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“This is just the beginning of India’s growth story”

Sunil Gupta, Executive Director and President, Netmagic (An NTT Communications Company), talks about driving corporates’ business and digital transformations through their offerings.

Talking to Sunil Gupta at his office in the company’s well-known Mumbai DC5 data centre, one cannot help but be taken in by his enthusiasm for his work, company and industry. There’s a palpable energy in the room that’s quite infectious, so I can well understand how this alumni of the Columbia Business School, US, is able to drive his team to continuously deliver superlative results, further pushing Netmagic’s (An NTT Communications Company) impressive growth story.
Edited excerpts from a conversation.

Tell us a little about Netmagic’s growth story.
“Netmagic was started in 1998 by its visionary founder and CEO Sharad Sanghi. At the time, the market was just opening up in India. In 2000, the dotcom boom became the dotcom bust, but Netmagic survived because Sharad, with his strong technology foundation nurtured in IIT Mumbai and Columbia University, was very clear that it was not just an infrastructure company, but more a skillset oriented, customer focussed managed services company. Around 2008-2009, he realised that if the company was to grow at an exponential rate it would need a strong dose of capital and hence a much bigger round of funding. The investors asked the company to first strengthen its management, bring in organisational structures, systems and processes, and start behaving like a large corporate. So my coming into the company in 2010 was a result of that. Somewhere around 2011, we started looking for a strategic investor. After a year of diligence, NTT Communications acquired us in 2012.

“Since 2006, Netmagic has been growing at a CAGR of 35 per cent continuously. This essentially means the company is double its size very two and a half years. Our revenues have gone up, our valuations have gone up, the bottom line has gone up, data centre sizes have gone up, customer count and deal sizes have gone up; it’s that type of exponential growth.”

What according to you is the future of data centres?
“Great! For the next 10 to 15 years the future of data centres/cloud is extremely good because the market, business and technology drivers for it are extremely strong. The economy is growing. India is the brightest spot in the world economy right now. There’s a rising English educated middle class with money to dispense, and we are consuming whatever technology is coming our way. So there’s growth in e-commerce, content, payments, banking, etc. And you need some big data centre/cloud infrastructure to sustain this type of e-commerce. Secondly, the current government is focussed on growth and digitisation, unlike what we’ve seen earlier. Plus, commercial and social projects around Big Data, AI, machine learning, IoT, etc are gradually coming up. Imagine multiplicity of smart cities where every single mall, every single traffic post and every single office/portal/machine through which citizens interact with government, continuously collecting data. That data will ultimately travel through some network and get stored, processed and analysed in a data centre or cloud grid only. So you can see the scale that is yet to come; it’s huge.”

What innovations is Netmagic bringing in the hybrid IT space?
“When we talk about public/private cloud, colocation, or a captive data centre, we talk about these solutions in isolation, and think that a direct move from say dedicated servers running in a captive data centre to public cloud is what we need to do since that is the ‘in’ thing, but in the real world it doesn’t happen that way. The ultimate objective of a CIO is to ensure that his business applications get the best infrastructure solution that is good in performance and is scalable while also ensuring that it is cost effective and does not force him to just do away with the millions of investment that he may have done in his captive data centre. So we offer to study the customer’s IT and offer a comprehensive solution that can be implemented in phases and smoothen the entire migration process ensuring no loss of business continuity. We migrate customer’s captive data centre to our data centre as the first step towards relieving the physical, administrative and scalability pains associated with running a captive data centre. Then, gradually, as technology refresh cycles come in, build a hybrid cloud solution by migrating some of his applications from his captive hardware to a dedicated private cloud and/or to our public cloud, or onto a third party cloud if the solution demands so. We give customers a single Cloud Management Platform CMP, which is our company’s self-developed online orchestration layer and a single view dashboard from where the customer can see all his applications, which may be running on different public/private cloud environments anywhere in the world. And not only do we study, design and implement these solutions, we also then support these solutions 24×7 with our managed IT services delivered through some of the best industry automation tools and a highly certified team of more than 700 engineers. We’re one of the few companies capable of delivering solutions as well as the infrastructure needed to deliver these hybrid IT solutions on a pure pay-per-use services model.”

What are the challenges you see CIOs facing, and what solutions are you providing?
“We are able to take away the routine tasks and underlying infrastructure responsibilities from the CIO’s desk, automate them and deliver better quality services with a much better cost profile. We are taking away anything that is not the core part of a CIO’s job. By delivering a gradual migration path from captive data centre to high quality colo, and then to private cloud/public cloud, and then offering to manage all the infrastructure technologies supporting the applications, we’re smoothening the process of cloud adoption for CIOs and also reducing their risks associated with IT skills recruitment and retention. By offering truly elastic pay-per-use cloud services, we are able to take away the burden of steep capex spends or fixed opex expenses from the desk of the CIO. Through our Cloud Management Platform offering, we are able to give control in the hands of the CIO, even while he runs his applications on multiple clouds across the world. All of these help the CIO concentrate on the core part of his job.”

Should CIOs be putting business transformation before digital transformation?
“Sometimes digital transformation leads to business transformation, or vice versa. But, fundamentally, business transformation has to happen before you go in for digital transformation. Delivering our digital innovations to partners, customers and employees could not have been possible if our business processes were not automated and running optimally.”

How do you bring order into the demanding job of Executive Director and President?
“Frankly, if you have strong lieutenants it becomes easy. I have capable functional heads at the top, so I don’t have to worry about day-to-day workings of those functions; with time they all have been put on auto mode with adequate dose of delegation, systems, processes and automation. My role comes in only when there are inter-functional discussions and projects. I facilitate those conversations and ensure everyone has the big picture. Once the direction, goals, and individual roles are set and clear, and an execution plan has been created, then I come into governance mode. I don’t get into minute execution because the individual functions will do it beautifully. Secondly, automation is a big help. Given a choice I’d like to automate everything.”

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your professional career?
“Some of these are my fundamental beliefs and they’ve been gleaned from years of experience. The first and foremost is personal integrity. As a leader, unless you command genuine respect, you cannot lead, and that respect comes only when you walk the talk; not once, but all the time. The second is that strategizing is great, but real success lies in execution. In fact, execution itself needs a lot of strategizing. If you have planned your execution well, the actual execution becomes very simple. Continuous execution, review, and governance is important. Thirdly, there should be a huge focus on systems and processes. I also make it a point to ensure that whatever systems, processes, automation, etc we introduce at Netmagic do not slow it down. There should be a written down process to even bypass the process in times of emergency. Fundamentals of growth will come from systems and processes, otherwise you will get torn apart as an organisation, as you grow bigger and bigger.”

What is your biggest strength?
“My personal integrity; that is my biggest strength. My focus on numbers. A general enthusiasm towards work. And continuous self-evaluation, and step-by-step structured thinking on every challenge I face. I’m able to easily visualise and convert a big strategic picture into the nitty-gritty of an execution plan and take it through to the actual execution. I can think very clearly on systems and processes.”

What are some of your passions apart from technology?
“I have many! But listening to and singing old Hindi songs and gazals is a big one. I’m part of a karaoke group and we meet at least twice a month to enjoy music. I also love to play badminton, and play every day.” 

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