Throughout the year, we host a series of Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meetings, where we invite customers from Skytap’s varied use cases in order to not just give and take feedback from our customers, but so they can also provide it their peers in their respective industries. Today we’re speaking with Director of Product Management Sumit Mehrotra to learn more about the benefits that all who attend these annual meetings receive.
Noel: I wanted to speak with you about our most recent CAB meeting that was held in Austin, Texas. This was for those who use Skytap in the training and demo spaces. Maybe if you could briefly describe the flow, and the goals for these meetings, and then we’ll dive a little deeper.
Sumit: Sure. From our perspective, our goal is to learn deeply about each customer, but there is a secondary goal, which is equally important. We really want our customers to get the chance to learn about each other. These really aren’t held for us to just talk about new features.
We spend quite a bit of time where customers are simply talking to each other. They network, and really start forming relationships. They learn best practices and successes through the projects that each of them are currently doing.
Noel: It’s not hard to see how those who attend get much more out of the CAB meetings than if it was simply a lecture format.
Sumit: They have been highly successful. We’ve had CAB meetings in both in the development and test space and the training space, and we’ve had customers at both who leverage each other’s solutions and build up on them after the meetings are over.
For the recent training and demo space meetings, this was really evident because this particular domain is more collaborative just by design, just because of the space that they have, right? It’s a training space and collaboration is so key. That’s our first objective for doing CABs.
And it wasn’t just the larger companies telling the smaller ones what they do. It was also the smaller guys telling the bigger guys what they do, and those bigger guys being very receptive to what others have done in this space.
We also use these gatherings to talk about our strategic direction, and see where we fit in with customers. And thirdly, we take a deep dive which, is more short-term focused around things that are in the pipeline in order get customer feedback.
Noel: How many attended this last training and demo CAB?
Sumit: This was the first time we’d ever held one for this crowd specifically, and we had about 24 individuals from 13 customers attend.
Noel: I’ve heard from those of us here at Skytap who attended that it went really, really well. Along with the group’s natural inclination to collaborate, were there other reasons you think this one was such a success.
Sumit: I think one of the biggest things that came out of this was that our training and demo customers really do love Skytap. We solve a pain that they have right away, and there really isn’t anything like us for what they are trying to do. Our virtual training labs solve real problems for them.
And by solving their problems so easily, we make our training customers look really good in their organizations, which is interesting because training usually happens to be one of the “side organizations” in many companies. They usually run as their own profit and loss center, so they are the masters of their destiny, although they often get scant support in terms of training resources, hardware, or services.
Noel: That’s really interesting. What is it in particular that makes them look so good to the rest of an organization?
Sumit: We’re something they can find to solve their problems on their own. They find in us a self-service solution that can solve real problems that they have, which then helps them run their business effectively and in a cost effective manner. We help them earn revenue, and show revenue to their organization, and we help them scale—which they wouldn’t have been able to do with either homegrown solutions or other options in the market. All this combines to have them really love us.
Noel: I would say so. That’s incredible.
Sumit: It’s a great thing. The other side of that same engagement is they really do love us, and they want us to win. They like what we do, and that motivates them to ask for more from us, which is a great place to be. A great set of customers will use you effectively, and will also have a long list of asks. One metric that easily comes to mind is that we usually reserve about 2 to 3 hours for the first part of our discussion amongst each other, and in this last CAB meeting we went over by 2-1/2 hours.
Sumit: It was such a free flowing and open-ended discussion around what they do, what they plan to do, how they use Skytap, and what they’re looking for. They talk a lot about what they’re trying to achieve and in the process, they keep asking for things from Skytap that would help them achieve their goals. That’s an empirical metric of how engaged they are. Training customers in particular are a great customer set to have.
Noel: So is there a lot of overlap in how these customers are using Skytap or are there some situations where you have, say, two companies who are both doing training but are using Skytap to accomplish that in fairly different ways?
Sumit: Well, this group is actually made up of both training and demo use cases. I think the core workflows are similar to a large extent, and they fall into three buckets. One is instructor-led online training, which is a setting where everybody is online accessing from different parts of the world, and there is an instructor who is actually leading the training. The second one is on-premise virtual lab-based training. This is where people still gather in one room, but the labs they’re using are virtualized.
The third model is self-paced training. Say you want to take a course on F5 load balancers, you can go to the portal “F5 university,” sign up for the course you need, and you’re sent a link, which lasts you a certain amount of time. You take the course at your own pace and your certification is recorded. Many of these customers pointed out that the trend is definitely moving more towards self-paced learning.
These are three common patterns that everybody is using. They might end up implementing these in various ways, but there is a large similarity when it comes to the broad patterns that each of them is using.
Noel: That trend or shift toward self-paced learning makes sense, it’s all about being able to consume what you want or need on the go, on the road, and complimentary to your own unique schedule.
Sumit: This is the consumerization of education. This is how people want to consume education, more at their own pace, and online-delivered, in order to be able to take courses at their own time. That’s what we’re seeing in the enterprise space as well.
And the software demo use case is pretty similar to a self-paced learning pattern. You can set up a demo by going to a portal, set up a demo for your customer, and show them, or give them control or share control with them. In terms of workflow, the demo workflow is pretty similar to a self-paced learning demo to a large extent.
Noel: And then during the portion where we were going over new Skytap features and future capabilities—was there anything that really seemed to delight everybody in the room?
Sumit: I think the biggest draw was what we have done with the HTML5 client. That was something pretty much everybody appreciated. As for things that are coming down the pipeline, I would say the new bandwidth profile options. That resonated really well because one of the problems when offering large classes in one location is, “What’s the bandwidth available for the best experience?” Bandwidth is something we don’t have control over but we have certain requirements around it. This new feature will allow them to tweak their experience based on a low, medium, or high experience based on the training that they’re offering.
They were excited about that feature coming up which will definitely help the experience in their classrooms. That was one of the big ones.
Noel: Can you go into why the HTML5 client was so interesting to this crowd?
Sumit: A big feature for this group that resonates with them quite a bit is our suspend capabilities—suspend, and auto-suspend and things around that. That’s also one of those things where pretty much everybody wants us to do an even better job at it as well.
Part of the reason behind that is, as I said before, these training departments are profit centers in their own right. It’s in their best interest to minimize the cost as much as they can. Suspending on Skytap gives them a big tool to not use resources when classes are not running—which again helps their bottom line. That’s the primary reason why “suspend” resonates with everybody in this domain.
The other big feature we have leveraged quite a bit in training and demo solutions is the published URL solution. It’s fantastic.
Noel: How so?
Sumit: In self-paced learning scenarios where you want the user to have a class for a week, or maybe 10 hours or what have you, you want some way to control it. Our platform itself provides it out of the box. When they’re running all of these training classes, they could be for users within your company, or for your customers, your partners, etc. If the only way to share was to have an account for each and every one of these people, that would be a very cumbersome task.
You want to share. You want to give them one link. You want the simplicity of sending them one link to click on to be able to run the class, but you want to do it at an arm’s length. You want some separation between them accessing and you working on the back and building these training classes in your account.
A published URL as a sharing and a collaboration feature—that’s where the sweet spot is, and that fits in really well with training and demo workflows. Plus the fact that we can have different types of permissions on these links allows them to tweak and tune the level of access they want to give to these larger environments.
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