How AvePoint is managing data and mitigating risk

11 Oct 2018

Dr Tianyi Jiang. Image: AvePoint

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Dr Tianyi Jiang talks to us about AvePoint’s portfolio of data migration, Office 365 backup and the cloud.

Dr Tianyi (TJ) Jiang is co-CEO and co-founder at AvePoint.

He oversees product strategy and business development for AvePoint’s global businesses. He is one of the main architects in guiding AvePoint’s evolution from a SharePoint infrastructure tools company, to an information management solution-focused Microsoft cloud expert.

A recipient of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in New Jersey in 2010, Jiang received both a bachelor’s and master’s in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University, and a master of philosophy and PhD in data mining from the NYU Stern School of Business.

‘The IT industry moves at a rapid pace, especially within the Microsoft ecosystem, so it’s important to always be one step ahead’

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m the co-founder and co-CEO of AvePoint, a company that helps organisations operationalise their digital transformation on to Microsoft Cloud. Specifically, we help enterprise customers migrate, manage and protect their enterprise data and applications on Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and Dynamics.

My role is to establish and implement the vision, values, quality standards and direction of the company. I’m particularly focused on how we stay ahead of new industry trends that solve some of our customers’ biggest challenges around compliance, collaboration and enterprise information management. The IT industry moves at a rapid pace, especially within the Microsoft ecosystem, so it’s important to always be one step ahead.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Prioritisation and focus are actually things I think about quite a lot, both for the company as well as my working life. I recently attended a seminar on essentialism, hosted by Greg McKeown, author of the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, where the focus is to declutter work life.

I prioritise my working life around the concepts of agility, passion and teamwork. So, for example, I place a high priority on the activities within our business that ensure we have fast time to market and that our solutions help deliver quick time to value for our customers.

For AvePoint, it’s important that we focus on the portions of our solutions portfolio with the highest demand: migration, Office 365 backup, cloud governance and cloud records.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

One of the key challenges facing all businesses right now is how to boost both compliance and productivity, given the impact of cloud office technologies, increasingly complex industry regulations such as GDPR and the huge influx of data being created every day.

We are tackling these challenges by:

  • Providing organisations the ability to discover, understand and classify all of their data wherever it lives
  • Getting their data to Office 365 or SharePoint with full fidelity and metadata intact
  • Making IT teams and end users more productive by managing Office 365 Groups and Teams sprawl through automated governance solutions
  • Enabling the central management and enforcement of policies for digital and physical records
  • Managing security and privacy risks to the organisation by ensuring PII or sensitive data is automatically classified and doesn’t leak
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The biggest opportunity we have capitalised on is the move to the cloud. We are now at the point where 60pc of our revenue is generated from our pure SaaS solutions on our AvePoint Cloud platform. This was not just an evolution of our technology, but of all our organisation’s processes. It was a challenging but rewarding journey, which brought with it a lot of lessons learned.

Dark-haired man wearing suit and glasses speaking in front of green and purple MIcrosoft posters.

Dr Tianyi Jiang. Image: AvePoint

The other trend we are capitalising on is the tremendous adoption of Office 365. The platform now has 135m active monthly business users and is on a trajectory for continued rapid growth. This has included many of our traditional enterprise customers, but is also helping us to expand to new markets.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I worked for Lehman Brothers on the fortieth floor of the north tower in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Like many Americans, those events made a huge impact on my life. It drove me to take risks by going back to graduate school to study data mining full-time and to start my own business with my co-worker Kai Gong which ultimately became AvePoint.

There were some key events and decisions along the way that led AvePoint to become one of the largest independent software vendors in the Microsoft ecosystem. In the early days, we were buoyed by the rapid growth of SharePoint, which I think even caught Microsoft by surprise.

We also invested in the growth of our global workforce early. When we hired our new chief revenue officer last year, he joked that AvePoint was the smallest global company he had seen.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Professionally, my biggest mistake was underestimating how difficult it would be for our company to transform into becoming a premier SaaS provider. When you move from a perpetual licence to a SaaS model, it’s not just the technology that changes – it’s your entire company. The business model, your internal processes, everything changes to become more efficient. I wrote a blogpost reflecting on our journey; what AvePoint got right and what I’d do differently.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The first thing is, you must find the right people. Our industry is so fast, and we place such a high value on agility at AvePoint, that it’s important for us to communicate this and bring in people that can pivot and refocus quickly. Fast-tracking talent and having an environment based on meritocracy also helps get the most out of your team. We will move people who have been successful in one part of the business to another, and we find that they pick up their new responsibilities quickly and achieve similar levels of success.

‘I worked for Lehman Brothers on the fortieth floor of the north tower in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Like many Americans, those events made a huge impact on my life’

Once you have the right people, you need to arm them with the right tools, whether that’s bigger public forums such as Yammer and SharePoint, or smaller, quicker collaboration tools such as Teams or Groups.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

In general, the software industry has been predominantly male, which is an issue that is still with us today. As an industry, we haven’t done a good job in appealing to a broader population.

But I’m seeing that change get better with the next generation. Not only does my five-year-old son have a regular programming class, more than 50pc of the class is female. Now, the salary of professors teaching computer science is higher than those teaching medicine or law.

At AvePoint, we believe a diversity in backgrounds and perspectives makes organisations stronger.

Who is your role model and why?

Nelson Mandela, not only for his courage and role in social justice, but for his perspective on failure. He said: “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Homo Deus. Its on Bill Gates’s summer reading list and it’s quite good. It talks about the abilities we’ve gained and technology we’ve developed as humans, and what that means for our future, both the hopeful aspects and the potential dangers of our evolution.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not on Yammer, Teams or SharePoint. I live off my calendar and task list, which I use to follow the Pomodoro technique, where I break work down work into 25-minute increments of concentration, separated by short breaks.

Other essential tools for me are podcasts and audiobooks. I regularly go for long runs and I’m able to absorb so much useful information listening to podcasts and audiobooks on Stitcher and Blinkist.

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