Rainmaker spotlight: Becoming customer-led

Darren Thomson Symantec

Darren Thomson SymantecFaced with dramatic shifts in technologies, behaviours and expectations, Symantec has moved from an engineering-led company to one that is customer-led. We(RF) caught up with Darren Thomson(DT), CTO & Head of Enterprise Strategy for the company in EMEA to assess the thought leadership required to execute such a transition.

RF: CTOs come in many shapes. How do you define your role?
DT: We see the field CTO as a focal point for understanding and influencing customer demand. Half of the job is listening, to make sure customer and partner feedback is translated into R&D funding and enginnering. The measure of success is here is the extent to which we are able to develop and deliver high demand solutions.The other half is a consulting role to help customer CTOs put strategy together. This can sometimes have a very broad remit and cover big issues like enterrpise-wide approach to cloud. Equally, the advisory role can sometimes tackle more specific issues like identity management strategy.

RF: Your constant customer contact is at the CIO level. How have their requirements changed?
DT: The role of the CIO is changing from the custodian of the data centre to one involving the business of information service delivery. Business managers correctly maintain that information is the most important asset they have. They don’t care where data is or what technology looks like. Rather, they hold the CIO’s office responsible for ensuring that they can use their information to differentiate themselves in their chosen markets. So CIOs today more than ever need to track the end-to-end information process.

RF: The most persistent request we hear from enterprise customers is for their vendors to make things simpler. Is this even possible as technology becomes more pervasive?
DT: No surprise that enterprise teams want to keep things simple – but you are right, technology today is increasingly complicated, not least because of the increasing parts of the business it enables. Cloud services and consumerisation, mobility and remote working making it ever harder to manage information and mitigate risks.

RF: We seem to have moved from integration to aggregation. How is Symantec addressing this?
DT: As technology continues to diversify, CIOs are looking at providing a resilient platform for core information and service delivery, while assuring that web sites, tablets and smartphones, laptops and desktop computers can access what they need simply and flexibly. This means providing security and information management capabilities as integrated services which work across the mechanisms in place, rather than being tied to individual elements. For example data should be backed up wherever it is, and backups should be accessible wherever they need to be. All of these factors are central to our efforts as we take our existing 200 product lines and reduce them to 10, service-aligned products

RF: How do you develop your team of ‘thought leaders’?
DT: This is an interesting challenge given the underlying industry transition. Our team has functions associated with the CTO role and include defining how to go to market in enterprise. Essentially, we distill engagements and refine “where to play and how to win”. Our experts learn to step beyond their traditional expertise and develop fresh thinking using a set of lenses we provide. The most important lens is to consider what jobs the customer needs technology to do.

RF: Your advice for aspiring CTOs?
DT: Embrace diversity. We find our own teams to be the best inspirations. Interns and new graduates bring a completely different perspectives. Established experts and teams must make room for fresh perspectives to influence personal and collective development. The coming together of IT and social sciences is also a critical element. The technology we enable is changing people’s habits so profoundly that we must keep the social aspects in mind. We are encouraging our rising stars to actively seek knowledge outside their normal domains. The outlook for CTOs who can span multiple disciplines is bright.

Follow Darren Thomson on Twitter at @darrencthomson

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