For almost twenty years, Sentia has been active in delivering application outsourcing services. A strong focus on business-critical applications has brought strong growth to the organisation and it has become a leader in recent years. Commercial Director, Paul van der Marck discusses, amongst other things, the ambitious international plans for the future, quality monitoring, hybrid cloud and the opportunities with Blockchain.
Paul van der Marck dislikes the term ‘hoster’.
It doesn’t suffice anymore, yet I sense that it’s still a word people use to describe what we do. I prefer to call us an ‘outsourcing partner’, but we are also moving more in the direction of being an ‘application integrator’. Paul van der Marck Sentia
Sentia’s strategy can be summarised into two general themes: innovation and internationalisation. Van der Marck begins with innovation. “What we do is ‘Managed Application Continuity’. In fact, you could call this the outsourcing of business-critical applications. For us, the client’s application is always at the core. Around this, much innovation takes place. We must remain at the forefront of innovation. As an example of this, we are extremely progressive with the public cloud, having a specialised Amazon team.”
Sentia innovates within its own specialism of IT outsourcing, but also plays an innovative role in other areas it is active in. An example here would be Blockchain, where many financial organisations must get involved as part of re-inventing themselves. For Sentia, this is a clear focus area. Recently, our focus on banks and insurers has grown, but so has our emphasis on FinTech, Van der Marck explains. “With our services relating to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, we can help FinTech start-ups. On the other hand, we add value for banks with complete IT outsourcing, from a Dutch cloud to the outsourcing of the application landscape. We do this for, amongst others, Triodos, Rabobank International and Amsterdam Trade Bank."
The financial target audience now sees opportunities with Blockchain, which is the technology behind, amongst other things, Bitcoin.
Some banks are designing their own initiatives. Others seek collaborations with software designers to create their own applications. Whereas we don’t do this, we do however bring the designers and users together. For Amsterdam Trade Bank, we manage their first Blockchain application. This application uses Blockchain to handle trade documents for international transporters, which makes things much easier. Simply put, it means that large amounts of paperwork are no longer required at the borders to countries such as Russia or other Eastern European countries. Paul van der Marck Sentia
Sentia is running more initiatives with Blockchain and many more will follow. “It is an important part of our future strategy”. Van der Marck expects that it will not only be the financial world that profits from this. “We have already undertaken a few initiatives where we work with software companies to investigate the relevance of Blockchain for the Healthcare sector. In this sector, a lot of confidential data is held, alongside data where lives could literally depend upon its accuracy. Blockchain can definitely make a contribution here. This applies to every situation where certainty is required with, for example, identities or the correctness of data. Consider electronic patient files, or Government applications.”
Another example of innovation is Infrastructure as a Code. “We began with this six to seven years ago. With AWS, we have designed our own product called Halloumi, which allows us to send AWS infrastructure as code. The moment a client has their own application pipeline, automatically develops applications and releases them on the market, we can simultaneously do the same with the infrastructure. Halloumi is the cement that actually syncs the application pipeline and infrastructure. We have a development team engaged in the continuous improvement of this service. This year, we will also implement it on Microsoft Azure. Here, we reach a point where our role has visibly changed. We are not only a system operator, but increasingly also an application developer and integrator. This is also reflected in how our teams are structured.”
The other main strategic theme Van der Marck points out is that of internationalisation. “Where once we began as a Dutch company, our reach has grown to include the Benelux and last year we added Denmark, where we have an office with fifty people. Geographically, we will move North towards Scandinavia as we also have plans for Sweden and Norway. At the same time, it is logical that we also look at Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All are countries where the culture resembles that of the Netherlands, but also where the development of outsourcing is comparable.”
The larger, over-arching goal of Sentia is to become the leader in North-West Europe for business-critical application outsourcing. That might sound ambitious, but according to Van der Marck, is entirely realistic. “When it comes to this specialism, we are definitely one of the market leaders. I believe we can also achieve that position in other countries.”
With the term “market leader”, Van der Marck refers not only to scope, but to quality and client satisfaction. “We are also proud of the fact that we score very well on the important Giarte benchmark. For over ten years, they have published an Outsourcing Recommendation Score, and for the second year in a row we scored 100%. All of the large providers are included and Giarte asks their clients if they would recommend them. Our thirty largest clients unanimously answered “yes”. At Sentia we are proud to have achieved the top score two years in a row. It is our plan to accomplish this again next year."
As the only provider in the Benelux, Sentia has MSP partner status from AWS. “This is also testament to the quality that we strive to continuously improve and our in-house knowledge, as the requirements are very strict. Thorough audits are carried out, which examine the required technical certificates, but also look into processes and tooling."
Up to standard
So how does Sentia also maintain quality, knowledge and customer satisfaction at such high levels? “We like to talk about 'extreme ownership': our people are obsessed with solving problems for clients.” As a result, this prevents us from becoming complacent and bureaucratic, despite our growth. This is also helped by the fact that we organise ourselves in small client teams of around ten to twelve people. Our engineers know our clients by name and vice versa. Clients feel like we know them as with us, everyone knows the importance of each of their applications. There is no 0800-SENTIA line where you deal with someone who is unfamiliar with the details of your case. If, for example, a health care organization calls with a question on an application for blood analysis, the customer immediately gets 'their' engineer on the phone, who will understand any potential associated interests."
To monitor client satisfaction Sentia strictly adheres to three important KPI’s. “These are First time fix: can the person receiving the problem also fix it? First time right: has what we have done delivered the solution? and Zero repeat: does a problem we have fixed ever return? Dashboards displaying these scores are visible not to only ourselves, but also to our clients.”
Public and hybrid cloud
Van der Marck sees a few central trends emerging amongst clients, such as a growing demand for public cloud solutions. “This happens at an increasing rate: demand for AWS and Azure has doubled yearly. But hybrid cloud will certainly continue to exist. Mid-sized companies have, for example, a combination of SaaS services and self-developed applications in their landscape that run on the likes of AWS or Azure. At that moment, you have a hybrid solution. I cannot look forward thirty years, but I do feel that such blends will remain as standard for quite some time. Hybrid is the new normal."
A growing need
In that view of the future Van der Marck does not foresee a reduction in the role that Sentia will play. On the contrary, “you sometimes hear people say: if you are moving to the public cloud, why do you need a provider like Sentia? That is a positive statement. The fact is that for 99.9% of companies, their IT landscape is enormously complex. Parties such as ourselves, previously called ‘hosters’ will actually become a new type of system integrator. CIO’s must deal with a varied landscape. Who organises this to ensure compliance, that the chain is working and being monitored, and that the user must only log in once? There will be challenges, for security, usability, and the working of the chain, as parties will point to each other when something does not work. What we will do as application integrators is take complete responsibility for the functioning of the landscape. There is certainly a need for that, a need I expect will only grow.”