The Fabulous 40 video series, hosted by VP of Product Technology Dan Stoll (@_danstoll) interviews members of the Office 365 & SharePoint community. Dan delivers a rapid fire of 40 questions that let you get to know about that things that drive and inspire the leading minds in Office 365.
In episode 6 Chris Ben Product Lead at Provoke Solutions, joins Dan at the Digital Workplace Conference in Auckland.
Chris takes us through his career to date and how he has helped customers since the earliest versions of SharePoint (BPOS). Chris explains how he is helping his customers navigate the move from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams. We also dive into Chris' role, where he specializes in delivering extra value in Office 365 through add-on products like Nintex and Hyperfish.
Dan: A-ha, this guy. How you going, Chris?
Chris: Hey, Stolly. How are you, my friend?
Dan: Not bad, mate, yourself? Yeah, pretty good checking out your latest brochures, looking good, man. So what brings you to Auckland today?
Chris: Same thing as you, Digital Workplace Conference.
Dan: And what number DWC is this for you?
Chris: I think this is number six. I lose track, but yeah. I've been coming for a while.
Dan: Right, yeah and what's the coolest thing you've learnt at this years' conference?
Chris: This years conference actually was a really good keynote speech by David Downs.
Dan: What's your favorite thing about attending the conference?
Chris: networking, so seeing my buddies like you, meeting customers, having yarns about what they've been up to for the last few weeks 'cause you know we are in constant contact. But yeah, just the updates. It's really good.
Dan: And any tips on what you must see in Auckland?
Chris: If you are gonna do anything in Auckland, definitely check out Rangitoto. That's something that's a bit harder to get to. You could kayak there, or you could catch a ferry. But try the kayaking.
Dan: Yeah Yeah, you've lived in both Auckland and Wellington what do you prefer?
Chris: Well, Auckland is my birthplace. But I've been in Wellington now for 15 years, it's a cool little city, so I like both, I'm not gonna answer that actually. No comment.
Chris: Should we wander around?
Dan: Yeah, man yeah. So you're the product lead for Provoke Solutions. What does Provoke specialize in?
Chris: Well, Provoke is a full service IT company and I guess there are really three pillars to our boat. The first one's about Enterprise Applications. So you know, your large line of business applications, API strategies, big bespoke developments. The second one would be what we'd call our modern workplace. So it's for the employees of the organization. The intranets and extranets, the workflow. I do a lot of work with workflow, that's a bit of my passion. And the third one is digital self-service, so our customer's customers. Building mobile apps for them, for example.
Dan: And what's your focus as the product lead?
Chris: As a product lead I maintain all the relationships between us and our partners, like yourselves. So yes, it's understanding about what products are out there in the ecosystem to supplement what else we do.
Dan: So how do you get to help companies discover and implement epic software like Hyperfish?
Chris: That's right, yeah. Effectively I'm an evangelist so I will go into a customer, understand their requirements, and see if there is an appropriate product that can help them out.
Dan: Gotcha. And how long have you worked at Provoke for now?
Chris: I'm coming up eight years.
Dan: How large has the company grown to?
Chris: We've got about 130-odd staff now. We're based in Auckland, Wellington, and Seattle.
Dan: Right, and what's the best thing about working at Provoke?
Chris: The culture. If you ask anybody at Provoke, they always say the culture. It's a cool bunch of people. Work hard, play hard.
Dan: Yeah, you seem to have built a hardworking but also fun team. Is that a reflection of the owners?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. The owners are actively involved in the organization. When I say that we've got a really great culture, that stems from those guys.
Dan: Yeah, the team seems to love celebrating events together like the royal wedding, and decorating the office at Christmas. What were the Easter festivities like?
Chris: Easter was actually pretty low key 'cause lots of people were away. But a couple of weeks before, we celebrated our 18th birthday and we dressed that up as a school formal. So lots of people usually are wearing T-shirts, this time they were all in suits and ties. It was really funny.
Dan: Any upcoming office celebrations you'd like to invite me to?
Chris: Yes, I would like to invite you to our famous winter solstice party. That's a customer event, and partner event. And that too is a dress up party. That'll be awesome, come as Batman.
Dan: Do we get to dance around a fire and things like that?
Chris: I don't know what the theme for this year's gonna be but probably.
Dan: So does Provoke exclusively work in New Zealand market?
Chris: No. So we've got an office in Seattle and we are just establishing one in San Diego as well.
Dan: Ah, nice. So any chance you'll be visiting your Bellevue office soon?
Chris: Well, maybe I can get some assistance from you 'cause I'd love to.
Dan: Yeah, and we could grab a burger and beer.
Chris: Ah, yeah, man. Now you're talkin'.
Dan: I read Provoke recently received a significant investment in the US. Tell me about that?
Chris: Yeah, so we've had a guy on our board for the last two and a half years. He liked the company so much. It's just like that razor ad for Remington. He liked it so much he bought the company.
Dan: Oh Nice. Now, so this is all part of the world domination plans?
Chris: Yeah, maybe.
Dan: You hold a title of a Virtual Technical Evangelist for Nintex. Now, what is a Nintex VTE?
Chris: Yeah, so a Nintex VTE is somebody who works in the Nintex partner system but is not an employee of Nintex. So I evangelize about the Nintex technology, where a physical Nintex person is not present in the country.
Dan: Got it, gotcha and what was involved in getting to that level of recognition from Nintex?
Chris: I think you've just gotta know the product really well. You've got to be able to promote it. You've gotta understand where it's suitable. There's training and certification and also active use in the community.
Dan: Right, now you're heavily involved in the consulting practice at Provoke as well what kind of processes are you helping customers with?
Chris: Well , see this is the cool thing, anything, there is no particular industry vertical that we necessarily need to work with. When you're talking about process automation any process can be automated, any process can be documented.
Dan: Right. Provoke has won a few awards for various things, which ones are you most proud of?
Chris: Yeah man, well I'm very proud of the Nintex partner awards we've won a bunch of those. Also we work in the Microsoft ecosystem so we're recognized by Microsoft, we got partner of the year last year, so that was really cool.
Dan: Yeah, nice and then do any of these actually sit on your desk?
Chris: No there're actually too many so we put them in the boardroom.
Dan: Oh wow, humble brag. You've also been helping customers automate profile management with Hyperfish, any standout features you wanna plug?
Chris: Oh, where do I start? I love the profile photo validation the fact that you can give users, well allow them to self service upload their own photos and then it checks them, that they're legitimate, that they show one face, that kind of thing and but also just maintain a consistency within your Active Directory, it prompts you, if you've got something wrong, "Hey, your phone number format is in the wrong one," we want it in a +64 format, for example.
Chris: Hyperfish is really good for that.
Dan: What's been the highlight of being a Hyperfish partner?
Chris: Well, it's a really smart team.
Dan: Well, of course
Chris: In terms of the partner engagement that we have we get a lot of love from you guys that's, I think, crucial. Like cementing a good foundation.
Dan: Yeah, how long have you been helping customers with Office 365?
Chris: Since the early days of BPOS.
Dan: Aah hell, so a while
Chris: So BPOS, a long long time, many years.
Dan: Are you seeing a significant migration to the cloud across your customers?
Chris: Yeah, I'd say probably in the last two years Office 365 has been out a long time but in the last two years, we're getting more and more conversations with customers who are moving or starting to think about taking their workloads off the on prem environment and moving it to the cloud.
Dan: Yeah. What Office 365 apps do you use the most in your job?
Chris: So in my particular job I do use a lot of SharePoint Online, obviously Exchange, we are adopting Teams and we're starting to use that, we use Skype for Business, but now everything is moving towards Teams.
Dan: Yeah, what Office 365 apps are you seeing widely adopted across your customers?
Chris: Yeah so that one, Teams, Teams is going viral. Now Teams still needs a little bit of maturity time, time to mature, but we're here to help them do that.
Dan: Yeah, great. And what attracted you to a career in technology in the first place?
Chris: I liked breaking things, I liked taking toasters a apart and trying to put them back together and I think technology, the underpinning things about how it works is why I got involved in technology.
Dan: You started off helping companies with Lotus Notes and Domino, like myself; do you miss those glory days?
Chris: No way man, I remember those frustrating days of trying to get it to do something and you tried three times over and finally on the third go that you've repeated exactly the same as the previous two it would actually work.
Dan: Lotus Script was legit.
Dan: What's the meaning behind the Provoke spider logo?
Chris: When Provoke was first born, the directors wanted it to be provocative, hence the name and the spider logo was definitely provocative. They wanted big and brash, they wanted to say that we're the best.
Dan: Right, any Office 365 service you'd love more of your customers using?
Chris: 365 service? I think that SharePoint is still underutilized, people think of it as just a document management system. So there's more potential there.
Dan: Now I recall Provoke had on it's website an animal for each employee? What animal were you assigned to?
Chris: I was a meerkat.
Dan: A meerkat?
Chris: Yeah man.
Dan: That's okay, that's amazing. Did you get to pick your animal?
Chris: I did ,yeah, when you join, the only rule is it has to be real i.e, it can't be a unicorn
Dan: It can't be a Pokemon.
Chris: It can't be a Pokemon and nobody, it has to be unique so nobody else has it. So I managed to get Meerkat which I was pretty happy with.
Dan: Right, you speak French and you also speak Maori, what sparked the interest in learning the different languages?
Chris: When I went to Europe the first time many years ago, I just loved using a phrase book and saying something like "cerveza" which meant Blah Blah Blah to me, but them getting a beer and interacting with people, so when I came back to New Zealand I was like, "Right, I'm gonna learn a language" and I picked French randomly.
Dan: Right, any plans on opening up a Provoke Paris Office?
Chris: I'd love to. Let's do it now.
Dan: On your Linkedin photo you look like you're calling someone, who were you calling?
Chris: Yeah man, I was calling President Obama when I was taking that photo, he didn't accept my call though.
Dan: Where do you get the best fish and chips around here?
Chris: Well I'm from Auckland and I went to school with a guy called Chris Marsic, you can go to the Marsic Brothers in Glen Innes they will do you some good fish and chips.
Dan: All right, sounds good mate well, I'm gonna head there now and grab some lunch so I'll catch you after.
Chris: Good man
Dan: See you bud
Chris: Cheers Stolly
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