Spark’s new digital consultancy, Leaven, is all about making companies’ move to the cloud smooth – and realising early benefits, writes Heather Wright

Robin Cockayne wants ‘it’s got Leaven inside’ to be the catch cry for Kiwi businesses going digital, just as ‘Intel Inside’ was for PC buyers back in the 1990s.

Leaven is Spark’s new digital transformation consultancy. It was launched in August with lofty goals of helping Kiwi organisations realise the benefits of digital transformation by moving to a more digital way of working through operating via cloud platforms.

The Spark initiative is headed by Cockayne, Revera’s former CEO. Leaven aims to provide customers with an end-to-end cloud adoption service that will help them move to the cloud and then leverage the benefits of working in this new digital way.

Leaven is built on intellectual property licensed from Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) subsidiary, Cloud Technology Partners (CTP), which uses proven methods to steer digital change projects. Leaven’s offering is also multi-cloud – it works with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure and Google Cloud.

Cockayne is a staunch supporter of the cloud as a business transformer, allowing companies to bring new products and services to market faster; improve customers’ experience, and establish the foundations for future growth and technology use. However, he is adamant that becoming a digital business isn’t just about the technology. In fact, a technology-only focus can hold a business back from reaping the real returns of transformation, he says.

“The observation I made in the later years of working with Revera – and also in getting Leaven ready for market – is that transformation, be it a digital or business one, is now better appreciated and acknowledged by New Zealand organisations.

“But a lot of people start with what they know – that’s why they start with the technology-set of our industry. It’s tangible to them, and also provides the sparkle of a new tool-kit for the business.

“The less technical aspects are often ignored or put in the too-hard basket. The people, process, communications and behavioural elements of transformation are often a bit under-bred. And this tends to undermine the benefits of the technology change.”

It’s this issue that can hold businesses back from reaping the full financial savings of moving to the cloud, says Cockayne.

“We actually saw it in the early years of the cloud, when people moved from on-premises working to the cloud and then claimed they didn’t save as much money as they expected. A lot of the reason for this was that they didn’t bring the business on the journey – the process, people and communication elements. They just simply did the tech-set and waited for the benefits.”

While there is plenty of talk in the market about transformation, Cockayne says that in reality not many organisations are in “do” mode. “They’re planning or talking about it; getting ready or ‘have yet to make some decisions’.”

And it’s not just about cloud, either.

“My other observation is that in the technical sector we tend to hype up the promised land of what is coming over the horizon – the possibilities of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robotics; all those things. But, in practical business terms, a lot of this is out of reach of most businesses because they haven’t got a digital-ready capability that would allow them to adopt it.”

Cockayne says by offering “a very tangible, measurable, actionable methodology and a highly  customisable approach”, Leaven hopes to progress New Zealand businesses’ digital maturity. This will make it easier for companies to consider the new technologies and understand what is needed before they
implement them.

MATURITY MATRIX – THE NAME OF THE GAME

Leaven’s business is built on CTP’s intellectual property and underlying principles, which have been localised for the Kiwi market.

CTP is a Boston-based cloud consulting firm acquired by HPE in 2017. It has built up a database of action road-maps, methodologies, automation scripts, frameworks and templates around cloud adoption and use. It says that, along with digital innovation, this is the most significant technology shift companies face today.

“It has got to the point where CTP has a maturity matrix that covers 10 different domains of a business of which only 2.5 are technology based. The rest are people, process and communication orientated,” says Cockayne.

And behind each of these domains are six levels of maturity, all providing actionable plans to help drive a business through to maturity in each of the domains. 

CTP also provides a custom tool kit. This includes two CTP-developed offerings: a ‘continuous compliance’ kit and a ‘continuous cost control’ tool. Both can be applied to a cloud implementation, to manage its fiscal and compliance aspects in an automated fashion.

“What we’ve been working on with CTP is building in New Zealand’s NZISM (New Zealand Information Security Manual) security standard, for example,” says Cockayne.

“So if someone wants to spin up an Amazon workload, they can tick the box to say, ‘Please deploy this workload to NZISM standards’ and it will do this – and then manage and maintain that compliance standard.”

Cockayne says deploying smarter technologies will help solve some of the typical objections to the cloud, such as worries about security and compliance – easy scapegoats for companies nervous about the cloud.

Cockayne has ambitious plans for Leaven. The Spark subsidiary was born out of the telco’s search for solutions for its traditional businesses. Leaven may be barely out of the starting blocks but staff already numbered 30 in early September – up from four just six weeks earlier – and should increase to 70 over the next six months.

Cockayne stresses Leaven is “very impartial” when it comes to which cloud service a customer might use “because you can’t undertake a transformation without being impartial.”

But he admits the Spark link – including the Revera and Computer Concepts Limited customer base, now merged together as CCL – does provide Leaven with a ready market.

CCL is home to around 500 customers who are at varying stages on their journey to cloud and digital transformation.

“With these, and Spark’s own enterprise network business, we’ve got a captive market where we effectively already have an engagement with business. What Leaven will be able to do is establish   itself and really focus on execution,” says Cockayne.

“Our challenge has been getting Leaven to a position where it is able to bring its portfolio to bear through the group without having to invest in any kind of sales capability.

“From a Leaven perspective, it is
really handy to have this market, so we don’t have to worry about building a sales go-to-market capability of our own at this stage. We can concentrate on the ‘doing’ element and bring credibility to the
Leaven story through case studies and success stories.”

SPARK'S ROLE

However, Spark does have an important role to play in investing in the digital capabilities Leaven aims to bring to its customers.

“As the IoT (Internet of Things) engine starts to materialise, with tangible offerings and capabilities, and edge compute [data processing using local cloud services] starts to emerge with the 5G roll-out, we will be able to provide those first few rungs of the ladder for customers,” says Cockayne.

“And, because Spark is having these conversations – and has this vision – this means there is fertile ground for Leaven,” he says. “One thing that makes sense to customers is that Spark is obviously investing heavily in a lot of these utopian, promised-land type capabilities off the back of 5G, blockchain, robotics and AI.

“So it makes sense to say that Spark has now got the muscle to take people on a [cloud] journey where they can really consider [some of this technology] as being viable now.”