Our mission is to embrace and empower developers and enterprises in building complex applications using data: Jihad Dannawi, Regional VP – APAC, DataStax

Jihad Dannawi

In a recent exclusive interaction with CRN India, Jihad Dannawi, Regional VP – APAC at DataStax, discusses the company’s growth and strategic direction in the wake of the pandemic. Dannawi highlighted DataStax’s mission to empower developers and enterprises in building complex applications using data, with a recent focus on delivering GenAI solutions. He emphasised the importance of the Indian market in DataStax’s global strategy, noting its exceptional human resources and innovative potential. The interview also covered the growth of DataStax’s channel business in India and the APAC region, the role of partners in addressing complex digital challenges, and the company’s commitment to supporting partners through various initiatives and resources. 

How has your business grown in the last couple of years since the pandemic?

The mission of DataStax is to embrace and empower developers and enterprises in building complex applications using data. Before COVID, our focus was on supporting these intricate projects, and for the last 18 months, we’ve been dedicated to delivering GenAI applications that significantly impact and transform businesses. There’s no shortage of opportunities in this space. 

The world is wholeheartedly embracing both AI and GenAI, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. The AI wave and the GenAI wave are rapidly gaining traction, providing access to vast capacities in an incredibly fast manner. However, we’re currently running out of resources to engage with everyone who wants to collaborate with us, highlighting the immense demand and potential in this field.

How is India placed in DataStax’s global strategy and how is it an important performance market for DataStax globally?

India is and should be a strategic place for any organisation. India is inevitable, and its importance is rising year after year. Nobody can ignore India, and everyone should prioritise it. The human resources we have in India are exceptional, and there are high expectations in terms of business and solutions. There’s a lot of innovation coming from India, and we’re seeing many active partnerships emerging from here as well. 

When it comes to channel operations, India, being a large-scale market, necessitates even more collaboration with the ecosystem. India is not just a key priority for business but also for innovation. In some areas, India is ahead, and the rest of the world is following its lead in a couple of scenarios.

How has been the growth of your channel business in India and the APAC region in recent times?

Our mission is to support developers and enterprises in delivering generic applications. We approach this mission from two major angles. The first angle is our aim to be the one-stop GenAI stack. Everyone claims to have a GenAI flavour, but we focus on two key components on the data side: a data engine that can store structured and unstructured data, particularly vectors, which are crucial for GenAI. Alongside this, we provide tools designed to be fully integrated with the best offerings from major players in the GenAI space, such as AWS, GCP, and Azure, as well as various open-source capabilities.

When aiming to become the one-stop GenAI shop or stack, the market is vast. Unless you have millions of people capable of reaching everyone, it’s essential to engage through an ecosystem. We approach this with two main strategies: partnering with hyperscalers and working with system integrators who have GenAI capabilities. We’re very close to AWS and Microsoft, and we’re building strong relationships with GCP. We’re also collaborating with system integrators, gaining traction on both fronts. We cannot address the entire market alone, so we focus on a few top accounts directly, while the rest is handled purely through our channel partners.

What percentage of your business in India is conducted through the channel?

So, on the GenAI side, we are more than halfway working through channels, either dedicated niche System Integrators (SIs) on GenAI, larger SIs, or hyperscalers.

When you look at India as one country with different regions, or at Southeast Asia or Japan, you see a couple of differences. There’s a very strong connection between global SIs and India, being the headquarters for many global SIs. 

One significant benefit we provide is a one-stop GenAI stack and a fast path to production. When using our stack, on top of having enterprise-grade security, compliance, and performance, you can move quickly. We recently acquired a company called Long Flow, which provides a low-code/no-code tool, opening up many scenarios outside the developer world. This is driving another wave of different players.

We are scaling through partners everywhere, with India being very positive in consuming IT and innovation. We are probably a bit heavier in India compared to the rest of APAC, slightly ahead, but not that different from the rest of the region. So, while there are unique regional dynamics, the overall approach remains consistent.

In what ways, DataStax is helping its partners pursue new business opportunities and accelerate growth with  both existing and prospective customers?

Yeah, it’s truly a win-win-win scenario, and I emphasise three wins here. Firstly, it’s a win for the end customer seeking to leverage GenAI to revolutionise their business. Whether they aim for efficiency, cost reduction, time savings, or a competitive edge, they stand to benefit. Then, there’s the vast array of channels involved, ranging from distributors and resellers to large systems integrators and hyperscalers, all possessing the necessary competencies but needing to choose the right technology stack. Finally, there’s us, offering that comprehensive GenAI stack, covering everything from developer tools to database capacity.

We bring significant advantages to the table, including faster time-to-market, robust management of security, performance, scalability, and compliance, all while being fully open source. This means no proprietary lock-in; you can seamlessly transition across different cloud providers without any hassle. Whether it’s AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, or any other open-source platform, our stack remains adaptable.

As leaders in this space, we’re witnessing a clear willingness from customers to embrace GenAI, although they may sometimes struggle with where to start. However, this is changing rapidly, with many now aware of how to initiate their GenAI journey, albeit uncertain of where to find the first ROI. This is where we step in with our high-value offerings. Each quarter, we witness a significant influx of developers joining our platform, along with numerous proof-of-concept (POC) projects, some already transitioning to production. This allows us to provide invaluable insights into what works and what doesn’t.

While we lead the charge, we’re also elevating our partners and customers to our level, as we don’t handle implementations ourselves. Instead, we provide the technical stack and benefits, drastically reducing timeframes from months to mere weeks, from initial discussions to GenAI deployment in production. Additionally, with our cloud-agnostic approach, systems integrators (SIs) are increasingly ramping up their capabilities in the GenAI space. We’re witnessing a shift where GenAI components are no longer niche; they’re becoming more prominent.

Currently, we’re embarking on GenAI roadshows across multiple countries, engaging with new partners who are eager to explore this innovative space. As part of these efforts, next month, we’re organising roadshows in 12 cities across nine countries in Asia and India, partnering with seven new collaborators. For those in your audience pondering how to commence their GenAI journey, they’ll find assurance in knowing that customers are actively seeking guidance, and we’re committed to leading the way, constantly innovating to deliver new capabilities in this space.

Do you offer any specific tutorials, incentives, or learning materials for your partners?

Firstly, they have full access to the platform at no cost. They can leverage either DataStax or Astra DB, our database solution, completely free of charge. Additionally, there are comprehensive tutorials available, making it easy for developers or technically inclined individuals to start building right away. 

If they’re interested in becoming a partner, we offer a dedicated partner program as part of our product offering. Our specialised team is ready to provide support and enablement. For crucial Proof of Concepts (POCs) or particularly compelling projects, our expert POC team is available at no extra expense to ensure customers and partners can accelerate their initiatives and leverage the best capabilities available. 

Supporting our partners is a top priority for us, and we take the onboarding phase seriously. We’re committed to collaborating closely, often embarking on the first project together to ensure a smooth ramp-up process.

What sort of competencies and capabilities do the partners need to build to address customers’ complex digital challenges?

Absolutely, the triple win scenario—where technology, business, and development all thrive—is our utmost priority. Enterprises must successfully leverage GenAI applications to truly transform their operations. We provide the technical infrastructure, offering a comprehensive GenAI stack to facilitate this transformation. However, bridging the gap between technical prowess and tangible business benefits often requires a consulting approach. We actively engage in discussions centred on ROI and TCO, guiding partners on how to translate GenAI capabilities into meaningful business outcomes.

Within our network, we have partners specialising in various aspects of this process. Some excel at understanding and articulating the business value of technological advancements, while others focus on implementing these solutions with the requisite technical expertise. Interestingly, the trend is shifting towards empowering developers with the necessary skills to harness GenAI capabilities. This democratisation of technical skills lowers the barrier to entry, enabling developers proficient in languages like Python or JavaScript to build GenAI applications with relative ease.

Our platform further facilitates this process by streamlining development and deployment, significantly reducing the time to market for GenAI applications. Moreover, we’re witnessing a growing interest from non-technical partners who seek to leverage GenAI capabilities. These partners, often power users within organisations, are eager to harness the transformative potential of GenAI to enhance their offerings or services.

This broad spectrum of partners—from large wealth management organisations to smaller entities—underscores the widespread appeal and applicability of GenAI across diverse industries. It’s an exciting time, as this level of interest and engagement reaffirms GenAI’s status as a truly transformational force within the business landscape.

Taking learning from the unprecedented times, what are the top channel directions DataStax has set for its partners in 2024 and beyond?

Our mission spans across both developers and enterprises, ensuring a diverse array of partners engaged in catering to these segments. We’re not solely focused on enterprises or developers individually; rather, we aim to collaborate with a broad spectrum of partners covering both these domains.

Central to our mission is the development of next-generation AI applications. Therefore, we seek partners who share our enthusiasm and recognise the strategic importance of integrating GenAI into their business operations. While GenAI may not yet constitute the bulk of their current activities, it’s a rapidly growing component they anticipate becoming central to their operations. They’re keen not to be sidelined as this technology evolves.

We’re actively engaging with channel partners, particularly those with a strong presence in the developer community. These partners, often SIs, are enthusiastic about leveraging our comprehensive GenAI stack rather than exploring alternatives available in the market. They value the robustness and versatility of our solution, particularly its capacity to deliver enterprise-grade results.

When it comes to enterprise deployment, we prioritise three key pillars: security, compliance, and scalability. These are non-negotiables, especially when handling sensitive customer data. Our one-stop solution offers enterprise-grade capabilities, ensuring not only technological prowess but also fast time-to-market.

Our strategy is twofold. We approach enterprises from the top down, targeting transformation, competitive advantage, and cost optimisation. Subsequently, we engage directly with these enterprises, often partnering with existing collaborators or large global SIs to facilitate seamless deployment and implementation on a broader scale.

How do you see the role of partners evolving in this digital disruption era?

It’s a very good question. As I mentioned, there are three components in that win-win-win scenario: the customer, the partner, and a company like us providing the technical stack. The solution lies not in one dimension but at the intersection of all three. If you have a partner who doesn’t talk business and is just there to implement, they’ll arrive too late. Conversely, someone who is purely business-focused will be good at the conceptual level, but AI, especially GenAI, is evolving so rapidly. 

Customers love our platform because we are constantly integrating new capabilities. If there’s something new on GCP or Vertex, it’s integrated promptly. People want low-code/no-code solutions, so we acquire and expose those capabilities. Staying technically competent while understanding the business impact is crucial. The role of partners is growing, involving education as much as implementation. Customers are beginning to understand what GenAI is. Initially, if you explain GenAI, about 50% of the audience might not have done anything with it yet. However, explaining how to use it well or identifying areas with strong ROI is the next phase.

Partners need to evolve to this second phase. It’s not just about knowing what to build but understanding the context and scenarios that make sense. Keeping up to date with new and validated successful components is essential. Being on our platform helps because you automatically get everything integrated. 

Regarding the role of the partner, they are becoming prime. We believe GenAI technology will need another 12 to 18 months to solidify around a few key subjects. There are many moving parts, but if partners merely wait for customers to know what they want and then implement it, they’ll be waiting a long time or lose the deal to someone more proactive.

How is your company leveraging the benefits of GenAI?

So, number one, there isn’t a single day without starting a new POC. We’re constantly learning and exploring new scenarios we can apply internally. Being a very fast-moving company, whenever we identify something useful—be it an internal process, a search document feature, or a chatbot—we typically build a POC with the customer and retain the code for potential internal use. However, our primary focus remains on implementing solutions for our customers rather than for ourselves, given that we are still a relatively small startup with around 800 employees.

In the APAC region, our team is dedicated to assisting developers and enterprises. When it comes to using GenAI internally, we’re making progress. We have a full GenAI search application, which means we no longer search for documents manually; instead, we simply request the type of document we need. We also have several automated chatbots integrated into Slack. While we do have some internal capabilities, over 90% of what we build is designed for our customers.

Which are the areas where your partners should invest to be aligned with the directions that you set?

We are addressing the entire market without focusing on specific steps. For partners or readers who want to accelerate their business, our stack is a key player. We aim to stay ahead with our one stack GenAI application, which includes not just the database but the entire suite of tools and internet integration. We believe our database will become the number one generic database. This might sound optimistic, but there’s a strong reason behind it. Generic databases require handling high volumes of data and vectors to remain relevant. This needs to be done with high performance because a chatbot, for instance, cannot afford to delay responses or reduce data volume to boost performance—both relevancy and performance are crucial.

There aren’t many systems capable of meeting these stringent requirements, and we believe ours will be among the winners. Our stack and database are both exceptionally strong. With the addition of low-code capabilities, we’re now entering the power user domain. Anyone looking to embrace and accelerate their business with GenAI will find something extremely beneficial with DataStax.

In terms of verticals, we have success stories across various sectors. We’ve compared our vertical performance with global stories and found significant alignment. Some verticals are slightly behind in adopting GenAI, but that’s not a major concern. Other verticals are aggressively using GenAI for optimisation benefits and competitive advantages.

For any partners willing to accelerate and get serious about GenAI, we encourage you to engage with us. We’ll be happy to share our knowledge, support you, and collaborate with developers and enterprises to achieve success together.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here