[YS Learn] ‘We are focused on helping India transform into a digitally empowered society’

In a conversation with YourStory, Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, Senior VP and GM, Red Hat, Asia-Pacific and Japan, speaks about learnings from COVID-19, the company’s collaborations in India, and how it is helping enterprises use open source in a safe and secure way.
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The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the world towards accelerated digital transformation, and India is no different. 

Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Red Hat's Asia-Pacific and Japan region, believes the India market is now poised to become a digitally empowered society. 

In a conversation with YourStory, Dirk Peter van Leeuwen spoke about the company’s collaborations in India, learnings from the pandemic, and how being mobile-first is important for the next step of growth in India. 

Dirk Peter van Leeuwen is responsible for expanding Red Hat's presence, and oversees sales, marketing, and services throughout the Asia-Pacific and Japan.

Since his move to Singapore in September 2009, he has tripled the company’s revenue and the Asia-Pacific is now recognised as one of Red Hat's fastest-growing regions. Red Hat is a provider of enterprise open source solutions, including high-performing Linux, cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies.

Dirk joined Red Hat in 2004 to establish its operations in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux). His responsibilities were expanded, with him taking charge of Central Europe and later Eastern Europe. 

As vice president for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), he helped to significantly grow the EMEA business until he moved to Singapore. He has more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry, and a deep understanding of the enterprise software market and the channels in both Asia-Pacific and Europe. 

Prior to working for Red Hat, he was a European director for PlanetWeb Inc. and the director of Northern Europe for SCO, where he built its sales operations in Benelux and the Nordic regions. 

Dirk Peter van Leeuwen

Edited excerpts from the interview: 

YourStory (YS): Tell us how the year has been for Red Hat, and what are the core shifts you have made? 

Dirk Peter van Leeuwen (DP): Our core focus has been in India. It is a known fact that COVID drove people to accelerated digitisation, which is continuing to grow at a fast pace. 

We have been in India for the longest time as a service provider for digital transformation. We have seen that being mobile-first in India is important for the next step of growth and are focused on helping India transform into a digitally empowered society.

We are concentrating on projects that are helping our customers ready for increased online consumption of technology.

For example, Vodafone is looking at gearing up their 5G growth and need to move from a pure hybrid infrastructure to a digital switching infrastructure for that. 

YS: How has the shift been for Red Hat? Tell us a little more about your collaborations and learnings.

DP: Fortunately for us, we have continued to grow. What helped from early 2003 was our primary focus - open source. That has been our core model. When you focus on giving customers the best experience possible, you continue to grow. We have seen a double digit percent growth over this year. 

We have seen that core banks and big telcos in India have a digital agenda. Their plans of three to five years have been condensed to three to five months; that nimbleness in shift is what we’ve seen. 

Also, we couldn’t physically send people to data centres; we also had to work around this remotely. What helped is us supporting customers to turn around rather than us doing it for them. 

It is important to understand what digital transformation means, and how you can get a digital transformation process in place and accelerate it. This isn’t just restricted to IT; it is about people, it is about culture and process. A complex transition is happening.

You start working with people who’ve got great ideas, empower them, and focus on how you build those ideas. Those aren’t necessarily senior leaders. We have methodologies and ways to help companies identify trends and skills that will help them digitise quickly. 

YS: How has the pandemic transformed enterprises? 

DP: We learnt that all of us are able and capable of switching very quickly. If you look at the speed at which companies around the world closed their offices and began working from home, it has been a natural process. This is despite the challenges - not everybody has a home office, or lives in an environment where people can work from home. 

Also, if you look at overall market reports, you will see that there may be some decline in IT spends. But key sectors like education, healthcare, and public utilities are expanding their digital spends - whether this is retail, insurance, or banking. 

Another thing happening is that AI and machine learning are becoming more popular. This increases the need for cloud computing. For example, in India, 64 percent of organisations are expected to increase demand for cloud computing, whereas 56 percent of cloud software is there to support the new normal. 

This means you then get paid for-user models, which are more likely to accelerate on demand. 

YS: What role do you think security will play in 2021? 

DP: Security is a big issue these days. We play a massive role in certifying and harnessing solutions for our customers, so that they can use open source technology safely and securely. 

I think the understanding of what it means to have a secure environment, especially when you use cloud, is still not clear to a lot of companies. Now that there's such a massive adoption, there are security breaches and issues with public cloud environments where data is being stolen, or where running applications are coming to a halt.

This goes to prove that security is increasingly important. The Indian cybersecurity service industry is expected to grow from $4.3 billion to $7.6 billion in 2022. That is a massive opportunity and demand. 

Security goes hand in hand with automation and AI, and all these kind of components are important when you deploy applications in the cloud. We are helping our customers find a way in a world where numerous applications are available to find the right, secure ones. 

YS: What will 2021 be like for Red Hat and the technological landscape?  

DP: Business wise, we are continuing to invest and hire aggressively. We are in steep growth trajectory. The challenging aspect is hiring new people who cannot come to the office environment. The world is clearly moving towards people going back to offices and normal life. It is hard to predict if people will continue working from home as a norm. There may be a hybrid mix. 

On the larger tech landscape, I think open source has proved itself as the technology and development methodology of the future. It is because of the ways open source allows everybody to participate and create great products, without limiting usage by intellectual property rights, that the cloud has emerged and evolved the way it has. 

It's pretty clear all the technologies that we see emerging, all the new features and micro services, are all open source. They may not necessarily come from Red Hat. There are many successful companies now. We want to interconnect solutions. We are the company that helps enterprise users to use open source in a safe and secure way.

People will now have to reinvent themselves. This means that digital transformation needs to happen faster than it ever did before. There is a need to redesign models to sustain and maintain businesses at a time when movement is restricted. 

It’s time to really rethink work and operations. And how people consume products. This presents an opportunity for RedHat and the IT industry, as it was entire strategy to take customers to a hybrid cloud infrastructure.  

The good thing about hybrid cloud versus pure public cloud is that you have existing legacy applications that you can actually run in the cloud today. We have virtualisation technology that sits inside of openshift, for example, that allows you to instantly take an application and bring it to the cloud without having to redesign it. 

We can help customers redesign and create agile methodologies and microservices, and build open high cloud infrastructure. 

YS: What advice would you give younger companies and startups? 

DP: Be really focused on customer experience. It's great if you have an idea, it's great if you have a unique vision of what a customer need is, what a product would look like. But building that in isolation and trying to capitalise on the intellectual property that you've created will not help you scale. 

The speed of innovation through open source is fast and you will have a very short lifespan as a company if you focus your startup on intellectual property. Concentrate on what customers want and how they would want to pay for that experience. 

You need to capitalise on that customer experience, not intellectual property. If you can figure out how to create a valuable service that a customer feels good paying for, you have a sustainable business model. It is always about the customer experience, not the underlying technology

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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