Welcome to Training Management & COVID-19: Solutions for the Coronavirus Pandemic - a series of interviews with enterprise training leaders from around the world who are adapting the way they work. They'll share some of the scenarios they're facing, identity best practices, what's working and what's not, and we're hopefully going to laugh a lot along the way as well.
My name is John Peebles, CEO of Administrate, and today I have long-time customer Kevin Streater, the Vice President of ForgeRock University, on the line. Their training program supports internal employees, partners, and customers in learning about, and implementing, ForgeRock’s identity management solutions.
We talk about how he and his team, through thoughtful, consistent investment in learning infrastructure, have found themselves uniquely prepared to deal with unexpected challenges. We also talk about how much I hate live demos, something Kevin has consistently subjected me to over the years.
Before you pop in your earbuds, be sure to subscribe to our blog to stay connected for future episodes. We’ll be publishing part four of our series next week!
All the best to you and your team as you navigate these rapidly changing times.
CEO of Administrate
[Listen Time 38 Minutes]
John Peebles: Welcome, Kevin. We're really pleased to have you. Why don't you introduce yourself and a little bit about ForgeRock and the business and how you've gotten to where you are today.
Kevin Streater: My name is Kevin Streater. I’m the Vice President of ForgeRock University. ForgeRock is a digital identity company, so we do a lot for access and identity management. We started in Norway, and have our main engineering teams in the UK, France, and Oregon. We’re now headquartered in San Francisco.
We started just over 10 years ago, when Sun Microsystems got acquired by Oracle. Five people started the company and we now employ nearly 600 people around the world. I head up the training organization and we now deliver training classes through our partner network all around the world. That includes everywhere from Central China, Asia, all through Europe and the Americas, and we teach people how to do mission-critical identity and access management for the Fortune 500 type companies.
John Peebles: And there's a good chance that if I'm doing some sort of banking transaction or logging into a corporate network somewhere that I'm using a ForgeRock product, is that right, behind the scenes?
Kevin Streater: Yeah, absolutely. We're one of those infrastructure companies that you'll never see our name, but you're probably using our software. So most of the large banks use us to protect their login to their mobile or home banking solutions, insurance companies, etc. Probably one of the most high profile we have is the BBC.
So every time you try and use the BBC website, or watch any programs that BBC asks you to log in, then you'll be using ForgeRock software. Large organizations. Particularly at the moment because they're dependent on these services as all of a sudden everybody's working from home; everybody wants to consume more media, and do more banking at home. And we're right in the middle of that whole environment.
John Peebles: One of the things I really loved about having ForgeRock as a customer for a long time now is that it's a very dynamic company. Being a startup, with Administrate and ForgeRock starting about the same time, we have both been growing really quickly, kind of in tandem, with ForgeRock a little bit farther ahead of the journey.
It's always been interesting to think back and see how both companies have changed, but also how your operation, Kevin, has changed a ton since you first started. And I think for me when I think about the success that ForgeRock has had in its product offering and also in its training product offerings, the idea of kind of consistent iteration and incremental progress really jumps out to me. It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen very methodically and kind of on a strict program of, "Here's what we're going to do to innovate this month, this quarter, this year," and that type of thing.
Maybe you could just walk us through your thoughts on that and how things have changed. And some of the real notable differences between today and when you started?
Kevin Streater: Well, I guess the one thing that we have in common is we've got a long heritage in software engineering. So most of the team at ForgeRock are ex-Sun Microsystems, certainly in the early days, and we were all used to working in an enterprise environment. And, I guess that's not typical for many start-ups.
Particularly in our sort of space, but we know what it looks like to be a big player in enterprise software. We've been there. Most of our leadership team have played in that environment for a long time. We've been through the good times, and we've been through some really bad times.
We know the best way to grow the business is to keep focused on what your mission really is. Then, incrementally build that out; deliver one success and then build on it. We do that as a company with our software, and we started off with effectively 15 years worth of engineering that Sun Microsystems and Netscape had done. We were able to build on that and iterate and just keep growing the software: adding in a lot more features, and bringing in software from other organizations to complement it.
I've taken the same approach with ForgeRock University. I know what a good global training organization should look like. I've been there. I've been running one, and I was right at the center of Sun Microsystems and Sun Education at the height of the Java Bubble, when suddenly everyone realized that Java was a fantastic language to work with.
I've seen what a good, big global software and training business could look like. So, my goal has always been to get ForgeRock University to the same place where we've got consistency in our delivery, and we've got good management and reporting structures. These are all the things that a mature software company should have in place. There's no reason why you can't have that right from the beginning, so that's really been our journey.
Everyone in ForgeRock, everyone, particularly leadership, knows what we'd like to get to and we're just slowly incrementing to get there over time. We are making great progress on that journey. And we are now a major player in the identity and access management space. We've done that not through being a startup that just starts fast and then has to keep changing its systems and processes. We've just steadily grown with what we knew we should be trying to do. I think, for the training business, that's been really important.
For training, I know what I’d like to get to, and we may have started with some off-the-shelf tools like Eventbrite and Google Sheets, but I knew we were gonna have to grow and I knew I'd have to put the right tools in place. I guess we've been a tools-centric company. If you get the right platforms, and the right technologies around you, you can do almost anything. If you make bad choices early on, you're gonna be left with an infrastructure that's going to really struggle.
That's been key to everything ForgeRock has done. We know what the endpoint is and we know the sorts of things we'd like to be working with in terms of tools, process, and people, and we've gone and got those things that we want. So sometimes, that makes it look like we're a small company going out to procure something that is just too big for us, but actually, five years on, we're getting the payback for all of those decisions.
John Peebles: I guess it's no surprise that an infrastructure company delivering infrastructure that's mission-critical at the core of its mission is similarly kind of focused on finding the right infrastructure to run its business operations.
I remember years back, when you approached us, you were very, very clear that you were looking for a training management system, platform, and infrastructure. And I would say that was the bulk of the analysis that you were doing through the sales process with questions like, "How are you going to help me scale?"
Well, that was very unusual at that time, and it kind of made an impression on us during the sales process. It has since become the central thesis to what Administrate is trying to accomplish in learning development in the training world. I know it was driven in part by your experience with Sun, but how did you really distill that down and then go out to the market looking for that? And what were some of the things that were really important to you in that process?
Kevin Streater: There were a number of things that I had taken away from Sun. I had an interesting journey through the Sun acquisition period. I spent about 20 years at Sun running Sun Education in the UK and Islands, and when the Oracle acquisition happened, I left and I spent four years at the Open University.
The Open University has 250,000 concurrent students. And that taught me a lot about how to deliver education at a huge scale. They do it very successfully and they've been doing it for the last 50 years. So they know what good looks like. The two experiences together really gave me a view of what was important. You have to have a platform in the center of your business, what I call an ERP for training.
You've got to have an enterprise platform that can understand your finances, your reporting, and your resources, it's got to know everything about your business, whether it's Sun Microsystems, Open University, or ForgeRock. If you're going to run a training business, then you've got to have something that runs your business.
The second thing I took away from Sun was everything has got to be connectable, and you need to have open APIs. It was Sun's mantra for its entire existence. It's got to be network-orientated. “The Network is the Computer” was Sun’s tagline. You've got to be able to connect things together in an easy way. That's how you build good scalable systems. So I'd been in the world where we'd been using REST APIs and connecting systems together. So, that was the second.
Associated with that was SaaS, and Sun was doing SaaS 20 years ago; long before it had the terminology SaaS wrapped around it. It was offering software as a platform out to the internet, or what we now call the cloud. Those types of cloud-centered services were really important, and attached to that was a subscription pricing model. Again, Sun was doing subscription pricing 15 years ago. Nobody understood it; nobody knew how it would work. Today, it's the center of everything we do.
Having those insights was important. Anything that you buy has got to be the center of your business. It's got to be financially capable, it's got to do all your reporting, your resources, it's got to be cloud-based, it's going to have to have open APIs, and it's going to have a subscription model. That was the view. I went out into the market to try and find platforms that could meet those criteria. At that point, it then became very self-selecting because some organizations understood what I was talking about, and others just looked, glazed over, and had no idea about any of the things I was talking about.
Six years ago, when I was really building out the infrastructure of ForgeRock University, most organizations in the EdTech world had no idea what cloud was. They had no idea what subscription models were and the tools choice became very straightforward. The organizations that understood that, were the ones we partnered with.
I've got to say, in every case, those are the organizations that we're still working with, like Administrate, that we have a good, solid long-term partnership. Everyone says to me now, "How did you build this infrastructure? You're way ahead of everyone else." I brought all that insight from both the academic world, and from the commercial enterprise software world, and pulled it together.
It's left us in a really good position for growing for the future because when things come along--corporate governance comes along (we've just gone through ISO 27001, and we've gone through the ASC 606 Revrec reporting in the US--we’re well positioned, and we can do all of that. We thought about it five years ago and similar startup organizations would really struggle with this.
I think it's been great to have the right providers. Absolutely essential to that has always been Administrate. So that's worked out really, really well for us over the last five or six years.
John Peebles: I wanna talk a little bit more about the importance of partnerships in just a second. But, when you mentioned the piece about the REST API, I think one of the things that for me is really important to provide to our customers is the flexibility via an API to get something done.
I mean, it's no secret that at times over the past six years, your priorities and Administrate’s priorities have not perfectly lined up, like with any customer-vendor relationship. In those cases, there have been a couple of times where ForgeRock has said, "We really need this thing. We understand it's not top of mind right now, we understand the priorities are diverged. We're just going to take some engineering effort and build what we need for ourselves." You have that option when you have the API. Then, usually what tends to happen is, we eventually circle back around and bring it into the product mainline. It's that freedom and flexibility with that open system that can really get you through some of those pinch points that inevitably happen, I think.
Kevin Streater: Absolutely. Very early on, the web interfaces that were available from Administrate didn't fit cleanly into our architecture for our customer portal. So, as you said, we were able to build our own interface. It’s absolutely been the perfect customer experience, because it ties into all of our other systems.
We've got a very small web engineering team and, using the APIs, we were able to build something that looks really nice and has been working wonderfully for our customers for a long time now. They say “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” and I had a demonstration of the new Administrate web link 2.0 recently, and it looks surprisingly similar to what we were doing five years ago.
John Peebles: I have no idea what you're talking about Kevin, at all.
But, you're absolutely right. It's being able to look and see what customers are doing! There's been a lot of really positive stuff that has come out of that project that we've learned from. That's back to that partnership point I think: you mentioned ISO 27001 and things that ForgeRock is going through. For us, what we really love about partnerships is that our partners make us stronger, and there's been a few times around corporate governance and audits and so on, that you and ForgeRock, in particular, have pushed Administrate to improve.
Even though it may not have always been exactly when we wanted to do these things. I guess, from a bureaucracy standpoint, nobody really likes to do these things. But, they do improve the service and the offering. It's that kind of push and pull with a partner that I think is really valuable over the long-term, and it makes both organizations better.
That's something that I know you deliver with a lot of partners, the training that you're doing and, particularly, bringing it back briefly to COVID-19 and its impact globally. I suspect that your partnership network is one of the things that's really helped ForgeRock, and ForgeRock University, weather this storm. It's not just your folks pressing forward, you've got that partner network standing behind you as well.
Kevin Streater: Absolutely. It goes back to Sun Microsystems again. Sun was a 40,000 person company that was competing head-on with the IBMs and HPs of the world, companies with 500,000+ people. The reason Sun could do that was because we understood partnering and the benefits in partnering. It works in the good times and the bad times. The partnerships, if they're strong, they’ll be there for you.
Over the last two weeks, I've spent a lot of time talking to, and working with, our partner network. I’ve talked to technology providers and delivery providers, and everybody's pulling together. I have an organization of hundreds working for ForgeRock University, and only a small number of those are actually on ForgeRock staff, but everybody's working together to make sure we can keep delivering.
We've got the same services going out. Everything's well-supported, and the strength of that partner network really comes to the front in times like we're dealing with right now. Everybody's responded to us really wonderfully. Actually, our training business has carried on as normal and pretty much everything has carried on.
All of our partners have looked after their respective regions, for the delivery partners, or our technology partners have been making sure that we've got everything we need, and that all our systems are functioning. Given that we were very partner-centric, and also very, very focused on live virtual delivery. That means that we’ve actually been able to carry on with almost no changes. It's that strength in partnerships that has really allowed us to do that.
John Peebles: Yeah, I remember reaching out and saying, "How's it going with COVID-19?" And you said, "Well, it's pretty much business as usual." That really stands out when you look at the broader training industry.
One thing that I remember really blew my mind, I think it was a year or two ago, it was the first time you'd mentioned this, was a big portion of your live instructor-led training had been virtualized and that was going well, and so on, and so on. But, one of the things that you mentioned was that you're charging more for those courses, which was real. It seems obvious when you think about it that there's less travel, less hassle, less time out of the office. But, the fact that the market just responded to that, it blew my mind and we've used that example a lot with our customer base.
Maybe just talk a little bit about how you kind of came to that realization and the importance of the virtualization piece just in general, but also when all of a sudden we're under work from home conditions and essential travel-only type situations.
Kevin Streater: It's actually a really good example of partnership.
One of our training delivery partners in North America, ExitCertified, had been struggling with the issue for a long time about how to get as many people into the classroom as possible when everyone is so distributed. In the infrastructure software world, we're generally dealing with teams of three or four people specializing in your technology, and at any one time only one or two people will be available for training. Then, you have another customer in another state that has the same need. So, they came up with a virtual platform concept, they call it IMVP, instructor multi-video presence, where they allow you to have people in the classroom; to have people online. And, you just blend the best of everything.
So, you get the full classroom experience and you get it online. You're getting more flexibility and more options. It's actually a higher value service that you're offering. But that has become the basis of how we do all our delivery globally. The training industry was going in this direction anyway but because we, ForgeRock, operate on a global basis, we have to deal with organizations that are at a regional level.
We can't have a UK training operation, a France training operation, and an Australia training operation because we just don’t have the scale for it. We have to work in regions. To make regions work, you have to do virtual training of some form. If you can provide a really high-quality virtual training, there’s a premium for that. You've got the instructor in a classroom, you've got all your normal demonstrations, you've asked questions, and this IMVP setup just worked for us.
So, we introduced that about four years ago. We've rolled it out across all our delivery partners globally. We've got training partners in the US working with training partners in Asia, with partners in Europe; everybody's adopted the same model. And, at the center of ForgeRock's delivery, we've got the same training management system with Administrate, we've got the same virtual lab environment with CloudShare.
They're both integrated together. Everybody receives exactly the same experience. Then, for the edge teaching, we use the IMVP model, the virtual platform. That gives us one standard model globally that we've been using for four years. And when it comes to situations like now, with COVID-19, we just adapt.
So, the only thing we've had to do is, when we've had a classroom presence as well as online, we’ve just had to move that to the instructor being located at home, teaching from home, still with the same setup. But, we literally haven't missed a beat as we've transitioned from being a hybrid of classroom and online, to just online only.
This was all learning we took from our partner network and we've been able to build that out as the basis for everything we do. So, it's a great situation to be in, we've learned a lot from our partners, they've taken this and used it themselves. It's left us in a situation where we can adapt pretty much to anything that might happen, and given what's going on at the moment, is exceptionally unusual. We just carried on, really without having to make any changes. It has been a great testament to how good that whole ecosystem has been for us.
John Peebles: That ecosystem of partners, software, infrastructure, and delivery mechanisms, has all grown a lot in the last five or six years. It has grown in complexity and in scope and so on. But the actual team, as in ForgeRock staff, which you alluded to earlier, has more or less stayed about the same size and really has not grown.
I think that's another really interesting point and a great testament to both your team, but also just the outlook a few years back thinking, "My goodness, if we actually achieve what we're setting out to, we might need hundreds of people, we need to think about that first and figure out how we're not going to have to scale in that linear fashion”. Could you just talk me through that thought process and what it's meant to ForgeRock.
Kevin Streater: The center of ForgeRock is its identity as a software product. We need to put as many resources into engineering our software products as possible. If you're approaching a training business from that perspective, you have to think about, "Okay, how can I provide the best possible training function with the least possible resources?" And if I do have resources, the place they should go is into curriculum development because I need constant content updates.
I need new content as new products come out, and as new features come out: we need content as fast as possible. So in ForgeRock University, most of my time is dedicated content creation. As such, I have to run a very, very lean operations team, to do all of the the day-to-day operations, and the financial reporting.
All the governance has to be run with the absolute minimum number of people. When you set out to build a business with that in mind, you can build it, you can achieve it, as long as you're really focused and you keep focused on it.
When I came into ForgeRock, there were two people in ForgeRock University. There was myself, and I had one person doing the curriculum. On the delivery side, we've grown to run a global training team with very few heads, and nearly everything is done by tools. On the curriculum side we have grown because we needed more content. But had I not thought that way, five or six years ago, then we wouldn't be in the position we are today.
As we've needed to bring in more capability, we've been able to build out our partner network. So, for example, we don't have a sales function, but I've got nearly 100 training salespeople working for me, but they’re all partners. All we have is a sales coordination function to make sure that everything gets recorded in one central system. For operations, I have delivery managers. I don't have anyone that does delivery operations because delivery managers work with all of the delivery partners globally. They're actually doing all of the implementation. They're taking the bookings, recording them on Administrate, taking the bookings, and sending out the joining instructions. That's all being done by our partner network.
So, I only need a small number of delivery managers, which means we’re able to have an absolute minimal team to focus on systems, process, and quality. All of the actual day-to-day transactional work that's done in any training business is all done outside of ForgeRock.
When you're a small startup, this seems like too big a vision to grasp, but I guess in ForgeRock we had the option. We knew where we wanted to get to, we knew we were going to get there as fast as we could. So why not just put the systems in place early? Then, the company can grow to absorb them, the way you've structured things. That's exactly how it's worked out. So, I might only have a very small staff, but I have a huge organization working for me.
John Peebles: Yeah, and there's been numerous bumps and blips along the way, including COVID-19, where all of a sudden, ForgeRock University is put under a huge stress in a positive way, right? New contracts are signed, and bam! We have to do a whole bunch of new training. But, it's not just things like COVID-19. It doesn't take a global pandemic to throw everything away. It can be really good success and just the lumpiness of normal business as well.
Kevin Streater: Yeah, absolutely. And right now, we're doing a huge project for a financial services company. It's the biggest training project we've done in several years. The one criteria that they had was it must be all on-site instruction, and we had that all lined up because the company doesn't like live virtual delivery.
We had to flip it to live virtual delivery, and it's actually changed their understanding of what live virtual training can be, because we're so good at it and so consistent in doing it that we just carried on as if nothing had happened. It's given that client a completely different perspective on what live virtual training can be.
I think the days of training, primarily being an in-classroom thing, are possibly coming to an end, particularly in many parts of the world. In complex enterprise software, we're probably moving to a live virtual-only modality now. Even though a lot of skills, where you have to have things in front of you, particularly very tactile skills, will stay in-person. For example, first aid, you have to have that in front of you. Those skills will still largely take place face-to-face in a classroom.
Enterprise software training will probably never be going back to the classroom now. There are some others, for all the businesses globally, that have a lot of classrooms, actual real estate - they are probably going to be looking for something else to do with that real estate after this.
John Peebles: Kevin, you and I agree on almost everything. And it's been a real pleasure to work together. But there's one thing that we violently disagree on, and that is your obsession with live demos of new software in front of live audiences. You know, the horror, pain, suffering, and so on that can cause it doesn't seem to bother you. Maybe you could explain why?
Kevin: It's one of the things I most enjoy doing. I get very few opportunities to play the instructor again. If I go back to my instructing days, my first job in Sun Education was to teach difficult software that nobody else understood. I was involved in the very early days of directory services and layer two firewalls.
The best way to really show what a product can do is to show people for real and to do live demos. It doesn't always work. But if it does, everybody remembers it. I can't help but carry on doing that. If something works, and you say that your software can do something, the best way to show that is to do a live demo in front of an audience and show that it does what you say it can do. I particularly like doing it with some of my partners. In fact, my main technology partners like yourself, John, I love doing conference presentations showing real software.
If I'm going to put this into an enterprise environment with some very large organizations globally, I don't want it falling over in front of them, so I'd rather it fell over in front of the conference because it's going to save me a whole lot of pain later on. So, yes, I like to live dangerously with software knowing that in most cases it will work, but it does put organizations on edge when I do it. I love watching you and your team just sort of go: “We don't know if this really works for real”. Well, “You’re going to find out, and I'm going to show you”.
John Peebles: Never get on stage with this man. Actually, to be fair, I don't think it hasn't worked yet. So you've got quite the streak going: at least five or six presentations now in front of audiences.
Kevin Streater: That’s a testament to your software John, it's always stood up. We've always been using new features, and it's worked every time. That's exactly what I want to see because that's what my customers are gonna experience.
John Peebles: Indeed, indeed. Well, thanks so much, Kevin. I know you're super busy and be safe. Everyone here at Administrate is rooting for you folks and your team at ForgeRock.
We're all logging into the BBC a lot more these days, I'm sure, using ForgeRock at home. So yeah, thank you so much for coming on and talking us through your journey and the success that you've had at ForgeRock University and ForgeRock as a whole.
Kevin Streater: Thank you very much, John.
John Peebles: All right. Cheers.
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