up, but provided the resources to enable their partners like us to actually be the feet on the ground and get this stuff implemented.
It’s nice to have those big partners out there that are willing to support us.
It does seem like… I am watching some of the bigger partners because they come to my shows. I’ll have a smaller customer at one, like this Innet, and they just use all these partners. Now we have some of our bigger partners like Arctic Wolf telling us “well, we are not going to do shows anymore. We’re just going to support people, the MSP providers right now.”
So it seems that they are leaning on the smaller companies to just resell their products, and I guess it makes it easier for them.
They have a big job to do. Developing their technology and making sure that it can stay online with this new increase in demand. I think for the most part I’ve heard great stories about partners across a huge range of systems that have really stepped up and made sure that their systems can remain up and available to these MSP’s and providers that are out there providing the services.
We would have been in a pretty tough spot if they fell short. It would have definitely impacted us a lot more. But with their help we were able to accelerate through this last year.
You know, I get the sense that one of the real saving graces about this whole process was in a way we could all just sort of turn up the knob, right?
You have these backbone infrastructure companies with lots of capacity that could just sort of turn the knob up. I think AWS and Microsoft and their ability to just more broadly support people from where they’re at.
And I think 10 years ago that would be quite a big, just a much bigger challenge. It’s like the infrastructure was laying there, not dormant, but you know, flexible. With the ability to turn up the knob from one concentration, which is, let’s say the traditional office, to across these other growing domains, which is working from home and the nomads.
Absolutely yeah. There was a time where these industries were not the most prepared. They had seen major growth in their cloud service businesses, and they were having to deal with the scaling challenges. They resolved a lot of that. And then they resolved a lot more.
You’re right that if this would have happened five or ten years ago, it would have been a lot more impactful in how we would have worked through this.
Well, I wanted to mention you’re also part of the Forbes Magazine Council, and you’ve written a couple of articles along these lines in these topics, so I would encourage people to Google Dylan Natter Forbes. There’s a couple of great articles that you put together on this to gain greater context about the whole process in your own personal transition and leading your company.
I did want to talk about new project that I believe you all have been working on for a couple of years now. You’re releasing a new product, which is actually a platform, for yourself as an MSP, but also for other MSPs. So you’re going to get into the business of providing a modern platform for MSPs to actually operate their business. Can you talk a little bit more about that product? What’s it called, and share a little bit more about what makes it special?
Yeah. We’re working together in partnership to support the development of a new platform, based on something we’ve seen: the needs are changing in our industry, and there is a pretty significant gap in the systems and resources available to us.
We were very fortunate to meet a couple of couple of guys that come out of ServiceNow with a company called Dreamtsoft. Dreamtsoft is really the core platform behind this, and I’ve been very fortunate to work extremely closely with their team over the last almost a year and a half now to develop a new platform for services that service the MSP market.
The platform is really a huge enabler to help us speed up the methodology of how we provide services to our clients and gives the ability to create a more unique experience. Through that partnership with them really supporting them And you know, as we as we reach out to the MSP market, help introduce A new way of operating for the, for the MSP’s and you know we we want to.
We want to be an agent to help change and raise the bar in the industry. As we sat back for the last couple decades not really seeing the change we needed, we decided we need to be the one that helps to do this we’re planning on launching a service that goes along with that platform in Q2.
We’re really excited about that. The name of the company will be Pzzle and it’s really helping to bring together the technology of this new platform and some of the unique processes we’ve adopted to improve overall IT quality for our customers.
We’re looking to continue to build a community out there with MSPs that are up to the same challenge and want to work together to help us challenge the industry and build something better.
Well, it’s interesting, you mentioned ServiceNow, which is a San Diego based company, at least originally, and they really pioneered the “low-code, no code” movement, which is really all about simplifying code and sort of moving away from the ability to have to bolt everything on.
I think the current market leader for MSPs is the one that most of those company use: a product called Connectwise. It’s been around for quite some time, over a decade, and I think was developed originally by an MSP that developed it for its own use. What you’re providing and bringing is that “no code, low code,” unified and intelligent platform to the marketplace, and almost leapfrogging from a technology standpoint with that platform that will enable these MSPs to follow their best-business practices. Things like ITIL, which is a common format used in the industry to drive IT processes. What’s interesting is the platform seems to support things where maybe some of the old tools really weren’t as well oriented to be able to do.
Yeah, definitely, and we’re seeing the needs change in our industry in that our clients demand a lot more. Most IT providers, again, I’m generalizing, but I think they have been able to build very successful businesses over the past multiple decades. A lot based on smart people, committed people, caring people. I think our industry needs to move to the next notch. There really needs to be more innovation with the use of technology.
I don’t think that will survive forever and we do need to be able to adapt to better ways of actually managing IT where we can ensure a higher quality and higher level of security for our customers.
Frankly, it scares me. Our industry is a potential weak link in business security, and it’s not really talked about that much. My article in Forbes kind of pokes at that a little bit. I don’t intend it as a way to disrupt or cause any rifts in our industry, but I’m trying to do it in a gentle and as caring as possible way. But it is a challenge, and we are far from perfect, but we see the need that we do need to step up and help our industry be better overall.
And whether we like it or not, we see regulations on the horizon. They’re coming our way. We’re a fairly unregulated industry. Barber shops are more regulated. You have to have an actual license to go and practice, I don’t know what you call it, Barbaring or Barbership, but in order to cut someone’s hair you have to have a license. To practice IT, you don’t need a license…and when you think about what’s going on in this day and age, that’s really a thing. At some point, enough businesses get harmed or things happen and it’s just a matter of time. The regulations will come.
We want to make sure that our industry is ready for that, and that we’ve already done everything or most of everything we need to be to be ready for that. I don’t think we’re ready for it yet, so this is really going to help push us in that direction, so that we’re more prepared and not surprised by a regulation that may be brought upon us.
So is there a message that you’re putting out to your employees, being the CEO of the company? What is your mission for 2021 to start being prepared for that?
We challenge our team every day in different conversations. We’re going through and checking our work everywhere. We have to. That’s part of it. We’re looking at new ways to conduct business. We never try to act like we’re number one at all, we try to act like we’re number two or three, and keep looking for opportunities where we can improve.
I try to empower our entire team.
If you see something, you’ve got to raise that concern.
If you don’t see something that you think you should see, say something.
I see my job as a CEO is to really unlock the full collective brain of the organization and find common goals, and one of them is is a zero-incident target.
We don’t want any incidents on our watch. We have to have a very heightened sense of security and a sense of awareness, and we have to be constantly researching new and better ways to manage and improve security.
That’s the continual theme that’s been happening for probably the last decade. We’ve really been challenging the team to think about that and help us get better.
That’s Dylan Natter. He’s the chairman and CEO of centrexIT, one of the country’s leading MSPs managed service providers talking about the evolution of industry, about new innovation and technology coming down the pipe in the MSP space.
Dylan, I want to thank you for joining us on the show today. If someone wants to reach out and learn more about centrexIT or the Pzzle platform that you have coming out, what’s the best place for them to learn more?
You’re welcome to jump on our website, centrexIT.com and there’s a contact form there. That’s a quick and easy way, I do get looped in on that. You’re welcome to reach out to me there, also through LinkedIn: Dylan Natter. I’m very active on there and available and I look forward to connecting with anyone.
Great and centrexIT is spelled C-E-N like nancy, T-R-E-X-I-T.com. I also want to ask Kim Hakim: Kim, if our listeners want to hear more about some of your upcoming virtual and hopefully in-person workshops and seminars, what’s the best way for them to learn more?
Awesome, well I want to thank our special guest Dylan Natter for joining us today talking a little bit about the evolution of cyber security in the MSP market. Fascinating stuff, lots of new opportunities and challenges ahead.
On behalf of the whole entire Seamless Podcast Cybercon cybersecurity team, I want to thank our listeners for joining. A big thanks to our producer today, Ivan Contreras, and we’ll catch you on the next show.
Again, I want to thank our special guest, and we’ll catch you next time on Seamless Podcast FutureCon Cybersecurity series.