CTO Sessions: Sukhi Gill, DXC Technology

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? "A combination of IoT sensors — and the data they can give you — alongside AI and analytics..."

Name: Sukhi Gill

Company: DXC Technology

Job title: VP and CTO, UKIIMEA

Date started current role: April 2017

Location: London, UK

Sukhi Gill is vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) for DXC Technology's UKIIMEA region, encompassing the UK, Ireland, Israel, the Middle East and Africa. In this role, he is responsible for providing overall technical direction, promoting innovation and leading the senior client-facing chief technologists. He is also responsible for directing the engagement of DXC technologists with business leaders whose companies are facing the challenges of business transformation.

What was your first job? Strictly speaking, it was a paper round; however, my first ‘real' job was in the civil service, working for the Inland Revenue. When I applied, I wanted to join the foreign and commonwealth office because I wanted to see the world — they offered me a job in the tax collection office, instead!

Did you always want to work in IT? Not particularly — I wanted to be a pilot! As I mentioned, I really wanted to travel. I stumbled into computer science when studying for my A-Levels. This led to my purchasing a BBC ‘B' computer — which got me hooked onto computers and led me onto my path into the IT world.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied computer science from A-Levels to degree level, and in addition, I completed Open University and College certifications — such as in Unix, Visual Basic and C++. My ‘formal' certifications were focused around enterprise architecture, driven by customer needs at the time. I haven't felt the need to chase a badge or label; however, I'm proud that I've been made Fellow at EDS, HP, HPE, and now at DXC.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started working in the Inland Revenue in 1983, and was being fast-tracked into accountancy. But in 1988, I moved into the IT department where I started to formally build systems for various industry-specific requirements. In 1996 the Inland Revenue's IT function was outsourced to EDS, where I then moved to work on Self Assessment. The EDS career led to one detour when I went to work with the U.S. Navy on a contract that EDS had, based out of San Diego. I spent three years working on that contract, after which I returned to the UK to work with the MOD (again, still with EDS). When EDS was acquired by HP in 2008, I then joined HP, which ultimately led me to DXC. Another detour I did partake in was in 2015, when I went to work as CTO and VP of Engineering on a startup, Clique Intelligence, for HP, for seven months — that taught me a lot about agile culture and helped me understand how to pitch to VCs and experience how startups drive innovation at speed.

What type of CTO are you? I see myself as a big picture visionary with a bias towards executing small and delivering on what the client needs. I really want to drive new revenue from new and emerging technologies by solving business challenges.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? A combination of IoT sensors — and the data they can give you — alongside AI and analytics, is most exciting to me. The whole field of "progression of data" that sensors can give you and what you can learn from them is hugely interesting, and is leading to some really fascinating new solutions.  

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Loads of them are overhyped, in my opinion. Two examples are Kubernetes and blockchain. Kubernetes, an infrastructure software platform, is something many are talking about, but I see too much focus on technology scaling before we have even got to a scaling problem on microservices. When it comes to blockchain, I feel it's in the peak of inflated expectations. So many of the use cases that are being proposed can be solved in traditional ways, which is why I think it's overhyped. 

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I've developed a new way of working which I'm very proud of. It is centred on providing a fully immersive visual collaboration experience with the client, as well as other partners, to help us understand our client's problem and come up with a great solution. Essentially, we combine business challenges in a condensed iterative prototyping environment, where we can show how the problem could be solved. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes, both within DXC and with customers — our focus is on fixing today to enable tomorrow. We look for a balance between customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency — because each facet is important and interdependent. Operational efficiency needs to be driven by DevOps, microservices, automation, etc., to enable a better customer experience, alongside revenue growth.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? One of the biggest issues I'm working on with customers is the culture change required to enable an agile way of working. The human element, especially in large enterprises pursuing digital transformation, is a big challenge.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We understand the business goals and KPIs when speaking to customers, but our focus is on what the problem is that the business is really trying to solve. Not just at the highest level of improving profit or increasing efficiency, but instead looking at the operational KPIs and the metrics that each business unit cares about. As a result, we've created labs that focus on everything from drones to AI and 3D printing, so we can map the maturity of each technology with a real business outcome. The labs help to give us reference architecture for tech that is maturing, so we are implementing new technologies that have already gone through advanced development.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I don't, but I think this is because I start with the business, and the product and service strategy, and then look at how this can be enabled by a tech strategy. The reason I think this is a challenge in some cases, is that too many people start with the tech strategy rather than the service and product strategy.

What makes an effective tech strategy? The key to this is that effective strategy must be executable. So many businesses focus on lagging indicators — i.e., how did we do, versus how are we doing. By focusing on forward-looking, achievable KPIs, your tech strategy will naturally be more effective.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTOs who live in an ivory tower, reading books, watching the landscape and trying to direct, aren't going to be able to help turn vision into impact in the future. I think the CTO role will need to become a ‘Babel fish' that stays close to the reality on the ground - i.e. the ability to speak both in the language of business process and technology implementation, have a head in the clouds but feet on the ground. I also think that strategies are going to become more short term, with those 5 -10-year plans of old becoming increasingly unrealistic.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I've been most proud of the times I've built and implemented a system that has gone into production. If you file a tax return in the UK for instance, some of my code may still be in the background, because I was the chief architect when the system was initially built. Similarly, in the U.S. Navy there is a system called NMCI which was the largest intranet ever built, with over 800,00 users, of which I was also chief engineer and of which I'm immensely proud. Being made Fellow at EDS, HP, HPE, and now in DXC is also a huge honour.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would like to have worked in more industry verticals, such as pharmaceuticals or finance. I've worked extensively in the public and defence sectors, but I think it'd be fascinating to see how other industries operate so I can better understand how to help them.

What are you reading now? I'm currently reading Gene Kim's latest book, Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps. I'm also spending a lot of time reading about ethics and AI — which is a big personal interest of mine and something I've also been going to Turing lectures on, as well.

Most people don't know that I… Have a life outside of work!

In my spare time, I like to…Climb mountains. I'm trying to climb the highest peaks around the world — though I'm omitting Everest. I'm constantly training to prepare for the next climb, whether its meditating, running, or other exercise.

Ask me to do anything but… Project plans. The first person I hire when I build a team is a project manager or now product manager/scrum master. I can describe what needs to be done, but I need someone that can turn those ideas into structured tasks (Epics) to ensure that everything gets done.