When Peter Adekeye worked as a network support engineer for IBM and then Cisco, he found that suppliers often passed the buck when network faults occurred.
"Customers were buying support contracts for their boxes from different vendors, who would refuse to talk to each other when the network went down," he explains. "All vendors did was point their fingers because nobody wanted to take responsibility for the whole network."
To help address this issue, Adekeye started his own company in 2005, called Multiven (as in ‘multi vendor’). The idea was to recruit the finest minds in network technology to provide supplier-independent support.
Adekeye set about hiring vendor-neutral network engineers with a minimum of 10 to 15 years’ industry experience. Customers could access this expertise via an Internet-based chat system when they required support.
Multiven soon ran up against a brick wall, however, Adekeye claims. In December 2008, the company launched an anti-trust complaint against Cisco, the 800lb gorilla of the networking space, alleging that it was block third-party service organisations from working on its equipment.
That began an 18-month ordeal that saw Adekeye accused of fraud and eventually imprisoned.
To support its case, Multiven referred to information that Adekeye says was given to him by a Cisco insider. However, Cisco filed a counterclaim that Adekeye had breached the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by stealing this information from a password-protected website.
Adekeye tried to travel to the US to fight the litigation but was refused a visa and the case was moved to Vancouver. After flying to Canada, he was arrested and imprisoned before appearing in court, where the US Department of Justice called for his extradition to face the charge in California.
According to a later ruling by a Canadian judge, the extradition case was full of "half truths, untruths, false innuendo and generally misleading information", as well as racially derogatory stereotypes that played on Adekeye’s African roots.
Eventually, Cisco dropped the charges and changed its contract practices to allow Multiven and others to service and maintain its infrastructure.
“Unfortunately, change is difficult for a lot of companies, especially those that have enjoyed a monopoly in an industry, and it’s just not just limited to Cisco,” says Adekeye. “Think Virgin and British Airways when Virgin started out. Richard Branson was put through hell."
A network of networks
Since the Cisco case, Adekeye says, Multiven has recruited almost 1,000 engineers to offer businesses various levels of assistance.
The company operates a free website which provides key information about a range of network equipment. The site highlights devices and support issues that are ‘trending’ – i.e. seeing a spike in support tickets – allowing users to address issues proactively.
“Basically, it’s a social network for your network,” Adekeye explains.
The paid-for service is a 24-hour chat system that allows customers to buy maintenance services by creating “tasks” for devices. It begins at €5 per device per month for an unlimited number of device profiles and rises to €20 for faster response times and premium features, such as hardware replacement and advanced device analytics.
It uses a cloud-based system to distribute issues to network engineers. ““Everything we use and do, from our data to our apps, is in the cloud,” he says. “It means that engineers typically accept tasks in under five minutes, which is an industry first. If there is a good problem description, our engineers’ first response usually solves the query within minutes.”
Adekeye says the company has made a “humble" but "growing” foothold of customers in the US, and is starting to expand in Europe.
He believes that the model of offering support services via a cloud-based social network could be applied to industries beyond IT.
“We could use it to solve other problems, perhaps in medicine, using a front-facing resource that offers a service as a utility, backed by a cloud base of expert doctors or surgeons around the world,” he says. “That’s just one potential application of what we could do.”