by Varsha Chidambaram

Be a Contemporary CIO, or Lose Your Seat at the Table

Feb 11, 20146 mins
Advanced Persistent ThreatsAnalyticsBig Data

Vic Bhagat, Global CIO, EMC, talks about how disruptive technologies like the cloud, big data analytics, and mobility have elevated the CIO role to that of a business decision maker. 

About a year ago Vic Bhagat joined EMC as Executive Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Information Officer. It was an interesting shift for Bhagat who has spent 20 years in GE as CIO. “At GE, I was a buyer of technology. Now I sell technology,” he says. We ask him about the shift, the transformation of the CIO role, and how he plans to ‘drink his own’ champagne.

Two years ago we wrote about EMC’s journey to the cloud. Where have you reached on that journey?

We started our journey towards the cloud with a lot of virtualization at today we are 90 percent virtualized. You can’t be 100 percent virtualized, because you don’t want to be so disruptive that it slows business growth. Once you are virtualized to that high a degree, it increase your device utilization. We have increased our asset utilization to 70 percent, driving up efficiency and lowering costs.

But your approach still of a private cloud. Have you succeeded in deploying on-demand provisioning and self-service?

Our journey to the cloud has been to become a trusted service provider to the business, one that is on-demand, elastic and pay per use. Today, we have implemented real time, on-demand provisioning for our testing environment. It is a self-service portal and provisioning is instant.

In our production environment, it still takes 24 hours because it requires higher resiliency DR and backup and hence takes a little bit of time. Our goal is to bring it to three hours.

But the cloud has really helped us to shrink the development cycle of our products. In a typical enterprise, the software development lifecycle is about 75-90 days. We are reducing it to 30 minutes. This is what business wants today.

What’s your view on the public cloud?

The public cloud is great but the business needs to know what to use it for. It’ great as a platform to increase customer outreach without putting any personal data on it. But I will not put my production environment on the cloud. Cloud providers like Amazon offer two nines on their SLA, but my business needs four nines. If you are dealing with regulated data, it has to be in a private environment.

What’s your goal as the CIO of EMC?

When I was with GE I was a buyer a technology, today I am a seller. There’s been a completely shift in my role–from that of a consumer to a creator. I think that has helped me bring a completely new perspective to the CIO role. Today we are at a crossroads. We are a huge the federation of companies, be it Pivotal, RSA, VMware, etc. My goal is to become a trusted advisor to the business. We need to finesse this or we will come right back to selling boxes.

I take my role as a CIO to be an advisor to the business. I also have to make sure EMC is a well-oiled machine utilizing IT. We have to demonstrate to our consumers that we are consuming what we are selling. I like to drink my own champagne.

Tell us how you are consuming your capabilities in big data and analytic internally?

Big data and analytics are quite diverse. Big data is about technology; it is about how I handle large amounts of data both structured and unstructured. The volume of unstructured data is far outpacing the volume of structured data. Today, I have the technology to allow me to ingest data, organize it, make it searchable, and write and apply algorithms on it. It cuts down the inordinate amount of time we’ve been spending to manipulate data.

Analytics is on the other hand about driving intelligence and changing behavior. If my CEO is looking to gain market share, I can give him the intelligence to drive a different behavior. I can advise him on what action to take to get the desired behavior. Dropping price may not always do it. Modifying a variable gives me different outcomes. It gives me the intelligence to drive my desirable outcome by choosing the right variables.

Ok, but how are you drinking your own champagne?

We are getting into predictive failure of equipment. We manufacture storage devices. They are spindles that are dependent on many variables such as the speed of rotation, vibration, noise, heat, etc.  We take these variables in and try to do analytics to check if our drive is likely to fail or not. Thanks to this predictive capability, before the drive fails we know, and are able to warn our customers. The same applies to the predictive maintenance of machines.   

My product team is evaluating the products of our competition to make our products more resilient. By the time our products reach me, they are at a world-class level. But my aim is to raise the confidence on cloud, big data and mobility.

Security is a very strong aspect of that trust. What’s your approach to making EMC a secure enterprise?

The security landscape is fast changing. It is no longer about virus, or denial of service, or of taking down a website. The big issue today is that the bad guys are trying to get into your enterprise and steal your IP.

It doesn’t matter how smart security systems are going to be, the infiltrators will always be one step ahead of us. Therefore, our efforts must concentrate on exfiltration of data. How do I encrypt the data such that it is meaningless to them. That’s the security challenge today.

Advanced persistent threats or APTs get into the enterprise and are looking to find an open port. We are using security analytics to find those security holes and plug them. I’m scanning my entire network and infrastructure looking for vulnerabilities to show where a higher percentage of failure rates rests. That’s the predictive model of security we are evolving.

What’s changing in the CIO role?

The traditional model of IT was that of an order taker, a backroom operation. But that’s not how it works at EMC.  Today, all these mega trends–cloud, big data, analytics, mobility, security–are converging at the same time. The CIO has to be the center to leverage all of this to drive business growth.

A few years ago, CIOs were worried about how to get a seat at the table, and move away from being the backroom guy. All of that has changed.  These mega trends are changing the demand in IT. The CIO already has a seat at the table. But if he doesn’t harness the power of these trends to drive business growth, or better connect business with consumers, or provide the data to employees at their fingertips, he will lose his seat. He has to be a contemporary CIO.

The wakeup call is now: We can’t wait another two three years. The traditional model it too slow and cumbersome. The IT community can no longer communicate with business in ERP terms.