Leading as a CISO with Karen Holmes.

Apex chats with Karen Holmes, the Vice President and CISO at global staffing company True Blue. Karen is on a mission to drive automation and orchestration, she is focused on improving overall seamless and secure user experiences while creating an innovative atmosphere of “I have a crazy idea that just might work.” Here Karen shares her experience as a CISO and offers her own advice on managing an enterprise team.

 

 

Q: What is IT security doing to support innovation in the enterprise? 

A: We just achieved an ISO 27001 certification for the organization, and this was both a heavy lift and a huge achievement. We knew we were following best practices, and felt it was time to “put our money where our mouth is” and get certified. This shows the Enterprise commitment.

 

Q: How has the role of the CIO/CISO changed over your career?

A: CISOs are more forward and customer/client facing than ever before. We can no longer stay in the background and practice “defense against the dark arts” potential clients and their teams want to know us and hear from us directly. We have a public face more now than ever before.

 

Q: What advice would you give an early stage CIO or CISO joining an enterprise organization?

A: Define success first. Naturally, you’re going to want to put your own ideas in motion, but don’t change things just to make your mark. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. You know what success looks like, then you build the corners, building in from that vision. You don’t throw away the box and try to find the center as a place to start. And listen to your engineers, the people with their hands in the chompers every day. Don’t assume you  know everything, because you don’t.

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction? 

A: All of the above actually. Security cannot be a speed bump, and we have to move, advise, respond and guide from a cyber and compliance perspective if we’re slowing the business moving forward. We can’t be a speed bump or a toll booth, we have to keep up with traffic

 

Q: What are some of the personal experiences — or compelling arguments — that have influenced your thinking around gender and technology and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change? 

A: Everyone has unconscious bias, but the best advice I’ve given women coming up in Technology is to take their own bias out of the equation before you walk in the room. Don’t assume every man in the room is going to consider you “less” because of your gender, or that they’ll be making assumptions about your skill level . Walk in as the technology professional, not the female technology professional. Own what you know, and if they want to underestimate you? Well, let them. It’ll be fun to show them they’re wrong.

 

Q: Has security been more of a challenge to manage while your teams have shifted to a Work From Home structure?  

A: For parts of our organization who had been working in offices using desktops, certainly. I don’t think we’re unique there. Overall, I have always advocated a location agnostic approach to work. Hire the right person with the right skills, regardless of where they sit.

 

Karen Holmes – Vice President and CISO at True Blue

Karen Holmes is the Vice President and CISO at global staffing company True Blue, where she is responsible for Cybersecurity, Technology Governance, Risk and Compliance, Networking, and Telecommunications. On a mission to drive automation and orchestration, she is focused on improving overall seamless and secure user experiences while creating an innovative atmosphere of “I have a crazy idea that just might work.” Prior to taking on her role at True Blue, Karen gained experience at Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), Carnival Corporation, Holland America Lines, and JP Morgan Chase. Karen also serves as a Director with Kitsap Credit Union. She is a CISA, CISM, CDPSE, and CIPM.

New Horizons in Data Analytics with Shahidul Mannan

Apex chats with Shahidul Mannan, the Head of Data Engineering and Innovation at Partners Healthcare DAO. He is leading the next generation data analytics architecture and platforms for Partner’s Healthcare digitization and Analytics Innovation. Here, Shahidul shares with us how he plans to shift to a digital business model and the advantageous trends in DevOps AI, ML, Automation and more!

 

Q: How have you seen the role of CDO change? How do you partner with the CIO? Have you encountered any challenges facing the CDO function?

A: I have seen the role changing towards a more transformative leader. With all the leading companies racing for digitization, and becoming more data driven, a CDO is not only focused on traditional data management and analytics leadership anymore. Today’s CDO needs to focus more on how data can help transform the company to be successful in digital transformation and innovation.

 

Q: What are the current data trends and how will it impact your organization?

A: Having been in the financial, retail, high tech and now Healthcare industries in my decades of career in analytics, I think this is an exciting time in healthcare for data driven transformation and innovation. However, it is also obvious that healthcare had a pretty late start in this journey and is catching up on some of the core capabilities. Some of the key trends I am seeing are moving to Cloud analytics and driving data democratization for innovation, especially in AI and Data Science.

Cloud adoption is growing fast, especially in analytics for the flexibility, scalability and speed of innovation it provides. Mass General Brigham is also moving fast with cloud adoption. Our new cloud-based data lake driven analytics ecosystem will enable the latest technologies, batch and real time data capabilities, AI/ML and cognitive services which will enable enterprise reporting to AI/ML based innovative products and services. We are entering new horizons in data analytics to become a more data driven digital health company.

Similarly, self-service analytics is another trend that’s coming fast, and we are also empowering our various analytics users. We have moved a long way from building your own report to now having your own innovation space and being able to operationalize the innovation lifecycle. Our data scientist, innovators are excited to embrace it.

I believe that a combination of cloud data transformation and democratization with self-service will fuel our enterprise digitization efforts and help continue towards the next level of innovation with data at MGB.

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction…?

A: Our overall goal is to improve patient care and quality of our services with data. So, I would say all of the above as they are all tied together. Our immediate focus points are improving operational efficiency, innovating in diagnostic and treatment with AI, and extending newer and better insights to improve quality and services. Obviously, we have to do all these ensuring compliance with regulatory obligations HIPAA and others, and meeting our patients privacy and security expectations.

 

Q: How do you balance the need to ensure that non-revenue generating data-driven transformation efforts receive the commitment and funding that are required to sustain these efforts?

A: First off, I think the overall value proposition for data driven transformation needs to be connected, and having non-revenue generating efforts are the cost of doing business, and most cases foundational, so the story needs to be told in a way that provides a complete and comprehensive strategic perspective. However, I am also a firm believer of providing incremental value that directly adds business value and hits the bottom line along the way. We need to execute with an agile and value-added mindset.

 

Q: How would you define “Enterprise AI” in a non-digital native enterprise like your organization?

A: What operating model and cultural changes have you considered as you shift to a digital business? What parts of your business would benefit the most from a greater digital foundation?

Overall, we have adopted Agility and Innovation, at the core of our culture. This helps drive the operating model to be curious, and to experiment, learn and adjust. A big part of our operating model would be driven by automation through DevOps, which would certainly benefit data customers across the system driving efficiency, speed and overall operationalization of any digital asset and service across the board.

 

Q: How has DevOps and cloud services changed the way you design, build, deploy, and operate online systems and secure infrastructure?

A: It certainly is a paradigm shift from traditional development and production release. Our strategy was to take full advantage of DevOps and re-engineer our process matching with best of breed technologies for DevOps. We opted for full lifecycle management through DevOps automation and cloud services, resulting in greater speed to market, agility with greater standardization, collaboration and efficiency. Our next phase is to incorporate similar practices with ML operationalization for greater collaboration and speed for innovation.

 

Q: What is the current state of Big Data and AI investment and do you sense the pace of Big Data and AI investment changing?

A: I think the current state of Big Data and AI investment is healthy and many may consider it aggressive. I sense that it will not only continue on its own path, but also accelerate in embedded form in other areas of business. Also, for many, the shift will be from core and foundational capabilities to more matured applications and commercialization. Overall, Big Data and AI will become a more integrated part of business strategy and how we operate, if not already, hence related investments will grow further.

 

 

 

Shahidul Mannan – Head of Data Engineering and Innovation at Partners Healthcare DAO

Shahidul Mannan is the Head of Data Engineering and Innovation at Partners Healthcare DAO. He is leading the next generation data analytics architecture and platforms for Partner’s Healthcare digitization and Analytics Innovation. Most recently he commercialized data and AI products at TTEC Digital as Vice President and GM and at Dell EMC as Global Head of Big data and Analytics. A lifelong data and AI evangelist, Shahidul was Chief Data Officer and Vice President of Technology at Altisource and Chief Analytics Officer at Human Health Project – responsible for all data management, enterprise and advanced analytics, developing Fintech products and services, and had been in Sr. Technology Leadership roles at Bank of America, Freddie Mac.

 

Trusting The Data with Arijit Bhattacharya

Apex talks to Arijit Bhattacharya, Principal at Element22. Arijit is a strategist with success in creating Data Governance, Data Management, Data Stewardship and Data Operations. Here, Arijit speaks on using data and analytics proactively for governance and growth rather than taking a backseat.

 

Q: What is the difference between a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Analytics Officer? Are they one in the same?

A: While analytics is a large part of the CDO role today, they are different roles. The CDO is responsible for data governance, data integrity, face off to regulators as well as using the data in the organization for revenue generating needs. Analytics is a very important part of the data that an organization has in order to either course correct or give indications to new trends in the data collected. But overall, the trust in that data is very important – which is what a CDO is supposed to provide to the organization.

 

Q: How have you seen the role of CDO change? How do you partner with the CIO? Have you encountered any challenges facing the CDO function?

A: The role of the CDO has changed from just data governance and integrity to that of using the firm’s data for monetizing it or making use of it to gain more insights into customer interactions, creating new channels for sales, etc. It is not a passive role anymore and is now embedded in revenue generating processes.

Q: What should be the ideal role and responsibilities of the CDO?

A: It should be  blend of data governance (bring back the trust in data to the organization), timeliness of data availability – goes back to the trust and if you don’t make data available in a timely manner, people will find a way to get it – which may not be trusted data, regulatory, privacy and security of data. Above all, when all of this is in place, data should be helping businesses do more and not be taking a back seat. So a CDO should always have that view in mind as to what is the end goal of all this – it should always be to help businesses do more, embed the CDO office in the revenue generating process.

Q: What operating model and cultural changes have you considered as you shift to a digital business? What parts of your business would benefit the most from a greater digital foundation?

A: The operating model change has been mainly related to the governance of data – with data owners, data stewards taking care of their respective data domains. This has taken time to establish but people see the benefits to it. The trust in the data was very important as a foundational exercise. And this has been achieved with the right tools, automated processing to check for data quality, dashboarding and a modern way to do data governance. With this digital foundation, the journey now moves on to more revenue generating themes which involve analytics and AI.

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction…?

A: The priority should always be the proper governance and trust in the data. Without that, any data in the organization is up for debate and waste of time. Once this is under control, the data can be looked at for business growth, cost reduction and answering regulatory queries. Data security is more of an IT function and is important. It should be monitored and reported on. For data privacy, as the requirements are there from regulators or the business, there may be technical solutions needed. This is important because any breach can lead to loss of reputation and/or clients, fines, etc.

 

Q: Did you have specific projects or initiatives that have been shelved due to COVID-19 and current realities?

A: None of the projects were shelved – in fact, if anything, projects got delivered at a quicker pace. People were more focused on the respective projects they were doing and also did not mind going the extra mile with the working from home environment. Overall, there has been no ill effects of Covid-19 on the delivery of work. However, there have been people who got directly affected and the firm took a sympathetic view to them and it all worked out in the end for the team.

 

Q: What advice would you give an early stage CIO or CDO joining an enterprise organization?

A: There should be a benchmarking exercise done to make sure the current landscape is clear to everyone in the organization. This helps prioritize the work in the next 2-3 years. The landscape should be looked at with the following in mind : trust in data, data duplication, regulatory and legal needs, expense reduction / re-work, etc.

 

 

Arijit Bhattacharya – Principal at Element22

Arijit Bhattacharya is a financial Services Leader in the Data and ESG space developing and executing on long term strategies. Specific emphasis on enabling new capabilities via improved time to market, data quality, automation, streamlined processes and reduced costs. Strategist with success in creating Data Governance, Data Management, Data Stewardship and Data Operations. Designer of top-quality technical applications that deliver strategic solutions to meet real world business needs.

 

Executing Data Driven Transformation With Harini Sridharan

Apex talks to Harini Sridharan, Head of Analytics and Data Management at MoneyGram. She is a growth-focused digital business leader, leveraging deep, multi-industry analytics and data strategy experience to build, scale, and lead global analytics teams in generating multimillion-dollar revenue growth and cost savings. Harini shares valuable insight into building out and integrating a strong data driven business strategy.

 

Q: What are the current trends impacting data?

A: On the offense side, you have Increased Digital Adoption and Personalization and on the defense side, you have Data Privacy. 

Increased digital embrace by customers is driving digital transformations in companies and good data is key for such transformations to be successful.  You will know more about your customers and personalize their journey to make it easier for them to shop around in the digital world if you have their journey and friction related data.  Therefore, it is reasonable to expect digital adoption and personalization to further drive big data and machine learning needs.  

On the defense/privacy end, collecting, storing, and using data in a responsible manner will be critical since customer expectations and data privacy regulations are changing worldwide. The regulations are challenging us to change the way we measure effectiveness of programs and channels and to use the collected data in a more responsible manner.

All these changes enhance the need for machine learning in order to showcase the right products and services, to algorithmically make decisions on approving customers for financial transactions, and to make marketing investments more effective. 

 

Q: How do you balance the need to ensure that non-revenue generating data-driven transformation efforts receive the commitment and funding that are required to sustain these efforts?

A: The executive team supports data transformation efforts if you can articulate that those efforts will drive understanding about customers and lead to optimal decisions that would in turn drive up revenue and profitability.  So, it is important to have a list of projects that can deliver value because of the data transformation effort. 

As with any transformation, you need to show sustained progress to ensure that there is continued enthusiasm. It is important to start with small POCs and show quick effective wins. I would approach it like any new product development. Similar to a new product introduction in a market, you need to start with a critical area and find your strongest supporters and adopters who can use the product/service (in this case data service) and illustrate the value of your efforts. As you would for any transformation, you need to have milestones along the journey that show value improvements along the way. This will lead to sustained interest among executive sponsors and will keep the team’s morale high. 

 

Q: Have you developed a business driven data strategy; is there support for it and is your organization becoming more data-driven? What steps are you taking to ensure all areas of the business are data driven?

A: Any data strategy should be built around a company’s business strategy. A number of companies are going through digital transformation these days. If digital transformation is a goal, then first we need to collect data in a way that addresses immediate needs. This includes everything that we can reasonably get about the type of customer we are trying to attract and retain. Also, it is important to understand the current factors impeding adoption by these customers, learn about the kind of channels that can bring the types of customers and so on. But on a longer-term basis, we also need to ensure that data strategy can support tomorrow’s business models which require faster machine-learning driven decisions and recommendation engine driven content among others. 

It is easier to convince adoption when data strategy is built around supporting business growth and it will help your case if you can demonstrate it with a few proof-of-concept examples. Also, by now, most firms and boards see the value and there is significant investment across most industries in data. 

Again, it is very important to find a few strong supporters and pilot use cases that visibly impact their teams. Once you have some strong wins and have started scaling it with a few more partners in the company, it is easier to convince partners who are holding out.

 

Q: What is the current state of Big Data and AI investment and do you sense the pace of Big Data and AI investment changing?

A: Customers are now getting used to split second AI driven decisions in many spheres of life and are starting to expect it more everywhere. What used to be customer delight and competitive advantage five years ago is table stakes today. To support this kind of instant decisioning, optimization, and ML driven pertinent content etc., requires a tremendous amount of data and ML capabilities. As such, investments are accelerating significantly and should continue to accelerate over time. 

 

Q: How important is it to have a data driven culture? Have there been the obstacles to building a data culture and if so, then how have you resolved it?

A: To win in the digital space, first, companies need to be data driven as opposed to merely being data informed. That takes a huge cultural shift. Often the argument that we hear is innovation and data driven decision making don’t go hand in hand. Yet some of the most innovative firms are also the most data driven ones – Netflix, Amazon and so many more. Concepts like data driven innovation are catching up. 

Secondly, you will see that a lot of successful digital firms test customer preferences before they invest. In a digital world with good data and technical infrastructure, customers’ likes, and dislikes can be quickly identified. Therefore, it is important not just to build products, but have a feedback circle in the form of A/B and multivariate testing as well. Surveys and user testing are important. In addition, before going live, it is also vital to test in small volumes before you invest or make a large change wherever possible. That again requires a culture change in decision making from being opinion based to one that is data driven. It makes it vital to hire personnel with a data driven mindset across functions and for the CDO or CAO to consistently make the case for having analytics at the table.

 

Q: Have you found new vendors for your organizations that are now needed in this time of COVID-19 and remote working?

A: Yes. With COVID-19, data needs as I mentioned have only accelerated as digital adoption has scaled. So organizations have greater data needs. Some of it has been through word-of-mouth recommendations and others have been through virtual events such as yours. Some of it has also been through vendor cold calls and demos. 

 

Harini Sridharan – Head of Analytics and Data Management at MoneyGram

Harini is a growth-focused digital business leader, leveraging deep, multi-industry analytics and data strategy experience to build, scale, and lead global analytics teams in generating multimillion-dollar revenue growth and cost savings while improving customer engagement. She has worked across B2B and B2C companies in areas of product, customer, growth, business analytics, and data strategy. Her expertise includes ROI improvements for 9-digit media budgets as well as optimization and customization of US and international websites across multiple industries like e-tail, cloud infrastructure, and financial services

She is the Head of Analytics and Data Management at MoneyGram International and was previously with IBM, eBags, and Vistaprint in various roles. She is also a Senior Fellow at Wharton Customer Analytics.

Harini holds a Master of Business Administration (Honors) from the Wharton School; a Master of Engineering Management from Dartmouth College; and a Bachelor of Engineering degree.

Moving Through The Cloud With Amy Nichols

Apex talks to Amy Nichols, Head of Technology Integrity Group, Chief Technology Organization at Wells Fargo Technology, Wells Fargo & Company. Currently she is driving oversight for key areas of control including Cloud, Segregation of Duties and Secure Development. Amy shares valuable insight into her own strategies and best practices for seamlessly moving into the cloud.

 

Q: Where are you on the journey to utilizing hybrid cloud and devops and what challenges are you facing?

A: Both moving to the Cloud and DevOps can be strategic journeys in their own right, but together  are powerful, and certainly leveraging DevOps to move to Cloud can be a huge enabler. Ultimately, both aspects come down to a specific culture change within the organization to move to a faster way of developing and delivering value into the production environments. At Wells Fargo, the journey is underway with success milestones behind us.  However, as with any large institution that has a fair amount of legacy technology, the evolution will take multiple years.

 

Key elements for consideration are:

  1. Pragmatic Strategy aligned with Business Objectives

Before moving to a Cloud Strategy, the organization top down needs to define the risk appetite and approach for the business capabilities, and more specifically, business data for hosting off premise. 

  2. Control Framework

All the existing processes for applications, network, infrastructure, etc. should be evaluated for hosting implications.  Additionally, the concept of ephemeral assets and the control environment for short lived instances of executables needs to be evaluated and understood. 

  3. Clear Deliverables and Outcomes

Depending on if your organization is largely created with new constructs, or if the organization has legacy monolithic structures, it could take months, or many years to reach the target state.  Leveraging the strategy, create interim deliverables to ensure that the organization has time to refine processes and move forward iteratively towards the target state. 

  4. Education and Training

Skilled resources can drive the transition with greater success, but training all areas of the organization on new practices and concepts is critical.  This also goes for listening to where resources have questions and tailoring different types of training and/or education to different areas of the organization (business or tech).

   5. Vendors

While there are many great Cloud providers in the market, they have different offerings, price-points, and alignment or partnership approaches.  A matrix of what is most valuable to your organization should be created, and vendors assessed based on the value grid.  Additionally, choosing multiple vendors to pilot with can give you valuable insight.  Finally, choosing more than one vendor for full implementation can provide the ability for greater flexibility if the business and financial model allows.

   6. Agile and DevOps

And finally, not to be forgotten, to be able to take advantage of DevOps, an Agile approach to delivery is a must.  The development organization needs to be re-educated to understand backlogs, user stories, quick delivery of business value, and the objective of fail-fast. The principles of Agile are varied and can be implemented for success in any shop, but become a must for a DevOps transformation.

No two organizations are the same, neither are the transformations, but these six foundational areas are key to success for both Cloud as well as DevOps.

 

Q: What factor should you consider before implementing a Cloud strategy?

A: Each organization should address it’s own business strategy for technology before just embarking on either a public or a private cloud approach. Based on the organization’s scale, business objective and risk appetite (including regulatory oversight), these all create factors that lead into objectives that have to factor into the approach.  Do not just move to cloud or a virtualization strategy because others are…it needs to be aligned and embedded into the business playbook. 

 

Q: Is there cost savings with moving to a Cloud strategy?

A: Similar to answers for the considerations, it depends on what strengths you have in your organization today (i.e. do you have data centers that are strategically placed?) on whether or not the expense to move makes sense. But let’s be clear, virtualization and Cloud can be a primary cost savings, but it needs to be factored in with other factors that are particular to your own organization. Objectively defining current costs for technology delivery alongside all the costs of transforming to new environments, tools and processes need to be reviewed side by side before making a large-scale commitment to any organizational change, including Cloud.

 

Q: How does a Cloud strategy align to the Data Strategy?

A: The two are related and can support business decisions for one another.  Despite having very secure and solid methods for providing access to data within the Cloud, there is always additional risk as confidential or sensitive information is in any location – Cloud, 3rd Party Data Center and/or Internal Data Center (private Cloud included).   It just adds complexity if data has to travel to multiple locations and/or processes, including crossing through different vendors or products.  All of this should be considered together – where data is accessed, manipulated and ultimately stored all factor into how Cloud is approached.

 

Q: What are the values of using an External Cloud Vendor?

A: Besides that you can offload (i.e. outsource) tech functions to a vendor at a potentially reduced price point, the vendor not only will provide hosting capabilities, but other services that enable faster development that go well beyond traditional hosting/storage vendors.  Each vendor offers different services and different ways to approach and align to your company’s needs.  These additional capabilities should also be reviewed for extension of other development or technology goals.   Finally, as many other companies are taking advantage of vendors in this area, the growth in this space is tremendous, with all the lessons learned being passed along to future customers.

 

 

Amy Nichols – Head of Technology Integrity Group, Chief Technology Organization at Wells Fargo Technology, Wells Fargo & Company

Amy Nichols is head of the Head of Technology Integrity Group, a key area within Wells Fargo Technology.  Wells Fargo has one of the world’s largest and most innovative information technology groups with more than 20,000 talented team members who help keep Wells Fargo at the forefront of America’s diversified financial services companies.

Amy is responsible for providing strategic thought leadership to critical major initiatives.  Currently she is driving oversight for key areas of control including Cloud, Segregation of Duties and Secure Development. This also includes improvements to implement cybersecurity requirements into the full application portfolio.

She previously served as Command Center leader for the Technology Cybersecurity Program, which had oversight for areas of improvements across many disclipements including Asset Management, Network Perimeter Controls, Identity and Access Mgmtm and Cybersecurity Risk Practices.  

Amy also headed the legacy Information Services (IS) Strategic Initiatives Office and served in leadership roles spanning Wells Fargo’s lines of business, specifically related to Cash Management (wires and ACH), Treasury Services (Corporate services, Reporting, Lockbox), Imagining Services, and Shared Services (Asset Management, Program Management, and Systems Development Lifecycle Tools). 

Outside of work, Amy supports the local Charlotte tech community in various ways.  In 2019, she formed CyberHype Charlotte with four other community leaders, which supports career advancement by using social media and other marketing collaboration for all Charlotte tech meetups and technical sessions across the Charlotte metro area.

Amy graduated from Queens University with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.  Amy also supports Queens in support of the future talent pool through Alumni activities and scholarships.

 

Post-Pandemic Adaption with CTO Steve Giovannetti

Apex talks to Steve Giovannetti, the CTO and Founder of Hub City Media, a software integration and development consultancy. Giovannetti has worked in information technology since 1988 and was creating commercial applications based on Internet technologies as early as 1995. Here, Steve discusses how he has been and continues to navigate the post pandemic landscape within ML/AI, Cloud, and more at Hub City Media!

 

Q: What are the roles and responsibilities of the CTO within your services organization?

A: In an organization like Hub City Media, I wear a few different hats. Ultimately, I’m asked to make decisions and research new Identity and Access management technologies and products nearly every day. More specific parts of my job include:

  • Looking at new products or services we might develop in house.
  • Researching and developing new technologies we can apply to our service delivery like devops, cloud or AI.
  • Coming up with creative solutions to client problems. One of the most common has been helping them deal with the challenges presented by COVID-19.

 

Q: What sorts of challenges did COVID-19 cause for your clients?

A: The most prevalent challenge was navigating from working in an office to having their entire staff working remotely. Most organizations had access infrastructure like VPNs in their office networks, but these infrastructures weren’t stressed like they were when their entire staff I started working from home. We helped our clients navigate through shoring up capacity, as well as implementing more secure remote access authentication technologies (like multi-factor authentication). This allowed them to connect securely to their on premise or even cloud Applications.

 

Q: Have you found new vendors for your organizations that are now needed in this time of COVID-19 and remote working?

A: Maybe not new vendors, but there certainly were existing strong authentication vendors that saw a jump in activity once companies wanted to grant more access to applications from remote locations. We saw colossal interest and activity with Access Management, multi-factor authentication and passwordless authentication.

 

Q: Did you have specific projects or initiatives that have been shelved due to COVID-19 and current realities?

A: Very early at the start of the pandemic, we saw some projects get put on hold; however, that

changed once companies resolved the remote access issue. Then, oddly enough, it was business as usual, and companies even started new initiatives on how to improve remote work. For example, we had one client ask us to help them completely automate their hiring process via their Identity Management system, which was only partially automated at the start of the pandemic.

 

Q: Where are you in the journey of utilizing hybrid cloud and DevOps? What challenges are you facing?

A: Hub City Media was a very early adopter of public cloud, and immediately grasped the importance of DevOps as a practice and as a set of technologies. We spearheaded early efforts to deploy Identity and Access Management systems using Docker and Kubernetes. That practice is quite mature now, and we are constantly improving our techniques. We’ve been doing a lot more with Infrastructure as Code and automating the provisioning of cloud services where we then deploy products. This has allowed us to decrease time to value for our clients, so we spend less time on infrastructure and more time delivering the functionality they are looking to leverage.

 

Q: Are you seeing more organizations deploying “Enterprise AI” to address Identity and Access Management or just security in general?

A: Yes. AI is becoming more prevalent in Identity and Access Management systems, especially in Identity Governance, where a lot of the burden is placed on members of an organization, specifically managers, to certify the access of their teams. This is a tremendously tedious task that can mostly be delegated to AI. We are also seeing the application of machine learning to deal with identity role engineering in large enterprises. This is another task where humans get overwhelmed in the data analysis to properly define birthright roles – a perfect task for Machine Learning.

 

Q: What is the current state of Big Data and AI investment? Do you sense the pace of Big Data and AI investment changing?

A: I see it accelerating in the Identity and Access Management sector. The new products on the market make it fairly easy to prove out value in a quick proof of concept. I would expect using AI for Identity Governance to become quite commonplace, and for it to extend to using AI/ML to make Access Management decisions in the future. That will be driven by analyzing access behaviors of users over time – again, an impossible task for a human to perform or even to codify rule sets in advance, but a perfect application of AI/ML.

 

 

Steve Giovannetti – CTO & Founder of Hub City Media

Steve Giovannetti is the CTO and Founder of Hub City Media, a software integration and development consultancy. Giovannetti has worked in information technology since 1988 and was creating commercial applications based on Internet technologies as early as 1995. He specializes in the analysis, design and implementation of distributed, multi-tier, applications, and heavily focuses on containerized solutions and running Identity in the cloud. Since 1999, Giovannetti and Hub City Media have been deploying production identity management, directory, and web access management systems for commercial, government and education customers.

Leading Through Collaboration With Phanii Pydimarri

Apex talks to Phanii Pydimarri, Senior Director of AI & Advanced Analytics at Stanley Black & Decker. Phanii is Global Data Analytics Leader with over 15 years of experience in end-to-end Data Management. Today Phanii discusses key elements in the evolving role of the CDO and strategies for fueling cross-functional business growth.

 

Q: What is the difference between a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Analytics Officer? Are they one in the same?

A:

  • To be frank, the definitions on these titles are still evolving. Organizations are figuring out the difference, their area of focus and apparently calling their Data Leader with one of these titles or even better combining them and calling the roles as Chief Data & Analytics Officers
  • The major difference I see between them is the Chief Analytics Officers must be more Customer/Business focused. Their main goal should be to understand and identify opportunities to build Analytics products and solutions using the Data managed and enabled by the Chief Data Officer. The Chief Analytics Officer to me is much of a Product Owner, operating like one, designing new data analytics related products that could be both internal and external facing. The eventual goal should can be to monetize the analytics products and provide a revenue source for the organization
  • Chief Data Officers on the other end must be able to focus on identifying potential new data sources to tap into, build the corresponding modern data platform and provide high quality, highly governed and compliant data to the analytics teams across the organization. Chief Data Officers can also look for ways to monetize the data by working with both internal and external partners
  • Both these roles are evolving and at the present they can be operated by one individual but cannot be called as the same as they both have different areas of focus

 

Q: How have you seen the role of CDO change? How do you partner with the CIO? Have you encountered any challenges facing the CDO function?

A:

  • The role of the CDO has been evolving towards maturity for some time now. Organizations are understanding the role better and identifying critical success factors of the role and eventually bringing it into the corporate leadership mix
  • A major welcome change that I would like to call out here is more and more organizations are creating the CDO role and giving the organizational-wide responsibility of managing Data assets to it which shows the gain in prominence the role has gotten over the last few years
  • Partnerships across the C-level is critical for CDOs to be successful. A CDO must be viewed as the common thread between the Technical and Business functions within an organization.  CDO has the crucial responsibility of collaborating through CIOs and CTOs along with other business side C-level executives.
  • Having a great relationship with CIO is important as CDOs may still rely on traditional IT to provide infrastructure and technology support which is crucial for the success of the Data & Analytics initiatives. About 35% of CDOs continue to report into the CIOs which assumes the partnership
  • Lack of cross-functional collaboration and inter-functional siloes are major challenges for a CDO

 

Q: What is the current state of Big Data and AI investment and do you sense the pace of Big Data and AI investment changing?

A:

  • There has been a significant increase in corporate spend on Big Data and AI. Organizations are realizing the fact that not recognizing data as the most valuable asset is affecting their competitive advantage and are losing out on potential business opportunities
  • I can say that there is significant improvement in realizing value of and from big data by organizations
  • On the other hand, investments in AI are just getting started. There needs to be a lot of value-driven measurement that needs to be done by the organizations to really understand if AI can add value to their business model. There are organizations jumping onto the AI bandwagon without doing the due diligence of understanding the ROI and have lost significant investment for nothing
  • I expect organizations to improve their investment into AI, Big Data and RPA in the coming days, but would recommend operating with caution by understanding the true value proposition from the investment

 

Q: What advice would you give an early stage CDO joining an enterprise organization?

A:

  • Spend a lot of time understanding the current state
  • Identify where the organization falls on the maturity scale
  • Plan to move up the maturity scale with small achievable goals
  • You do not always need AI, do your due diligence to understand ROI
  • You do not always need modern data infrastructure to meet the organizational needs
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

 

Q: How do you balance the need to ensure that non-revenue generating data-driven transformation efforts receive the commitment and funding that are required to sustain these efforts?

A:

  • Finding the right balance is the most important task of the CDO. It is highly critical to break down the between Business (Product, Marketing, Sales etc.) and Operational (Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Customer Support etc.) functions. An organization needs equal investments in both areas to see success from being data driven. Organizations tend to ignore operational focus areas as they are not direct revenue generators, but the CDO must take the responsibility of educating the executives, Senior and mid-level management the importance of this. 
  • A best example I can think of is organizations investing millions of dollars in creating newer products and offerings to their customers but doing minimum to the complaints they receive on their call center lines, social media, or other forums. Organizations can lose out on the sales of their innovative products with bad customer support
  • As a CDO it is important to focus on Data Literacy and educated leadership on the importance of investing in both direct and indirect value generators for the organization

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction…?

A:

  • Business growth will be major data priorities, but for that to happen you expect data that can be trusted, highly secure and gaining the confidence of the customers and making them feel their data is safe and secure
  • Improving operational efficiencies can eventually be an indirect factor for business growth

 

Q: Have you developed a business driven data strategy; is there support for it and is your Organization becoming more data-driven? What steps are you taking to ensure all areas of the business are data driven?

A:

  • Yes, I have been developing business drive data strategies across multiple organizations over the years. As a CDO I have the responsibility of gaining the support from the right stakeholders within the organization
  • A common challenge I encountered while gaining support is helping the business leadership understand the value proposition. Everybody comes in with a “What’s in it for me?” mindset and I as the data leader have the responsibility of explaining the benefits of investing (and not investing!) and supporting the data strategy
  • Steps I have taken to ensure I focus on all areas of business are the following
    •  Understand the most impactful area from which you can get catalysts to your initiatives
    • Identify low hanging fruits with quick easy wins
    • Prioritize your areas of focus. Remember none of us can do everything at the same time
    • Show the business stakeholder what they get from this. This is highly critical
    • Communicate, Collaborate, Coordinate and Educate

 

 

Phanindra Pydimarri – Senior Director of AI & Advanced Analytics at Stanley Black & Decker

Phanii is a Global Data Analytics Leader with over 15 years of experience in end-to-end Data Management with key focus areas in Data Strategy, Data Analytics, Data Science and transforming organizations into data-driven culture.

Phanii started his career as a BI Consultant, traveling across the US and working for various clients in different industries. He is a strong believer of economies of scale, is outcome driven and is passionate about solving key business challenges by using Data as a key corporate asset. He has strong experience using Data Science to improve key operational challenges and have experience standing up Data Governance programs across various public and private sector organizations. Over the years, Phanii has transformed cultures and showcased data as a value-added resource that can be leveraged to deliver measurable improvements at Bose Corporation, Sabre Corporation, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and many other global organizations.

Phanii is currently working as the Senior Director of AI & Advanced Analytics at Stanley Black & Decker. 

 

Piloting Data & Analytics Transformation With Ashish Agarwal

Apex talks to Ashish Agarwal, Vice President – Head of Data at LendingTree. Ashish delves into the evolving role of a CDO, business transformation, and navigating the trends and challenges of data and analytics.

 

Q: What is the difference between a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Analytics Officer? Are they one in the same?  

A: The Chief Data Officer is responsible for facilitating the use of data as a strategic asset within an enterprise, to impact business outcomes. They seek to empower every part of the business to make data-driven decisions, with speed. The Chief Data Officer is expected to curate the data strategy, oversee data management and governance processes, and in many companies lead the data analytics function as well. 

Sometimes a company may designate a Chief Analytics officer, to dedicate focus on data analytics, in order to create value and draw useful insights from the data available within the organization. This role typically leads reporting, data visualization and business intelligence teams. 

 

Q: How have you seen the role of CDO change? Have you encountered any challenges facing the CDO function?  

A: The CDO role has continued to evolve, since its inception. Initially, the focus of the CDO was on compliance and data governance, particularly security, privacy, and accuracy of the data. These “data defense” responsibilities are now considered table stakes. Increasingly, companies want insights into the changing customer expectations and the highly competitive business landscape. Hence, the CDOs are expected to also power “data offense” initiatives, to grow revenues, profits and customer loyalty, through advanced analytics and data science. 

As far as challenges, there are several. Let me name a few that are common: 

First, misaligned or unrealistic expectations by the organization, when trying to become data-driven. The job is not done, by just recruiting a CDO. It requires adoption of new ways of working, and ongoing unwavering support from the senior leadership team, including the CEO. 

Second, prematurely promoting analytics, before establishing a sound data foundation. Many a times discussions center around expediting self-service analytics, while the organization is missing a strong and effective information governance program. Such situations make it extremely difficult and at times impossible, to realize the benefits of a given analytics initiative. Hence, the onus is on the CDO to reset the collective mindset towards a data culture, even when it may not appear to be the most exciting thing to do. 

Finally, creating transparency into the data available within an enterprise, without compromising security and privacy policies. I walk this line by standardizing and automating data discoverability. Mind you that is different from providing unfettered access to data. Imagine provisioning a catalog or index of available data, supported by a swift process to provision access for the right reasons and right people. 

  

Q: What were some of the challenges and pitfalls to watch for, when driving transformations and standing up data/analytics processes? What advice do you have to effectively address them? 

A: The overarching challenge is to effectively and safely bridge the gap between the eagerness to use data, and establishing a world class data ecosystem and organizational culture.   

Typically, the data and analytics transformation programs begin with a significant amount of optimism, followed by misdirected fear due to the complexity. Hence, the first order of business should be to educate the stakeholders and quickly even out the hype within the company, so you can start talking about business opportunities and scaling. Following that, it’s all about rolling up your sleeves, doing the work and addressing issues head-on. 

Let me take you through a few examples: 

First, data exists in silos for companies that are not born digital or those that have grown through acquisitions. Further, people tend to get territorial and think they have exclusive rights over their data. So, when attempting to break down silos and creating governance, be sensitive about people dynamics.  

Next, collecting data can open up a company to regulatory risks and privacy issues. It is important to acknowledge that mining and refining data, while it can lead to all kinds of opportunities, it also leads to immense risks. Therefore, setting up strong risk management and governance programs is fundamental. 

That said, simply balancing democratization of data and governance is also not enough. It is critical to enable adoption of products, by providing assistance in the moment to analysts learning the new way. 

Finally, you need the right team behind you. Hire the right talent, one that is not only savvy in the use of the modern data tools, but also people skills. 

 

Q: How do your teams comply with risk and compliance requirements around data security and data privacy? 

A: The key is to invest in a strong and effective information governance program that is built to enable growth and innovation. Start by asking the question – How can we turn data governance into a source of competitive advantage and a strategic differentiator? Then no longer risk and compliance remain a regulatory requirement, we must fulfill.   

A few key tenets of this approach include:  

  • Take a security-first perspective and achieve a state of continuous compliance, against own set policies and industry compliance standards. You can do that by leveraging tools and automation, to get a unified view of all cloud accounts, generate regular compliance reports and send alerts on security threats in real-time. 
  • Be maniacal about operational consistency. From a compliance perspective, the more an organization drives consistency of operations, the easier it is to respond to audit requests and enforce security. For example, extend effective operational security and compliance functions that exist on-premises, also to respective cloud services. 
  • Keep up with the evolving standards, through a flexible change management process and a comprehensive blueprint that reconciles and rationalizes requirements for industry standards, such as PCI-DSS, GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA etc.  

 

Q: What are the current data trends and how will it impact your organization?  

A: This is a great time to be involved with data. Here are a few noteworthy trends, that I am excited about: 

  • Augmented analytics, that automates data analysis using Machine learning and Natural Language processing. As data continues to arrive in higher volumes and varied sources, use of automation is the key to finding redundancies and errors rapidly. This can help organizations accelerate the path towards efficiently identifying trends and patterns, within their data.
  • Data-as-a-service, which makes data readily accessible internally and from external sources, such as data marketplaces on the Cloud, using a range of modes and interfaces. This new way of delivering information to a user or system, regardless of organizational or geographical barriers, is very empowering and can bring tremendous agility to a business, promote self-service and improve productivity.
  • DataOps, which brings lean principles of removing waste and relentless focus on quality into the data domain. Similar to how software development has been embracing the best practices of lean manufacturing, the development and operations of data can greatly benefit by incorporating Agile and automation practices, to yield greater productivity and quality. 
  • Quantum computing, that will radically advance the speed and scale of data processing through the use of quantum computers, compared to classical computers. This technology has the promise to revolutionize several industries, such as data security, finance, medicine and communications. 

 

Q: How important is it to have a data driven culture? Have there been obstacles to building a data culture and if so, how have you resolved them?  

A: To sustain in business today, being data driven is not a choice, but a requirement. How well you contextualize and personalize the experience for a customer, can make the difference between retaining or losing them to your competition. 

Yet the biggest obstacle enterprises face is evolving the business model that made them successful in the past, into what is necessary for the business to survive and thrive in the future. This is particularly seen at legacy companies with tenured leaders, who have been phenomenally successful in producing results. I address this challenge, by facilitating data literacy to provide coaching not only to the people on the ground, but also top leadership on the new ways of working, where strategic decisions are driven by sound data analysis, and not just gut feel or how it has always been done.  

The other obstacle is underestimating the investment and commitment it takes, to build a foundation of technology and disciplined  data driven practices. This is not just about buying new technologies, which can be daunting, but committing time and energy of already busy people to a set of activities, which may seem mundane, like reviewing error logs and tweaking data quality rules to accommodate data drift. Further, it requires making hard decisions on breaking down data silos and overcoming ownership issues to facilitate data access, but not compromising on security and compliance policies. 

Finally, there is a tremendous amount of turnover in the job market, due to shortage of relevant skills. Hence employee retention needs to become a critical focus area for the management team. My strategy is to invest in the future of the employees, by offering an environment of learning, and creating opportunities that allow them to have fun, while performing meaningful work. 

 

 

 

Ashish Agarwa – Vice President, Head of Data at LendingTree

Ashish Agarwal is a transformational business-technology executive, passionate about harnessing the power of Digital and Data, to deliver superior customer experiences and achieve ambitious business goals.

Ashish is the Vice President – Head of Data at LendingTree, where he is helping the business grow and become strategic with Data.

Prior to joining LendingTree, he served as Senior Director – Enterprise Data/Analytics and Digital at Ally Financial. Ashish was responsible for innovating and transforming the Digital channels, modernizing the Data ecosystem, developing Fintech partnerships and influencing strategic investments, while building a phenomenally successful engineering centric organization and culture.

Before Ally, Ashish drove business critical Digital and Big Data technology solutions for high performance security trading and consumer lending platforms, at Bank of America and Fidelity Information services.

Ashish is an avid agilist and enjoys bringing together diverse mindsets, and empowering multi-disciplinary teams, to produce transformational business results. 

Ashish holds an M.B.A from Georgia State University, M.S. in Computer Science from Kent State University, and is certified in Data Science/Machine Learning from UC Berkeley and Harvard University.

 

Paving The Future of Data Strategy With Dane Bamburry

Apex talks to Dane Bamburry, Director of Enterprise & Solutions Architecture at Cox Enterprises. Dane is a technology leader with over 23 years of experience within the IT industry. Together let’s dive into organizational priorities and technological trends today and tomorrow in the post COVID era.

 

Q: What are the current data trends and how will it impact your organization?

A: Current data trends in the ongoing COVID-workplace are focused on employee centric data. This includes analyzing the productivity of remote vs. on-premise work efforts, employee engagement via collaboration tools/technology and cybersecurity data. From a productivity perspective, organizations are investigating how intelligent automation can augment the productivity of an organization while ensuring employees are still contributing. Remote work has introduced new metrics around increased workforce productivity as well as measuring employee burnout due to always being connected. Employee data trends will also focus on if/when organizations return to the office and the shift in productivity. Collaboration and communication data trends have significantly increased over the past 18 months. Metrics such as total number of video calls vs. audio calls and the impact it has on an organization’s workforce are becoming standard trends that will need to be tracked even after returning to the office. Data trends around cybersecurity have significantly increased given the rise in cyber-attacks, especially on the remote workforce. Organizations will need to remain focused especially as some organizations will implement true hybrid working models where a percentage of the workforce will remain at home while the rest return to the office.

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction…?

A: Top data priorities include data security/privacy, application portfolio management and employee engagement from a collaboration/communication perspective. Data security is an obvious one as organizations have to be more diligent in the proactive cybersecurity strategy. From an application portfolio management perspective, we need to understand our application ecosystem given the significant shift to cloud technology solutions to better management costs and duplication of capabilities across the IT landscape. Communication and collaboration will be more associated with productivity in a post COVID workplace than we have ever seen at any point in time, so it is a top priority to make sure we understand it and utilize the analysis effectively.

 

Q: Did you have specific projects or initiatives that have been shelved due to COVID-19 and current realities?

A: Yes, we shelved some very specific initiatives due to COVID-19. This was a collective effort to re-prioritize what is most important to keeping the lights on (KTLO) and what supporting projects are needed to transition to a remote working environment. As we approach the future, we will have to balance re-introducing shelved initiatives with new ones that are supporting our go-forward strategy. It will require a more fine-tuned alignment of organizational and technology strategies than ever before.

 

Q: What advice would you give an early stage CIO or CDO joining an enterprise organization?

A: Build a technology strategy with the business in the room contributing all the way. The COVID-19 disruption has taught technology leaders a very important lesson in that when you are significantly out of sync with the business, major disruptions such as a pandemic will quickly expose your flaws and unpreparedness.

 

Q: Have you found new vendors for your organizations that are now needed in this time of COVID-19 and remote working?

A: Yes, but in some cases, it is not about finding new vendors, it is about leveraging the full suite of capabilities of existing vendors where you did not see the need pre-pandemic. This has driven home the message of defining business capabilities not only for the current state but also for the future state. The future state may be short or long term, but they still need to be defined. In the past, organizations would be very concerned about disaster recovery as a future state business capability, but the focus was more on the technology and not so much on the workforce. Going forward, business capabilities will have to be defined in areas, which will further create a need for new vendors. A simple example of this is mail delivery, most organizations did not have a plan to get physical mail to a remote workforce during the pandemic, so they quickly came up with a makeshift solution to address this.

 

Dane Bamburry – Director, Enterprise & Solutions Architecture at Cox Enterprises

Dane Bamburry is a technology leader with over 23 years of experience within the IT industry. In his current role, Dane currently serves as the Director of Enterprise & Solutions Architecture at Cox Enterprises Inc. His experience includes digital strategy, technology transformation, software integration, enterprise architecture, portfolio & program management, and identity & access management. He has served as the technical lead on various multi-million dollar transformational technology projects, including Financial, ERP, Communication & Collaboration solutions. He is a past recipient of the iCMG Enterprise & IT Architecture Excellence Award for Mergers & Acquisitions. He is also a contributing writer to DMI: Review, a quarterly publication by the Design Management Institute with the article titled “Drones: The Future of Product Delivery.” He also authored an article in the upcoming book “97 Things Every Information Security Professional Should Know: Practical and Approachable Advice from the Experts”

Bamburry is a strong advocate for mentoring and developing young minds. He is a member of the CIS Advisory Board for Georgia State University. He is a past board member of the non-profit organization YES! Atlanta, which is an organization focused on providing at-risk teenagers an opportunity to experience personal success. He has mentored students at both Georgia State University and Chamblee Charter High School. When not mentoring students, he is mentoring a wide range of professionals across multiple industries. He was featured in CIO.com’s article “Solving IT’s looming leadership crisis,” which discusses how mentorship can help develop the next generation of technology leaders. Currently, he serves as a member of the Board of Directors of ITSMF, which increases the representation of black professionals at senior levels in technology.

Bamburry graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and a concentration in Industrial Design from the University of Notre Dame. He also holds an MBA with a focus in Organizational Leadership from Ashford University’s Forbes School of Business & Technology. 

 

 

Changing Lives Through Digital Transformation

Apex talks to Siva Balu, Vice President and Chief Information Officer at YMCA OF THE USA about Digital Transformation and what it means to him and his organization. With 20+ years as an industry leader, his perspective is a must read! 

 

Q: What does Digital Transformation mean to you?

A: Digital Transformation is to reimagine running your business in a new way using digital technology thereby exponentially changing the experiences of your consumers

Digital transformation is not just for your consumers, it is also transforming the experiences of your employees and stakeholders for the better. 

Digital Transformation is not a project but a continuum where you continuously strive to rethink on how to accomplish your business strategy through digital technology.

I consider there are three foundations of Digital Transformation: technology, security, and data. 

 

Q: What are some of the challenges of Digital Transformation?

A: Well, to start with, Digital Transformation has become a buzzword. It is very important to spend time in strategic thought leadership on what Digital Transformation means to your organization. How will Digital Transformation impact your consumers and how will it help you grow your business, reduce overhead, significantly increase the customer experience. The first challenge is to define what Digital Transformation means to your organization through a strategic roadmap. Then, it is important to get the stakeholder buy-in. Digital Transformation is not an IT project. It is an asset that needs to be thoughtfully planned. The last challenge would be strategic investment. In many cases, Digital Transformation initiatives tend to run multiple years. It is important to stay the course.

 

 

Q: What does Digital Transformation mean to your organization?

A: We are in the early stages of digital transformation where we are rethinking how we interact with our constituents in various areas including branding, marketing, communications, virtual interactions, mobile experience, etc. We are reimagining delivery of fitness and wellness through virtual and mobile platforms. We are looking to connect our digital products to our digital ecosystems. This will help us to tap into the big data in the backend for business intelligence and data analytics. This will also help us curate the consumer experience.

In addition, we are developing secure digital products to deliver chronic disease prevention programs to the program participants. We are currently getting inputs from various stakeholders to identify use cases for our digital transformation, including mental health programs, diversity content and more. 

This is an exciting time to be able to use digital to have a measurable impact in people’s lives. 

 

Q: What are your top data priorities: business growth, data security/privacy, legal/regulatory concerns, expense reduction…?

A: Some of our top priorities are foundation to our technology ecosystem and our digital transformation. For example, information security and privacy are non-negotiable. We look at data to help enhance our brand value. We use data to empower and enhance our consumer experience and in the long run identify areas where we need to focus on. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is an utmost priority for us. We use big data to help us identify where we need to provide programs and services where there may be a need. We are looking to transform our customer relationship management through our digital transformation initiatives. 

 

 

Q: How are you justifying the cost needed to evolve and adapt IT to support the speed and agility required by the business?

A: I am smiling thinking about this question. Whether your organization is for-profit, non-profit, government agency or NGO, and irrespective of your industry, everyone is faced with the question of cost at some point. 

This is where having a strong strategic direction, along with stakeholder buy-in is very important. Another issue I have both seen and experienced is, the key stakeholders and leadership treating IT as a silo department. The IT assets belong to the organization, not just to IT. In my experience, any time when there is a need to find efficiencies or cut costs, IT becomes the first target. This is because IT is perceived as expensive by the corresponding stakeholders. So, the challenges of cost justification are real.  

The best approach that has worked for me to continue to evaluate the IT costs and balance it with the business value proposition. The head of the IT team needs to think, act, and react like a business owner. Some of the fundamental values I have practiced are transparency, strategic alignment, constant communication, stakeholder buy-in, not being territorial and most important is to build trust.  Taking the stakeholders through the journey of what is being developed in IT and how it is going to help the organization, answering questions, being objective and open minded will ease the cost justification conversations. 

At the end, showing results will speak for itself. For the IT leaders, while it will be important to justify costs, it is equally important to continuously show the progress and results to your stakeholders.

 

 

Q: How would you define “Enterprise AI” in a non-digital native enterprise like your organization?

A: First, every organization will be digital-native in the near future, if not already. Then the premise is, how do we define “Enterprise AI”? It is a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. I predict every organization will be using AI in some form or the other in three to five years, most of it will be through integrating with strategic partners and products. AI will help organizations propel into the digital age, provided they have the right use cases identified to focus on. Just like how we moved from mainframes to client-servers, on-premises data centers to cloud, etc., we will move our analytics and business intelligence to AI models. And it will become second nature. There is also a perceived barrier to entry to AI, as there are cost and skillset barriers. We will see more and more vendors providing products powered by AI that will be used at an enterprise level.

 

 

Q: How is your organization leveraging Big Data and AI and machine learning to transform their businesses and what opportunities does it present to the business? What are the challenges, and how can these be best overcome?

A: In our newly developed digital platform as part of our digital transformation, we deliver virtual and mobile digital products. We are creating AI models to start using the data to train and deliver the highest level of experience to our consumers through curated content. The challenge we see is with the data, both the quality and the context. We are working on tuning our algorithms to continue to improve our models. 

 

 

Q: What operating model and cultural changes have you considered as you shift to a digital business? What parts of your business would benefit the most from a greater digital foundation?

A: I believe the entire organization can benefit from a strong digital foundation. Within the technology team, we are completely in an agile delivery model. We continue to deliver, learn from our mistakes, and keep making relentless forward progress. It may take a bit more time to educate all the cross-functional teams and bring them on the digital journey. We are off to a good start. 

 

 

Q: How has DevOps and cloud services changed the way you design, build, deploy, and operate online systems and secure infrastructure?

A: We are a 100% DevOps and Cloud Services shop. This has indeed tremendously helped us move ahead in lightning speed to focus on our digital platform and products, and most importantly to deliver to our consumers. What this has given us is to avoid the distraction of maintaining the legacy systems, time delays due to hardware purchases or other similar challenges one could face by not using cloud services. On the flip side, the DevOps approach helps us focus on the work needed to operate and secure our infrastructure. We encourage a culture of collaboration among all teammates and partners.

 

 

Q: What advice would you give an early-stage CIO or CDO joining an enterprise organization?

A: First, understand where your personal and professional passion is. We are all humans who bring our personal self to a professional place of work. Take time to understand the business, the strategy, and the stakeholders. Your team is your important asset. Develop, coach, and build a strong team.  Focus on building trust and credibility. Trust and credibility are built over time by keeping up one’s commitments and delivering consistently.

 

Siva Balu – Vice President & Chief Information Officer at YMCA OF THE USA

Siva Balu is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer at YMCA OF THE USA. In this role, he is working to rethink the work of Y-USA’s information technology strategy to meet the changing needs of Y-USA and YMCAs throughout the country.

YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for the nation’s YMCAs. The Y is the leading nonprofit in 10,000 communities across the nation delivering positive change through 2,700 YMCAs focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Siva is the creator of the new Y Cloud digital platform to deliver digital, virtual and mobile products to members across the nation. Y Cloud is the world’s first digital platform built for non-profits by non-profit.  

As the CIO, Siva works with the key stakeholders across the nation’s YMCAs in achieving the strategic vision. He leads the creation and execution of the technology strategy through collaboration and thought leadership including digital transformation, data strategy, cloud strategy, information security, project management, mobile apps, social media, CRM, data warehouses & business intelligence, IT infrastructure & operations to support the YMCA movement.

Prior to his current role, Siva has 20 years of healthcare technology experience in leadership roles for Blue Cross Blue Shield, the nation’s largest health insurer, which provides healthcare to over 107 million members—1 in 3 Americans. He most recently led the Enterprise Information Technology team at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. He has created several highly scalable innovative solutions that cater to the needs of members and patients throughout the country in all communities. He provided leadership in creating innovative solutions and adopting new technologies for national and international users.

Siva earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering from Bharathiar University in India, a master’s in business administration from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and executive master’s degrees from Harvard and MIT in Innovation, Strategy and Artificial Intelligence.

In his free time, he volunteers and contributes to several charities, including Special Olympics, Chicago Food Depository, Challenged Athletes Foundation, Beyond Hunger, The Pack Shack, Cradles to Crayons and Gardeneers. Siva is a Board Member at Sarah’s Inn, a non-profit supporting individuals and families impacted by domestic violence, and at The Soondra Foundation, a non-profit that provides healthcare to the poor working class in India. 

Siva developed a passion for long-distance running a few years ago starting with a 5k, and then to marathons and to running multiple ultramarathons. He has run multiple 100-mile races. He recently ran what is referred to as ‘the world’s toughest foot race,’ Badwater 135-miler in Death Valley, and one of the world’s coldest races, Tuscobia 160-miler.