Over the past several years, IT has undergone a profound shift in which a formerly support-oriented organization has taken on a much more prominent customer-centric role. Much of this has occurred thanks to the power of data to drive decisions and digital transformation’s impact in enabling companies to create new service- and data-based offerings around their core products.    

After hearing recently that Art Hu’s CIO role at Lenovo had been significantly expanded to incorporate customer solutions, I was eager to talk to him and learn more about how he has approached this shift to a “CIO-plus,” customer-centric IT leadership position. Our conversation touched on how this new opportunity evolved, the central role that data plays for CIOs today, and how his new CTO duties differ from those of his CIO post. What follows is an edited version of our interview.

Martha Heller: In addition to Lenovo CIO, this past April you became CTO of Lenovo Solutions and Services Group. What is that new business?

Art Hu: Last year, Lenovo stood up our Solutions and Services Group (SSG) as a part of our pivot from hardware sales to solutions, including offering our products as a service. Device-as-a-service (DaaS), for example, is our fastest growing business. It allows customers to avoid making large hardware capital expenditures and move to a “consume as you go” model where we manage, configure, and deploy their devices for them. 

Think of SSG as a high-growth startup. Last year, Lenovo earned more than $70 billion in revenue, of which SSG contributed a little more than $5 billion. Our goal is to double our revenue in the next few years.

What does SSG’s rapid growth indicate about the evolving world of business and technology?

The first point is the shift from delivery to outcomes. It is no longer our goal to simply manufacture and ship a piece of hardware. Our goal is to deliver value through business outcomes. But you can only pivot to a customer-outcomes mindset if you have customer intimacy and understand the context in which your technology is being used.

One example is Lenovo’s AIOps service, where we analyze a customer’s data about hybrid cloud service and make recommendations to optimize it for stability and performance. The rapid growth of SSG points to the fact that today, you need more than the right technology: The technology needs to make your data visible, accessible, and actionable.

What lessons learned can you offer CIOs on generating actionable data?

The first lesson is to create clear data standards. We learned that some data needs to be common (the definition of a ‘shipment,’ for example), but we also learned that we cannot standardize everything. We need to allow for some variation in how people operate, even within a global model.

The second is to start building guardrails around the data. When we told our business partners what they could and could not do with the data, they just went off on their own and did it anyway. We realized that we needed to strike the right balance between standards, guardrails, and flexibility. It took us a couple of iterations to get it right.

The third lesson is all about education. You cannot assume that your business partners know what to do with the data. Early adopters will know exactly what they want, but others may not. As an example, we had significantly upgraded our ability to gather feedback on social media, and we started to send customer comments from Twitter and LinkedIn back to our product development teams. We assumed those teams would love all that data, but we were wrong. Someone actually said, “Please stop sending me all of this data. I don’t know what to do with it.” We learned that delivering data is not enough. We need to help our business partners understand it and then use it, to take advantage of these marketplace insights.

What does the SGG CTO role entail?

The first part of my job is to choose the technology investments that will enhance our customer offerings. Where can RPA (robotic process automation) complement our solutions portfolio? How will AR and VR extend our capabilities? The second is to expand the solutions portfolio to bring more choices to our customers. And the third is to leverage SSG as a platform for innovation that drives the future of our solutions and services strategy.

How is that job different from your CIO role?

In both roles, I am continuously scanning the technology landscape to identify opportunities and building a strong engineering team and culture to deliver. But there are differences as well.

For example, my level of external engagement. A CIO’s stakeholders are typically the business users within the company. As Lenovo’s CIO, I build our core business applications, social media and e-commerce sites, and spend time thinking about business scenarios, deployment, and ways to capture value. As CTO, I spend more time in the market, understanding emerging trends and the competitive landscape. Those give me a strong perspective of customer insights, which are then sharpened in discussions with our business leaders and the sales teams. The result is a better-informed offering development process.

My perspective on budgets and investments is also different. As CIO, you typically have a budget against which you prioritize investments and initiatives. But as the CTO in a new P&L, if I cannot articulate a clear value proposition for my technology investment roadmap, my development budget is zero. The conversation shifts from “your budget needs to decrease by 10%, so you can do some but not all of your priorities” to “your budget is zero because we don’t believe your technology strategy will grow our P&L.” (That hasn’t happened yet, fortunately.)

Finally, there is the difference of working in a startup versus working at global scale. As CIO of Lenovo, I manage the teams that support a multibillion-dollar business. The SSG CTO role, on the other hand, has required me to get into the nitty-gritty of incubating a business. Being a leader in a $70 billion business is very different than supporting a new line of business in the “from-zero-to-one” stage of maturity. 

How did you wind up in the role?  

I was asked to take on both roles for several reasons. The first is that for years, industry trends have indicated that the future would be increasingly software-defined, so we have been building up our software capability within IT for quite a while. 

At the same time, SSG’s approach to developing our offerings has been to tap into the best of Lenovo’s assets from across the enterprise and integrate them into a single offering, with software being part of the “glue” that ties it together. The requirements to execute this type of exercise were a natural fit with IT’s software capabilities, especially the engineering methodologies, processes, and platforms that were needed to build SSG’s R&D platform.

Second is our “Lenovo powers Lenovo” concept. Over the years, our customers have wanted to know how we, at Lenovo, run our business: Supply chain planning, warehouse operations, and globalization are good examples. They also wanted to know more about the hybrid cloud solution we built in-house. They said, ‘Can’t we just buy what you’re doing?’ So, we took some of the solutions we had developed internally to run Lenovo, productized them, and began offering those to our customers. Although I didn’t know it then, I was incubating a small business within IT, and that was one of the seeds that ultimately led to my taking on the CTO role.

What advice do you have for CIOs who would like to take on a CTO position?

Don’t wait. If you are developing software solutions internally that could be valuable to your customers, start thinking about those solutions as the beginning of a business. As CIO, you are perfectly positioned to do this, since so many ingredients of a software-enabled solutions business are already sitting within your purview. My advice to CIOs who are looking to do more would be to look at the assets they already have.

IT Leadership

What is the future of analytics and AI? And how can organizations thrive in an era of disruption? We asked Bryan Harris, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of analytics software company SAS, for his perspective.

Q: What is your advice to technology leaders for improving organizational resiliency?

A: Right now, we are all in a race against disruption and data. Customer buying habits have changed. Work-life balance has changed. The financial climate has changed. So, how do you establish a data-driven culture to identify and adapt to change? Or, in other words, what is the learning rate of your organization?

This is why executing a persistent data and analytics strategy is so important. It allows you to create a baseline of the past, identify when change happens, adapt your strategy, and make new, informed decisions. This process is your organization’s learning rate and competitive advantage.

Q: How can AI and analytics help business and technology leaders anticipate and adapt to disruption?

A: We are creating data that is outpacing human capacity. So the question becomes: how do you scale human observation and decision-making? AI is becoming the sensors for data in the world we’re in right now. So, we need analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to help scale decision-making for organizations.

Q: What best practices do you recommend around developing and deploying AI?

A: When we talk to customers, we first show them that the resiliency and agility of the cloud allows them to adapt quickly to the changing data environment.

The second step is lowering the barrier of entry for their workforce to become literate in analytics, modeling and decision-making through AI, so they can scale their decision-making. Everyone has a different maturity spot in that curve, but those who achieve this outcome will thrive – even in the face of disruption.

I recommend the following best practices:

Think about the ModelOps life cycle, or the analytics life cycle, as a strategic capability in your organization. If you can observe the world faster, and make and deploy insights and decisions as part of AI workloads faster, you can see the future ahead of time. This means you have a competitive advantage in the market.Innovate responsibly and be aware of bias. We give capabilities and best practices to our customers that allow them to understand the responsibility they have when scaling their business with AI. And we are taking a practical approach to helping customers adhere to the ethical AI legislative policies that are emerging.Ensure explainability and transparency in models. You won’t have adoption of AI unless there is trust in AI. To have trust in AI, you must have transparency. Transparency is critical to the process.

Q: What does the future hold for AI and analytics?

A: Synthetic data is a big conversation for us right now. One of the challenges with AI is getting data labeled. Right now, someone must label, for example, a picture of a car, a house or a dog to train a computer vision model. And then, you must validate the performance of the model against unlabeled data.

Synthetic data, in contrast, allows us to build synthetic data that is statistically congruent to real data. This advancement represents a huge opportunity to help us create more robust models — models that aren’t even possible today because conventional data labeling is too challenging and expensive. SAS lowers the cost of data acquisition and accelerates the time to a model.

If, because of this innovation, they get insights about the future, companies gain a competitive advantage. But they must do it responsibly, with awareness of the bias that AI may inadvertently introduce. That is why we provide capabilities and best practices to our customers that allow them to understand the responsibility they have when scaling their business with AI.

For more information, download the SAS report – “4 Winning Strategies for Digital Transformation” – here.

Artificial Intelligence

Few would swap sunny San Francisco and the innovation of Silicon Valley for a train ticketing company serving disgruntled UK commuters, but try telling that to Trainline CTO, Milena Nikolic.

A long-time Googler, who’s role as engineering director saw her lead the Google Play developer ecosystem, Nikolic was keen for something new that offered a greater sense of social purpose.

I had been at Google for so long that I stopped counting,” she says. “It was close to 13 years… and I was itching for a bit of a change.”

In a growing technology market, Nikolic waited for the right opportunity. Nothing clicked until she spoke to Trainline, the international digital rail and coach technology platform, headquartered in London.

“Everything fell in place; every box was ticked,” she says. “I really liked the mission, connecting people to places in greener, more sustainable ways.”

The first 100 days

As the new CTO tasked with setting the technical strategy, ensuring tech team delivery, and aligning product and business strategies, Nikolic had a lot on her plate for the first 100 days.

She spent time understanding the tech stack, the business challenges, and a comprehensive technology team split across infrastructure, product development, security, privacy and technical compliance.

Trainline had sound technical systems and a good level of autonomy, but Nikolic believed the team members themselves felt less empowered to move out of their comfort zone, which impacted business outcomes.

“We had engineers who were very good specialists in their field, but I think people felt less empowered to really own goals and outcomes end-to-end,” she says. “They’re all these brilliant individuals who have a lot to add beyond coding their part of the technical system. They were more stuck to their part of the technical stack, and just contributing to that.”

This reflection pushed Nikolic to make changes to how technology teams worked across the organisation, and support a new target operating model.

Driving business growth through new teams

Trainline has been a tech-enabled business since it launched in 1997, with online ticket sales available as far back as 1999. More recently, under the tutelage of former CTO Mark Holt, Trainline became a story of scale and mobility, moving to DevOps, agile principles and leveraging compute power through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

By 2018, the Trainline platform was hosting more than 80 million customer visits a month, with more than 80% coming through mobile devices. The company sold more than 204 tickets every minute.

Today, its Platform One, with 78 million visits every month across all channels, covers more than 270 rail and coach companies across 45 countries, including over 80% of rail routes in Europe.

Milena Nikolic

Such growth in scale has resulted in a steady ramp-up in resources. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic pushing the business to reach almost £250m in debt in 2021 (the firm has since recovered to achieve net ticket sales of £2.5bn and a net profit of £90m in its latest financial results), Trainline now employs around 400 engineers, data and tech specialists who work on Platform One and process over 600 system releases every week. The company has approximately 800 staff in total across the business.

Since joining a year ago, Nikolic has split teams into horizontal and vertical functions to support operational efficiency and product development.

Horizontal team members own the platforms to ensure their robustness, reliability, latency and scalability so engineers can be productive. Vertical teams, meanwhile, operate across the tech stack so teams aren’t localised to certain operating systems, orchestration or data layers. These cross-functional teams, including product support, UX and data, offer differing levels of expertise across both front and back-end infrastructure.

“Those teams have a clear mission… that they own the product or business outcome,” says Nikolic. “They have full autonomy to decide whatever they want to do… to drive that goal, that mission and move that [business] metric in the way we expect.”

Training engineers and building products

As part of reskilling teams, Nikolic has focused on building a T-shaped skillset and giving staff the opportunity to gain broader experience. For example, she says that an iOS developer could learn eCommerce, or a web developer could study back-end infrastructure.

There have been a number of vehicles to do that, from an internal ‘tech summit’ with speakers from within and outside Trainline presenting on all things tech, product and data, to a ‘culture of craft’ community that offers regular activities, such as coding dojos, workshops, hackathons and meetups. The company also provides access to the tech learning platform O’Reilly, where team members can attend live conferences, and access books and content.

The team has celebrated numerous achievements inside her first year. Nikolic says Trainline now has a robust and scalable platform capable of withstanding 10 times search traffic and transactions, while the company recently launched STicket barcode technology to reduce friction to buy and prevent fraud. It’s also launched delay notifications in France and the UK—a smart move considering a combined 600 train delays every minute, while Trainline’s new Where next? app integrates with Apple MapKit so iOS users can plan their journey without having to leave the app.

Platform One is the solid base for all tech and innovation at Trainline, with microservices and infrastructure-as-code (IaaC) both in vogue.

“Our tech stack is built on a solid foundation provided through AWS,” she says. “By utilising a variety of technologies, such as EC2, ECS, Fargate, Kinesis and RDS, Trainline is able to achieve a hyper-scale infrastructure necessary to enable us to provide our customers with a best-in-class platform.”

Getting more women in engineering

Having worked in the industry for 15 years, Nikolic remains frustrated with a leaky pipeline when it comes to women in engineering. She admits that the tech industry can still feel less inclusive to women, and this ‘societal problem’ can push women to leave the sector mid-career.

“It’s difficult, for sure,” she says, “and, having been part of this fight for 15 years, it can sometimes be disheartening, just how slow the pace of change is.”

Nikolic is, however, hopeful that the industry can improve the representation gap. She points to examples at Trainline, where the firm has introduced diverse recruitment panels and D&I targets, as well as partnerships with coding tech school ADA in Paris and Future Frontiers, a charity equipping students from disadvantaged backgrounds across 200 secondary schools in London and Edinburgh.

She believes the key to improving the numbers of women in engineering is adding more talent at the top of the pipeline, such as encouraging disadvantaged groups from school into early stage careers.

“The only sustainable way for us to prove this is break the barriers for underrepresented groups as they enter the tech world,” she says.

Trainline remains on an upward trajectory. There’s a reported international expansion on the horizon, government contracts to win and a new CDO, hired from Meta, now reporting into Nikolic. “I really want to make sure we execute well,” she says. ”If there’s anything keeping me up at night, it’s making sure the team is set up for success in the best possible way so we capitalise on these opportunities.”

CIO, Digital Transformation, IT Skills, Women in IT

Gary Steen joined assistive technology provider Tunstall Healthcare as its group chief technology officer (CTO) in August 2021, having previously been managing director for technology at telecommunications provider TalkTalk.

The move was motivated by his desire to bring expertise across sectors, to work for a British technology company, and to fulfil his own social purpose amid the so-called Great Resignation. And as CTO, Steen’s mission was to bolster Tunstall Healthcare’s teams and talent, drive business speed and accessibility, and support Tunstall’s ambitious visions of future healthcare.

A technology strategy for distributed healthcare

Founded as a small television repair shop in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Tunstall has evolved from offering warden intercom systems to telehealth services over its 65 years. Elderly people originally used Tunstall-Byers to summon help in an emergency by transmitting alarm calls over the public telephone network before Tunstall moved into telecare and telehealth in the early 2000s.

Today, the company is at the intersection of the health, housing and social care markets, employing 3,000 and supporting millions of people across 19 countries, from offering phones, alarms and communication systems to remote patient monitoring services.

With the firm now shipping approximately one million devices per year, and leveraging AI and data analytics capabilities to deliver cognitive care — so healthcare providers can better detect whether someone’s health is about to deteriorate — Steen sees a different kind of health and social care emerging.

Gary Steen

“With the pressures on the NHS and healthcare across the EU, it’s clear that the future is not everybody going to hospital to have care,” says Steen, who also sits on the Tunstall executive board. “It’s got to be a wider distributed healthcare system. Hospitals are going to be important in the future, but healthcare homes are going to be increasingly important too,” equating the move from hospitals to distributed healthcare as similar to information being held in libraries to being widely available on the Internet.

Such visions for the future are underway through the advent of telecare and telehealth, services which Tunstall offers. The company works with health, social care, retirement and housing providers to provide technology-enabled care solutions, allowing people to live independently at home or in residential or social care settings — including those living with dementia, as well as those with learning and physical disabilities.

So Steen has a critical role to play. As CTO, he is responsible for leading the innovation and development function worldwide, and for solutions and products developed out of Tunstall’s technology delivery centres in the UK, Sweden and Germany.

With an increasingly distributed technology team of 200 spread across Europe, he sees his role as equipping tech teams for future challenges, and linking technology strategy back to Tunstall’s products and services.

But it remains early days. When he joined the firm in August 2021, Steen’s 90 day-plan revolved around listening and learning from the different business units prior to developing a technology strategy, which outlined Tunstall’s direction of travel in three core areas: its products, the technology structure of the business, and how it would operationalise so products and services could be taken to market.

The Porsche 911 of healthcare

Steen sees his challenge at Tunstall akin to that of a famous sports car manufacturer.

“If you see an old [Porsche] 911, and then you see the new one, it’s still the same product,” he says, “but there’s not a single component in the car that’s the same after those 60 years.” He says the German manufacturer managed to transform yet keep the relevance of the product by changing the way they manufacture and build it.

In the case of Porsche, he says that the evolution saw it move away from manual labour and hand-chiseled parts through to robotics and just-in-time (JIT) components, whereas Tunstall’s story lies more in the use of automated testing, advances in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to spot and remedy patient issues, and in the advent of virtual care platforms, remote monitoring and data platforms.

“It’s the same thing we’re trying to reach at Tunstall,” he says. “Our products have evolved — we need to make sure our ways of producing them evolve as well.”

This technological innovation does present a challenge, though, not least with Tunstall Healthcare typically catering for the elderly and less technically literate.

“Ensuring we develop solutions for both the digitally enabled and those with less experience of technology is key in supporting a vulnerable and ageing population. If housing, health and social care work together with technology suppliers, we can invest in tech literacy and put citizens at the heart of decision-making and empower them to manage their own health.”

Teams and talent at Tunstall

Steen admits Tunstall will require more ‘architectural muscle’ to serve his technology strategy, and he’s started laying the foundation by recruiting a new chief architect in Tunstall’s software business. Talent issues remain, however, and he believes that CTOs must consider youth and experience.

“We need to balance both,” he says. “We need people with experience because we’ve got some longer technologies, and we need people who know this space. But I’m absolutely convinced we need to do some grassroots investments as well.”

Partnerships with the likes of Manchester-based North Coders and QA are helping to bring in new apprentices and entry-level staff, with Steen saying such schemes allow him to tap into new talent pools such as minority groups who may have done science, physics or math in higher education.

“We’ll just look for smart people who want to cross train into these technologies,” says Steen, who admits that the much-regaled Great Resignation has made it “increasingly tough” to hire.

The future is about growing capabilities, accessibility and resilience, and the margin for error is zero. He notes that while downtime at telco TalkTalk may be an inconvenience for video streaming or gamers, customers not being able to dial 999 can be life threatening.

“The tolerance for error on this is nil,” he says. “If somebody needs to press that button, or something needs to happen, I want to make sure that service works,” adding that agile methodologies need to be bulletproof. “The biggest challenge is how do you transform that capability at the same time as delivering new products across the top of it,” he says. “It’s the old analogy of trying to change the engine while doing 90 miles an hour.”

CIO, Technology Industry

Tim Martin, CTO at Audible, joins host Maryfran Johnson for this CIO Leadership Live interview, jointly produced by CIO.com and the CIO Executive Council. They discuss business resiliency, digital media competition, customer behavior pivots and more.

Watch this episode:

Listen to this episode:

Careers, CIO, CIO Leadership Live

CIO: What is your role and responsibilities at your current organisation?

I am responsible for all technology across Liberis, and currently as an interim looking after product development.

This means ensuring that all of our technology services are running to plan, supporting our business and customers, and running efficiently and to the required level of performance.

As well as ensuring the smooth running of business as usual, there is the development of new product features, the onboarding of new partners and geographical expansion that has to be supported by the product and technology teams. Add to this the architectural enhancement, the integration of new innovations and ensuring that we are a product and technology-led organisation, every day brings a new and exciting challenge.

For example, at the moment, we are building an end-to-end, one-click embedded finance journey. We’re streamlining the application process, evidence collection, quoting, decisioning, and funding – in order to provide funds into a customer’s account in hours. We’re using advanced architectural structures to deliver a fully API-enabled set of services that can be embedded in a partners ecosystem.

CIO: How has your career evolved to becoming an IT director/CIO/CTO?

When I was very young, my family moved to Africa – which was truly a life-enhancing experience. I grew up away from my entire family so it taught me adaptability at a young age. When you enter a class full of people in a strange country, and with a completely different culture, it can be very daunting, so you learn all sorts of techniques to survive. On my return to the UK, there was a mismatch in the education I had received and the available syllabus, so I had to look for an alternative path. I wasn’t able to follow the traditional route of A-Levels and onto university to get a degree, as I didn’t have the requisite base knowledge.

Fortunately, I was able to join an organisation at the ground level and be trained in each new role. I am happy to see the uptake of apprenticeships now as I really believe that learning from the bottom-up gives you a much more rounded skillset.

This is how I found myself in the technology industry and my route has since been fairly traditional, as I progressed through development, architecture, project management and then into leadership roles.

CIO: Tell us about something you have worked on over the last 12 months that you are proud of?

Since joining Liberis, we have practically doubled in size and I am very proud to be part of the team to help realise this incredible business growth – and this is only just the start.

In addition, in the last 12 months, I have been working as a mentor for a start-up accelerator. This involves me giving up time to talk to founders and advise them on their technology and product decisions.

It is incredible how many people have such passion about their ideas and give up so much to try and launch them into a successful business. Starting a company is exhausting both emotionally and mentally and requires incredible self-belief and resilience. It is an honour to help these founders in even the smallest way on their journey.

CIO: What do you do outside of work?

Outside of work, I have an active life doing high-intensity training and yoga. I am a jigsaw puzzle addict and find this to be a fabulous stress management tool.

I love visiting new countries and exploring different cultures; I visited the walled city of Dubrovnik in one of the brief gaps between COVID-19 lockdowns and was privileged to have been there when it was almost empty. It gave me the opportunity to walk around freely and enjoy the history of the town and the magnificence of the buildings. I love cities and I can never get bored of New York and London.  

When I get a chance, I love painting large abstract bright and colourful pictures. I have been to many workshops and worked on many varieties of pictures including a large nude portrait – very tame and decent – but I prefer abstract art. I am also an avid networker and supporter/mentor of start-ups.

CIO: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

It came pretty late in my career but a wonderful lady that I worked with at Vodafone said ‘do not sit back and let your career happen’; you need a plan that you actively manage the same as any other kind of project in life.

Once I started doing this, I took control of my career, which was so incredibly empowering. As a result, I was much more selective about what I wanted to achieve and the results have been incredibly rewarding.

Financial Services Industry, IT Leadership

By Andy Nallappan, Chief Technology Officer and Head of Software Business Operations, Broadcom Software

This article was originally published here by Andy Nallappan.

The enterprise software that underpins day-to-day operations is under significant strain at many organizations. Between the now-prevalent hybrid cloud architecture and ongoing digital transformation efforts, entire industries are experiencing tectonic shifts in how they do business and disruptions from new competitors. For IT leaders, these changes have heightened their focus on software modernization.

Software modernization is an imperative for many organizations, including Broadcom Software, because existing applications and other technologies might be incompatible with today’s flexible and agile open-system platforms, which can empower companies to quickly and more easily pivot to new business models and scale to meet demand. Modern software can enable business transactions and workflows to be executed with the highest levels of security and compliance, while delivering the compelling customer and employee experiences that users have come to expect. Moreover, faced with the costs associated with maintaining  applications and infrastructure and an ongoing IT skills shortage, many enterprise IT leaders are searching for ways to use automation to bring speed to standard processes and clear the decks for their people to pursue higher-value work.

Transforming the enterprise

By embracing a modernization strategy, companies can transform their enterprise software portfolio with a next-generation technology stack, including a scalable, cloud-native environment, to drive new processes and collaborative workflows. This strategy can also set the stage for continuous innovation, enabling companies to optimize with data and deliver exceptional experiences that elevate products and services, create customer and employee loyalty, and burnish the corporate brand.

Software modernization is delivering synergies and efficiencies across business units and product portfolios. – Broadcom Software CTO Andy Nallappan

We appear to be at a tipping point, with industry rallying around software modernization as a path necessary for ongoing business growth. According to one estimate, the global market for application transformation, valued at $8.43 billion in 2019, is expected to grow steadily at a compound annual growth rate of 10.4% from 2020 to 2027, fueled by increasing digitalization, the worldwide rise of the internet and mobile devices, and growing reliance on big data.

A software modernization journey

My organization, Broadcom Software, set out on our software modernization journey for a variety of reasons, including the need to bolster product resiliency, reduce the chance of outages, and improve our time-to-delivery cycle for releasing new capabilities and applications. Yet the most important driver was to reimagine, deliver, and support our portfolio as an integrated bundle of software rather than a series of one-off point solutions assembled from prior acquisitions. Re-architecting around a modern software platform would enable better delivery across our entire portfolio and provide more consistency and ease of integration for individual applications. It would also create synergies and efficiencies for the different software business units and product portfolios. Indeed, standardizing on a common architecture and embracing new open systems-oriented engineering practices can be a good business practice for any growing company, delivering huge economies of scale — including a reduction in overhead — while simultaneously improving software efficiency.

We leaned into a number of important engineering practices to facilitate our software modernization journey. Among the most important were:

Adopted Google Cloud as a uniform, scalable, cloud-agnostic platform for product development to deliver rapid elasticity when catering to huge spikes in request ingestion for products reaching up to 1 million requests per second. Moreover, this practice was essential for refactoring the products according to a containerization framework that leverages Docker and Kubernetes.Embraced transformative DevOps practices to increase agility and software quality through automation of workflows.Supported a DevSecOps “shift-left” approach to integrate security at every level of the systems development life cycle, which helps us identify vulnerabilities before they reach production. DevSecOps addresses two common problems: It holds people accountable to security issues upfront, which can reduce the number of cycles needed to improve software, and better protects the software supply chain.Increased commitment to operational efficiency through real-time observability, proactive alerting, and automation remediation. In lieu of individual product silos, common operations such as cloud management, infrastructure as code, and software-as-a-service provisioning are addressed through a horizontal, standardized software operations group that transcends products. That liberates individual product teams to focus on product features and roadmaps, which helps create better customer experiences, and appeals to more experienced talent, ultimately fostering more effective recruitment and retention.

Broadcom Software has made significant investments in partnerships to drive this software modernization transformation and devoted 18 months to executing our roadmap. We’ve scaled our cloud proxy to 50 data centers worldwide and believe new businesses are now more easily integrated into our portfolio, our products are more secure, and our customers are more satisfied than ever. The journey has not been without its challenges, but the overall outcome is clear: We feel better positioned to execute on our bold vision and to empower our customers to achieve their business goals, drive innovation, and soar to new heights.

To learn more about how Broadcom Software can help you modernize, optimize, and protect your enterprise, contact us here.

Broadcom Software

About Andy Nallappan:

Andy is the Chief Technology Officer and Head of Software Business Operations for Broadcom Software. He oversees the DevOps, SaaS Platform & Operations, and Marketing for the software business divisions within Broadcom.

IT Leadership, Software Providers

Puneesh Lamba, CTO of apparel manufacturing company Shahi Exports, has always been a go-getter. In his first job as a graduate engineer trainee at manufacturing conglomerate Escorts Limited, Lamba was posted in the field after only eight months of training, which otherwise took one year. He again displayed his professional strengths when, he said, “in record time of less than four years, I was promoted to area manager, a position normally acquired after working for seven to eight years.”

However, Lamba says his biggest professional achievement has been the “regular disruption of self.” It was this ability to continuously disrupt that made Lamba pivot from a career in sales to one in technology.

In a conversation with CIO India, Lamba discusses how his self-disruption and risk-taking led to better results in the IT organizations he has led and in the business outcomes at his organisations, holding lessons for other technology leaders to consider.

CIO India: You started your career with sales and marketing. Why and how did you decide to get into technology? 

Lamba: While at Escorts, I was increasingly getting bored with my profile in sales.

Finally, I met the sales and marketing head and requested him to take me away from the monotonous job of selling products and growing vertically from regional manager to general manager yet doing similar things in more geographies.

Fortunately, when an opportunity presented itself in a couple of months, he remembered me. The company had decided to implement an ERP solution and was putting together a team to lead this highly significant project. So, he called back and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this team. I asked him about the details of the project, and he arranged a meeting with the consultants for my better understanding. After the meeting, I accepted the offer. That’s how my journey started in technology.

CIO India: What has been your greatest career achievement till date? Why do you rank it at the top? 

Lamba: Regular disruption of self and creation of the startup ecosystem for my organisation are two achievements that I value the most.

I kept on disrupting myself whenever I started getting into a comfort zone. From sales and marketing, I moved to ERP. From there I moved to business analytics and custom apps and then into a global consulting role. Then I moved to internal IT, becoming the CIO of Bilt, a billion-dollar organisation manufacturing writing and printing paper. which was an extremely brave (and on the borderline of stupidity) move by me as it was again an unchartered space for me.

Accepting challenging assignments that other colleagues were wary to attempt had become a habit and I strongly believe that disrupting myself always kept me on my toes and prevented rustiness to creep in.

In 2016, when startups were still a new breed and companies were taking a cautious approach to work with them, I started creating an ecosystem after identifying what technologies are important for us in our roadmap. I contacted NASSCOM, the nongovernmental trade association and advocacy group focused on India’s technology industry, to share the list of startups and their solutions and services in our identified technologies. I shortlisted some startups, shared the objectives of this exercise with the business leaders, and then called in all of them one day where startups presented their solutions for us to pick and choose from.

The exercise, which started in 2016, helped us create an ecosystem for our organisation. Over the next few years, it helped us to come up with multiple solutions that enabled our company to grow, deliver faster, and remain competitive. It gave me a satisfaction of giving something back to the society by supporting small startups. Later, it also became my learning ground to keep abreast with next-gen technologies and use cases from multiple industry verticals. Also, I started mentoring some of them, and more importantly cocreating solutions with them for solving our business problems.

CIO India: As a technology leader, what was the toughest decision you took? Why does it qualify as the toughest, and what was the outcome of the decision? 

Lamba: One of the toughest decisions that I took as a CIO was to choose between outsourcing the information technology activities to an IT company and shift my team to their rolls or to keep everything inhouse. There were merits and pitfalls in both the approaches. While outsourcing promised a more organised, skilled, and service-level-agreement-oriented approach, keeping them in house offered more flexibility.

I had long deliberations internally and sought opinions from consultants and other CIOs. Finally, I decided to keep a hybrid approach where a few strategic roles were kept within my team and all operational and monitoring roles were outsourced to our partner.

I can safely say today that the decision paid off in creating a service organization, which functioned faster, better, and in a more economical fashion. Over the course of four years, we ended up saving more than ₹5 crores (₹50 million), besides getting a mature model for future.

CIO India: Tell us about a time when you acted on a new idea. How did you translate that idea into an action plan and eventually achieve outcomes?

Lamba: Cybersecurity has always been a challenge as the talent available on the dark side of the web is much greater and smarter than that available on the light side. The pace of innovation for hacking our systems has been outpacing the innovation in defending, and that is the reason all of us are playing catchup and are reacting to the attacks.

One of the ideas that I tried around seven years back was whitelisting instead of blacklisting. Whitelisting is the opposite of blacklisting, wherein a list of trusted entities such as websites and applications is created and allowed to function in the network.

While it was a painful and long process, which increased our own work as and when a new credential was established, it worked very well. It was a simple, back-to-basics, low-cost solution that served the organisation very well. Zero trust is actually a newer form of whitelisting and has been presented these days as an effective manner to prevent attacks.

CIO India: What would you do differently in your career if you had a chance?

Lamba: I would have probably started my own company after spending four or five years in the corporate world. I was always interested in entrepreneurship and the risks and rewards that were part of the process. Though I had many ideas, I could never get the chance and could not muster the courage to take the plunge. Those days, the only way one could start a business was by taking loan from a bank as there was no concept of crowdfunding that is available for today’s startups.

CIO India: Business and technology are evolving fast. What are you doing to keep yourself relevant for the future? 

Lamba: The startup ecosystem creation process exposed me to the wonderful world of risk takers and disruptors. These were the people who were not shy of challenging the status quo and reimagining business models. It has become my biggest source of learning lately. The trends, new technology use cases, and the nuances of technology are best learnt from this brilliant tribe of professionals.

Other than that, I always had a habit of creating a learning path for myself and then completing those courses to update my repertoire. This not only helps in my own knowledge upgrade but also motivates my team to go for the courses as they have an example in front of them.

The other sources of learning for me are conferences, round tables, peers, research analysts, and consultants. These expose us to different point of views and keep us abreast of what is happening outside our industry vertical and geography.

In addition to keeping abreast of new technology, it is also important to keep updating behavioral, influencing, and leadership skills.

I follow an unorthodox method here. I have learnt a lot from books, movies, and cricket. In fact, during my days at Kellogg School of Management, some of us had this pact that we will either write a book or create video content that is entertaining as well as educating in three years from that date and will share with each other. Seven of us did that. My contribution was my book The Shankh. It was my first book and surprisingly did very well against my expectations, so now I am getting more requests to come up with its sequel from my publishers. Let’s see if I have the content in my me to take the story further.

CTO

Integrating a new network after an acquisition can be a sizable headache for any CIO. But for Koch Industries, a $125 billion global conglomerate that has acquired five companies in two years, including Infor for $13 billion in 2020, connecting those acquisitions’ networks to its own sprawling network has been a challenge of another magnitude.

Traditionally, to integrate its acquisitions, Koch would flatten the acquired company’s core network, says Matt Hoag, CTO of business solutions at Koch. While this approach makes connecting the network easier, it is a slow, arduous endeavor that gets more complex as more companies are acquired, he says.

Moreover, Koch itself is in the middle of a digital transformation that adds cloud networking to the mix, further complicating the challenge. Cloud networking comprises three layers: first from on-premises data centers to the cloud, then within a cloud that has multiple accounts or virtual private clouds, and finally, between individual clouds in a multicloud environment. It’s more complicated than standard networking, Hoag says.

“Cloud deployments typically come in the form of multiple accounts, including multiple LAN segments that need to be connected. This encompasses not only VMs but also many other services offered by the cloud provider,” he says.

The major tasks involved range from deploying core IP routing, to enabling connections among virtual workloads within a multitenant cloud, to connecting multiple clouds, to ensuring remote users can connect to the company’s cloud estate. It’s the kind of challenge few, if any, enterprises can take on without a partner today, analysts contend.

Laying the foundation

Koch Industries began its migration to Amazon Web Services in 2015, when it also started on the first layer of its cloud networking strategy.

Matt Hoag, CTO of business solutions, Koch Industries

Koch Industries

Leased lines and direct connects would remain in the data center as part of this strategy, but Hoag did not want to route users through the data center to access data on the cloud. Instead, Koch’s engineering team set about virtualizing the physical transports to build the SD-LAN and firewall within the cloud rather than in the data center.

The company invested a hefty amount of time — roughly 18 months — and engineering resources just to bring on-premises networking to the cloud. “It was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be in the early days,” Hoag says.

For the second two layers of Koch’s cloud network infrastructure, Hoag partnered up with a specialist.

IDC analyst Brad Casemore notes that there are several multicloud networking suppliers, including Aviatrix, Alkira, F5 Networks, and Prosimo, as well as established datacenter SDN suppliers such as VMware, Cisco, and Juniper. Co-location providers that offer interconnection-oriented architectures — such as Equinix, Digital Realty, and CoreSite — partner with many of these suppliers.

Hoag brought in Alkira to help tackle the challenge.

When building out one portion of a transport construct, the CTO recalls an ‘aha’ moment that he had one afternoon in a conference room in Reno, Nev., with Alkira: Using a third-party platform to handle the abstraction of networking into a software service would vastly reduce the complexity for his own IT team.

Alkira’s network segmentation and resource sharing approach would enable Koch to unify its on-premises and multicloud networks with a few clicks of the mouse, Hoag says. So his team set about migrating the first layer of cloud networking it built from scratch to work within Alkira’s platform.

“Prior to Alkira, anytime we acquired a new company, it would take 12 to 24 months to integrate their network due to the massive complexity,” Hoag says. “Now, we can set policy and have the entire network abide within 24 hours.”

Modernizing the network

Hybrid and multicloud networking, such as Koch’s, represents the next level of cloud maturity, says IDC’s Casemore, who adds that it’s a category in which most enterprises are woefully behind.

“While compute and storage infrastructure have largely aligned with cloud principles and the needs of multicloud environments,” Casemore says, “the network has not kept pace. ”

For Casemore, network modernization is indispensable to multicloud success: “Enterprises often are not fully cognizant of their networks’ multicloud deficiencies and limitations until they experience them firsthand. By then, the network’s inability to accommodate new requirements has often compromised the realization of an organization’s digital business strategy,” he says.

Here, Hoag says, partnering can be beneficial, as third-party specialists such as Alkira have a deep understanding of cloud providers’ obscure but significant technical differences. Working with a partner can also vastly reduce maintenance and troubleshooting, Hoag says, adding that to date Koch is enjoying similar data transfer speeds in all three layers of its cloud networking architecture.

Koch’s partnership with Alkira has also enabled the CTO to build up his team’s cloud networking skills.

“There is a talent war going on,” Hoag says. “This helps us move our team up the talent chain so they can focus on working with applications teams in the company and produce much better business outcomes.”

Enterprise Management Associates analyst Shamus McGillicuddy agrees that most enterprise CIOs will need to tap a specialist to achieve seamless cloud networking — one of the final phases of their digital infrastructure.

“Building a network across multiple cloud providers and one or more private data centers is too complex because network and security teams have to use different tools depending on which cloud or data center they’re working with,” McGillicuddy says. “This solution is an overlay that removes this complexity.”

By abstracting the various networking and security features different cloud providers offer, enterprises “can manage everything from one place, with one set of design parameters, one set of network and security policies, and one console for operational monitoring and management,” he says.

One day, setting up cloud networking may be as easy as using a credit card to set up a cloud instance, Hoag says. But not now. “When you start to have the kind of user needs to potentially have connectivity between different clouds, that’s more difficult,” the CTO says.

Cloud Computing, Hybrid Cloud, Multi Cloud, Networking

An alarm sounds on the factory floor: a critical piece of equipment has malfunctioned. An engineer approaches the machine, scans its QR code, and immediately accesses visual step-by-step instructions for fixing the issue created by the people who work with the same machines every day.

This is SwipeGuide, a B2B cloud-based SaaS platform that captures and scales operational knowledge, helping teams in industrial environments to create, improve, and share instructions and standard operating procedures using mobile and wearable devices. The platform is designed to help reduce errors and downtime, improve the quality of products, and help onboard new employees – all powered by the expertise of frontline workers.

SwipeGuide Chief Technology Officer Sue Li has worked in the tech industry for over a decade, with a degree in educational technology and instructional design from Harvard University’s Technology, Innovation, and Education programme for her master’s degree. Li gained experience in visual art and UX design as well as product management and software development before joining SwipeGuide in 2019. Less than a year later, she was promoted from full-stack developer to CTO.

“I learn best through hands-on learning and just by tackling problems,” Li says. “My first year as a CTO involved learning a lot about the security and scalability of the infrastructure, data privacy, and compliance. Part of the learning process was figuring out how to ask the right questions and work with experts to solve very detailed and strategic problems.”

Harnessing the power of data for frontline workers

One of the challenges that Li contends with in her role is the ever-increasing volume of data that the platform produces, including content, feedback, usage, and behavioural data. Li is developing SwipeGuide’s new strategy to figure out how to manage it and how to put the data to work.

“The strategy that we want to go forward with is self-service analytics: how can we empower users on the factory floor so that they don’t need to rely on a data scientist or analyst to get insights? We want to have all of our data in a data warehouse as a single source of truth so that we can analyse and provide those insights to the operators. I think that’s going to be an important step towards having more robust machine learning models as well. It’s going to be very, very powerful.”

SwipeGuide is expanding its services beyond its European customers to the US and China, which presents the challenge of ensuring data privacy and compliance for an increasingly global audience.

Currently clients can access analytics dashboards on the platform that can show entities the adoption of their content, like how many instructions have been created over time by specific teams in different workspaces, and how often they’re viewed.

“We want to be able to provide better insights with those dashboards, and another part of that is embedding that data right into the platform itself: being able to see which guides have been the most popular and are the highest quality. Later on, we will be able to analyse which characteristics the highest-rated guides have, maybe something about the structure of how they are written or the structure of the images or videos. This is where machine learning will come in, to help us make recommendations to improve the quality of instructions over time.”

The human factor in Industry 4.0

Life on the factory floor is changing rapidly with the onset of Industry 4.0, the fourth wave of the industrial revolution powered by data and bolstered by automation. Tools such as SwipeGuide aim to optimise operations by minimising downtime, but the insights needed to create smarter factories must come from human expertise first.

“Our work is all about empowering the frontline worker — the biggest waste is untapped human potential. I think that the problem that we’re trying to solve is all of the silent knowledge that people have: crowd-sourcing that knowledge from all the different operators and frontline workers, and then externalising and capturing that in a standard format that is easy to share,” Li says.

Contrary to popular imagery associated with Industry 4.0 – workers replaced by endless rows of indefatigable robots – Li believes that humans will have an important role to play. “There are very few smart factories out there where there is no human intervention,” Li says, citing an example of a car manufacturer in Japan that has an automated factory for building auto parts after figuring out the step-by-step instructions necessary for robots to execute those tasks.

“With the data processing power that we have now with edge computing and cloud computing, there will be a huge shift over the next 10 to 20 years in what can be automated. But in order to reach that level of automation, we need to be able to build algorithms: some of the questions we’re asking are can we emulate the procedures, can we create an algorithm with the instructions, and how can we hook performance data into operational data?”

Branching out into wearables and augmented reality

Li and the SwipeGuide team are actively exploring other types of emerging technologies that work in harmony with the platform. The company is experimenting with wearable devices that will free up workers’ hands while they repair and service machinery.

SwipeGuide has created an Android app that can be installed on a durable industrial wearable like Realwear, which creates helmets and smart glasses built for factory settings. “We are also looking into compatibility with Google Glass,” Li says. “Wearables allow the operators to be completely hands-free when they’re repairing a machine or doing whatever they need to, which allows us to do more with voice commands.”

For more complex instructions, augmented reality can help workers understand specific gestures and motions that would be hard to describe with photos or text.

“We did a pilot with XM Reality, a remote support calling platform. If a worker gets stuck on a particular instruction, the remote experts can show users what needs to happen with augmented reality. Imagine, a worker has shared a real-time video of a part of a machine that is broken or loose, and they can see a hand on their screen making a motion or drawing a shape. Making the experience interactive can really help in situations where a course of action is very complicated and difficult to describe.”

Fostering innovation through an agile, user-centric approach

The challenges that SwipeGuide is currently facing, like integrating new technologies and developing SwipeGuide’s data strategy and machine learning models, require fostering a culture of innovation within the team. For Li, the best inspiration for new ideas comes from the people who use the platform and the solutions come from her team: “I think our customers really know the most, so it’s important to get insights from the market, the users, and the customers. We do our own usability testing — for example, we created a small competition where we created step-by-step guides for creating origami. It helped us experience the challenges that our customers face while uploading images or making changes to instructions, for example.”

Li believes that an important part of innovation is having an agile mindset, especially when it comes to software development, to measure the effectiveness of a new solution or idea.

“We track events and collect data so that we can measure solutions in relation to specific goals, like increasing visibility or usage,” she says

“If it works we keep it, and if not we create another iteration of that solution and then try again. We work in an industry with huge enterprises that use the waterfall methodology, but I think that takes away from the innovation element of being able to experiment with smaller improvements, collect and learn from the feedback, and develop new and novel ways to solve problems.”

Industry, IT Leadership