Expert Interview – Q&A with Clément Poudonson

We sat down with our man in Estonia, Clément Poudonson, to talk about 2021, work-life and how he applies his unique expertise to making Ynvolve customers happy. He also shares some insights on how cryptocurrency has impacted the hardware industry.

What is your role at Ynvolve?

That’s a good question!  I have a job title somewhere but the work I do is around global inventory management, stock brokerage and procurement.  My job is to maintain good relationships with our suppliers and make sure we have the hardware that our customers need in stock.

How would you describe the Ynvolve business and what is it best known for?

Simply said, we are a hardware provider – but not as you know it.  We don’t just run a web shop for IT equipment like many others out there. If our clients had to stick a label on us, it would probably be system integrator.  We’re probably best known for our knowledge and expertise around the different types of technologies, quality market pricing and stocking capability.

Where do you procure your hardware from?

Hardware assets can come from several different places: companies that are decommissioning their data centers and putting everything into the cloud, or from ITAD businesses (IT Asset Disposition) who are looking to repurpose IT infrastructure.  These are where we can secure the best prices to pass on to our customers.  But we also have regular broker partners we work with to stock the assets we need every day.  It’s a strategic decision to buy inventory through a regular broker to ensure we always have that equipment in stock for fast configuration and shipping to the customer.

As the global inventory manager for Ynvolve, what do you think Ynvolve’s bread and butter is?

If I am honest, it has to be Dell refurbished servers like R630s, R640s which are common models that are continually in demand.  We also sell a lot of refurbished HP servers and storage networking units.  Dell, HP and Supermicro are the products our clients know us for and probably what we are the best at.  So having plenty of those in stock is obviously part of our procurement strategy.

What is your main area of technical expertise?

I am pretty passionate about servers.  Dell mainly, but servers in general.  Then storage and networking equipment.

I have always been a tech geek: I could build PCs and network configuration when I was at university in Lille, even though I was studying International Business and Business Administration.  The additional hardware knowledge I have acquired has come mostly from my time at Ynvolve, my first job out of university, eight years ago.

I believe that knowledge is a powerful resource.  You can be a company that just moves boxes without understanding anything about what they do, but you miss a lot of opportunities that way.

What does your day-to-day look like?

As mentioned before, my job consists of maintaining good relationships with our suppliers and managing our inventory. As the global inventory manager of Ynvolve, I spend most of my day buying and selling stock. Although the business component of it fits with what I did during my studies, I think the technical knowledge I’ve acquired during the years is what gives our customers that extra layer of value.

When my team and I talk to clients, we often help them find technical solutions that they had not previously thought about. Our goal is to find them the best and fastest available solution that fits their budget.

We are not just about part numbers.  We understand product lifecycles and can qualify the solution we are proposing – which is always going to be the best combination of price, performance and availability.

Could you describe some of the changes that you’ve experienced within the refurbished market over the past eight years?  

I don’t know if there has been a major shift.  As cloud technologies have developed over the last 20 years, more and more end-users have decided they don’t want to, or need to, maintain physical IT infrastructure anymore.  That has caused a consolidation of web hosting and cloud provisioning services, and those businesses have experienced a huge growth as a result. So although our type of clients have changed, the market volume hasn’t truly changed.

There has always been a market for refurbished equipment and now there is a growing trend for more sustainable solutions that reuse second-hand equipment and give IT assets a second lease on life.  We focus on previous generation hardware because our clients want equipment that we can configure quickly and that they can put into production straight away.  We’re less about spare parts than we are about the total hardware solution.

What are the main misconceptions about refurbished hardware in your experience?

There is still a perception that refurbished means that the equipment is not clean or reliable, like some second-hand gear you might buy on e-Bay. But our technicians are good, and we repair, refurbish and test everything we have in stock to make sure it’s in perfect condition. Clearly, we are not eBay. All our equipment comes with a full 1-year warranty which can be extended.

We are confident that what we deliver to our customers will run well and provide excellent ROI.  We test everything in-house instead of outsourcing, so we can make good on our promises.

Is there a reason that any company would NOT go the refurbished hardware route?

I think there are two main reasons for this. First, some companies might need the latest and greatest equipment for their projects and that can be hard to get in the refurbished market.
Second, it all boils down to different misconceptions around the refurbished hardware industry. Some businesses have zero tolerance for downtime and believe that going with the latest generation will minimize this. So, when they buy new, they feel reassured that their infrastructure will be accompanied by a really robust support system. However, this is not always the case and in addition to that, they are not aware of the options they have when purchasing from MSP-dedicated system integrators. Companies like Ynvolve are able to offer great support on equipment that is 1 or 2 generations-old, which will fulfill all their technological requirements, meet their budgetary needs and offer great, and most importantly, fast customer care.

Do you think the pandemic has shifted the IT landscape?

The main thing is that most companies moved quickly from on-premises infrastructure to cloud, meaning dematerialized desktops, remote applications, and more.

The PC and desktop market has been turned upside down because businesses of say 2000 employees suddenly needed a device for each one of them overnight.  That’s not our area, but we certainly saw an upswing in demand for more servers, storage and networking equipment to host all of the new cloud-based activity.

On the other hand, cryptocurrency mining has also made a huge impact on the IT landscape.  Graphic cards (GPU) used to receive crypto-currency tokens need a significant allocation of hard-drive space.  SSD drives are in short supply and prices have skyrocketed. That is partly due to factories shutting down or reducing production. I wonder which one had the biggest impact on the IT landscape this past year, the pandemic or the boom in crypto-currency mining?

How do you use your specific technical expertise to assist Ynvolve customers?

I help my colleagues help their customers.  I have robust technical knowledge (self-professed tech geek!) and the sales team has the on-the-ground market intel.  I guess my ‘customers’ are also our brokers.  It has been hard to stay connected without the usual trade shows and other events, but we managed to stay in touch, and I have a good sense of where each relationship is sitting at any one time.

What do clients appreciate most about Ynvolve’s customer service? 

We don’t just sell boxes.  Customers appreciate that.  We have the technical knowledge and know-how to walk them through the hardware selection process.  It’s more of a partnership approach and many of our clients talk to us like we’re their own pre-sales department, collaborating to solve problems, and always putting the client’s needs ahead of our own.

I do think that is a point of difference. We put ourselves in the customer’s shoes every time, so there is a high level of trust there.  There is also the fact that some clients are not at all technical, so they rely on us 100% to point them in the right direction.  They might come to us with a request or an idea, and we will tell them straight up if it’s not going to work, or if it won’t bring the ROI that they are hoping for. . Not everyone does this.  We are very responsive as we get quotes out within 60 minutes, so our speed and accuracy are definitely appreciated.  We are good at what we do, and that brings in fantastic results for the customer and also for our business