Technology and Economy: Q & A with Sean Ferrel

Technology and Economy: Q & A with Sean Ferrel

Founded in 2002, Managed Solution was barely 6 years old when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Yet, even as a young company we managed (pun intended) to pull through and grow to become the organization you now know today. That is why, today, we're talking about technology and economy.

With that in mind, we sat down to interview our CEO, Sean Ferrel, to discuss the recent economic events and how they pertain to Information Technology and the Tech industry in general. Read on to explore a top-down examination of a post-covid financial climate and gather insight and advice for your business.

 

A Top-Down Look at the Economy

A lot has been a lot going on with the U.S. economy since the pandemic. Recently though, we’ve seen some real negative indicators with bank collapses on a level reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis. As a business leader, could you share some insight with us about today’s current economic environment?

Sean: In the last 3+ years there’s been a lot thrown at businesses. From COVID-19 to hybrid workforces; all the way up to how the housing markets have been affected. When people started to work from home it changed the places where people wanted to live. This drove a lot of inflation in certain areas that didn’t previously have these high-salary workers in the market before.

However, the housing market is one aspect. At the core of it, we could argue that there’s been a supply problem across the board. We see it an automobile makers and shipping components. For example, we rely on other countries for things as simple as [computer] chips. Manufacturers couldn’t get the chips to put into cars so a lot of cars couldn’t be built, which then created low supply, and the big companies with low supply were able to charge more for the commodities and goods we needed.

Even with our food and beverage companies. There was a problem there as well due to the lack of potential employees. So, whether it was auto-parts or workers in factories: businesses couldn’t produce as fast as they [normally] would. The demand for goods was still high, the supply was low, and ultimately people charged, and are still charging, more for their product.

Now, the more supply that these companies create and market - the less demand they might get for the product if it becomes more saturated. Meaning they’d have to bring down their inflated costs.

They also have to pay more in taxes if they produce more of something. So, a lot of companies have kind of sat for a minute and said, “well, we're getting a lot of money for our product than we used to get, so why should we produce anymore just to get taxed more for it?”. Which is why many have continued to drive the same amount of supply out of their organization and the inflation has remained. Of course, there’s more nuance to it, but essentially that’s where we’re at.

I think the reason why we’ll run into the “recession”, however, is simply because the dollar goes less far. Things are more expensive and the only way to combat that is businesses paying their employees more. This is challenging and leads to businesses charging their customers more and it becomes a very vicious cycle. One that, unfortunately, will eventually come to a head when businesses can longer afford to pay their employees more and will likely automate their processes instead, or they’ll have to downsize. So, I do think there will be more layoffs coming.

What’s interesting though, we all read about the layoffs at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. It wasn’t because the companies were doing poorly -- they have more cash in the bank than ever. It’s merely due to the fact that their demand is going to go down because of people’s dollar’s not going as far.

 

2008 v. 2023

How do you feel our current economic situation compares to that of 2008?

Sean: Compared to 2008, it’s a very different market. Back then it was the way banks were lending with negative amortization loans. Essentially, saying “we're going to loan you for this half a million-dollar house -- which you probably couldn't afford with your salary this much money -- and in three years we're going to increase your interest rate adjusted from an initial 5% or 4% interest rate up to 12%.

That increased the cost of the mortgage and people just got wiped out really fast. They couldn't afford it and hence we had a huge market where things were foreclosing, people didn't have the money and they borrowed against the home and their credit was tapped.

In today’s world though, people have been making a lot of money. It’s been a good economy for a long time, and I don’t think people are tapped credit-wise at this point, so we’re not going to see a big downturn where people are liquidating everything they have. But we definitely need to see some changes happen.

 

The Tech Industry

From your perspective, what are the main shifts the economy has had on the tech industry?

Sean: In the whole tech-sector; you have four things that happened in the workplace:

  1. Hybrid Workforce
  2. Heightened concern for cybersecurity
  3. Workplace culture shift
  4. Increased interest in the cloud

What I see there is a problem in general with “can technology solve it?” one, but two, “does the workforce for technologists -- like the people that we employ -- have the skill set”?

Technology has sprawled a ton, so it’s almost impossible to find enough talent out there to keep up. There's a huge lack of it from security talent to cloud talent, etc.

So, companies are struggling to find the right IT people who aren’t over-charging for the cost of their labor because, again, the employee-cost has inflated. That’s why now there’s this notion of Do More With Less. Technology and economy, obviously being closely interwoven in this concept. 

 

Doing More with Less (Technology and Economy)

Could you tell us what “doing more with less” looks like?

Sean: I think one question is; are companies ultimately building tools that are easier to manage by bolting them together? For example, Microsoft owns Microsoft Azure (the cloud).

They also own the operating system within the cloud, which is windows. Then they own the productivity software we all use, which is Office 365 -- and in that you have your communication tools like Microsoft Teams, collaboration hubs like Microsoft Viva -- all the way down to the computer with Windows operating system.

With that, they can control the market from a cost perspective and drive down costs for these suites of products. Not to mention, more Microsoft people in general are probably out there in the world studying and learning.

Making it a little bit easier to find people who do work in that area. And at the ultimate goal; it's easier to manage the process and the technology by consolidating into one or two platforms as opposed to having many, many vendors.

It’s similar to security too. Everybody's coming to market with amazing security tools that do detection at the endpoint or do secure app management to secure applications in the world. But now there's a lot of them and there's not enough resources out there to ultimately manage many different types inside of one business.

So, that's where the big picture of the project-based work consolidation is happening. You have more talent to manage better and more control & cost optimization by consolidating these infrastructures. Today's technology and economy are extremely closely related so business leaders need to emphasize having the right technology for their companies.

 

The Role of Managed Services

Could you speak about how this all ties into managed services and IT outsourcing? What benefit, if any, could customers gain from these types of services and solutions during this time?

Sean: As I mentioned before, you have the whole thing around hybrid and remote workforces. There are two things that happened:

  1.  Shifted working hours
  2. Changing workforce (great resignation)

Where previously companies had one IT person in the office. That’s not the same anymore. If people are working from home, they're working 24 hours a day. There's not really a regular 9 – 5 anymore.

That means the calls are coming in more than ever. The person who worked internal IT doesn't want to be the person hanging on the phone taking those calls all day every day and it’s not like they can run into anyone’s house to get everything set. That’s why we see technical call-based Help Desks becoming more and more popular. So, outsourcing will continue to grow in a bad economy. Outsourcing and centralizing the tools that are being managed by companies.

The second reason why outsourcing is becoming bigger, is due in part to the great resignation. With the inflation of salaries and expense of increased employee turnover, people are looking at companies, like Managed Solution, instead.

 Beyond that, when it comes to enhancing security, making their users more productive, or having collaboration tools move into the cloud -- many companies are finding that the traditional IT teams are not always tooled up for this. That's why we're seeing more companies outsourcing a lot of that strategy as well; to help them build a long-term footprint that looks at the total cost of ownership. They’re asking organizations like us, “How do we optimize costs and better productivity for my new hybrid workforce of users and make sure we’re secure?”.

For us, it's a nice place to play in the industry right now, being sort of the managed service provider who outsources all this stuff and the consulting arm to be able to go out and help build the future architecture.

 

Advice to Fellow Tech Companies

We’ve established that the economy today is different than it was in 2008, but one thing they have in common is their negative impact on people and businesses financially. As a business leader who came out of that, do you have any advice or words of comfort for fellow tech companies like Managed Solution?

Sean: For tech companies like ours, it’s always been a good thing to have multiple vendors on your website such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Dell, etc. A lot of the traditional sense has been that those are kind of like VARs, or ‘value added resellers’, who could resell all these products and services.

But my advice, is that you’ve got to pick a horse. Make sure you understand what suppliers (Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, VMware, Cisco), are building that understand the economic climate. If cost is a big factor and businesses are having to do more with less technology, who's building the technology in one stack of products to ultimately give you all the tools that you need to be successful?

Consolidation is really where I think all businesses should try to head and are trying to head right now. So, ultimately, as it pertains to technology -- I think picking that horse that you think is going to be best in the race is key. Technology and economy is a huge conversation right now. Technology and economy are both make or break aspects for businesses today.

 


If you’re interested in speaking to one of our team members for more tech-guidance? Contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

Want more resources or interested in more tech content? Head over to our blog page! Technology and economy is a huge conversation right now. Be sure to keep up with us to stay in the know!

Meet the Tech Exec: Norm Fjeldheim, CIO, Illumina

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MEET THE TECH EXEC

Norm Fjeldheim

CIO

Illumina

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To download the full magazine and read the full interviews, click here.

Norm Fjeldheim is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Illumina. Norm is responsible for evolving a Global Information Systems (GIS) strategy that will support the scale and future growth of Illumina, including supporting product and market development strategies from an Information Technology perspective. In addition, Illumina is investing significantly in global business processes, and Norm will be instrumental in the success of this program, including implementation and sustaining support for ERP and related ecosystem business applications, integration services, business intelligence, master data management and business process management. 

In addition to his IT responsibilities, Norm is also Head of Global Facilities Management Services. This includes Real Estate, Security, Engineering and Operations as well as Health Safety and Environment. 

Prior to joining Illumina in 2016, Norm was Senior Vice President and CIO at Qualcomm since 1987. He served as Manager, Director and Vice President of Information Technology. He was instrumental in the creation and implementation of systems to support Qualcomm’s growing and diverse corporate needs. Norm and the IT department guided the selection and implementation of technology to link Qualcomm’s corporate sites across six continents. 

Norm began his career as a systems analyst at Unisys Corporation and was a programmer analyst at M/A-COM Corporation.  

Norm serves on CIO Advisory Boards for Salesforce.com, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Amazon Web Services and has presented at numerous industry conferences on challenges currently facing CIOs including CTIA, Oracle World, The Economist CIO Agenda and IDC’s Data Center and IT Forums. 

Norm holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business, information systems from San Diego State University. He also completed the Wharton Executive Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania. 

About Illumina 

Illumina is improving human health by unlocking the power of the genome. Our focus on innovation has established us as the global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, serving customers in the research, clinical and applied markets. Our products are used for applications in the life sciences, oncology, reproductive health, agriculture and other emerging segments. To learn more, visit www.illumina.comand follow @illumina. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

As the CIO of Illumina, what's the number one area that you're focused on right now?
Everything starts with the organization. Since I got here, I've been here almost two years now, and I've been focused on what is the organization good at and not good at. Who are the people that I can count on? Building up a leadership team. Then building up the strength of the organization.
I measure that in a number of different ways. Customer service, what is our customer service score, and how does the organization view us? Having a good customer service attitude, we get stuff done. I look at the capacity of the organization. One of my goals when I first got here was I wanted to triple the number of projects we were doing in a year. We accomplished that in first year.
I also look at what's the morale of the organization. Do people want to be here? What's the turnover rate? Couple different ways they can measure that. Obviously, you can look at turnover, and people want quality candidates coming in that want to work here, but I also like to go out and kind of get an outside survey. Computer World runs a Best Places to Work in IT survey, and it's a pretty extensive one. It actually has meat behind it, and so I did that the first year that we were eligible to do that, and we made the list the first year out of the gate that we applied, so that was gratifying that employees viewed us as a good place to work because that's where it comes from.
How is IT structured? Do you have a centralized IT, where you're servicing internal employees within Illumina, or does IT also align to the business units and your built-in solutions that are customer facing?
One of the things that I found when I got here was that the organizational structure of IT was very confusing. It was confusing for the employees, and it was confusing for the people in IT, so I simplified the structure and built an organizational structure. It's a matrix structure, but from an outside-in perspective, it mimics the organizational structure of the company.
We have functional organizations. We have a finance organization. We have a manufacturing, and so on. I have a finance IT organization that lines up with finance, and one with operations, and so on. That makes it very easy for people to understand, who they work with. People on the operations side, they know who their IT folks are that they work with.
Two advantages. It does clarify everything so people know who their customers are, and who the IT person is that they need to get work from, but it also breaks up into multiple channels of projects. I can run multiple finance projects independent of multiple operations projects, which are independent of multiple commercial sales projects. That's partly how you get this big increase in project capacity. You don't try and run everything through a central team. You break it up and have essentially multiple swim lanes, multiple project tracks, and then each group can operate relatively independently of each other, and different groups can have a different cadence.
Finance tends to be a little bit more conservative and risk adverse, so they want their projects to be a little bit slower, a lot more testing, more of a waterfall approach from the project management. On the ops and commercial side, particularly commercial, they're much more comfortable with an agile methodology. They like fast, iterative projects, lots of little projects that add up to a lot, and ops is kind of somewhere in between. We can have different cadences set up by having not one central project management office, but actually break up the project management, and each team has a project manager, they have testers, they have developers, they have all the resources that they need to get the projects done.
It's an organizational structure that's optimized for speed and capacity and customer service because it aligns directly with how the customer, each functional group, wants to work with IT.
How do you bring that back, in all of the different infrastructure that's being built?
The other half of the organization is essentially the enterprise side of that. There is an enterprise architecture team that governs the technology roadmap for all the organizations. We maintain technology roadmaps, and we all get redone systems, and they maintain centers of excellence. The technology gets deployed the same way into different groups, and then they run the kind of common or the enterprise-wide systems there, so learning management, identity management, applications services, and microservices come out of that group.
Then, beneath that is IT infrastructure. That's servers, data centers, network, customer service. Security is in that group, so those are enterprise functions. It is a hybrid organization. The bottom layers are horizontal, cut across the infrastructure and cut across the entire organization, and then the applications layers are essentially vertical and align vertically with the customers on the business side.
It's a pretty effective model in a high-growth company, where you don't need the IT to be super cost efficient. This is not cost optimized. It's still pretty effective cost-wise, but it's really optimized for speed of delivery and keeping up with the business when the business is growing as fast as Illumina's is.
What’s your segue with scalability growth and all that good stuff? How do you deal with, how do you take on public cloud, scaling resources?
We're actually one of Amazon's largest customers already. I'm on their advisory board. They have a CIO advisory board of about 15 CIOs. I'm one of those. That gets me kind of executive connections with AWS, but we're just a big customer. I'm a big believer in the cloud and have been for years, but I'm not an "everything has to be in the cloud" or "everything has to be on prem." I don't believe in one size fits all for anything. You’ve got to look at each business problem and determine what the right solution is.
Right now, we run an on prem kind of an engineering support infrastructure that handles a lot of the data from our instruments. Our instruments produce a ton of data. That infrastructure, on a per storage, per terabyte, per compute cycle, is actually cheaper than Amazon, so it doesn't make sense for us to move to Amazon just on a pure cost basis. But there may be features or functionality that we want that would make it worthwhile. We evaluate that.
Do you look at Amazon as a long-term storage solution to potentially development, or how are you leveraging Amazon?
We use it for several types of things. We're doing some AI work, machine learning type of work with them as well. We're taking advantage of Amazon's capabilities. I don't think of Amazon strictly as storage and compute. If you think of them that way, then it's just a cost equation, and often, you can do it better than them from a cost perspective, and we certainly do. But when you start thinking about them as a platform, and there's all these capabilities that they have that you can tap into, now you can start looking at different value propositions. The graphic adoption, more capabilities, more services around your application that you don't have to build.
I can give you an example. We had a situation where an engineer in our development environment, a fat-fingered setting, opened up the server to the public. It was completely exposed. Amazon told us about that situation 15 minutes after it happened. There's no way I would have been able to monitor the environment that closely to be able to do that. If you need that kind of monitoring capability, you want to take advantage of Amazon, but that's not in the base offering. Some of it is, but some of it you have to kind of move up the stack and add those value-added services and determine whether that makes sense for you to do. Sometimes, a lot of times, it absolutely does.
They were already using Amazon when I got here, so it was not a matter of convincing anyone that we needed to go to the cloud, and in fact, for the most part, the business leaves those technical decisions to us. They don't try and get in the middle of those decisions. They trust us to be the experts, and it's more about just being able to do this in the business. We need to enable this kind of business capability. "Okay IT, go figure what's the best solution." If we come back with, "We're going to do this in the cloud," they're like, "Okay." And if we say we're going to do it on prem, they go, "Okay," as long as it works.
I don't have to get into technical decisions typically with the business. There's some exceptions. There's different groups that like to get into the middle of the technical discussions, but for the most part, they're looking for us to provide a solution, and they would just want to give us the requirements.
When I got here, I realized that we had very, very little reporting capability. I couldn't believe it, how little we had. We had just implemented SAP, and it really hadn't built up the reporting side during that implementation. We also didn't have an enterprise architecture function. We didn't have any, so I built that, and then we ended up implementing an analytics platform and a reporting platform. We actually deployed that in the cloud. We ended up purchasing HANA and ended up initially starting to, and had SAP run it in the SAP cloud. So we're running SAP the application on prem, migrating the data into SAP's cloud, and then we found out that SAP doesn't really do that very well. What they know how to do is SAP on top of HANA in their cloud. What we were doing is HANA as a data warehouse infrastructure and engine, so we took that over and did that ourselves and just migrated it recently to AWS.
Our analytics platform is now at AWS, and what I like is to enable it to something I call self-service IT. Other people call that shadow IT. I call it self-service IT because you give them the right tools, you give people outside the business the right accesses to the data, and then say, "Go ahead and have fun. Write your own reports. Do your own dashboards. Do your own analytics," and we give them the tools to do that, we standardize on Tableau for that. HANA's the backend. 20x improvement in performance going off SQL server to HANA. Direct translation of the data from SAP right in the system. We control the access, and now we've got hundreds of people writing a report, and that was the only way I was going to be able to get through the backlog of reports. If IT was going to have to write them all, we never would have got them done.
It's a model I've used in the past, different technology this time, being able to go to HANA. What used to happen, and it still does to a degree, but we're in the process of consolidating, was operations had its own data warehouse and its own IT team running and doing reporting off that data warehouse. Then supply chain had one, and commercial had one, each region in the commercial division had one, and finance one. Data spread out everywhere. Who had the right answer? All kinds of duplication of effort.
It’s all now centralized. It's all in one place, so now we can control one data point. Let's say backlog. You define what your backlog number is. You built that into the HANA database. It's calculated automatically every time you update the data, and then everybody can report on it, and everybody's reporting on the same network. Pretty amazing.
What's your take as we see this all unfold, and we see economies of scale, the Amazon's, the Microsoft's, the Google's, how do you weigh your options between those players that are probably top tier in market?
That’s an interesting debate that you see take place within CIOs, and some CIOs will say, "Well, I want to avoid lock-in," and so they will develop to the least common denominator across those platforms. They'll invest heavily in containers or whatever so that they can, in theory, migrate their workload from Amazon to Microsoft to Google, and then they could negotiate pricing on that.
I actually don't believe in that. When you get large data sets, we're talking petabytes of data, we're already petabytes and petabytes of information, you just don't move that. That's just not easy, but then going back to my earlier comments about, here's all this functionality that Amazon's developing. They're not developing that. Microsoft's not developing that same capability, so if you say, "Well, I'm going to not take advantage of that so I can port," now you're losing out on all that innovation that these companies are putting into their platforms.
We, as an IT industry, have been dealing with vendor lock-in our entire careers. Whether it was Oracle or SAP or IBM or whoever, that's just a fact of life. This idea that we have to avoid vendor lock-in just because it's the Cloud makes no sense to me. What you want to do is you want to have good negotiations. You have good contracts in place. You stay on top of that, and then you want to maximize the capabilities of what you value. You can extract from that investment with that particular supplier, whether that's an SAP or whether that's an Amazon or whether that's an HP or whoever you're buying that equipment from. You wouldn't go in and say, "Oh, I'm going to not take advantage of a bunch of capabilities with an HP server just in case I want to go buy a Dell one." Now you're losing the value of that particular server.
I look at it very much as, again, what is the right solution. Google, for example, is doing a ton of work, as is Microsoft, around AI and machine learning. What they're developing is different than what Amazon is developing, and in some cases, it might be even a little bit further ahead than Amazon. It's possible that we would be saying, "All right, for that workload, we're going to take advantage of that at Microsoft or Google rather than Amazon." There's no reason why we couldn't do that.
I don't believe in that, "Oh, we're going to pick one partner and that's it," or "We're going to not pick a partner.” We're going to try and manage this, and we can pick any at any time. That’s my philosophy on the cloud. Then, you look at your own on prem, and that's a decision. I've never believed in segregating my teams and saying, "Okay, here are the cloud guys and here are the on prem guys." It's the same team, and the cloud and your data center, they're just tools in your toolbox, and they have to understand what's the right tool for the right job. I always have done that very early on in my career because I wanted the people to own those decisions, and say, "Okay, yeah, I'm the expert. I know whether a data center, on prem, or Cloud is the right solution for this particular business plan."
Everybody has the same challenges being in San Diego. What type of hiring challenges do you face?
That kind of goes back to where I started. You want to make this a great organization. I like to build world-class IT organizations. I pride myself on that, so you’ve got to make it a good place to work and all those things. There's really three factors in that.
It's the type of work the people get to do, the people they get to work with, and the manager that they work for, and then the environment that they work in. If you can make all those good, then you generally get top talent wanting to come to you, and you get that top talent wanting to stay. First and foremost, you see more people quit because they don't like the manager. They don't like their boss. That's number one.
I started right away on assessing my management team. It was the first thing I did when I got here. Could they do the job? Could they attract the talent? Could they build the team? Could they manage a team? Could they make all these decisions that I'm talking about?
That's your starting point, and then, you build out your culture from there. I developed Qualcomm, a large, growing company, where a lot of people in San Diego were interested in joining that. For many years, I said I had the best job in San Diego, and now, I can say I have the best job in San Diego because I'm at Illumina, and we're literally changing the world. It's interesting, coming from a tech company, at Qualcomm, we were being able to change the world through mobile devices, and it certainly had a great impact on the world. I feel better about the mission statement at this company.
There's not a person here at this company that doesn't talk about something personal. Whether it’s a disease or a family history, or they have family, or they have friends that haven't been impacted by something that we're working on to try and cure, cancer being kind of the one that's foremost. We're involved in so many different things. Genetic, the genome, and personalized medicine. Personalized medicine starts with your DNA.
How far do you think we are from each of us in this room having our own genome sequence?
I've had mine done.
At a cost that's affordable to everyone?
There's two ways to do that. You can do the partial genome sequencing, so that's Ancestry and 23 & Me, and that gives you some information. That's useful, and they can tell you a number of factors. I know from that analysis that I have that I'm a better sprinter than an endurance runner, so I've been able to adjust my exercise routine appropriately. My wife has sensitivity genetically to certain foods that she's learned because of that.
When you do the whole genome sequencing, now you can get even more information. We're doing everything we can to bring that price point down so that it's as cost effective to do the whole genome as it is to do partial. Once we get to that point, now you're almost like, "Why do we even bother with partial. You just do the whole thing and get all that additional information." I learned from the whole genome, there's a particular drug-thinning agent that they would give people that's having a stroke. It doesn't work on me. That's really good to know if you're ever having a stroke, they don't give you the drug in the hospital that isn't going to work, and then three hours later, they realize it doesn't work, which is what would normally have happened. Now I know that.
I know what my predispositions are on certain kinds of diseases. One of the most interesting one is when you're going through kind of the prep, they're talking about, "Well, what do you want to know? We can learn a whole bunch of things.” One of the questions was, there's a particular genome combination. If you have it, you will get Alzheimer's disease. It's not a 50% chance, no, it is 100%, you just don't know when and you don't know how badly. Do you want to know that? That's an interesting question to think about.
Is that available today? Did you want to know?
Yeah, that was one of the questions they asked me. Yeah, absolutely. I figured I'd forget it anyway.
How did you transition from Qualcomm and get all of this new knowledge?
For me, it was a blast. It's been so much fun. Illumina is a high-tech manufacturer. We produce an extremely complicated instrument, and then we produce the enzymes that are used in the DNA sequencing process. In that aspect, it was very familiar. Qualcomm ran a very complex supply chain. It operated a scale, so a lot of the same capability, and even earlier in my career, Qualcomm was a manufacturing company. We manufactured cell phones, base stations. There were a lot of skills that transferred directly over.
Then there was the whole new industry, learning all the terminology around genomics and how do we sell, what's the different selling models. There was enough of the familiar that I was able to come in and hit the ground running and feel like I could make a difference right away on the IT side, and at the same time, there was all this new, fascinating, just wonderful stuff that I got a chance to learn about. Then, to top it all off, they gave me facilities, too, and I was like, "Oh my god, I'm in heaven," because now I can work on building and do that. I had actually started off in construction as a kid, so it was like coming home. It was enough of the known coupled with enough of the unknown to make it just fascinating.
What did you want to grow up to be when you were a kid?
I was going to be a contractor like my dad. General contractor, building buildings. I was fourth generation construction, and I was the first one in generations that didn't actually go into construction. My grandfather built the Hoover Dam, worked on the Hoover Dam. It was crazy stuff like that, and somehow, I ended up in IT, and it turned out to be the greatest move I ever made.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Northern California, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, so I knew all the names. Hewlett Packard and Intel. They were all neighbors. I came down to San Diego to go to school, and I was taking business classes and it was actually business management. I wanted to learn how to run a construction company, and oh my god, it was so boring. I was just dying in these management theory classes. There's 800 people in the lecture hall, and one of the required classes was a programming class. I was scared to death. I though, "Oh my god, I don't know what this is. I don't know how to do it." I took the class and it just clicked. It was just like, "Wow! This is just great!" I got an A in the class, and I said, "I can get a degree in this. This is fun enough. Management stuff is horrible," and at that point, I really just wanted to get the degree and then go into construction.
I had one interview, just to kind of get some interviewing experience, and they offered me a job. $25,000 a year, I could stay in San Diego where my girlfriend was, and I didn't have to work in the dirt. It was like, "Why wouldn't I want to take this job?". I took the job. I did a couple of different jobs, bouncing around, getting some experience, and then I joined this little startup called Qualcomm, which nobody had ever heard of. It was 90 people when I joined the company. It was just crazy, and I was the first IT guy they hired. Right place, right time, and the right combination of skills that they were looking for. Boom! I couldn't have done this job if it hadn't been for Qualcomm because I learned so much going through all of Qualcomm's various iterations and business models that they did.
What are any big mistakes that you've learned from?
Let's see. God, there's so many. There were times when I put loyalty over kind of the person who isn't really getting the job done, and when you're in a high-growth company, it is very difficult for every single person in the organization to grow as fast as the company's growing, personally. There were times when the organization grew faster than the individuals in it, sometimes the leaders. We'd have people that were very successful and great leaders at a certain size, and once you got to the next level it became much more challenging.
I struggled with that, being able to recognize that and trying to make the right organizational decisions. Some of those became painful. I let them go too far, and then it became really challenging and emotional, whereas if I had acted on it sooner, I could have put the person into a different role in the organization that was better suited for their skillset versus ultimately, a couple cases where I had to terminate people, and they were people that I had been friends with for a long time. That became difficult.
It really is back to people issues and organizational issues that you need to address and be timely about that. When I took over the entire IT organization at Qualcomm, there were a lot of problems with the organization, and there were morale issues and a lot of things, and I realized that I needed to do a lot of housecleaning. I ended up doing some layoffs, and what was interesting about that was when I did the layoff, morale went up. People started looking up going, "Oh wow! Management's finally dealing with the folks that are not carrying their weight," and the performance went up because the top performers were getting rewarded, and they weren't having to carry people along.
It was a revelation, where you really saw this complete shift in the organization by actually focusing on the bottom portion of the organization. You’ve got to take care of your top performers. A lot of cases, top performers take care of themselves because that's why they're top performers. It's the bottom performers that end up taking 80% of management's time. Actually pulling the trigger and acting decisively on that makes a huge difference for the organization because now they see management being decisive and making good decisions and acting on the problems.
I did that, and it became kind of a mantra within the organization, and just became something that we did collectively and culturally. People ended up getting a sense of pride being there. "Hey, we're the elites. We're part of a really strong organization. Not everybody can make it here." The few, the proud, the Marines, whatever.
One of the nicest compliments people would say, "Norm's really tough, but he's fair." I could care less whether they're purple or from Mars or whatever, as long as they got the job done, then that was what mattered. Early on, there was a quote that I heard from one of the managers, a really smart guy at Qualcomm, one of the senior guys. He said, "Never confuse effort with results." I've had some of those conversations. "I'm working 60-70 hours a week." But you're not getting the job done. Now you're just not working effectively.
We'd kind of rank, we force ranked kind of the bottom 10%, and I never said you had to get them out to my management team. It was, "You have to have a plan. Either improve their performance, get them into the right job if they're in the wrong job, or exit," but it wasn't, "You have to exit." It was, "Fix it. Fix the problem." Whatever the best way to fix it was. There were plenty of times when I thought, "That person, there's no way they're going to make it," and we shifted the roles, and they took off. There were times when I would have bet, this person's going to go and just knock it out of the park over here, and they would crash and burn. I learned not to judge, prejudge, and that was another one of the mistakes I made. There were situations where I kind of prejudged and thought, "Yeah, I know what's going to happen."
If you were on a deserted island, what three things would you bring and why?
As long as I have Internet connectivity and a computer. You said I could bring anything I wanted. A satellite communication, whatever it is. One of my hobbies is I still kind of have that architecture, design gene in me, so I do 3D graphics, 3D art. Pixar, DreamWorks kind of stuff. I have all that software. I do animation and people and superhero characters and animals and landscapes and buildings. Whatever I just kind of get into, so I would just have a lot of fun. That's the creative outlet that I have. I do digital sculpting with a program called Zebrush. I learned lots of different tools that they use in the entertainment industry, and then some cheap ones too. I don't buy the really high-end stuff, but anyway, that's my hobby, so as long as I have that, I could probably live anywhere. I read all the time. I don't have to have a book. I like books, but I don't have to have a book, so I can read on my computer. I'd just order food from Amazon.
You need a solar cell to power the computer, and then you need a satellite uplink to pick up your internet off the satellite. I'd actually probably include my wife because I would want to have somebody to talk to. I can only stay buried in my computer for so long. She and I have been 35 years together, so she's not sick of me yet.
If you could give guidance to the world of CIOs and VPs of IT, what would you give them in terms of how to look at their careers and skillsets?
I would say the main thing is you’ve got to get a diversity of experience. You can still do that within IT, staying in the IT field, but different companies, different jobs. Qualcomm was a unique place because every few years, the job just completely was different just because of the company, but I would never recommend anybody stay on in a company 28 years, or even 10 or 15. It's actually a negative on a resume now to see that because you don't show that you can succeed in multiple places with multiple cultures. You can only show that you've succeeded in one place. Now you're a much more risky hire to move to another company. I don't know that you could succeed there if you've only succeeded at one place.
The culture here is different here than Qualcomm's. The decision making process is different. I definitely had to adjust. My boss talks about how he watched me adjust my first year, and he said he was actually more pleased with that than the accomplishments that I made because it showed that I could actually modify my behavior to fit Illumina.
It wasn't that the decisions I was making were wrong. I ended up implementing the decisions that I made based on my initial assessment. I did the 100 days. First hundred days, you do that evaluation, and at the end of that 100 days, I was ready to make a bunch of organizational changes. I hit a wall. The organization wasn't ready for me to move that quickly, and it took me another three, four months to actually then evangelize the changes I was making, convince people that these are the things that made sense and here's why, and then implement those changes. I had to adjust to the decision making and the cultural style and the speed at which the company was comfortable operating at.
I couldn't expect the company to conform to me. I had to conform to the company and the culture. I learned, but I was open minded enough to say, "It's not Illumina, it's me. I’ve got to go adjust," and then figure out how to get it done within Illumina's structure.
Now that I've been here a while, and I've built up trust and people are getting more comfortable with me, the organization's much more comfortable with me, that decision making process has sped up. It was that first year, I was the new kid. I had to get people to kind of rally around me, and put the right leadership in place that was able to deal with that kind of speed. Now, we're way faster, three times, four times faster. I hope to get another 25-40% more capacity out of the organization.

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Azure Event Grid – An Event Service for Modern Applications

Whether in reaction to changes coming from IoT devices, in response to user clicks on mobile apps, or for the initiation of business processes from customer requests, most modern applications are built through the use of events. With the growth of event-based programming, there is a larger focus on server-less platforms, such as Azure Functions (a server-less compute engine) or Azure Logic Apps (a server-less workflow orchestration engine), which enable you to spend less time worrying about any infrastructure, provisioning, and scaling, and spend more time focusing on your application.

In an attempt to make building event-based and server-less applications even easier to build on Azure, Microsoft has released Azure Event Grid, a first-of-its-kind fully managed event routing service. Azure Event Grid manages all routing of events from any source, to any destination, for any application, greatly simplifying the development of event-based applications as well as the creation of server-less workflows.

Azure Event Grid makes an event a first-class object in Azure, you can subscribe to any event that is happening across your Azure resources and react using server-less platforms like Functions or Logic Apps. In addition to the built-in publishing support for events, through services such as Blob Storage and Resource Groups, Event Grid gives users flexibility and the ability to create your own custom events to publish directly to the service. On top of having a broad array of Azure services and built-in handlers for events, like Functions, Logic Apps, and Azure Automation, Event Grid allows flexibility in handling events, supporting custom web hooks to publish events to any service, even 3rd-party services outside of Azure. The flexibility that Azure Event Grid offers allows for endless application options and makes this a truly unique service in the public cloud.

Here is how it works:

Here are some additional details of this new Azure service:

Today, Azure Event Grid has built-in integration with the following services:

Event Publishers and HandlersWe are aiming to deliver more event sources and destinations later on this year, including Azure Active Directory, API Management, IoT Hub, Service Bus, Azure Data Lake Store, Azure Cosmos DB, Azure Data Factory, and Storage Queues.

Azure Event Grid completes the missing half of server-less applications. It simplifies event routing and event handling with unparalleled flexibility.

Go ahead and give it a try. I can’t wait to see what you build. To learn more try the quick start.

Conversational Retail Bots & E-Commerce Fraud Protection

"Cami" Boosts Customer Engagement at Dixons Carphone

Dixons Carphone is a major electronics retailer that is based in the UK but employs many people over 11 different countries. Dixons Carphone provides consumers with products and services that help them lead seamlessly connected lives at home, in the office, and on the move. Similar to most retailers, Dixons Carphone has had to adapt to modern consumer buying patterns by incorporating a larger amount of online product research and shopping. In fact, 90% of their customers start their shopping in some way or form online, and an astounding 65% use their phones to assist them while shopping in-store.

 

 

Dixons Carphone partnered with Microsoft with aims to find better ways to increase customer engagement as well as ways to better optimize employee time spent with customers, they determined that AI was the answer. Specifically, Dixons Carphone investigated the capabilities of the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services in the context of customer interactions. The Bot Framework helps companies build, test and deploy intelligent bots capable of interacting with customers in a conversational way, working in tandem with Cognitive Services, a collection of intelligent APIs hosted on Azure that provide the underlying language and image recognition capabilities that power the bots.

After contemplating and brainstorming a personality and persona for their bot, Dixons Carphone decided on "Cami" with a mildly geeky and confident personality. Cami, for the time being, accepts questions (as text-based input) as well as pictures of products’ in-store shelf labels to check stock status, using the Cognitive Services Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) for conversational abilities and the Computer Vision API to process images.

Dixons Carphone will also be putting Cami to use in order to help employees in their day-to-day responsibilities, for example, in doing stock checks. In addition, the research done in conjunction with Microsoft showed that when shopping in store, customers who researched a product online (as far as things like stock level) are frustrated by the fact that when they get into the store they must start from scratch through store employees. Cami helps bridge that gap through a "Wishlist" feature. As customers add items to their Wishlist, Cami saves the search criteria they used and store colleagues can pull up that information in-store to see what the customer was looking for, leading to a much more efficient shopping process.

When Dixons Carphone goes live with the use of Cami, they will use the Cognitive Services Text Analytics APIAzure Application Insights, and Power BI dashboard to review which products customers are looking at, the sentiment of their interactions, and the questions they are asking. Understanding the questions that customers are asking and analyzing their interactions with the bot will help the company improve their communications and messaging as well.

Arvato Bertelsmann Protects Online Merchants from E-Commerce Fraud

An estimated 70 percent of online sellers in Germany have suffered fraud attempts, but only 14 percent of them use any safeguards today. Even though merchants are aware of the dangers of e-commerce fraud and the solutions available to protect themselves, they lack the resources to be able to manage the risk efficiently. On top of this, hackers quickly adapt their fraudulent ways and as a result, whatever solutions are put in place must adapt as well.

Arvato Financial Solutions, an integrated financial services provider, offers vital services around e-commerce safety for some 2,000 odd customers. One of eight divisions of Bertelsmann – the German media, services, and education giant – Arvato has recently partnered with Microsoft, inovex GmbH (a cloud and big data specialist), and a few of Arvato’s e-commerce customers with aims to create a fraud detection solution using Microsoft’s big data and machine learning offerings.

Through the combination of Azure services with the open-source Storm and Hadoop frameworks, Arvato built an integrated cloud-based solution that uses a modern lambda architecture to process massive data quantities using both batch and stream processing. The batch path transforms existing data using Hadoop, then, by applying machine learning algorithms, the solution develops self-learning analytical models from past fraud cases, for early recognition of any new fraudulent approaches. The stream-processing path captures incoming real-time transaction data via Azure Event Hubs. It then analyzes the data with the assistance of Storm and Azure Machine Learning to uncover fraudulent activities as they happen.

An important goal of the project was to visualize and monitor the models, and Power BI serves this function by displaying data sets drawn directly from cloud sources, Azure HDInsight and SQL Database, on several large screens in Arvato’s monitoring center.

Avato’s investment in good cloud design is paying for itself, helping the company reliably fulfill SLAs using cloud services. Their flexible architecture enables rapid deployment, which is key for fraud recognition in an international e-commerce setting. Using Microsoft machine learning on big data, Avato has created an innovative e-commerce fraud recognition solution and built the basis for innovative financial BPO services based on Microsoft Azure.

MS Paint is here to stay

MS Paint is here to stay

By Megan Saunders as written on blogs.windows.com
MS Paint fans rejoice: The original art app isn’t going anywhere – except to the Windows Store for free!
Today, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia around MS Paint. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans. It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app. Amidst today’s commentary around MS Paint we wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight, clear up some confusion and share some good news:
MS Paint is here to stay, it will just have a new home soon, in the Windows Store where it will be available for free.
Paint 3D – the new app for creativity, also available for free with the Windows 10 Creators Update, will continue to get new feature updates. In addition to the new 3D capabilities, many of the MS Paint features people know and love like photo editing, line and curve tools, and 2D creation are in Paint 3D.
So, thanks for all the MS Paint love, keep the feedback coming via the Paint 3D app, and keep creating!

An inspired partnership: WE and Microsoft join forces to bring WE Day to more students and schools

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By Anthony Salcito as written on educationblog.microsoft.com
Microsoft is proud to partner with WE, an organization that brings people together and gives them the tools to change the world. Microsoft shares that vision and, through its technology, is helping WE accelerate their impact.
I had the privilege of attending WE Day recently in Vancouver, Canada and meeting with co-founder of WE, Craig Kielburger.
As I met with Craig, I learned a great deal more about WE and we discussed some of the ways Microsoft is working with them to expand the WE mission to reach more students and empower youth as a force for inclusion.

Q&A with Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE

Anthony: I attended WE Day in Vancouver, BC recently, and I was overwhelmed by the energy and commitment of these students. What inspired you to build this amazing organization?
Craig: At the age of 12, I was inspired to help improve human rights for children around the world after I heard a story about Iqbal Masih, a young activist in Pakistan, who stood up against child labor. I knew I couldn’t make significant change alone, so I convinced a handful of my grade 7 classmates to join me in making a life-changing impact. That was how WE was born and, 20 years later, we are still passionate about empowering young people to be leaders of today through WE programming, such as WE Schools and WE Day.
We celebrate the incredible commitment of these students to service through WE Day, an inspiring, stadium-sized, life-changing event that takes place around the world. It unites world-renowned speakers, presenters and award-winning performers with thousands of young people and families to celebrate and inspire another year of incredible change. These are hosted in cities across North America and the UK. What’s unique about these stadium-sized events is that you can’t buy a ticket to WE Day – students earn their ticket by taking one local and one global action on causes they are most passionate about.
Anthony: Tell me about your vision for WE Schools.
Craig: WE Schools is a free, year-long service learning program that focuses on empowering students with the tools to make an impact in their local communities and beyond.
The WE Schools program has grown to include more than 12,000 schools and engages nearly a million students. WE Schools provide educators and students with the necessary tools, including curriculum and resources, to identify issues they care about and to take action. Educators can sign up at https://www.we.org/we-schools/.
This year, we are partnering with Microsoft to make the WE Schools curriculum digitally accessible through Microsoft OneNote, widening our reach and granting more students and educators around the world with access to our service curriculum. Our goal is to bring a passion for service to as many students as possible and, by 2019, we hope to triple the number of schools participating.
Anthony: How do you see the partnership with Microsoft helping advance your vision and mission?
Craig: Microsoft and WE share a common vision to help students be a force for good, locally and globally. That’s why we recently launched WE are One, a campaign that educates young people about issues of accessibility and encourages them to use technology to make their communities more inclusive.
Using Microsoft products and programs, classrooms will be able to organize, collaborate and share ideas on important issues. With technology – especially tools like OneNote, and Skype – we can go from reaching a million students to millions of students around the world.
The WE are One campaign also comes with accompanying WE Schools curriculum, outlining ways to integrate OneNote, Sway, Skype and Minecraft: Education Edition into lesson plans, to help students create and share their projects. This campaign is a great example of how we are digitizing WE Schools curriculum and, as a result, reaching students all over the world.
image: https://educationblog.microsoft.com/wp-content/uploads/media/MoeYang_WDVAN_CRG-25.jpg
Craig Kielburger addresses attendees at WE Day on stage.
Anthony: Of course, Microsoft is thrilled to be part of WE are One because it speaks so clearly to our mission to empower students and educators to do more. Can you share an example where technology has made a difference for a student looking to make a change to help others?
Craig: At this week’s WE Day Seattle, taking place on Friday, April 21, we will be joined by Maia Dua, a 16 year-old from River City High School in Sacramento, CA. He developed a robot as a cost-effective and durable alternative to a seeing-eye dog. The self-propelled, echo-locating Seeing Eye-Bot is made of readily accessible materials, making it more available to individuals of limited financial resources. The best part is that Maia developed this bot in just four days.
Anthony: As powerful is WE Day is, not every student can attend. How can those students (and their teachers) share this powerful experience?
Craig: Following WE Day Seattle, educators and students will be able to access the WE Day recap, which includes a virtual WE Day experience with motivational speeches and performances available at their fingertips, as well as educator resources.
In 60 minutes or less, students will be able to relive the celebration of young change-makers and experience exclusive, behind-the-scenes content. The WE Day recap pairs content from the event with WE Schools action planning to bring the spirit of the WE movement to the classroom. Now, thanks to Microsoft, WE Day lives beyond a one-day event, making it easier for students, friends and family to change the world together, regardless of their location.

How you can be part of WE

Learn more about WE Schools – and sign up – at WE.org, where you can download a free kit with everything you need for a year of changing the world.

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4 Ways Stratogator Outshines Cloudyn in Cloud Comparison Tools

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4 Ways Stratogator Outshines Cloudyn in Cloud Comparison Tools

Cloud solutions are revolutionizing the tech industry. But how can you figure out what solutions work best for you?
Compare all cloud platforms and find your best match with Stratogator.

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Is Stratogator Right for You?

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1) Stratogator Recommends The Best “Match” Based On Your Needs.

With Stratogator, you can search for the Azure stack that meets your specific needs, narrowing down your options by what you want to focus on. Choose from Performance Match, Price Match, or Geo Match for a personalized Azure solution.
While Cloudyn does compare Azure and other cloud solutions, only Stratogator tailors each search for your personal preferences.

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Find the Azure stack that meets your performance needs. Search based on vCPU, CPU Speed, RAM, Network Ingress Speed, Network Egress Speed, and Storage.

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Narrow your results by choosing a min/max for hourly price.  Your results will also show an estimated monthly price, so you can easily see what fits in your budget.

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Find solutions that will work best in your desired location. Select a region, such as Europe or Western US, to limit results to exactly what you want.

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2) Stratogator Sends Instant Pricing Update Alerts.

Adapt at a moment’s notice with instant price change alerts from Stratogator that enable you to migrate the the best environment at the best price.
On Cloudyn, you spend more time searching and finding the best price. That's time that could be used in other areas of your company. Let Stratogator do the work for you.

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3) Stratogator Helps You Migrate To The Cloud In Minutes.

Stratogator's automated guide helps you map your current hardware to an optimized cloud cluster. In the past migrating to the cloud could have taken a week…now, you can move to the cloud in minutes!
Getting a grasp on what resources you need to replicate your system is easy - contact us or fill out the infrastructure template and send it back to get started.

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4) Stratogator Analyzes Your Current Infrastructure. 

Right size your cloud. Upload your system resources and we’ll match your current infrastructure to the best set of Azure cloud systems. All you need is the Server name (Excel file upload), CPU, memory and disk space.

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Microsoft's Acquisition of Cloudyn

Microsoft recently acquired the Israeli cloud start-up, Cloudyn. Microsoft is excited about the capabilities of Cloudyn to manage cloud billing and services for companies (Source: techcrunch.com).  Despite the acquisition, Stratogator remains the over-all leader in cloud comparison tools, with more focus on finding cloud solutions and matches for companies with the ability to derive reports and manage billing.

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Sean Ferrel Presents on the Future of Cloud at AITP San Diego Cloud Conference

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San Diego, CA. - On Thursday, June 29th, Managed Solution's Founder, Sean Ferrel, presented at AITP San Diego's 8th annual Cloud Conference. The "Cloud Computing and Beyond" conference held at Town and Country Mission Valley featured 400+ of IT professionals who are passionate about the professional growth and education of the SoCal IT community. Speakers throughout the day included thought leaders as well as peer use-cases on cloud, innovative technologies and Big Data/IoT.
Sean Ferrel talked about cloud marketplaces, brokerage and the long term effects of managing your customers cloud strategy. The public cloud offers a whole new world of reoccurring revenue for all of us!
Over the next several years’ public cloud management will be key to the success of both distributors and integrators alike. Cost management, brokerage, and overall management will be at the center of how we manage our customers and automation will allow us to quickly make informed decisions when working with providers.
Large Public Cloud Providers are just starting to gain maturity and most organizations are taking a deeper look at these utility models. While we all have our favorite cloud partners so do our customers and it’s important we look at cloud much like we look at purchasing airline tickets; compare all brands and make sure getting from point A to B is seamless and cost effective.

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