Cynthia Stoddard, at 56, loves cross-country skiing and even skiing downhill, in weekends, just to keep her reflexes in top form. As the senior vice-president and CIO of NetApp, she believes agility is the current call in international IT business. “Its a business wand, not a technical wand that a CIO is sought to wield, in these days of rapid flux in business opportunities,” she tells M Sarita Varma, in an exclusive interview. California-based NetApp is a Fortune 500 company, with revenue running to $7 billion and leadership in computer storage and data management.
You have been travelling from Sunnydale in California to South Kerala in India, just to meet a business client. How important is extensive travel to an IT business decision-maker, especially when the suppliers and clientele are spread all over the globe?
It has been the sixth or seventh time that I am making a business trip to Thiruvananthapuram to meet the UST Global people. I do this kind of travel all the time, whether it is to Korea, Singapore or Geneva. Not just because, meeting the key people is called for in a company with 12,000 employees and over 150 offices worldwide, but also because, one needs to be open to new developments in technology and businesses to be on toes about the latest trends in IT. Direct interpersonal communication and interaction is fundamental to take any business process forward.
What are the latest trends in technology that you see as impacting businesses at the cutting edge level?
The mobile, cloud and big data are the most happening places in the recent times. Together the opportunities in these segments have been revolutionising business and society, collapsing old business models and creating new leaders. PC is soon likely to be replaced by the personal cloud. The personal cloud will be the portable, always-accessible location, where employee keep their personal data and corporate data, in different compartments. Web and connectivity will become important.
IT would be called to do two roles. One, it needs to maintain the stability and predictability of services. Two, it needs to give flexibility, where one can swap a component or two, in and out or add a matching resource, without affecting the functionality. Managing the diversity and the mobile device management will determine the key technology player. Already, businesses have been shifting to bring your own device (BYOD) model to incorporate more flexibility of operations.
How would this affect a data storage innovator?
The changes in day-to-day work operations would create new business opportunities for data storage industry. When there are more BYODs coming in, we the data storing people step in to interface with security features in the storage space. Storage is a major challenge to data users. I believe in combining flexible storage systems with rich data management software. New storage capabilities must be able to be brought online quickly and scaled over time without affecting the uptime of the rest of the IT ecosystem.
Scalability and functionality are critical in the new environment. The day of imprisoning data in a bunch of king size monolithic systems is gone. Performance and capacity can be scaled, according to demand, by pooling together multiple storage systems of assorted sizes. This synergised system can be optimised to support diverse kinds of data workloads. It can easily shift from capacity-intensive content repository to performance-intensive mission critical transaction database.
Big data is a challenge to building enterprises’ strategic information architecture. The art of dealing with data volume, variety, velocity and complexity have made CIOs more creative. Instead of a single centralised data warehouse, the trend is to harness multiple systems, including content management, data marts and specialised file systems tied together with data services and metadata. In effect, these become the logical enterprise data warehouse. Data storage industry is quite aware of these changing demands from clientele.
You said that CIOs are getting more creative, after dealing with big data, data velocity and complexity. Does it mean putting more pressure on the innovation teams?
Its a business and, not a technical wand that a CIO is sought to wield, in these days of rapid flux in business opportunities. The pressure to cut the costs of the client is never eased, for all the demands of scalability and functionality. For this reason, CIOs are sought to have business experience, rather than pure technical knowledge.
Beyond the growth of data, IT departments face the challenges of tight budgets and proliferation of revenue-critical applications requiring support. All these pressures are heating up to an inflection point. The only way to avoid this is to harness IT as a revenue-optimiser.
My organisation participates in technology architecture, harnessing the new needs. I believe in great team-building, across the globe, to deliver effective products. Internally, NetApp uses its own products, becoming its first user and demonstrating the cost-efficiency to the customers.