How can Citrix become more strategic for customers? A conversation with CMO Tim Minahan

Citrix chief marketing officer Tim Minahan says that Citrix is addressing C-level concerns about employee enablement; and the Sapho acquisition is beginning to sound more strategic than I initially thought.

After Microsoft announced Windows Virtual Desktop at Ignite 2018, Citrix announced that they would become a Microsoft reseller. In response, I wrote that in the future Citrix could look more like a systems integrator. This is based on the idea that all of Citrix’s product categories are facing serious competition, but they could have a good business reselling Microsoft and integrating other products, while also leveraging their own software and expertise.

In November, Citrix reached out and offered an interview with Tim Minahan, their chief marketing officer. Now from the title of this article, it might sound like we talked about a lot of abstract marketing ideas, but I really did get a better picture of Citrix’s strategy, so read on.

Tim Minahan on strategy

Tim and I talked right before Thanksgiving, just a few days after Citrix announced their $200 millon acquisition of Sapho. In case you’re not familiar, Sapho lets you take common tasks and package them up as easy to use, mobile-friendly micro apps and workflows.

We all understand Citrix’s current workspace strategy: Beyond virtual apps and desktops, Citrix’s goal is to provide access, management, and security for all types of apps, data, and devices. But Tim explained that with the Sapho acquisition, they’re going beyond that. As he put it, they want to enable a new level of experience and productivity to help employees get through their day. If you’ve seen demos of Sapho, you can see how this fits in.

There’s another part, too: Earlier this autumn, Sapho announced machine-learning capabilities to do things like automatically show frequent or recent tasks, or to automatically give alerts on key metrics users are following. I got the impression from Tim that these features and the future possibilities were also a significant part of why they bought Sapho.

Moving to another topic, on their third quarter earnings call, Citrix CEO David Henshall started talking about a “general purpose” workspace, and I asked Tim what exactly this means.

Basically, the idea is that a lot of Citrix’s customers might have a quarter or a third of their users working with Citrix virtual apps and desktops, some constantly, some occasionally. But Citrix’s other technologies—SSO, security, remote access, endpoint management, and so on—can all be useful to the rest of their customers’ users. This represents a growth opportunity in existing customers, which will ramp up in 2019.

One issue is that as Citrix products address more use cases, they’re facing a lot more competitors. It’s easy to see them as competing with the likes of Jamf, Okta, MobileIron, Box, and many other security vendors; in addition to all the competition they’re now facing in the desktop virtualization space.

For Citrix’s part, Tim was adamant that their main intent is not to compete with all these other vendors wall all of these products, but to act as a bridge between them. And it’s true—there are plenty of ways to integrate all of these. As he put it, Citrix is the bridge between all of your ecosystems and products, and the key is that they can aggregate everything with a consistent layer of security, policies, and user experience.

So this all makes sense. In some ways, it’s what Citrix has always been doing; but you can also see how the new Workspace App, with its browser and identity capabilities, really brings this together.

But in the eyes of customers, how does Citrix go from being a tactical desktop virtualization vendor to a strategic “enabling productivity” (or whatever you want to call it) vendor? I mean, how many companies are out there saying that they’re the key enabling productivity? A lot!

For Citrix’s part, Tim said that a big part of this is indeed about the vision of creating a unified workspace experience. And I can get on board with this. The concept that we now call “workspace” is what we’ve been talking about for as long as I’ve been writing for, and now we have all the technical pieces (especially identity) in place to make it happen.

But again, how does Citrix get strategic? Tim said that they’re working on having their salespeople elevate the conversations with customers. He said that they’re addressing C-level and board-level issues like workforce management and the talent war, and that lots of analysts are pointing to this as a huge issue. Naturally, they’re positioning Citrix’s workspace capabilities as a key tool here, as it will improve the employee experience.

Personally, I have no doubt that I’m more productive when I can just SSO into an app, instead of logging in and being told it’s time to change my password or something like that, so I agree with the premise. But still, I wanted to know more about how Citrix sales representatives get the ear of customer leaders.

Tim wasn’t going to share their whole sales playbook, but another thing he mentioned is that they’re going in with a wider range of partners. In addition to the usual suspects of Microsoft, Google, and Samsung, he pointed out partnerships with ServiceNow, Oracle, and SAP.

Lastly, I got the impression that for Citrix, the Sapho acquisition, workflow apps / micro apps, and machine learning are another thing they’ll use to try to elevate the conversation. Now it’s sounding more strategic than I initially thought it was.

Final thoughts

We’ve seen Citrix get excited about new product areas before. ShareFile, Zenprise, and Netscaler all became core components of Citrix. But there were also investments like Octoblu and ByteMobile.

So the question is how will Sapho do? I think these types of app platforms are very interesting, but we’re a ways off from knowing where they’ll end up, as Kyle and I also mentioned yesterday in our story about Workspace One Mobile Flows. I’m also curious to see if CTPs and the Citrix community start embracing and tinkering with Sapho the way they did Octoblu.

Ultimately, I think what Tim told me about Citrix’s strategy is very compatible with what I wrote when I said that they have a future as a systems integrator. It’s not about having undisputable leadership in a bunch of product categories, it’s about how aggregating resources together to securely deliver a workspace. Citrix faces strong competition with VMware Workspace One, but it puts all of the competitive products in other categories in a different light.

We’ll be watching to see what happens in 2019.

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