Interview with Jeff DeVerter CTO of Rackspace on Modern Technology Solutions for Retail and Multi-Cloud
In this interview Darius spoke with Jeff DeVerter CTO of Rackspace on Modern Technology Solutions for Retail and Multi-Cloud
Darius 0:01 Welcome to the retail tech podcast. My name is Jerry specifiy, producer and host of the podcast. This interview is on clubhouse and is being recorded. We will get into some conversations with Jeff first and then happy to bring up anybody that wants to ask Jeff questions. And with that, I guess I've already introduced Jeff, my host. My guest today is Jeff divertor, the CTO of Rackspace, which is a public company in the cloud business and has one of the longest oldest companies in the business that I know of. So. Welcome. And hello, Jeff
Jeff DeVerter 0:43 tareas, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be with you be with you here today. Thanks for the kind intro. And yeah, Rackspace has been around for a while. It was started back in 1998. And there aren't a lot of companies with their same names still standing.
Darius 1:00 Yeah, that's a really good point. So that that just tells me that the founders are good in naming to.
Jeff DeVerter 1:08 Exactly, exactly. We refined it a little. Last year, actually, we added technology to the end of it, just to kind of refine the point a little bit more. But at the heart is still there,
Darius 1:18 that's for sure. Right. Right. So So yeah, I mean, this is really interesting and important for anybody in retail these days. Cloud and you know, where you host your information. And data, of course, should be on top of mind for anybody on the tech side of retail. So maybe we can just start by, let's just start by like a quick bio or a background on yourself, and how you actually came to work at Rackspace. And then, you know, we'll start talking about, you know, the business and the reports that you have released.
Jeff DeVerter 1:58 All right, yeah, be happy to so. So I've been working in it for the better part of 2320, for 25 years, something like that. And in all actuality, I'll share this with you, I don't share it often. It's the second career, I started as an engineering, recording studio engineer and producer, and did that for a number of years, but had an interest in techie things in advance of that, and during that, and then realize that, you know, I think I'd rather have that whole production and music side be a side hustle, and, and focus on tech. And so. So I really got immersed in it in the early 90s, mid 90s, and running down the whole Microsoft road mcsc, all of that sort of thing and worked for a number of different tech companies along the way, but ultimately found my way. Well, I guess habitat. I'll give you a pause and type of this stop before Rackspace was a little financial services firm in San Antonio, Texas called USA, which was just an amazing organization serves the greater military community with financial services products, and was really quite happy to be there was focused in Microsoft SharePoint, working in that space. And at the time, if anyone's familiar with the technology, there just weren't a lot of folks knew that, that technology very well. And a good friend of mine worked over at Rackspace here in San Antonio. And he said, Hey, come to lunch, my guys want to want to start a SharePoint practice. And I'd love for you just hear out what they have in mind. That little lunch turned into two and a half hour meeting, which turned into another two and a half hour meeting. And then I just started getting greeted at the door by HR. And so but I really came back to them. I said, Look what you're wanting to do. It's a noble idea, but you should do it this way. And ultimately, they came back and said, We agree and you should do it. So I moved over to Rackspace. And and that started, that was back in 2008. And then that started a series of different offerings that would launch at Rackspace, in beginning generally focused on the Microsoft toolset, whether that was SharePoint or exchange, and then what was Skype or Skype for Business and then Microsoft private clouds and Azure offerings and then became the CTO of all the Microsoft things at Rackspace. Of course, during this time, Rackspace, started as a private company was private. When I joined him, they went public. We wrote the public way for a while we went private. And, and then of course, last year, we went went public again. But I took a little break from Rackspace, actually, and went to a smaller cloud consultancy for a bit. They're headquartered out of London, and really enjoyed that. It's gone for about a year and 10 months, but the gravity of Rackspace pulled me back in with the opportunity to come back in this CTO, we kind of roll and I get to help with strategy and help companies really think through what is the implication of all of this tech and I'm really excited for our chat today because As you think about retail, you know, retail, tech doesn't just jump off the lips. When you think when you think retail, but I would say, you could almost say that about any industry up until about a year and a half ago. But with COVID, we all run home and every company is forced to become a tech company. But I'll tell you retail took it to a whole new level. super impressive. This is a an industry that is poised for growth when the naysayers are saying a lot of new things.
Darius 5:32 Yeah, I mean, that's definitely one of the, the key learnings of us in the retail business over the last, you know, from the pandemic is that how, how, you know, technology is even more important than we thought, especially people that were in, you know, in the operations on the retail side. So, and, I mean, the bottom line is that, you know, especially when you have a larger company, you're not going to be able to manage your technology without the right partners. So selecting the right partners is probably the most important decision. Any anybody in that in that in there on the technology side of retailers? So, and you know, we can, you know, we can go into a lot of I mean, there's definitely hours and hours of conversations that I can have with you, because you've been there done that with more than almost like anybody else that I know. So, but I know we are limited on time. If we look at how rack spaces business has changed, since the pandemic and how it works with retailers, what are some top points, key points that come to your mind? Well, I
Jeff DeVerter 6:51 think the first thing I would say, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna broaden your question, if you don't mind. Just to say, first of all, what has changed in technology from when I started at Rackspace to today? So if we can broaden that out a little bit, I'll tell you when, when I first started there, you know, conversations that we would have with customers. And for those of you who don't necessarily know who Rackspace is, it's a company that helped invent what we know is managed hosting, basically, we have, we have data centers, we have servers, and storage and network and all the things and smart people. And so as opposed to colocation, where you get a cage and power and internet access, then you have to manage everything else in the context of Rackspace, we're handling all of that system administration stuff. And that was really the premise that the whole company was built on. You're outsourcing not just the data center, but the the, the managing and running of those of the servers themselves and all the tech that makes that happen. So a sales call with a customer was super simple. It was how much how much compute Do you need for your app? How much storage do you need? And how much network throughput do you need? And with that, I can build out a config, and you'll be on your way to do what you do. The conversation was even true. When we were talking about the SharePoint application, we really just focused on how do we make the infrastructure run? Well, well, what's changed between then and now is this explosion of the word we all know and either love or hate. And that's cloud. And cloud is compelling. Because what cloud does, and I'll speak of it, really, in two terms, the first being, yes, it's a location with capability, but to it's also a methodology. And so I'd like for you to think about cloud more as a methodology as opposed to a location for a minute. So when we think about it as a methodology, when now we're thinking about things like agile, we think about DevOps, we're thinking about true transformation, as opposed to how many, you know, vcpus, do I need to make sure that my process applications run correctly to how should I actually architect my application to be able to run in the most distributed cost effective, cost effective, transactional sort of way? So what it's done, and I would say, Now, your question was what's different between beginning of pandemic to now what I would tell you is all of the change we saw from 2008, up until March of last year, we saw that time and again, just in the past year and a half, we see it in the tech that's available, we see it in the appetite for looking at Tech, you know, every one of the cloud capabilities that existed, pre COVID was sort of an opportunity, a capability looking for an opportunity. Meaning companies, you know, just weren't wholesale going down that road. You had your Netflix's you had your early adopters, you had these companies who did this stuff. You had retail companies who went who went farther. I mean, obviously, we would be remiss if we didn't call out Amazon. But once you hit COVID, and everyone went home, and in the first six months, business leaders realized, hey, the world didn't end when we went all digital. All right, what is the opportunity? find ourselves now having conversation after conversation about the potential opportunities, you know, back in those early days of Rackspace, it was all about was all about infrastructure. Now, when I talk to a customer, when I talk to any company, it's what's your business challenge? Or what's your business opportunity? What are you trying to solve? And with that, we'll think about people will think about process. And we'll think about technology as well as an part of that. So it's an entirely different conversation these days.
Darius 10:34 So would it be correct to say that the conversation has changed from, like you said, you know, individual, in the individual, like technology conversations into like, an end goal, like a solution, here is what we want to do like some kind of a metric, for example, or even, you know, KPI that they want to achieve, and what's the technology that's going to enable us to do that?
Jeff DeVerter 11:06 Yeah, there's, that's, that's a perfect way to put it. This company that comes to mind, we just did a press release on not too long ago. And it's a really interesting story. And it fits well with this. It's not in retail. So forgive that. But they had its company called in advise, in avize, had a key metric. And their key metric was mean time to failure now in devices in the waste water management business, and their biggest problem in their industry are pipes breaking. So, you know, here I am telling you a talk, we're talking about, you know, sexy tech, and they give you the most non sexy example of wastewater pipes breaking. But their goal in life was to not have these pipes break, they wanted to be able to know which ones had a greater proclivity to break based on its age, its material, its is it in the ground, out of the ground, how deep in the ground is it and a million other different inputs, and we built a predictive model. So it's an AI ml type of predictive application for them, that that helped them understand, you know, which pipes were at greatest risk, they could schedule there. They could schedule maintenance, and this mean time to failure, meaning they wanted that that metric to go higher, more time in between failures, and that's been the result. So we didn't have a company come to us saying, Hey, can you lower compute cost? Or, hey, how much of your servers there was? Can you help us solve meantime to failure? With pipes? Interesting?
Darius 12:36 Yeah, that's a completely different relationship. Right? with us, especially as this like the CTO, you probably are involved in a lot of these conversations, correct?
Jeff DeVerter 12:47 Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's, you know, we do end up of course, you end up down in the tech, but we have to widen that aperture, we have to look at those business drivers. Otherwise, without that without those as inputs, well, then we can create solutions that solve for those.
Darius 13:06 So some of the KPIs that, you know, I've seen and, you know, involved on on the on the retail side, of course, are you know, we're always like looking at, you know, sales numbers and conversion from the, you know, the the online channels, and then the attribution from online to to the stores. Are these some of the things that you're also seeing in conversations with retailers?
Jeff DeVerter 13:35 Yeah, so so they're coming in with all sorts of really interesting metrics, just like the ones you're talking about. And we've got some some, some retail customers when I was just meeting with earlier about it was about six weeks ago now. And they're in the beauty industry, and they've got brick and mortar, and they've got online. And it's really interesting to see the tech that they're putting in place to sort of help in some cases mirror, which we've learned as an online experience, now we're starting, they're starting to surface that and make it available, kind of in the store. In fact, they're, they're, they're tracking as people commit and move around. And, you know, those of you guys who have been in the side of retail tech and creating websites, you know, when that when that that cursor hub starts to move towards a back or close, you know, ads start to pop up or they're finding ways to even do that in store. So they're using a lot of the same tracking mechanisms from online now inside of brick and mortar type environments. super interesting.
Darius 14:37 So how has your internal I guess process and team dynamics changed, to be able to handle this new type of problem solving with customers, I mean, your team is probably if your team is designed specially maybe on the sales side, on selling units of something and Other selling solutions? Yeah,
Jeff DeVerter 15:02 yeah, it is a whole new motion. That is absolutely true. And so we've done several things to help facilitate this change. And, and one of those is, you know, acquisition is always a great thing. So we've actually gone out and bought a few companies who really this was their primary focus. One was a company called onica, here in the US. And they, they were one of the largest AWS pure play service providers and developers. One of the first actually, I think, even to be certified in what's called Cloud Native development, we bought them about a year and a half, almost two years ago, I guess. And, and that really has outfitted our professional services side see in the past, and this is, this is one of those big changes we had to make. We had a professional services team. Now, just by definition, you have professional services, and you have managed services. So professional services, think of as a time and materials contract with a specific business technology outcome at the end. And then managed services. Okay, we built the thing now, how do we manage that over time. So that's usually a term based contract, with capabilities you provide along the way. So professional services and all transparency, you know, here in the clubhouse world, was, I always like to like to call it but I called it a necessary evil, we needed as Rackspace to get those workloads into a data center that we could manage over time. Cool. So that meant we basically had professional services teams that were project managers and some partners. But now in this cloud face solution, outcome based world, our professional services team has to look entirely different. And we have completely transformed it over here at Rackspace so that we have people who can go out and have these types of conversations that are, you know, advisory and consultative in nature, and ultimately will feed in some cases in demanded services. But that's not all as a means to our end, it's our goal is, is very much focused on those solutions, and making sure that the teams with the companies we work with are prepared to to operate and to grow those those solutions over time, we, we do have very much to do with type of a model. Because if we go and take a bunch of business requirements from a customer and come back in three or six months and have a million dollar bill, but something they can't maintain over time, then that doesn't do them any good.
Darius 17:26 Right. Yeah. So you almost need, you know, like, I mean, you said it the from the project manager, focus type, you know, consulting, and dealing with architects and, you know, tech leads and getting the technology working, you almost need like growth people in on your team now and product managers now. So that they can get into those actual like metrics.
Jeff DeVerter 17:54 That's exactly right. You we really have to focus on, I mean, there's a lot more relationship management there is, you know, before, you know, again, it was project manager, let's move your workloads kind of as they are just into someplace we can manage them to, in a lot of cases, we're transforming those applications from wherever they were to running anymore. Again, I'll go back to the term cloud native and think of that, again, as a methodology as well as a location. Because that creates such scale and opportunity. And because of all the capability that exists in those clouds, and that's when you start to think about it inside of retail. So, you know, us as a service providers, professional services company, you know, we get in and we work on this stuff every day, and we help our customers, but the customers themselves have this isn't just transforming their tech, they absolutely have to transform the way that they operate that cloud methodology that I talked about that that mindset, you know, that requires an agile based a requires DevOps requires ci CD containers are there serverless is there, all of these things in this technology. But as that as that tech stack, and capability grows in their cloud of choice, well, these guys have to be these teams have to be able to respond to that to be able to take make use of it. And those team structures need to look a whole lot different. You know, one of the conversations we're having repeatedly every day is, you know it is placed is no longer left in it. It has to be embedded inside of the business because those business decisions, almost every one of them have an IT component. So there's no longer Hey, let's go find an app or find a company to build an app and then we'll throw it at it to support those days are gone, gone, gone. Everybody has got to work together all the way up to legal and security. Everyone has to be at the table.
Darius 19:50 Yeah, that that. That's probably you know, adding a lot of really interesting conversations internally there to your team.
Jeff DeVerter 20:00 Really is because we have to get a, you know, get a sense of these companies we go into work with, to know where they are, and especially if they're a little younger in the process. Well, he, you know, we just have to have to have to take them on that journey, because he can't just go in and say, here's a big pile of cloud native, that's going to make your world all better. In a lot of cases, that may make it a lot worse. That journey is a process and that journey. Well, it really never ends. Once you get into this into this world, you know, the days of upgrading, you know, are it in the past, you know, cut back to those old days of those first sales that I helped with at Rackspace, around how much storage, you know, compute networking do you need? Well, that customer, you know, we'd upgrade them every couple of three years ready for some more processors? How about some more storage, it's faster? How about some more networking, it's faster, what those are monumental changes, they're incremental, interesting things to do. But what we have today in the tech is truly transformative. I mean, think about an augmented reality solution that runs inside of brick and mortar that is driven by the data and the reviews and all the other stuff you might find on the website to be able to integrate that together that merging of the online experience to the retail experience. I think that's the future of retail.
Darius 21:16 Yeah, definitely. Let's talk a little bit about the concept of multi cloud. I think that's that's an area that Rackspace is really focusing on right now. Is that correct?
Jeff DeVerter 21:29 It's very correct. Yeah. So sorry, I keep going back to it. But early days, Rackspace had our own data centers, we've grown to have 40 of them now over the years. And, and we also had our own what you would know as a public cloud, we were one of the first ones to create one. And but over the years, you know, the, in the early days, Rackspace was a competitor of AWS, they had their cloud, we had ours, we thought ours was better. But the reality is, is, you know, that those clouds grew so quickly when you think about AWS and Azure and Google. And if you're far, far away, you know, you got Alibaba to work in as well. And what happened was, as the capabilities grew across these other clouds, well, there there were things that people could use them for, whether it was geography, whether it was technical capability, that just made sense for them to go there. So Rackspace started providing what we call fanatical support across all of these different clouds. We don't care where the customers infrastructure runs, we just think that we can help make that run better and transform them that way. So what you end up with is most every company today on the planet utilizes more than one cloud, even if they're diehard AWS servers, which a lot are. The reality is they're probably also using Office 365. And they're or Google Apps, guess what, that's multiple clouds and your infrastructure, in managing multiple clouds is hard. Now, it's not an insurmountable, but as we back, you know, 567 years ago, started providing support for multiple clouds. Well, we went in built a whole bunch of tech internally for our own, what we call rackers, Rackspace employees are called rockers to be able to manage, you know, for a company that is one of our customers that have multiple clouds, we will need to support them all. Well, you have to think about things like, Well, how do I handle tagging? Or how do I know what assets exist? across all of them? What's the patching status of all of the VMs across all of those? Well, those that takes take specific tech. So we built our own tech, we integrated some off the shelf stuff, but it was the thing we call Rackspace fabric, it's what enables us to support multiple clouds. And especially in retail, what we find is, interestingly enough, a lot of retailers are intimidated might be the wrong word, or they'll take pause when they think about AWS, and they don't want to fund the company that might be their competitor. So a lot of retail companies tend to not use AWS as their cloud of choice. They might use private clouds through Rackspace, they might use Azure or Google, in a lot of cases. They're using all of those things. So managing across all of that thinking about the ticketing, tagging, billing, the list goes on and on. It's it can be challenging. So that's an area we have absolutely focused on, not just expertise and support for those individual clouds. But for but for companies who have multiple clouds and making that easier.
Darius 24:33 Yeah, that's, I mean, that's, I can speak for my own experience. And you know, we are a startup, you know, and this is an ongoing conversation of which which cloud should be joined. And, you know, the question is coming back more and more on to why should we be limited to one cloud. So, I mean, that's almost like a sense of a insurance.
Jeff DeVerter 25:02 It can be but I'll also challenge and say that choosing additional clouds, you know, you want to do that cautiously. One of the one of the questions I used to get a lot, especially in the early days of cloud is, which cloud is best for me. And should I use more than one cloud. And most of the time, people were wanting to have more than one cloud because they were afraid of vendor lock in. Meaning if I put all my eggs in the in the Azure basket or the AWS basket, well, then I've lost my ability, my negotiating ability. Now subtle hands, you never had any with any of these Pokemons. But okay. But that's not the, that's not a right reason to make a decision like that. For instance, if you're wanting to have to, if you're afraid of or concerned about vendor login, and AWS doesn't give you the price you want, and you want to lift and shift over to Google or to Azure, well, the only way to really effectively do that is to use what I'll call the least common denominator of cloud capability. And that's storage VMs. And you know, the effectively networking components, meaning you're not going to be able to utilize what's unique, and about that individual cloud, usually, we'll call these cloud native capabilities, serverless and AWS, it's lambda, it's Azure Functions over in Azure. And so this, this limits your capabilities immensely. Now, there's one way around that by using containers, but we won't go down that rabbit hole right now. So what I'll say is, you know, be cautious about your vendor relationship, choose it well, and embrace that cloud as much as possible, because that's where the capability really comes from. Now, what I see most companies do is do about an 8020, they'll put 80% in their favorite cloud and 20% in another one that makes sense to them. Whether that's Google or orange, or Azure.
Darius 27:03 Yeah, I think for us, that's a good really good point. For us personally, it's, it's more of being able to take advantage of new innovations. I mean, these companies are constantly innovating. And if you like if Google comes up with something that's really helpful, for example, for our AI, like applications, and, you know, usage of AI, and how do we actually take advantage of that? Now, of course, a lot of these applications are interoperable. So that's getting a lot better. So but I think that's like a question that, you know, a lot of like, you know, companies are having, and when you get larger, the questions don't go away. They just become different, I think.
Jeff DeVerter 27:55 Yeah, they don't go away, they just the right, they become different. They shift they morph, you know, so I tend to recommend that people find one that has as many of the capabilities as possible that that they need for their app, there's probably 1000 things they're not even thinking about from capabilities that exist there, and you're spot on, there is insane. You know, they're innovating on a moment by moment basis, there's probably been 50, new things release since we started talking. Which is I'll go back to your earlier point. And that is work with a partner, because keeping up with that level of change is super, super challenging. It's hard for us and we live it every single day. When it's not someone's core business, I always wonder how they're able to keep up with it all.
Darius 28:39 Yeah, I mean, the truth is, they can't. It's just it's not possible. So what what do you see as far as the the usage of AI and machine learning in the applications and how customers work with technology these days?
Jeff DeVerter 29:02 So that's a super interesting question. Rackspace started, I guess we started at last year, about this time last year, we started doing our own research, we always, you know, we still go back to Gartner and Forrester and the like, but we wanted to get more of a feel of what was happening in the industry, from our own research. So we commissioned every quarter we go out and we commissioned we commissioned some unique research and what we did earlier this year was some research on AI NML. Now this research is we work with a third party firm, we are going on that when we went out and talked to over 1700 it to business decision it decision makers, and in these conversations happened across industries. So retail was absolutely a focus for us, and as well as country so we talked to folks in 10 different countries around the world. So it was pretty pretty wide. And what we found, and we'd seen this that the the interest in use of AI and ml It was growing significantly. I mean, we've got about 3536 data scientists alone on our on our own staff developing solutions in this space. But what we found was, most companies have some level of at least a proof of concept going on in this space. Now, what companies tend to then realize is, well, their data needs a lot of work before they're going to get really meaningful outputs. But hopefully, their proof of concept is they have enough structured data, and access to the right data to you know, get that that application up and running. But we found was about, you know, on average, as well. And we look at some results here, in the retail space. 55% of the companies that we surveyed across all 10 of those different countries, had said that they're at least exploring AI and ml type solutions, 24% of them have a pilot in place for it, and another 22 or so, have efficient deployments out in underway. And if you know, if I were to scroll down to this report, which if you guys are interested, you can just you can find it firstname.lastname@example.org slash solve all of this stuff is over there. What you'd find, and I was really interested about this is the retail sector is absolutely ahead in self reported wins and gains and motion in the AI and ml space. And and I really thought that was fascinating.
Darius 31:32 Okay, so let's dig in a little bit more on that. What do you mean by self reported?
Jeff DeVerter 31:38 Well, you know, this is a survey, the research that we did was survey based. So we worked long and hard to create a series of questions to help us gauge maturity in this space. And then our research firm went out and literally interviewed these it decision makers around the world. So when I say self reported, it's people working for those companies who tell us what they see happening inside of those inside of their organization.
Darius 32:02 Okay, so yeah, just to just to clarify, it's it's not something that's like Rackspace has gone through and verified all the, the data, but it is what they've reported. And I mean, if they're a public company, they should be reporting correct information, of course. So,
Jeff DeVerter 32:17 of course, yes, yeah. And we talked to companies of all sizes from those in, you know, one to 5 billion lower than a billion and then all the way up to much higher.
Darius 32:28 I mean, one of the one of the points that I see in your report, and definitely recommend people actually take a look at these also have links to them in the in the in the interview notes. is a leadership buy in? Oh, yeah. What do you think about the role of the leadership to even understand what AI can do?
Jeff DeVerter 32:48 Yeah, so excuse me, just getting over cold. So leadership buy in is really interesting. So different companies, in the different segments, you know, had different opinions about, you know, the, what's the best way to say this, how, how smart their, their CXO staff was understanding what's happening in it transformation. And when we looked at some of that data, what we found was that, of course, as you would expect, CIOs, CTOs understand how tech and in such play into all of this, but ultimately, you know, one of the things we found also was that the folks who are least knowledgeable about this level of impact and ultimate transformation for their, for their organization, where were people like the CMO or the chief revenue officer, I think of that person is the chief sales person. We did see some pretty, pretty wide, wide results when it came to looking at that C suite. And, and how intelligent they were about the impact of tech.
Darius 34:00 Okay, that's good. So that's like, one of the traditional challenges with retail is that a lot of the C suite didn't really understand tech. But that is also changing.
Jeff DeVerter 34:14 Oh, it's absolutely changing. And, and what we, what we saw, even, again, as, as the, as reported by these different companies, and the employees who work in these, and by the way, we just didn't talk to anybody was anybody in a director or above type position, who was leading inside of the company? Is that that the see, they oftentimes listed the CEO as being almost as tech aware as the CIO and the CTO. So that's encouraging to me, because you know, the woman or man who's leading that organization, from that very much from the top down, understands the fact that their business cannot go forward without having an incredibly well structured technology plan.
Darius 35:00 Yeah, I mean, that's that's a, that's a really important and encouraging piece of data that you just shared. Just the fact that the CEO is becoming so much more tech aware, that gives me a lot of hope for retail.
Jeff DeVerter 35:17 Good could, you know the other thing that was really interesting. So that's that's the bright note. But I'll tell you what's holding some companies back, especially as it relates to AI and ml. And I alluded to this before, and that is the quality of the company's data. Now. Now, data has existed. All even, I'll even go so far as to to refer to it as I referred to rec spaces earlier, professional services capability, unnecessary evil, the applications had to have that data in order to run. Okay, cool. But now we live in this whole new world, where data is the economy, data drives everything. So as opposed to just being this database that fed an app that fed some application, now we can take that data, we can, we can put it and make it part of larger data lake or other large data repository, we can we can create pipelines for that data that feed in and form that data that sanitize that data that makes them that enrich that data as it goes off to be stored in the data lake. Because then you can put those those analytic applications on top of that, and really start to get some insights, not just as a as a scheduled or run report, but even in real time, and then take that to this next level and utilize the the AI ml moniker here. And now we're talking about predictive intelligence about the most important thing, and that's the data. And I call it the most important thing, because it ultimately is storing the information of the most precious asset, and that's the customer.
Darius 36:56 Yeah, that's, I mean, that's really like going down a rabbit hole, this concept of data. And it is, so it's such a complex question these days. Because, you know, we we are, we're hearing a lot of like, you know, recommendations in the news and everything, that data is everything. But actually data, if you don't know how to use it and take advantage of it is, is useless. It's actually, you know, it's just, it's a waste of time and resources. If you're collecting too much data, and you don't know how to use it.
Jeff DeVerter 37:34 Yeah, you know, to an a phrase that I heard that I wish I wrote down who said it, because I would give them credit for it, because I use it all the time. And that is I love this phrase, data is the dirt that your business grows from? In other words, you know, whether it's an established business line that you have, it's still coming up and out of that data. And very often those acorns that fall from those big old trees that are the the larger, you know, business lines of our organization, are that become the new things that will replace it over time. Well, we just went through a massive data transformation here at Rackspace, it's a public case study, I can give you the link that you can make available, we chose Google as our location to store all of our data. And we and again, you mentioned it earlier darious. And that is you have to have a key metric you're looking for. And for us, that metric that we built this data program around was churn, you know, we've been here since 1998, we got a lot of customers, and we'd love to keep them, it's easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. And so we use these different churn metrics, the propensity for a customer to leave us. We use that churn as a very much a key business driver for Rackspace. So we went through this data modernization project that, you know, we use use Google for all this stuff. And then ultimately, with a goal of driving downturn, which we've been able to do because of predictive analytics. But But the thing I'm driving at here is Rackspace now looks at our data as a separate and unique product. Now that data is coming out of Salesforce, our own CRM systems and five or 10 or 100 other systems, but it ultimately gets into a repository where it's a product, a product that rackers trust to use, they know how to use it's, it's advertised inside of the organization. It's managed, the pipeline is managed. And that's where companies need to get it to the point where that data is a product and product that can be used to grow the business.
Darius 39:41 Yeah, that's, that's very interesting. Well, you know, we can go on for a long time. What I want to do is if anybody in the audience has any questions or comments or you know that they want to ask Jeff, please raise your hand and come up. We'd love to have you I'll ask you another question as far as like maybe internal dynamics. You know, you're the CTO of a company. I'm sure you have a sizable team. How has the working conditions and situation of your team changed with the pandemic?
Jeff DeVerter 40:24 It's a great question. So our team was generally pretty distributed to start with. And so we had a pretty good leg up in that in that regard. And what it's done for us is it's enabled us as time has gone on, you know, it wasn't just a Hey, go home for a couple of weeks to flatten the curve. Well, that became a year and a half. You know, our ability to hire has gone through the roof, you know, we no longer are looking in specific geographies, we're looking the world over for the right talent at the right time. We're our efficiency company wide, not just in, in our, in our world, in our department has gone up as part of the pandemic we are, it's gonna be interesting to watch as people start to go back into the office in small degrees, you know, and when you have to walk a couple of minutes to get from one conference room to the next way makes back to back meetings a little bit more hard to pull
Darius 41:17 off. Right? Do you actually go? Did you go to the office before the pandemic was?
Jeff DeVerter 41:24 Oh, yeah, I was I was full time in the Rackspace headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.
Darius 41:28 Okay. All right. Do you see yourself going back in there a lot more regularly now? Or?
Jeff DeVerter 41:36 Well, I'll tell you my role. I do a lot of new I do a lot of things like this, and podcasts and video II things that, that I've built quite a nice little studio in the home, and for Rackspace to duplicate that wherever I'd want to work would be challenging. So I will go to the office to be part of larger, you know, company meetings or larger team meetings when that's necessary. But it won't be. It won't be the norm Rackspace has announced a couple three weeks ago, what our plans for the future. And that is, as a general rule, our offices are staying are staying closed, except for up to very small percentages for the end of this year. And then after that, we will go to a flexible work model. Basically, you can work whenever or wherever best fits, whatever you and your manager decide. So by and large, I prefer to work from home. I love it. But I'll go into the office probably a couple of times a week when necessary.
Darius 42:35 Yeah, I personally think that being able to run an effective business, you know, successful business with a distributed team is a competitive advantage. What are your thoughts on that?
Jeff DeVerter 42:47 Oh, I 100% agree area. So I 100% agree. And then it takes a lot of maturity for an organization to see that because what it what it ultimately does, is it takes that leader and manager slash leader and leaders in those teams, they've got to get a mindset of we are now looking at employees and giving them goals. So just like when we talked about these solutions at Rackspace creates, well, you know, what I'm we will need our individuals to be outcome driven, basically want to give them a task and outcome that they want them to achieve in a timeline that's reasonable. And let them figure out when and how they're going to get that done. I will need to measure how much how long they're sitting in their seat at their desk and act. I don't care how long they're sitting in their seat, if they're delivering what what we feel is fair and appropriate. Well, that's great.
Darius 43:35 Yeah, I mean, that is, that's, that's such an important topic for me as we are also a distributed company. And I've worked at very large companies before, that they, you know, the managers just required everybody to come in. And you know, I always had a problem with this, you know, just, I, you know, we're in the office, and I'm seeing everybody on Facebook. So what's the big deal about being in the office? So yeah,
Jeff DeVerter 44:04 it's, it's just a holdover from the past you, you know, the manager likes to stick his head up and look down the cubicle row and count how productive he is by how many people sitting sitting in their chair.
Darius 44:14 Yeah, I think we're gonna we need to come up with a new term for management, like maybe managers, 2.0 or whatever, something, that it's definitely
Jeff DeVerter 44:22 something because we've evolved in the past year and a half.
Darius 44:26 Right, right. So a couple of other quick questions. I see Rackspace works in a lot of different industries. I mean, I see the list there's over 10 of them, which one would you say is the one that seeing the highest demand for change? Is retail one of them.
Jeff DeVerter 44:46 retails? Absolutely one of them and reinforced by what we found in our studies. Retail is what you guys would retail is doing in AI and ml is really interesting. The other place they're applying a lot of interesting is around customer experience, you know, customers spirit experience is now largely driven by, by tech by applications, whether that is an online environment, or even in store, or retail type environments are absolutely being driven by applications behind the scenes as well. And a lot of that experience, you know, is now automated. Now, if we're talking about automation, where we're back, absolutely back to having a data conversation, everything goes back to data. But RETAIL IS is definitely leading the pack when looking at innovation. And they've been forced to I mean, when, when everybody went home last year, I mean, brick and mortar was it was challenging is the wrong word. And, and so we've been forced to just like the world was forced to modernize very shortly. Retail absolutely had to find a way to utilize tech to help them in a lot of cases survive. You guys are coming out ahead.
Darius 46:05 Yeah, I mean, I'm, I'm glad to hear that because I am passionate about retail. And I want to see retail succeed at the at the at the local level, and the store level as well as online, of course,
Jeff DeVerter 46:20 I totally agree, especially when you talk about, it's neat to watch this, what's happening in your smaller regional stores, or even just your local stores, you know, this this country was, was built on small business, and to think that we can rely on you know, a handful of global retailers. You know, we just don't think we can. And one of the things I think we've probably hopefully also learned over the past year or relearned is that humans are social by nature. And that retail shopping experience helps helps with that. I mean, we use the phrase retail therapy. It's not just you get to buy a new thing or go look at new things. But you do that with other people. And that's important.
Darius 47:02 Yeah, well, we've got a couple of guests, my friend Jeff, another Jeff actually here, good friend. Jeff, how are you today? You know, outstanding, and yet another really fantastic interview darious Thank you so much. It all credit goes to my guest.
Unknown Speaker 47:23 That's a smart, smart. So a couple things here. First of all, your sound is off the charts. And then you fessed up to your radio guys. So, this for five guest nerds, what are you? What are you broadcasting What?
Jeff DeVerter 47:36 So that you said that, and I'm super new to clubhouse, I'm going to be transparent. I started listening to things about a month ago. And then I had to start Google around going, Okay, how do you get better audio than just talking into your phone? I recently bought it. So I've got a podcast that I do with Rackspace just bought a new microphone, it's asked in spirit. And that goes into an audio box, USB 96, just a two channel interface. With that I've got routed into through an interface to Hickey into an iPad. So I'm able to use my usual stuff and just feed it right into the iPad.
Unknown Speaker 48:11 Very interesting. Second of all, I you know, I've been banging around retails Nanos for 20 years. And I certainly knew Rackspace. But I never ever thought of you of having vertical offerings. But you're really talking retail very, very detailed. When did you? You know, I know you've always had retail clients, but once you basically verticalized, your strategy in Are you gonna start showing up at retail? tech conferences? And
Jeff DeVerter 48:35 I would like to think so. So we, I probably tell the game better than it is when we talk from a from a vertical point of view, we have, because because I say this, so we have everyone's just put it this way. Everyone's doing the same thing. across all of the industries. Everyone is modernizing their infrastructure into what does my business look like in the future and what's Tech's role inside of that? Now, I've gotten really smart across these different verticals, because in my position, I get to talk to customers, across all of them, I understand their challenges. Now we have a great product marketing team that is that puts together solutions that that speak directly to industry verticals. But to say it goes here, there's probably a CRM system that is specific to retail that you would know as an analyst, especially that everybody in retail uses he had to tell you were the smartest in that system. We were not who were smartest in is transforming where you are to where you need to go and understanding the business challenges along the way.
Unknown Speaker 49:44 Yeah, interesting. Well, the first thing I always say if you're gonna verbalize all you got to do is just draw a circle around your customers and right to work retail over the circle. Critical strategy, stuff. Good stuff. You're gonna be at National Retail Federation, in sunny New York City in January.
Jeff DeVerter 49:59 City, New York. Angie, I know what January's like in Sunday, but it might be 1515 degrees. Probably will be I'd love to go I don't put it on the list. It's a big retail trade. So if you're going to be in retail, you probably got to be there. It's the place to be right note taking.
Darius 50:18 Yeah, that's definitely correct. Thanks. Thank you so much, Jeff.
Jeff DeVerter 50:22 And thanks for calling out the audio I really did work hard at that makes my day.
Darius 50:27 Yeah, I missed that. Thanks for calling it out. So Jeff also is as is a new podcaster. So I think my guest, Jeff divertor, is I'm actually going to make a link to your podcast. Wonderful. Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Jeff DeVerter 50:49 Yeah, it's called Cloud talk. Oddly enough, and I interview all sorts of different folks in it it decision makers and the challenges and the things that they're going through in in tech today and take it from a lot of different angles, whether that is on the security side. I've got edit a whole series earlier this year around specific industries. In fact, we're getting we're starting recording one now on on retail, so I'm actually have to send that to you record that next week. And but it's all about tech and transformation and what's going on in in that space. So
Darius 51:26 awesome. Yeah, definitely want to be listening to that. And yeah, so we have another guest on the on the stage, Brett.
Jeff DeVerter 51:39 I know, Brett. In fact, that's why we need to detail about USA in my career. That's where I got to know, Brad.
Unknown Speaker 51:48 Thank you very much. derrius. And Thanks, Jeff. Great to hear your voice. Yeah, we work together USA. In fact, we were developing the internet. right around the time when just Jeff was talking to Rackspace. I think, you know, I remember a big, big concern back then was how do we enable I work in the communications area. So our big concern, a discussion was how we enable productive communications and ensure they stay productive after we launched this big monster called called our internet site. But that was a long time ago. That was like 15 years ago. And Jeff and I both left, USA since then.
Jeff DeVerter 52:23 Go ahead. Sorry. I was just gonna say the first time that we talk in 15 years is in the clubhouse room. How
Unknown Speaker 52:30 cool is that? Yeah. This spring? Yeah, you all can see by the little fanfare icon on my picture that I'm relatively new to clubhouse here. So Jeff, I've got a question for you. And you, you talk about industries other than retail, and the cloud space and the work that Rackspace does. So I've been in healthcare for the last nine years or so since leaving USA, and obviously, huge opportunities there. On top of the technology issues, you've got these remarkable privacy and security concerns and the growth of the whole industry. What would you say? Is the maturity level of health care in this space? And how do they get better if they need to? That's a good one. So you could probably write a doctoral thesis on and I know, but you know, just a few few thoughts be great.
Jeff DeVerter 53:23 Yeah, what I would say is, there's a whole lot of, of, of motion in that space. Now, when I was talking before about the verticalization, there's probably a favorite app, healthcare has got their favorite apps. But when we talk about maturity, in this space, I would say, you know, if we, if we go on a scale of one to 10, and one is, you know, it's an abacus and 10 is, you know, you're 100%, cloud native and utilizing everything's predictive, I would say healthcare as an industry, it was probably around six, there's really been a lot of good transformation. But where I'll tell you the where I think that the the challenges is, it tends to be very siloed. And even siloed, inside of organizations, too, with self imposed regulatory restrictions. So, you know, in healthcare, everybody always pivots and leans a little heavier on, hey, we can't share that data, hey, we can make this available, whatever that might be. But a lot of those tend to be born out of company lore company culture, as opposed to, Hey, can we really go back and look at that, that that, that rule or that reason? And we've had we had some of this where USA, or even go look at is there actually a regulation that says we have to behave in this way with a specific type of data? You because usually what it says is you have to control it in this way, but they don't tell you how you can do that. So there's usual Lots of opportunity that can be driven. But it takes some boldness and it takes some courage to head down those roads.
Unknown Speaker 55:09 Well, yeah, that's great insight. And it goes back to your earlier comment. When you first started this day, when you go into clients, you go in and say, you know, what, what are you trying to accomplish? Right? You don't go in with a solution. And I think that's, that's probably what healthcare needs to do as well. And everybody's a little bit that a little bit. Yeah. Well, look, Jeff. Thanks, derrius. Thanks for inviting me. And this has been a great conversation. very insightful, and I appreciate.
Darius 55:34 Thank you so much, Brett. Jeff, if you don't mind, I'm going to try to bring one other person up, and we'll try to make it really quick. So let's see if Don, has a question. I was gonna ask you about a very simple and easy question as well. But maybe we'll do it some other time. It's about I'm actually joking about that. It's the whole conversation about in the Congress about breaking up Amazon. So maybe another time? Yeah, that's a short conversation. Yeah, for sure. We can schedule a room around that one. Oh, yeah. Hi, Dawn.
Unknown Speaker 56:10 Hi. So I don't have a quest. In I have to run to a meeting, unfortunately. But
Unknown Speaker 56:18 I have been listening to cloud talk for the past few months. listened to every single episode. It is a great podcast, and specifically the
Unknown Speaker 56:31 there will be interview with I believe the CEO of Salesforce v2 mom,
Jeff DeVerter 56:38 right. Oh, yeah. Well, thanks so much. Appreciate the encouragement there. Yeah, we had to remember his name that was back. It was last year last about this time last year. Yeah. Jeff, I actually listened to all the
Unknown Speaker 56:52 episodes from the first episodes straight through. And I worked I worked 20 some years EDS, Hewlett Packard DMC technology and had worked with Kevin Jones. And just like really huge fan of Rackspace, huge fan of the culture. JOHN McCabe, I think just joined your guides in and yeah,
Unknown Speaker 57:13 he's a great guy. Yeah. Great. And to Arthur, I know, I hate space. But anyway, I want to thank you. It is my favorite podcast. And I tell everyone to listen to it. Because the next time I'm not feeling so good.
Unknown Speaker 57:30 Yeah, well, meeting, guys, thank you so much for your contribution in doing your time on the planet.
Darius 57:37 Thank you so much done. And I really appreciate your point about the podcast. Yeah. Because, you know, a lot of work. Hard work goes into preparing for podcast. I'm sure Jeff's is a lot better produced than mine. But I can just say from my mind sight, so it's really always great to hear from the listeners. Yeah, well, again, for me,