Lexmark’s Vishal Gupta on infusing every decision with AI

May 18, 2022
Artificial Intelligence CIO CTO

The company’s AI community of excellence has created not only a talent pipeline, but a use case pipeline to fuel future innovation.

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Vishal Gupta is CTO & CIO, SVP Connected Technology at Lexmark International, where he is responsible for all of IT corporate strategy, security operations, software, and analytics.

Privately owned and headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, Lexmark is a global provider of cloud-enabled imaging tech that serves customers in more than 170 countries around the world.

Gupta sat down with CIO columnist Maryfran Johnson on a recent episode of CIO Leadership Live to discuss how technology leadership roles are converging, how he is leveraging communities of excellence, and talent retention strategies, among other topics. What follows are edited excerpts of that conversation. For more of Gupta’s insights, be sure to watch the full interview embedded below.

On the combined CIO/CTO role:

In the industry, there is a lot of talk of convergence, not just in technologies, but in roles.

Companies are realizing that there are two or three critical needs that they have. They have a need to create very compelling experiences for their employees, especially as they are distributed and in that virtual, digital, hybrid workplace. That is the job of the CIO.

What they are also finding is that in the past, the same factors that drove the transformation for the employee experiences are also driving it to create that experience for their customers and partners. And that is the job of the CTO.

In the past, you had products that would run on-premises. And your CTO kind of focused a bit on those. And your CIO sort of focused on their data centers and maybe having some custom apps and maybe buying some apps from some other legacy players. But all of that is changing because everybody is more into native cloud now.

On creating communities of excellence:

[Communities of excellence] is something that we’re in the early stages of developing. The concept is that we have certain elements where the technology is very common across the entire company. As an example, one of the communities of excellence that we are developing is AI because we realize that AI is going to be so fundamentally critical. Because every decision we want to make is based on data. And so whether their decision is around finance or supply chain or in technology product, it needs to be infused with AI.

When we were thinking about creating a community of excellence for AI, we have a core group that is inside our Connected Technologies called DS&A (data science & analytics). But then we created a community across the entire company that could participate in learning how to think about data, how to think about data governance, how to think about building the machine learning models, deploying them, types of use cases.

What we have found is that that has created an enormous opportunity not only to create a talent pipeline, but also to create a use case pipeline. Because now more and more people are aware of the need and the power these things can bring.

On retaining and training IT talent:

We think about this from an 80/20 perspective. Meaning we think that for all these new areas, it is not just going to be about recruiting from the outside. It is going to be about developing the internal talent. That is where you get really long-term retention and loyalty and sustainability.

We are looking at creating very structured journeys that say, okay, here are the type of experiences you need to have to be able to take these roles. Because a typical challenge we find is to enable internal people you have to train them. But they typically have so much work that is already on their plate, that they do not have the time for training.

And we have created something called the TRP, the technology rotation program, because we realize that new experience within a structure may help. And so the TRP essentially takes you through 6 or 9 months on one particular job, and then rotates you to others. So, imagine over 3 years you go to maybe four such experiences.

On taking IoT projects beyond the pilot phase:

To understand both the opportunity and the challenge that we have, I will focus on one statistic that McKinsey gave, which is that 83% of IoT projects today—globally—are stuck in the pilot or prototype phase. What that tells you is that people are not really still able to truly use the power of IoT to transform, to make it industrywide, companywide, at a massive scale.

We embedded about 120 IoT sensors in our printers. And we did that over time. It was maybe a couple-year journey where we started with a few and then we added more and more. We wanted to really make sure that the sensors could give us the data—the information—to know what was going on, so that way we could maximize the uptime of these printers. And also ensure that they could last the longest, we could ensure that the supplies were in a good shape so that way we could really deliver printing as a service.

We are now able to predict in 90% of the cases a problem before it happens. In 70% of the cases, we are able to fix the problem remotely.

On weathering the Great Resignation:

If I think about what people really want in this new world, they want flexibility, they want purpose, and they want the ability to progress in their careers. And so we are taking each of these three things and sort of designing programs on them.

I think we have more work to do on the purpose side. So, we are spending a lot of time on when we talk about enabling you to leave that lasting impression—which is part of our mission—what does that really mean? And how do you create it and what is the impact that each of you are having on strategic priorities and tying that together so everybody understands their role in the bigger transformation.