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CIO interview with Bask Iyer, CIO and GM, IoT at VMware

When it comes to the cloud, VMware has been pushing the cutting edge of virtual services, recovery options and hybrid computing. CIO and General Manager of IoT Bask Iyer shared his take on the Internet of Things, balancing the future and the past, and putting the customer first.

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What is your primary role as CIO? And as General Manager of the Internet of Things?

It comes down to three things. First, it is the traditional CIO role to keep what’s running, running: I’m in charge of protecting strategic assets, IT structure, security, and so on. Second, we use our own products to make sure they run and scale at the right level for our customers. Third, as part of the executive team, I have a customer view. The staff asks, “Would you buy this product, would it have value?” I am typically the voice of the customer on the executive staff.

As GM of IoT, I’m watching the current trends and see a big avalanche of IoT coming. In fact, in our last few meetings, I’ve been saying that the avalanche is actually here and what VMware should do about it.

The Internet of Things didn’t officially exist until recently. What are the challenges with working in an undeveloped space?

Well, we’ve had things like automation for a long time. Thirty years ago, I was working on solar panels that automatically faced the sun. There was a lot of real-time automation manufacturing, with the U.S. as the leader. Then we started losing the lead by outsourcing the manufacturing and changing the supply chain. During my career, I have witnessed the shift in manufacturing from one that is more automated and enabled by software. At the same time, I’ve seen a similar shift in the data center. Today’s mega cloud data centers do not look and work like yesterday’s data centers. They are dense, highly automated and very efficient. Our factories have to follow this model.

Unfortunately, the traditional CIOs aren’t always paying attention to this shift, as they are still busy answering basic questions: “Should I go mobile first?” and “When should I go to the cloud?” These are yesterdays’ problems, but they still haven’t been solved. 

How is VMware embracing the Internet of Things?

VMware started with a more opportunistic approach to IoT; which meant we helped our customers be successful in IoT with our current solutions and we were watching the market needs to understand the challenges IoT brings to organizations as they implement and scale’. We have now shifted our strategy to focus on delivering solutions, based on our core expertise, to address the specific infrastructure, management and security issues of IoT. If you think of IoT in two planes – the Content plane (Analytics and applications for IoT) and the Control Plane (operationalize IoT), we are focused on the control plane. We see IoT as an extension to the data center and it will be critical for IT and OT organizations to partner to ensure IoT can be deployed in a cost effective and timely way. The first solution we brought to market is Liota (little IoT agent), an open source SDK that allows developers to build applications that sit on edge systems (ie. Gateways) and communicate and pass data to and from connected devices. We will continue to bring more solutions to market to help with the end to end operational management of IoT and help both IT and OT organizations onboard, manage, monitor and secure all their IoT devices. We will also deliver solutions that will dramatically shorten the time it takes to deploy IoT use cases in enterprises.  2017 will be an exciting year for Vmware and IoT

As tech business has changed, how has the role of CIO evolved over the last few years?

The term CIO is very new, unlike CFO and COO, so we have struggled with what the role is. When I started, I was called an “IT Jock”: Hands-on and technical. Then it was, “We don’t want [CIOs to only be] tech people, but business people”, and that phase was followed by wanting IT leaders to have both business and tech knowledge. 

Every year the role has changed, but one contstant is that CIOs need to know how to scale with the changes. One person said, “Never talk strategy if your operations aren’t working.” The minute you’ve got the basics going, you have to move to strategy. If you are just making sure the [proverbial] trains are on time, then you are missing a piece of the job.

CIO is one of the few jobs that will become more and more important to companies in the future.

What big challenge do you have today that will be an afterthought in 2020? 

I’ll say that we don’t always embrace the future, even if we see it coming. We clearly knew cloud was coming, but maybe 10% of all CIOs were progressive with it. Most were at either extreme, going all public cloud or not embracing it at all. We actually missed mobile, too, as we were happy with Blackberry, not going to the iPhone, and then enterprise started using it anyway.

IoT is here to stay and is coming like an avalanche. My prediction and worry is that 80% of my colleagues will ignore it: Let’s just fix our firewalls, etc., and in a few years, it will be connected cars, connected homes, and I think we’ll be caught with our pants down. But the 20% of CIOs who will jump on it will be stars.

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