Geoff Thomas reflects with us on his first three months at Polycom in this revealing Q&A. From explaining what we do as a company, through to underlining the importance of strong partnerships, Geoff lays bare the opportunities and challenges of doing business in this region.
The first 100 days as a new leader is a crucial period. What have you learnt so far?
There are two areas in particular: the importance of great people and our ecosystem of partners.
The first thing I’d call out is the Polycom APAC team. As I’ve travelled out to the regions meeting and having conversations with the team, it is highly evident we have a group of passionate people who really love the company, and I have been highly impressed with how much talent we have here.
Secondly, my first 100 days as President really reinforced for me that having the right partnerships is absolutely crucial. We are a partner and channel-led company, and if we look at our projected direction for the next few years, without a doubt we need the right partners to take us there. Also, as you would expect with a region as diverse as Asia Pacific, all of our six major markets (Australia & New Zealand, China, India, Japan, Korea, and South East Asia) are unique. In many ways, there is no one strategy for success in the region – APAC is a combination of micro strategies that are distinctive to different opportunities and challenges in each unique market.
I’ve also learned that the opportunities for Polycom in APAC are massive, going way beyond only the enterprise. Opportunities lie in vertical markets like education, healthcare, and manufacturing, in working with partners and applying different use case scenarios with Polycom technology. If we look at it from a customer perspective, I think going downstream into segments like SMBs represents a huge opportunity for us.
Has anything in particular surprised you?
What has surprised me the most is APAC’s contribution to the company, which regularly exceeds 25 per cent of the business. That’s actually quite unusual, compared to industry benchmark companies in APAC. What this shows is that in this region, we punch above our weight, contributing over a quarter of the numbers and therefore the APAC business is critical to the success of the company. We need to continue doing well with the support of our partners.
I would also call out the success of our business in China as the other thing which surprised me. The Greater China performance has been astounding! That’s not to detract from other areas, but if you look at the market share we have garnered in China, the partner ecosystem that the team there has built, how they run that business, I’ve been very impressed and it’s a huge credit to them.
What has inspired you most about the UC industry?
Three months into my role at Polycom, what has inspired me the most has been the use case scenarios of how together with our partners, Polycom technology is changing the way business is done and people collaborate. Telemedicine and distance-learning are great examples of how the power of video collaboration can address challenges to healthcare and education. In rural areas particularly, in places like Australia or India, video collaboration starts to have a profound impact. In such cases, the benefits are far reaching. An inspiring customer story, that we will be sharing publicly very soon, shows how a large volunteer organisation has changed the way they respond to emergencies by embedding video in their operations. That to me is very inspiring – there’s a lot more to video than only saving money on travel costs.
What do you think is a winning formula in achieving success for the company and your partners?
For me, ensuring ongoing success lies in four key areas:
Outside in vs inside out: Certainly for our team here in APAC – and this would be relevant for our partners as well – is taking an ‘outside in’ point of view. Where I’ve seen companies struggle is when they become very internally focused and become guilty of navel-gazing; they lose sight of the customer and partner. So driving a culture of staying externally focused on our customers and partners is very important.
Building a world-class channel: This may sound obvious, as we are a channel and partner-led company with great existing relationships that we continue to strengthen and leverage. However, we have work to do in terms of recruiting new partners if we look at the areas in which Polycom is headed. We need to look at which partnerships are going to take us there, whether that be with partners who specialise in particular verticals like healthcare, or those that focus on specific geographies or segments of the market.
Fine-tuning our go-to-market: What that means is really examining the way we segment our market, how we align customers and partners, and how we deploy resources to make sure we are fully optimised.
Service providers: They are a critical stakeholder, particularly in APAC. In this market arguably, they play a more important role because they are far more than just telcos and typically, no other channel has more customers or more reach in a country.
What do you see being the biggest business challenges faced today across APAC?
In Asia Pacific today, there are huge initiatives for the development of existing telecommunication infrastructure, improved broadband connectivity and network reliability. However, technology innovations are fast getting ahead of the infrastructure and the challenge then is ensuring that the infrastructure can keep up.
I’d say the other challenge is really thinking about collaboration across borders and boundaries. For companies that want to invest in and do business across Asia Pacific, productivity and collaboration across multiple countries is a big consideration in the face of different policies and government regulations. This is where a lot of the solutions from Polycom can help organisations enable a collaborative approach and operational efficiency.
What are the biggest market opportunities for Polycom in Asia Pacific?
I’m bullish about all our markets and believe that we have big growth opportunities in all six of our operating areas. I would specifically call out South East Asia as an area that has tremendous potential due to several elements such as the burgeoning middle class in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, large populations, very big telcos and service providers, infrastructure developments, and the pervasiveness of mobility for a generation whose very first experience with the internet is not on a PC but on a mobile device.
Also, our opportunities in and importance of the service provider channel in SEA are even bigger. Whether it’s selling them capability in terms of software and infrastructure to deploy their own services or sell through channel, service providers can be really important to us and we’ve got work to do in building on this.
Polycom offers so much, how do you describe what we do?
I think that our mantra of ‘unleashing the power of human collaboration’ describes us very well, that’s fundamentally what we are about. Polycom is the best in class, pure play video, voice and content collaboration solutions provider, and what we do is what’s most interesting to me. In days gone by, a lot of the value proposition of video conferencing was around the cost equation: less travel, saving time and resources etc. But actually the solutions that we provide with our partners, are increasingly driving top line and solving business problems. Through the power of our collaboration solutions, we can enable a bank to write more loans through faster applicant screening, or an insurance company to become more efficient with assessments reducing bottlenecks in claims, or reach more students through distance education. It’s not just about bottom line anymore – it’s about driving top line. Video collaboration today is ultimately about driving revenue growth through increased engagement, and has become a very compelling business tool for companies.
What do you think are the biggest myths about video collaboration?
Probably the one which I just talked about – that it’s no longer just about reducing travel cost, but about a lot more than that. The other big myth is that video collaboration is only something which big enterprises adopt, whereas it goes all the way downstream to SMBs and SOHO (small office, home office) users to run business.
You frequently state that work is not a place you go to, it’s what you do. What does this mean?
This thought ties in with work-style innovation and new ways of working. Mobile and home office workers are driving a cultural change that accentuates work as something we do versus a place we go. I really believe that the way you work does not depend on a physical location or turning up to the office every day, but is more about driving tangible outcomes; While physical presence and clocking a certain number of hours are still important or necessary for many organisations, my belief is that work is not a ‘place’, it’s more a verb.