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007: Reducing IT Incident Response Time By Cutting Through Alert Noise – Nathan Rofkahr
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In today’s IT environments, support staff members are inundated by a sea of alerts, coming from servers, appliances, software apps and customers.  Chicago based AlertOps is a software company that has created a web software product that helps its users cut through that alert noise, and in this episode, I interview their Director of Growth, Nathan Rofkahr.  We discuss some of the features of their product, the conditions and challenges of the environment large scale IT shops operate in, and how AlertOps can help.  Stay tuned to the end of the episode for information about a 20% discount you can receive by mentioning this podcast!






Podcast Transcript:

Sam Schutte:                Okay. We are here with Nate Rofkahr. Nate is the director of growth for AlertOps. Nate, welcome to the show.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Thanks so much for having me.

Sam Schutte:                AlertOps is an alert aggregation and notification platform. It’s a web-based SAS product that’s used by IT, DevOps, and other departments to help the right people get the right notifications at the right time, basically. So we’re going to look at this tool today and dive into it some with Nate.

Sam Schutte:                Nate, maybe a place to start is if you can tell us a little bit about your career history and how you came to be with the company.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Sure, yeah. Absolutely. Originally, I was actually starting college with just being interested in business and startups. I think I started a couple different companies in college. One was a radio station, and one was a traveling company. I just got involved in starting things. I just got interested in building things and starting things at that point. I went to work at a startup in Denver, Colorado, then ended up in Hong Kong for a period, and then ended up back in Chicago.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Then I started doing not a startup per se, in Chicago, but we were doing … It was almost like an internal startup for a company. That did pretty well. Then met with the team here at AlertOps. I met with the CEO. He was starting some pretty interesting things. Really, that’s when I got interested in what they were doing. They had validated this product to a point where I felt like it was something viable that we could take and really run with it.

Sam Schutte:                Where did the company get started, and how did it come about?

Nathan Rofkahr:            AlertOps really came from a conversation that the CEO had with a Fortune 1000 company that was struggling with specifically notifications during major incidents on Black Friday. I think that was the actual use case, Black Friday. So really specific use case. Really, what happened was their team met with our team regularly. Got all the requirements, essentially the checklist for, “Here’s everything we would possibly need to help us respond to a major incident during Black Friday to resolve it.” So that’s a pretty powerful checklist to get in the first place. But then even on top of that, they were able to validate it because they were … Essentially, that Fortune 1000 purchased it, and that validated it at that point to where it was something that we could start rolling out to the rest of the companies.

Sam Schutte:                I see. Maybe for our listeners I can talk a little bit about the environment that people are working in when they need a tool such as this. Imagine, if you’re talking about a major retailer, you’ve got all your servers, websites, any eCommerce stuff going on. You’ve got, of course, all your email servers and all the operational IT stuff. Then you’ve also got cash registers and all the point-of-sale stuff happening. All of those systems obviously have to be happening and working the right way during such a major event like Black Friday, or else there’s a problem if somebody can’t purchase their shopping cart online or if they can’t run their credit card in the store.

Sam Schutte:                I guess, maybe talk about what kind of alerts are we talking about? Where do these alerts come from? What kind of things can happen that even creates an alert? What kind of alert are we talking about?

Nathan Rofkahr:            I think you hit it on the spot there. When you’re talking about an event like Black Friday where there’s just a rush, an influx of people. Essentially, everything you’ve built and worked so hard for for the year becomes at its max. It’s overloaded. Things are going to have to start scaling. At that point, you’re getting just a ton of alerts from monitoring tools. There’s tons and tons of alert noise out there, so there’s a lot of different monitoring tools that are sending alerts out.

Nathan Rofkahr:            One of the primary use cases is typically alert noise like emails. Just think about the number of emails in your inbox. If you’re getting tons and tons of emails, and it could even be from one thing … Maybe there’s 10 different things that this monitoring tool is monitoring, and it’s going to send you 10 alerts for just one thing. There’s a couple different use cases in there, but one of the big things is alert noise. On top of that, you get into multiple team schedules, automations, notifying stakeholders, and a bunch of other stuff. The fundamental, basic version one of what an alerting tool would do would be just help with the alert noise. I’m monitoring hundreds and hundreds of things. Just help me filter through this, prioritize these, and get the right alert to the right person.

Sam Schutte:                Exactly, because in an unstructured, unorganized environment, everyone gets all alerts. Worse case is your entire team gets every alert from low priority up, and that just doesn’t really work if you’re anything larger than a small business, more or less. Maybe describe the software product a bit. How do people use it typically? I mean, obviously it’s a web-based product, but what are some of the most important features in it that people take advantage of?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Sure. Fundamentally, AlertOps is just a communication platform. It empowers organizations to respond in real time, specifically around business-critical incidents. It’s extremely flexible and customizable, so that means it can do everything from your basic on-call scheduling and on-call alerting for small teams, maybe it’s just one team, and it can scale all the way up to very complex, unique enterprise challenges that have maybe hundreds of integrations and hundreds of teams around the world on different time zones. It can scale all the way up to that, so it’s very flexible in that regard.

Nathan Rofkahr:            So really, one of the fundamental things is on-call scheduling. Really, the on-call scheduling that we provide is enterprise grade. And I guess what differentiates that is that you might have a team, but you might have a team within a team. We define teams as groups. So a team could be the DevOps team, but really you might have a team that’s devoted to dev and another team devoted to ops. Maybe there’s another team that’s just the whole DevOps team. So there’s different teams within teams. If you think about it, there’s a parent-child relationship there. That’s something that we’re able to take advantage of on that scheduling side.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Some of the other things would just be automations, building workflows, being able to integrate one tool into another tool. Typically, you’ll see a flow. So you’ll have a monitoring tool, and that’ll be connected either to AlertOps or a ticketing tool like, say, ServiceNow. So you’ll either have a flow going monitoring tool to ServiceNow to AlertOps, or monitoring tool to AlertOps to ServiceNow. There’s going to be some kind of flow like that, and we’re able to do two-way integrations with both ends, so two-way integrations with a monitoring tool, two-way integrations with ServiceNow.

Sam Schutte:                One use case we walked through and I took a look at the software was … Imagine you have a situation where, let’s say, a database goes down. Well, that event might happen because you have some monitoring system, and you don’t want that to just go out in an email to everybody. So it goes into your software, and your DBA, your database administrator, they might get alerted. But you also might want your web application developers alerted. They’re not going to be the ones that fix it, but they need to know, because if they were planning on pushing out a build that night, they don’t want to bother doing that if the database is down, because then they might screw up their web server and end up in a bad state.

Sam Schutte:                So the DBAs might get alerted, and then they might need to create a ticket. Maybe they can’t fix it, because if a hard drive was the problem and it died, they’re going to need the hardware person to do that. So there’s all kinds of buttons and acknowledgement features within the software that, if they get an alert via Slack, for instance, they can say, “I acknowledge it,” or, “I assign it to someone else,” and basically allows that kind of workflow to happen.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Right. There’s a few different roles within how things can be set up, and then there’s also those different types of response, assignment versus acknowledge. I think that’s pretty typical across most on-call scheduling. You’ll have a primary, and they’re responsible for some sort of part of that business. When they get alerted, they’re responsible for responding to that. If they’re asleep or they’re on an airplane and unable to respond, you’re going to have a secondary, and then maybe even a tertiary.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Then, like you said, we have those two different types of responses. You have assignment, which we would categorize as ownership, so you’ve taken ownership at this point, you’re going to run with it, and you’re going to resolve it. You’re responsible for that. Then the other one is acknowledgement. If you’re acknowledging it, you’re just saying, “Thank you for the alert at 2:00 AM. I’ve seen this,” and that lets your management team know that you’ve seen it, you were aware of it. That helps with accountability too, because the manager is thinking, “Who saw this and how come nobody took assignment on this one?” So it helps with some of that accountability.

Nathan Rofkahr:            In some cases, some managers will want everybody to acknowledge and only one person to assign. In some cases, we’re flexible with that too. Maybe you’ll only want the assignment button. You don’t even want the acknowledgement button. That’s possible too. So it depends on business case, but it’s very flexible, and it can accommodate both of those. If the primary doesn’t respond after 10 minutes, it can be escalated to the secondary. If nobody responds, it can be escalated to a manager.

Nathan Rofkahr:            I think one of the cool things about it is it doesn’t have to be the same message. It doesn’t have to be the exact same message. The manager could actually get a slightly different message than the tech responders, and even other stakeholders could get different messages. If it makes it all the way up to the CIO or the CEO, they may want to know what’s going on. They may want to know, “Something’s going on. We’re working on it.” That allows some separation as far as that the tech guys are working on the tech stuff, the business guys are working on the business stuff. So the C-levels … Maybe they need to be in the loop, but they don’t need to know server B is down. They don’t need to know the very specific technical stuff that’s going on, and that expands out to business partners, customers. You want to keep everybody in the loop in different ways. So that’s a cool thing.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, because you can format. For instance, if you were alerting people via email, you might want them to have a very pretty, graphic, nice email that they receive that tells them exactly what’s going on and, “If you have questions, call this number,” or, “If you need help, call your account representative,” all this sort of stuff, whereas an internal person … Maybe he wouldn’t need that level of detail. So you can customize those emails that go out, which is cool.

Sam Schutte:                Just from an escalation standpoint, I think it’s valuable to have this kind of tool that you can put real intelligence to it. As I was telling you earlier, we’ve built some custom systems and email engines to do this sort of stuff before. The problem that we usually see is you start building it and people say, “Every time,” for instance, “a job is late or some task is late, I want an email to go out.” Well, then you turn that on and you start getting thousands of emails, sometimes, a day.

Sam Schutte:                We had one customer that underestimated how many things were actually late. Then you say, “Very quickly, of course, can we wrap those all up into one digest email?” But nobody really reads the digest, so you end up basically blind. I’ve also found that, certainly, nothing motivates a support team more than, like you said, the CIO getting an alert because they didn’t respond to it in time, nobody clicked acknowledge, it made its way all up the chain, and now somebody’s really screaming about it. But you also don’t want your main, big boss man to be on the global distribution list that gets every single email because he or she will go crazy getting that many alerts.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Right, and the other great thing is those rule sets are there for … If it’s been 30 minutes, do this. If nobody’s responded, do this. So you can create those operators to tell it what to do depending on different situations. It’s very much part of the workflows engine that exists. It’s a very robust workflows engine, so you can do quite a bit with it.

Sam Schutte:                Like I was describing, some of the use cases I’ve seen out in the wild, at least that we’ve directly been pulled into, just the alert world is around project status and stuff like that and customer deadlines and things. We talked about retail a little bit and just general servers being up and down. What are some other business use cases you’ve seen that are some of the more interesting ones you all have deployed it for?

Nathan Rofkahr:            For instance, there’s a very large game development company that we work with. You would easily know who they are. They probably use our system better than anybody else at this point. They’ve really maximized it. Some of the use cases that they have were really around policy even. So if you think about it, you have all these different teams in these organizations. Maybe small businesses have a lot of teams, but really, once you get up to small enterprises, large enterprises, you’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of IT people and teams.

Nathan Rofkahr:            If you’re not careful, each one of those teams might have a little special tool that they want to use. You might have one guy really wants to use ServiceNow, and then this other guy wants to use Cherwell. I’m name dropping, but there’s all these different tools that they might use even for monitoring, like New Relic, AppDynamics. There’s always these different tools that they’re wanting to bring in and use. Typically, there’s some kind of policy where they’re able to do that with their credit card or whatever, they’re getting reimbursed, and they have one user.

Nathan Rofkahr:            There’s a problem with that. I mean, it’s really cool. It creates a lot of flexibility within the organization to get things done. But over time, there’s problems especially related to incidence where you don’t know what’s important, you don’t know what’s a priority, because what happens is team A is using tool A and team B is using tool B. Both of them think their stuff’s important. They don’t want to get on the chopping block for not having marked it as important. So really, being able to build and enforce a policy around what an incident is, if it’s high priority or low priority, how it gets escalated within the organization … Using a one tool like AlertOps helps you really develop a policy for the entire organization on how those incidents get escalated and then how they get resolved.

Nathan Rofkahr:            That’s been a huge use case for at least one of our customers that they didn’t even know they had. I think they’re using ServiceNow. They just started seeing all these different problems once they implemented AlertOps just because there were, again, many different priority levels coming in as high priority. So once they started implementing AlertOps, they started seeing, “Well, that’s not important. That’s not P1, I’m sorry. That’s not going to cut it.” What that allows you to do, though, is create some operational efficiencies around, “We’re going to focus our time on P1s, and then we’ll worry about the other ones later.” That’s just one use case.

Sam Schutte:                Can you do stuff like, if there’s priority one items or alerts outstanding, not tell people about lower priority ones yet until the higher priority ones are addressed, something like that? Or how do you prioritize that, I guess?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Really, that would come down to the ticketing platform. We’re not a monitoring tool, we’re not a ticketing tool, but we can facilitate that. I’m trying to think how that would work. Essentially, if you want to do something like that, I think you would probably just push everything to ServiceNow, probably, or some other ticketing tool, and then you would push all of that again to AlertOps. All those alerts would come to AlertOps then. Then we would look at that information with the ServiceNow information, parse it, fix it up, and send it back into ServiceNow.

Sam Schutte:                I see. Okay. That’s interesting that the policy management you talked about. I think you had talked a little bit to me about customers in the medical emergency room and healthcare space. In that space, are they strictly doing IT alerting, or are they doing more healthcare-specific medical devices or something like that or CT scan machines sending alerts? What are some of the special uses in healthcare, I guess, for your system?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Again, it’s a communication tool. We can adjust phone calls, emails, and API. We can adjust a lot of different data. Then we’re able to map that, transform it into something else, and then send it out however it needs to be sent out. I think, for medicine in particular, especially with hospitals, there’s a challenge with the walls being extremely thick, and there’s challenges with just protection from radiation. There’s all these different layers that are very challenging for them.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Same thing if you were in a bunker for the US government. I think a lot of the government still uses archaic technology just because they’re in a bunker. They can’t use modern technology in it in some cases. So it’s been a challenge, especially with some hospitals and certain institutions like that. But I think we do work with emergency responders, like ambulances, 9-1-1, with actual hospitals, but the guys that are actually on call for responding to those. That’s certainly a use case. We offer … It’s inbound calling, so you can call a phone number and it will route it. I think they use that quite a bit too.

Sam Schutte:                You can have it sending out alerts over a phone call, I think, as well. Is that right?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. You can send out a voice message. Yeah, there’s a few different methods. Yeah.

Sam Schutte:                Okay, so it’ll call you. And, basically, can it do something like read text to voice, something like that, read a message you’ve got in there, or does it call and actually play an MP3 file or something you’ve given it? How does that work?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Within the system, you can do … I think the methods are email, SMS integrations. So that would lead to ChatOps like Slack, MS Teams, voice messages, and then push. For voice messages, that’s simply reading off a message that you type in, yeah. That’ll read that off, yep.

Sam Schutte:                You’re right that, particularly within hospitals, pagers and cell phones … It’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of work in the basement of hospitals, but I have spent a lot of time there in the past in my career. They would often have portable landline phones, for instance, or that might be a case in which having your app running on their phone that they can get to over wifi is better than relying on an SMS, for instance, because they’re not going to get that signal, most likely, in the basement somewhere, right?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Right. Absolutely, yeah.

Sam Schutte:                I was curious too, you mentioned ServiceNow a lot, and I think a lot of folks are probably familiar with that. Obviously, ServiceNow and AlertOps are different tools. Can you describe some of the differentiation there of where people would use one and not the other?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. If you think about alerting people, think of alerting as just a notification. Really, when you get down to it, it is. Some of the differences between ServiceNow and AlertOps would be ServiceNow covers an umbrella of different things, IT service management. It’s covering the ticketing side, and it’s covering some of the scheduling and some of the alerting in some cases. It depends on which modules you get, but really in essence, ServiceNow is doing the ticketing. They’re handling the tickets, making sure that there’s resolution to the incident.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Really, where AlertOps steps in though is there’s some things that ServiceNow is currently not very good at. Those are scheduling and notifications. So really, where we step in and where we do the best in the world is the response side. When there’s teams that need to respond to something, AlertOps is going to do very well in that area. When it’s something related to resolution and maybe postmortems and ticketing and some of that stuff, ServiceNow is going to take that and do a really good job with it. They’re a great company, and we don’t pretend to compete with ServiceNow. And we don’t compete with them. We integrate with them.

Sam Schutte:                When you look at an ROI standpoint, if you’re trying to sell to customers or demonstrate ROI to customers, probably just the ability to respond to issues more quickly by getting the right message to the right person … Is that what you’re really focused on as far as, “Here’s the ROI you’re going to get?” Or what’s your message there?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. If you’re protecting business-critical infrastructure or business-critical services that are impacting your top-line revenue, then you need to respond to those quickly. That’s not just the Black Friday use case for some eCommerce store. There’s a variety of different use cases where you want somebody looking at that 24/7. You want somebody available to respond to something that happens 24/7, especially when it impacts your bottom line or your top line. Different businesses are different. If response is important and getting that online quickly is important, then AlertOps is going to help there.

Sam Schutte:                Got you. Okay, cool. So, in your role as director of growth, obviously you’re working on not just the product design and marketing and stuff, but you’re running a lot of different sections of the company or driving a lot of change there. I think folks would be interested. You all are a small-, medium-sized business right outside of Chicago. What are some of the ways and manners you’re working on growing the company? Where do you invest a lot of your effort in that regard?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Great question. We’ve had a lot of success in different areas. I think we try different things. We try to keep things very lean. We try not to be wasteful, so we’re always looking at, “How can we maximize every dollar that we spend?” Really, we’ve seen a lot of success with content, actually, just building great content and really spending a lot of that money on the website and just pouring it back into the product.

Nathan Rofkahr:            There’s been so silver bullet or anything like that. It’s really been just trial and error, reaching out to people, letting people know that we exist, getting the message out, being involve with conversations on Quora or different forums. I invaded a Slack channel recently and just started helping out, quote unquote helping out. So yeah, just trying to be there for people. I think a lot of companies still don’t know this kind of thing exists. Gartner says the penetration rate is 5% to 20% amongst enterprises, so that tells me there’s a lot of people out there that are still using spreadsheets and a good, old-fashioned phone or a page, god forbid.

Sam Schutte:                I would imagine that a lot of enterprise customers I’ve worked around … They just have an on-call guy who’s it’s his job to be on call that weekend or whatever, and just anything and everything that happens … He has to route it all, and it comes to him, and decide whether or not he needs to reach out to somebody else or not. Of course, like you said, he probably has a spreadsheet somewhere with other information in it, but its all basically manual. I mean, there’s no escalation, because he just is escalating himself based on what happens.

Sam Schutte:                So I don’t doubt that that, like you said, the penetration is in that range, but it sounds like you’re taking an omnichannel marketing approach, so you’re getting opportunities from a lot of different places. Like you said, not one particular silver bullet. Is there a particular type of content that’s worked the best for you? Do you have a lot of white papers folks can download or there’s a blog post you’re making or videos? When you say, “Content,” what type of stuff is working well?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Like you said, it’s very much cross-channel or omnichannel. I think the three primary that we’ve looked at have been, as far as outreach content … That’s not really content, but we’ll just call it content for the sake of this. Emails, LinkedIn, just reaching out to people, connecting with people, and then phone calls. Just a good, old-fashioned call can go a long way sometimes. That’s some of the more difficult things to do sometimes, but as far as the content-building side, writing great articles.

Nathan Rofkahr:            We go through a process where we were, at one point I think, writing one to two articles a month, maybe up to four a month, just really pumping them out. That was great. We got great traffic from that. Really, the goal for that was, “Let’s rank for some more keywords that people are searching for. Let’s get our brand out there. Let’s get what we do out there a little bit so that people searching for a solution,” … 5% to 20% penetration isn’t very much, so there’s a lot of people potentially looking for something or they’re just trying to get educated about other things that could be possible.

Nathan Rofkahr:            So the more content we write about that, the more we can help out. So it’s really, how do we write helpful content, how do we share it and promote it through different channels? Then really just making sure, on the SEO side, search engine optimization side, that we’re doing due diligence as well, just making sure that we have good keywords in there, that it’s structure correctly, and then that it’s really great content.

Nathan Rofkahr:            So we go through a process of … We have a technical writer who writes great content. Then we have a copywriter, and he looks over it. I look over it. Then I promote it out of my own channels too. So we’re all in. We’re trying to promote great content and create great content.

Sam Schutte:                What are some of the keywords that you find folks are looking for in this space? I mean, are they just out searching for alerting tool? What are some of those words that line up with what you’re trying to provide?

Nathan Rofkahr:            It varies quite a bit. If you’re thinking about keywords that convert to business, it’s a little different than keywords that somebody in college is researching something on. We don’t want to rank for ping, but we do want to rank for major incident or P1 incident or something like that, because those people are … They’re handling very complex, very stressful environments, and they’re potentially going to be able to use a tool like the one we provide. We do everything. We rank for some of those incident ones and some of the ones that are a little bit more educational, like let me teach you about IT, like let me teach you about what an incident is. So we do some of the educational approach, and then some of those are very much just geared toward you’re in this situation, you need this kind of a solution.

Sam Schutte:                I see. Do you all go to a lot of trade shows or belong to particular trade groups or business groups that have benefacted for you? How do you utilize that?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Well, we attend as many shows as we can. As far as sponsorships go, we limit the sponsorships we do. Like I said, we’re very careful about our spend on just different things. We were looking at how far is this dollar really going to go at this event versus that event, and what we did was we just attended a ton of events over the past year or two and really dialed it into just a few key events. A lot of those are integration partners. So really, the tools that we integrate with … Those are great candidates. Then some of the larger ones, like Gartner … Those are huge. Really, just being very careful with that, but we do attend events and sponsor events.

Nathan Rofkahr:            I think we recently sponsored MIM conference, which was a major incident management conference that happened online. That was a fun one. I think that’s the first time it’s ever been done. They’re just owning that community right now. There’s no community out there for major incident managers. They’re really just helping out with building that community, building some processes around that, sharing some great content. I think they have online courses and things you can take to get certificates and things like that. It was fun to be a headliner for them and just share what we’re building.

Sam Schutte:                I’m not really too familiar with that very particular space. So that’s an actual job title and profession someone has is a major incident manager? I mean, they’re certified as that? Is that a-

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. That’s their title. Right. There will be teams that just are watching stuff constantly. When something big does happen … And you think about the biggest companies in the world. Think about Apple computer. What would happen if their website went down after they launch something? That’s some serious revenue. I think Amazon, last year on Prime Day … We just passed Prime Day, I think, right?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Nathan Rofkahr:            It was only last week?

Sam Schutte:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nathan Rofkahr:            Last year, I don’t know if you remember, but it went down. Do you remember that?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. I think I heard that, yeah.

Nathan Rofkahr:            It was a weird cascading thing where that went down, then YouTube went down. Seriously, Prime Day … Their website went down, and I think I read they lost potentially $100 million in revenue in one hour.

Sam Schutte:                I believe it.

Nathan Rofkahr:            So there’s a team that’s, I think, probably well paid, and they’re there for when that happens. That’s considered a P1 incident for them, and they’re essentially just facilitating … Everybody jumps on a phone call. All the key players are jumping on a phone call on a bridge trying to figure out what happened. Different teams. You’ll have a database team, developers, and operational guys [crosstalk 00:35:37]

Sam Schutte:                There’s probably a helicopter and some guy repelling down a rope involved somewhere. That’s what I get in my head. That’s what I imagine.

Nathan Rofkahr:            It’s stressful. It’s a very stressful situation. What the problem with situations like that is, if you’re using a spreadsheet and you have to figure out, “I need to get these teams on a call across different time zones,” who do I call? Who do I add to this? I think one of the cool things we can do … It’s a manual template. One thing that they use a lot is a manual trigger for a template. So you’d have a template in there that has everybody’s schedules in there, and it’s only going to alert the people that it needs to alert. Then there’s different messages that go out to those different teams depending on who they are.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Everything’s pre-configured in there, even the stakeholders, partners, business partners, CIOs, and all these other different people that need to get notified beyond just the ones that need to respond, the ones that actually just need to know about what’s going on. That’s all just pre-configured in this one, big, red button that they push. Then it just triggers it to where they’re on a bridge, they’re talking, and they’re able to get on with it. They’re able to actually respond and start resolving the incident instead of just trying to spend 30 minutes figuring out, “Who do I call?”

Sam Schutte:                I think that’s the thing that some people don’t realize too that aren’t exactly in that large data center space is just the thousands of servers and thousands of resources and everything else involved on these enterprise-class hosting environments. You just can’t get by with old-fashioned tools for that. The more intelligence you can bring to something like alerting, the faster things are going to get resolved. Like you said, nobody can afford, and it’s just way too expensive for anybody that size, really any business in the top, say, 5,000 companies even. They’re all losing millions of dollars an hour to be down for any reason like that.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah, and it’s getting worse. You’re hearing about security breaches all the time. There’s definitely a use case there for security. There’s a lot of different use cases, and that’s just beyond alerting. An alert’s just a … It’s a piece of communication. It’s just a piece of information that we’re passing on. So if you think about it in terms of an enablement tool, it sits between a lot of different system and just passes information from one to another. It helps with data transformation or even, on a strategic level, digital transformation. So if you have information from one tool that you need to send to another tool, you can do it through AlertOps.

Nathan Rofkahr:            You don’t have to code some special way of doing that. It’s an open API, and it’s no code. What that means is you don’t have to worry about coding anything. You just map it. I get all the field from A, and I map it to B, and it’s good to go.

Sam Schutte:                Tools like Zapier and stuff out there are very popular for some of that very light-weight, public-facing, API-type data interchange, but they’re too limited. So to some degree, a tool like AlertOps is like that on steroids, or it can serve that purpose of moving data between systems based on conditions.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah, absolutely. I use Zapier too by myself. That’s a really easy way to do basic integrations. I want to do this if this happens. But yeah, on a whole other where you’re technical, you know what you’re doing, you’re familiar with playing with REST APIs, and you like digging into systems, you can do anything you want to do. It’s not just the three things that Zapier lets you do. It’s literally everything that that platform is capable of. And if you build something custom on that other end, it can pull that custom field in even and do something with that. So it’s an extreme version of that, yeah.

Sam Schutte:                Your product is completely SAS based, like we talked about. I guess, can folks run it on Premise as well? I guess they’re integrating all their own Premise systems up into your cloud hosting. Is that right?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. We get asked that a lot. Originally, it was built for on-prem, but since then, we’ve migrated it out to its own … It runs on Microsoft Azure. It’s fully SAS. And there’s really no reason to do on-prem. Maybe if you wanted to control your own security. I mean, at the same time, are you saying that your security is better than Microsoft Azure? Maybe it is. I don’t know.

Sam Schutte:                That’s the question I always ask too.

Nathan Rofkahr:            If you have a power outage, who’s getting alerted? Nobody, right?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Right? If you have an outage, then that’s a problem. It makes a lot of sense to have it as a cloud SAS tool. Beyond that even, I think Microsoft Azure offers other versions of Azure for government, or you could even do a private hosting situation where that’s a little bit special. We typically try to move people toward that, and once they hear the price tag of doing something on-prem, they really reconsider that whole thought process.

Sam Schutte:                Pretty much, your monthly costs are, on a per-user basis, anywhere from $5 to maybe $40 a month depending on the package and plan that they pick. With what number of users does it become a little bit more of a custom deployment. With your enterprise plan that you’ve got there, does that work even for thousands of users, typically? What are the different user count levels you think that fit those plans?

Nathan Rofkahr:            We worked really hard on those plans, those features. We talk about those constantly. We’re always looking at, “Does this package almost fit like a glove? Does it really cater to a specific use case or a type of customer that could use it?” So we try not to make it too, I guess, markety where people are always being pushed to the next plan up. Hopefully, they’re comfortable fits, and they’re something where you can really take it and use it for your use case.

Nathan Rofkahr:            That said, the pricing really … There are limitations, and it costs us money to send alerts. People think, “Why is it so expensive?” Well, it costs money to send a phone call from here to India or something like that. So there’s definitely cost involved, and we’re not always making a ton of money on especially some of the lower plans. But they’re price per user per month. I think there’s discounts for annual and then …

Nathan Rofkahr:            You asked about user count. It’s all over the board. We’ll have enterprises sign up with just a few users, but they can expand very quickly, whereas we’ll have maybe a small business or an MSP sign up with 10 users, and they’ll be like that forever. It depends. Even in enterprises especially, you’ll see maybe one team sign up as a pilot program or even a department pilot it. That’s a smart way to do it. Then they’ll roll that out organization wide, or they’ll just expand it slowly year over year.

Sam Schutte:                From a customer standpoint, the type of customers you’re looking to connect with, obviously folks managing a lot of data centers … We talked about healthcare and that use case a little bit. There’s opportunities in fleet management just because of all the solutions and systems out there for managing fleets that you could hook up to, I assume. I think there’s probably use cases around IOT and such, managing alerts, those sort of systems. Are there any particular customer industries you think that you’re a really strong fit for that you’re looking to connect with?

Nathan Rofkahr:            Like I said, I think anything where there’s going to be some revenue driving the decision. There’s [inaudible 00:44:50] liability engineers and people just making sure that things stay online. Maybe it’s an eCommerce store. That needs to stay online. There’s a lot of companies, believe it or not, today, even pizza companies, that have eCommerce stores. Everybody’s online trying to sell stuff online. That stuff needs to stay online.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Beyond those basic, popular use cases, there’s, like you said, IOT use cases. And there’s always new use cases coming up just because … We never see the same thing twice. It’s really interesting. There’s so many use cases out there, and there’s so many different ways to use the tool that we really spend a lot of time with each and every customer making sure that we have a solution that helps them solve a problem. We take them through their use case, build a response plan with them, and we take time to just make sure that they’re taken care of.

Nathan Rofkahr:            You’re going to get that kind of treatment probably on our premium plan and up, especially if you’re on an enterprise plan. You’re going to get white glove onboarding. We’re going to make sure that we help you with all the integrations. We help you add your teams, add your users, configure everything. We have a success team that does a really great job at that.

Nathan Rofkahr:            From that perspective, there’s a ton of different use cases, and we’ll walk through that with you and strategize around some of those. And you’re not alone. We’re working with Fortune 1000 companies that are still coming to us and saying, “I have this idea.” It’s like, “Okay. You have an idea. Let’s work on it.” If we need to fix something, we will. If we need to improve our platform, we will.

Sam Schutte:                Well, and it seems to me you all pricing levels are very reasonable, and I think it should be easy for folks to get a high ROI using your software. Even if people just have a small team of a couple people managing their systems, they could get two, three license, or even one license, and probably get a lot of value out of it. It’s not something where they have to go and spend huge amounts of money just to see an impact from it, at least just from what I can tell.

Sam Schutte:                I guess I could see a lot of benefit to potential partners you could work with out there. Obviously, software development companies and technology consulting companies such as ours … We could help clients use it. But I imagine anywhere from hardware vendors to system implementers, data migration teams, data integration folks really could all help their clients use this kind of tool.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah, and I would say there’s two different, I guess, primary umbrella use cases. One of those is continual delivery, almost like a DevOps use case where you’re developing something, something needs to be migrated, you need to track something, something made it to production that shouldn’t have, you need to alert the dev team, or things like that. The whole other side of that is the operational side that’s just people that are on call maintaining the status quo, making sure everything is online. So there’s two different ways. Then the use cases get really interesting.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, definitely. Well, cool. Folks are in one of the industries we’ve talked about, or they have those use cases, or if there are companies out there that might be looking to partner and bring in your solution for their customers, the website is AlertOps.com, and there’s a ton of information. You talked about a lot of your content and such that you create out there. So they can go out there and check out that content. Also, we talked about if folks go to AlertOps.com/demo to sign up for a demo, if they mention this podcast or mention Unstoppable, that they can get a 20% off discount by checking out your demo there.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah, absolutely. Feel free to head over to AlertOps.com/demo. Just mention Unstoppable. All those requests go to me. I see all of those anyway, and we’ll make sure that that 20% discount does get applied if you do decide that it’s something you want to use.

Sam Schutte:                Great. Yeah, so thanks so much for being on the show, Nate. I really appreciate you coming on talking about your software, talking about AlertOps. Sounds like you’ve got a great team there, a really exciting product that people are going to be able to get a lot of value out of. We hope we can stay in touch and talk more about some of the new tools you all are building and some of the case studies you run into as you go.

Nathan Rofkahr:            Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam. Thanks for having me. Much success to you at Unstoppable.

Sam Schutte:                Thank you.

 

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