By Peter High, President, Metis Strategy
This article is by Featured Blogger Peter High from his Forbes.com Column.
Roger Gurnani has been with a Verizon since its inception, and worked for one of the predecessor companies for a while prior to that. As such, he has had a front-row seat in the development of the internet practically since its popular inception. He has been involved in dial-up connectivity through to the fastest wifi connections; he has helped evolve from 1G through 4G phone connectivity, and he and his colleagues are working on 5G at the moment. He has also been involved in digital business in a variety of meaningful ways, including digital streaming of content through practically all functional forms of consumption. Gurnani is now involved in leading one of the biggest Internet of Things implementations in the world, and Verizon is already among the largest revenue companies when it comes to IoT.
Earlier this year, Gurnani was promoted from Global CIO to Chief Information and Technology Architect, a role which essentially encompasses both the CIO and the CTO role. As such, the breadth of his purview is massive. He spoke about all of the above in great depth in this interview.
Peter High: Roger, I thought we would begin with your role. You are currently the Chief Information and Technology Architect at Verizon. Could you talk a little bit about that role, that new title?
Roger Gurnani: My role encompasses all of technology. Traditionally, we have had two groups: a CTO organization that is focused on our networks – our wireless networks and telecom networks – and then a CIO role that is focused on other information technology and digital technologies to drive customer engagement and run the factory – the business processes. About a year ago, my boss, our CEO, and a few others, and I realized it was time to look at technology more holistically. The world is getting more programmable; everything is becoming software-driven.
My role entails developing our technology strategy, guiding our technology investments, technology planning, which includes technical architecture and roadmaps. I also provide oversight to all our CIOs and CTOs across the organization, across different business units; manage key technology supplier partnerships/relationships; look at various technology shifts that are occurring and marry those into our overall business strategy. That is what I have been doing for the last ten months and it is a new way to leverage technology within our business.
High: Can you talk a bit about some of the things that have made the top of the list of your strategy – some of the imperatives that you and your team are pursuing?
Gurnani: One key area is to look at technology advancements and shifts and figure out how we can leverage those. As we know, no matter which part of technology you look at, you always see performance improving and economics – the price points – keep coming down. For example, in our wireless business, we were the first ones to lead the industry with 4G. We, in fact, deployed our LTE networks a couple of years ahead of the rest of the industry. We are doing the same thing with 5G – the fifth generation of wireless technology. So while others think it is still a few years out, we have started working on 5G in our labs and expect to be conducting field trials in the next several months. The goal is to have a first mover’s advantage and create that competitive edge.
There are a couple of other examples. We are doing similar things with our software-defined architecture, whether it is software-defined data centers, software-defined networks. Again, the goal is to make our technology investments have a better return on those investments, make our infrastructure more elastic, and make it more zero-touch, which obviously has huge implications on improving our CAPEX and OPEX.
High: I wanted to talk to you a bit about the digital revolution that is happening. Obviously, your company is in the center of it in a variety of different ways, delivering so much digitally, and in combination with mobility, which has led to a variety of new business models that Verizon, among others, is leading the way on and exploring in new ways. Can you talk about the pace of change and some of your perspectives as it relates to the transformation from a digital perspective?
Gurnani: We put the customer in the center of how we think about things. The customer’s lifestyle has clearly changed. They are a lot more digital, and a lot more connected no matter where they are. They are always connected digitally to their lifestyle and to their work. Obviously, customers pretty much take our products and services, whether it is wireless networks or broadband networks, for granted. So we have to make sure our services are reliable and that they are also as ubiquitous as possible and meet their expectations. That has huge implications on our technology architecture. There is just tremendous demand and appetite for digital, for data, so we have to continue to grow and scale our infrastructure and make sure that we do it at the right price points.
The other thing that is clear is that customers, the way we engage customers, the way we service customers, and the way customers consume our services is becoming digital and mobile. It is not just while they are in their place of work or at home, it is no matter where they are. It is a complete digital lifestyle. From a technology standpoint, we have to make sure we are constantly innovating, scaling our infrastructure to provide reliable, consistent experiences to the customers, and also continual transformation of how we engage customers – all the way from how we sell to them, how we render our bills, how we maintain our relationship, how they consume our products and services. We are always innovating to drive to a digital model. One of the things that we are challenging ourselves with is to think about the millennials, or the younger generation, who will be the big portion of our customer base in the next few years. As we look at their behavior and how they want to engage with us, it is different from the consumers of the past. The big challenge for us is how to evolve our business model, our technology enablers, and our business processes so that we bridge from the past to this future. You cannot alienate the customers of yesterday or customers of today, but at the same time you have to set yourself up to take care of customers of tomorrow.
High: Today, Verizon derives a significant amount of revenue – among the most of any company – from the Internet of Things. I know you recently announced something you have referred to as ThinkSpace, which is intended to simplify the Internet of Things and accelerate market adoption of IoT across the world. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Gurnani: ThinkSpace is the evolution of our platform for the Internet of Things. These technology forces, such as mobility and the Internet of Things, are enablers allowing businesses to create new business models – new ways of wanting their business, new ways of engaging with the customers, and new ways of creating value within their ecosystems. It is pretty clear if you look at businesses as well as governments. They are all looking to meet the needs of their customers, improve their lifestyles, create more value, transform the way they run their businesses, and create competitive differentiation. And the Internet of Things is the next evolution in that space. Whether you are a manufacturing company (how you manufacture your goods and how you extract value out of that), a healthcare company (how you connect various devices), in transportation, or even a government with smart cities (how much is going on in various cities related to power management, to traffic management, to safety and security of their citizens, etc.) – the Internet of Things is playing a big role.
We are in the middle of all this. We obviously provide connectivity through our wireless and IP networks connecting various devices, sensors, machines, and things to the internet. But, we do much more than that. We do not just provide connectivity, we provide whole solutions. We have formed a number of partnerships in various industries. We not only connect the devices and collect the data, but we provide analytics. We provide hosted, managed solutions in our cloud-enabled data centers. We provide an ecosystem for these businesses to integrate their business processes into the technology. There are a series of partnerships involved and ThinkSpace is a platform that provides the tools and APIs where you can collect the data, manage all the connected things, connect the devices, drive your business processes, reinvent your business models and take care of your customers. We have made a number of investments in this area. We have now gone live with this next generation platform. And, as I said, we have a number of partnerships that are driving IoT solutions in various industry verticals.
High: Roger, I also wanted to talk to you about your own personal journey. You have had a nontraditional path across the enterprise: you have not just risen within IT, but you have spent time in sales. You were an area president for Verizon Wireless for three and a half years managing six hundred stores in a $15 billion operation. You have done product development. You not only have depth from a technology perspective, but you have breadth across the enterprise. I wonder if you can talk a bit about how that has leavened your experience, as well as how that has informed the way in which you think about talent management now for those below you.
Gurnani: You missed a couple of things. I have been in the telecom industry for a long time and early on not only did I get a chance to work in IT, but I also got to work in the space of telecom. I consider myself fortunate because I was part of some historical telecom developments. For example, in the 80′s I happened to be working for an oil and gas pipeline company which became one of the pioneers for laying out fiber optic telecommunications across the country, and I was part of that team. I learned early on about fiber optic transmission systems and digital telecommunications. Back when most of video was being done on satellites, we pioneered doing video on fiber. I was part of the team that did one of the first deployments of DSL technology, which is broadband over copper. That was in the early 90′s. One of the first deployments of frame relay or packet switching networks, frame relay and ATM networks. I was fortunate in a number of interesting experiences.
One thing that has been just tremendous about being in the telecom space is that it has been right in the middle of the technological revolution, or the digital revolution, that we have seen in the last thirty years, at least in my career – the whole internet phenomenon, the dot com, ecommerce phenomenon, and what we have seen with mobility. I have worked on 2G, 3G, 4G, and now I am working on 5G. Cloud only became feasible as the telecommunications capabilities and the global networking capabilities matured; that was what enabled cloud computing. It has been a lot of interesting experiences, and I consider myself, more than anything, somewhat lucky that I stumbled onto various interesting projects and every one of them has been a learning experience for me.
My view of technology has been that we do not do technology just for technology’s sake. We do technology to solve problems. How can we make our customers’ lives better? How can we make our enterprise or business customers gain that competitive edge? How can we help them transform their businesses? That is the lens that we look at technology from. If we do that, and we can apply technology to solve real world problems, some great things happen.
That has been my journey through my career. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great people and I always say that technology is not about technology, it is more about people. It is about the teams you create, the skills, and what drives the team. Here at Verizon we are proud of our culture. It is customer focused. It is market focused. When people ask me “what is the key to success?” my answer is to focus on solving some big problems that will help our customers and, therefore, help us as a business as well.
High: Has your own breadth of experience informed the way in which you think about talent development?
Gurnani: We focus a lot of talent. Talent is probably the most important thing that technology organizations do. We have a number of ways we do that. When it comes to talent you cannot focus on specifics skills or specific jobs. You have to think of it from the perspective of creating an environment where people can build careers and make it rewarding for them but also rewarding for us as an employer. We have a number of programs – such as our technology career tracks or how we do our leadership development – that are geared along those lines. The other thing about talent in a technology organization is that technology is always advancing, so you have to constantly train/retrain your people, as well as have a healthy mix and ability to infuse new skills and talent.
One of the programs that we launched a couple of years ago that I am excited about is the formation of partnerships with a couple universities. We have developed a specific architect program where we take some of our top employees and put them through a program where they get eight weeks of immersion in different aspects of technology, as well as how enterprises work. At the end of those eight weeks, people come out of that program, are well-versed, and have a much broader perspective of how to assemble technology and build solutions to solve business problems.
High: We have talked about a number of ascending trends – digital, mobility, and the Internet of Things. Are there others that are on your roadmap that you are investigating as you look out year two or three?
Gurnani: We are looking at the complete digital experience for our customers, and there are a number of new capabilities that are becoming available that combine data analytics and the next generation of user interfaces to create deeply personalized immersive digital experiences for customers. This is an area that I think is right around the corner and will pay big dividends. I also mentioned software-defined infrastructure. There is a lot of work going on. We have already done cloud enablement in our data centers and virtualization, but now we are looking at the next generation of software-defined everything, which is virtualized software-defined telecommunications networks, which build on top of data centers, and the goal is to make the infrastructure highly elastic and zero touch – whether it is to create new capacity or to maintain the infrastructure. How do we make it as close as possible to zero touch? These are ambitious goals and it is going to take us years to get there, but I think they set the course for our teams in how to think about our infrastructure and technology investments as we move forward.
I also mentioned 5G, a fifth generation of wireless. This is another exciting opportunity. We are talking wireless-enabled bandwidth or speeds that are in the gigabits per second range. If you imagine the future where you have lots of connected things – whether it is connected cars, drones, humanoids, robots that do different things, or smart cities – what kind of telecommunications capabilities will be needed in that type of a future? Obviously, it will be wireless and 5G has the potential to set the foundation. So we are being aggressive in that area as well.
Originally published on Forbes.com