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This article is by Featured Blogger Peter High from his Forbes.com column. Republished with the author’s permission.
I have interviewed Mike Capone multiple times in his career. When he was the CIO and head of Product at Automatic Data Processing (ADP), he noted with satisfaction the advantages of having multiple roles in one company rather than the same role in many companies. Across his 26 years at ADP, he had many IT and business unit jobs including running one of ADP's businesses.
That positioned him well when he joined what was then the largest New York based technology start up, Medidata Solutions as chief operating officer. At the beginning of this year, he took the biggest leap of all to become CEO of analytics software and visualization analytics leader Qlik. When I caught up with him in his office in New York recently, he was enthusiastic about his new opportunity and the space that his company is in. He also offered thoughts about the advantages he currently draws from his time as CIO now that they are among his clients. Finally, he offered suggestions for others who might wish to follow in his footsteps.
Peter High: Congratulations on ascending to your first role as CEO. Could you give an overview of Qlik’s business?
Mike Capone: Qlik is one of the world’s leading providers of analytics software and visualization analytics. We pride ourselves on our ability to solve both simple and complex analytics problems for our customers. Our strengths are working efficiently with end-users, being user-friendly, and building application analytics that benefit the entire enterprise in solving complex problems. Qlik’s vision is to embed analytics into every operational and strategic decision-making process inside every company. We strongly believe that data is the currency of the future, and therefore, organizations must become data literate to compete in the future.
High: One challenge I can foresee is that the solution you described could potentially apply anywhere. How do you think about your entry points since almost any part of an organization can use this?
Capone: Qlik believes that a successful engagement of our customers involves not just end-users, department heads, or functional areas, but IT as well. As a company, we pride ourselves on being IT friendly, and we have an incredible governance and security structure inside of our product. We have this because these types of applications tend to be a major problem as they proliferate and are difficult to manage. As a result, a burden is placed on IT and oftentimes, they realize these issues too late and must go back and fix it. Our approach to helping our customers is to review their strategy, where they are going, and how we can use analytics to help them achieve success. While we could focus exclusively on end-user analytics, unlocking value is the most critical aspect in solving strategic problems for our customers. Many of the CIO’s we work with are great advocates of this approach, which I pride myself on as a former CIO who used to be on the other side of that table.
High: Qlik works in a hot space, which brings a great deal of competition. How are you able to differentiate yourself from these competitors?
Capone: Many of our competitors are focused exclusively on end-user analytics, and while there is a need for that, we believe we solve a much larger problem for our customers. Instead of focusing all of our efforts on analytics and visualization, we take a broader approach and looking at the full data platform. This is because while visualization is a component of the analytics problem, it is not the entire issue. The true problem is around getting data ready for analytics, which includes raw data transformation, data preparation, data cataloging, and analytics. In the end, machine learning and artificial intelligence [AI] can be layered in on top of the analytics to guide end users to a successful outcome. To help build this platform, we acquired a Boston-based company in July called Podium Data. This company is focused on the raw data transformation I discussed as well as extracting the most out of data lakes, the most underutilized asset in the world.
High: How do you see the company evolving over the next several years? Furthermore, what are some of the ambitions you have for the organization?
Capone: Qlik is a great organization and I am excited for what the future has in store. We are in the right place at the right time because nobody is turning down conversations in analytics. The concepts of the full data platform going from raw data to sharing data with the business, embedded analytics, and leveraging sensors and the internet of things [IoT] into a real-time platform to produce analytics are all essential. As I look to the future, cloud transformation is critical but unfortunately, the complexity of analytics has slowed the transition to a full-cloud model. This transition is different from that of a transactional system such as Workday or NetSuite where the transactions are easier to complete in the cloud because of a lack of diverse data sources. However, we are at the forefront of this transformation as we are building our assets in the cloud. By leveraging the cloud infrastructures’ infinite scale, the capacity on demand, and the power of our analytics platform, companies can lead with data instead of with their gut.
High: What is the value proposition a CIO or CMO should anticipate in using Qlik?
Capone: The value that we provide to our customers is allowing them to have one platform to solve their analytics needs. As a CIO, my worst nightmare was cobbling together a plethora of solutions where I needed a tool for a data lake, an exact, transform, load [ETL] tool, a data prep tool, and an analytics visualization tool. While there are some great companies that deal with machine learning and AI, it is difficult to have an estate that ties all those tools together. Our goal is to streamline that process by giving our customers an integrated solution that takes them all the way through from raw data analytics to AI.
The second way we provide value is through our completely open API driven product as well as our ability to abstract our analytics engine. Companies can use our platform anywhere in their business because they can embed our cognitive engine into their mobile apps as well as their business processes. This allows our customers to look at analytics at the point of decision-making, which is critical because analytics should not be looked at after the fact. Instead, the best way to leverage analytics is to have it at your fingertips when you are making a critical operational or strategic decision.
High: Are there certain verticals that you look at more than others?
Capone: I came out of healthcare which was a great experience because helping cure diseases was extremely rewarding. However, healthcare was vertical unlike Qlik, which is completely horizontal. Regardless of the industry, there are currently no executives who are turning down conversations about analytics, because everybody wants to ensure they are getting strategic value out of their information. That said, there is still a strong vertical in healthcare and drug development, which was appealing to me. At Qlik, we have representations in every industry including some of my past customers from healthcare companies such as Johnson & Johnson, to financial services firms, to retail.
High: As a former CIO, how did that color your impressions of the opportunity prior to joining Qlik, and how has it benefited you now that you are a CEO?
Capone: My technology background has been incredibly helpful in getting to the CEO role as well as in my success with the last two technology companies I have worked for. At Qlik, the salespeople appreciate how my technological savviness allows me to deeply understand the product and the persona that we are selling to. Moreover, I have empathy for my customers as I understand the complexity of dealing with this heterogeneous vendor environment. I can comprehend the difficult tasks our customers deal with such as data privacy, General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), and security. I am able to do this because I spent a great deal of time with these issues at ADP, which allows me to speak a common language with our customers. Likewise, I can work with the Sales, Marketing, and product teams to ensure that we are factoring those aspects in.
High: To reach your goal of becoming a CEO, you held a variety of roles such as the COO of Medidata Solutions as well as the CIO role and GM roles at ADP. What advice would you offer to those who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Capone: My advice is to never believe people who tell you that you cannot do it. You and I were together at an IT conference in New York a few years ago when I asked a panel of executive recruiters what opportunities they saw for CIOs to get to other C-level jobs such as CEO. In response, they unanimously said, “You cannot do it, it does not happen.” That was clearly bad advice as I was previously a CIO and am sitting in a CEO role today. Given the importance of data, information, and technology in every business today, CIOs have unique qualifications that allow them to move into other C-level roles. As a result, I strongly believe that you are going to see more people move from CIO roles into these types of positions.
My other piece of advice is that the road to the top is not a straight line. Throughout my journey, I frequently had to step out of my comfort zone and take on responsibilities that I was not used to. This included taking a rotational assignment and running corporate IT at ADP, volunteering for an operational role in a small, but fast-growing business, going back to CIO, and then taking a COO role. Seeking out these different experiences is critical because your network is important in IT. Being a CIO allows you to know all the business leaders, which grants you the opportunity to collaborate with them in different ways and redefine yourself.
High: You had a long career at ADP holding a variety of responsibilities rather than having the same job in multiple companies. Has this served you well in your path?
Capone: Working 26 years at ADP is particularly unique because long tenures are rare these days. Having many experiences inside the same company required volunteering for different roles, a sheer will to network, and being persistent in not letting people tell me my limits. People would tell me I was just an IT guy, but I persisted and took on new roles. Overall, I had a great run at ADP, and I am thankful for them because they prepared me well for other opportunities. It took courage after 26 years to do something completely different, but it was the most invigorating experience of my life. Making this change allowed me to learn a new industry, take on a COO role where I ran sales and marketing, and then synthesize it all together to run a business.
High: How much of your success was based on articulating your ambition and showing people that this is what you aspire to do?
Capone: Naked ambition is a turnoff and because of that, patience was always my mantra. I always knew that if I did good work and proved myself, then good fortunes would follow. While I did not go running around saying I wanted to be a General Manager or a CEO one day, when the opportunities presented themselves, I jumped on them. As an example, I was in a rental car with the head of HR who told me that they were struggling to find somebody to run the business and asked if I knew anybody. My response was, "Yes, I know somebody, I am sitting right here." While modesty and humility are important traits, it is critical that you have trust in yourself and pick opportunities to express your ambition.
High: How well prepared do you believe organizations are to embrace analytics in their day to day operations?
Capone: Companies are not prepared enough. The concept of data literacy, which is the ability to read, interpret, and argue with data, is something that has not quite taken hold yet. We have conducted surveys that show that only one in four C-Level executives consider themselves data literate. The ability to be data literate is going to be as important to tomorrow's world as reading and writing were during the industrial revolution. Organizations must get their people comfortable with this concept as the last wave of business intelligence [BI] tools only reach one in five employees. The combination of new, ever-evolving technology along with bringing organizations along to be data literate will be critical. Because we see this as such an important change, we have an entire data literacy program that is completely independent of our product. We offer this free product to anybody regardless of if they are a Qlik customer or not because we feel that it is changing the world. Additionally, as part of Qlik’s deep social responsibility mantra, we give a great deal of our software away to charities and nonprofits. We want the world to be more data literate and we want data to not only drive business but change the entire world.
High: For those who are curious, where can they find these data literacy tools?
Originally published on Forbes.com