Daniel Brundige is the Director of IT at Namely, an HR, payroll, and benefits platform that’s used by some of the world’s most innovative and exciting companies in the world. Brundige’s previous role was with Maxim Magazine, where he quickly rose through the ranks and became the media company’s director of IT.
As part of a continuing series, our Chief Customer Officer Rachel Orston sat down with Brundige for a discussion on the SaaSOps landscape. They covered topics including how his team has adjusted to the new reality during the pandemic, the future of automation, and how Brundige has adjusted his management style to accommodate the unique needs of his team.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, your leadership journey, and how you got into your current role.
I’ve had a pretty long journey in the world of IT. I started by doing support and a lot of opportunities popped up during my time.
My last job was with a media company; I was there for about eight years and I wanted to find something different. I wanted to be able to leverage my skills for something good. An opportunity came up over at Namely and the office is downtown in Manhattan. I worked downtown when 9/11 happened and after that, I decided I never wanted to work downtown again. But when I interviewed here, I knew I had to take the job—and I’ve loved it ever since.
In terms of leadership, I’ve learned a lot from all the bad managers I’ve ever had. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be a better human being, which is appropriate since one of the first principles at Namely was to be human here. Overall it’s been a great journey.
Tell me about your team. What did things look like when you first joined Namely and how has your team evolved over the time that you’ve been with the company?
The team tends to shift as the economy goes down. And COVID had a bigger impact on our team than any other event since I’ve been here.
We’ve lost offices, we’ve lost people, and we’re not reopening the Atlanta office. For good and bad reasons, nobody wants to go back to the office. Why would you want to deal with the traffic anymore? But we’re an operations office. As far as we were concerned, why would you not have a client call operations center?
Still, we’ve proven that we don’t need to have the office to be successful. Our NPS scores have gone up because of COVID. That’s unheard of. Tensions are high right now due to COVID, so what are the chances of your quality of calls and experiences for your clients going up?
What do you think is attributed to that? I’m curious to hear more since we look at that metric closely at BetterCloud.
In my opinion, it was because we had the right people in the right place. More importantly, we had the right model that enabled us to support customers from anywhere.
Right after COVID started, we shifted to a new pod model, which keeps customers from getting someone different on the phone each time and having to re-explain their issue. The pods give customers the luxury of calling the same four or five people each time. Over time, this enables our support teams to get to know their clients on a deeper level.
Was there anything that your team needed to do to adapt and support this new pod structure that you didn’t anticipate or represented a new challenge for you?
The hardest thing was updating the roles and permissions, which is still an ongoing process. As an internal pod structure changes, permissions for tools might change as well.
But it has always been a challenge to keep up with the growth of the company. More specifically, IT teams have always had to learn how to do more with less, at least from what I’ve experienced. And I’ve been able to use those lessons learned in managing the team here at Namely. As challenging as that is, it’s rewarding in other ways, especially when you can automate things for people across the company.
You walked into a predominantly SaaS environment when you joined Namely. What were the key challenges for you at the time that you joined, and what were some of the bigger challenges when COVID hit?
It wasn’t a huge adjustment to join a SaaS-only company because I had already moved several companies over to a SaaS-only model. We just had a larger footprint at Namely. When I was at the media company, we didn’t have as large of a footprint for the pulls and applications.
The IT team at Namely had no turnover for four years, but that’s changed recently and we’ve had to adjust to the company’s new trajectory. It’s always a challenge to keep up with company-wide shifts and make sure we can sustain them. That includes things like headcount, improving our tools, and rethinking how we handle unique situations.
Speaking of those unique situations, I’m proud of how prepared we were to tackle COVID. We didn’t have to change anything.
People asked us if the VPN would hold up and I said, “Of course, we over-engineer everything.” Other folks would ask if we had the tools we needed to work from home and I’d say, “Of course, it’s all SaaS.”
Some of my counterparts at other companies were getting antsy about everything from hardware provisioning to managing their teams. We were just in a perfect position to do everything we needed to do.
That’s fantastic to hear. What have you been doing to energize your team through all of this?
Keeping people inspired to do good work and to do good things is an ongoing struggle. I do everything I can to appreciate their efforts. I also go out of my way to respect their time and make sure they keep themselves sane.
Everyone on my team has a family at home, so it’s really important to be flexible when something’s amiss, like when a child starts screaming in the background during a meeting. If someone on the team needs time to handle something with their family? Not a problem, as far as I’m concerned. When someone needs to adjust their schedule, we adjust their schedule. Occasionally we need to push back on other people across the organization about what we can and can’t do, but we ultimately come together and find a way to get things done.
I love the idea of people coming together and saying, “Hey, we need this.” Can you tell me about some of the specific projects that have come up since COVID hit?
We moved all of our onboarding and offboarding into a ticket-based system. It sends out eight tickets to three different teams for certain actions to be taken. Today was the first time we got Slack notifications about an employee offboarding process that was about to start. That’s great because sometimes you just forget to do things like that.
In other places, we’ve cut back on some processes, but are trying to innovate in other ways as well. For example, we’re evaluating getting rid of Macs or PCs for non-engineering people and using Chromebooks, which would decrease our budget by 50%. We’re also considering whether or not we need an onsite VPN solution anymore. That’s something that we’ve wanted to do for years and COVID has made it a priority.
When you look ahead, what do you feel like success will look like for you a year from now?
We’re building out our dream scenario now in which everything is fully automated when someone starts. That includes everything from kicking off approvals to provisioning every app that each person needs. In a way, we want to automate ourselves out of doing menial tasks. We have plans to get us to deploy this ideal state by the end of the year.
So in a year, I would hope to get the full onboarding or offboarding processes fully automated. Honestly, we’re darn close to being there right now, but the internal tooling is the hard part.
We’re putting a SCIM endpoint somewhere that we can automate certain access, which is doing it all versus doing manually. Ultimately, we want to build things that just work and do have redundancies but want to eliminate the need for “local physical” devices. Chromebooks would be a phenomenal resource for that. If a Chromebook breaks, I can ship you a new one. It turns on with the push of a button and everything you need to get back to work is already on the machine.
That’s awesome. I have one question that I like to end these conversations with. What’s the one thing that you’ve been missing the most during the pandemic that you can’t wait to get back to?
I had a Disney vacation with my entire family scheduled before COVID hit, so I’d love to travel again. But in general, I’d love to get back to a place in which the kids don’t need to walk around with masks on and live in constant fear of getting sick.
Want more insights from other IT leaders on navigating the new normal? Check out Orston’s previous conversation with Craig Holland, SVP of global infrastructure at Condé Nast.
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