CTO Sessions: Oussama El-Hilali, Arcserve

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? "Surprisingly, many businesses don't have a very effective backup and recovery strategy..."

Name: Oussama El-Hilali

Company: Arcserve

Job title: Chief Technology Office

Date started current role: January 2016

Location: Massachusetts, US

Oussama El-Hilali serves as Chief Technology Officer at Arcserve, responsible for setting the global product strategy and managing the development and product management teams at Arcserve. He has nearly 25 years of IT and R&D experience driving and achieving product strategy and roadmaps, acquisition of new technology, and developing strategic business partnerships in both Fortune 100 and emerging companies.

What was your first job? I was a programmer at Ripon College's data centre, in Ripon, Wisconsin, which is where I received my Bachelors in Computer Science and French Literature.   

Did you always want to work in IT? I've always been drawn to subjects that require a level of investigation, so I was naturally drawn to science, literature and archaeology. As a result, when I started working as a programmer in a data centre it sparked my curiosity to find out more about IT.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science, and French Literature. I also have a Masters degree in Software Engineering from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I knew I enjoyed IT and gained more experience in a medical diagnostic company and the manufacturing space. However, I wanted to develop products for a larger audience where I could work with different types of people and users, so I switched to software engineering which required top communication and interpersonal skills with customers and colleagues.  

What type of CTO are you? I wouldn't describe myself as the typical CTO that focuses only on following and adhering to industry standards. I'm passionate about making sure that we're disciplined when it matters most, especially in the delivery of products, efficiency and innovation, so we remain competitive in the market.

I also think about how technology can be managed to support the entire business and meet the needs of our customers, rather than focusing on technology in isolation. In my opinion, taking a more holistic view is now essential.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting emerging technologies in the market, not only from a business perspective but also in terms of a socio-economic outlook, as it will transform how we live our lives and interact with each other. In terms of the data protection market, predictive analytics will enable businesses to predict downtime and disasters, and develop mechanisms in their systems which will allow them to avoid disasters entirely.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Technologies are there for a reason but sometimes the use case and need for it disappears or is no longer relevant. I welcome the hype that comes along with new technologies, as it means we're a step closer to transforming and finding new ways to live and interact with each other.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? There are a few things that I'm particularly proud of. For example, recently at a conference I had the opportunity to interact face to face with a government employee who uses our data protection solution, Arcserve Unified Data Protection (UDP). He highlighted how crucial Arcserve's portfolio is to their data, which is great feedback to get.

Rolling out Arcserve Business Continuity Cloud has also been a real highlight. With IT ecosystems continuing to increase in complexity, our cloud platform provides a complete solution to help businesses meet their existing and future IT needs. We see it as being the foundation of our portfolio as we incorporate all technologies under one pane of glass.

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? With so much competition in the market, digital transformation today needs to be focused on emphasising customer and partner experience. Revenue growth only comes from delivering the best possible solutions that address customer pain points and provide a high-quality experience. If you can do that right, the rest will follow.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Surprisingly, many businesses don't have a very effective backup and recovery strategy, and don't fully understand how much data loss can affect their business. So, we spend quite a bit of time educating organisations on why they must change their approach, especially with rapidly evolving technologies and increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We evolve our solutions to stay one step ahead of business needs, providing technologies that future-proof our customers and enable them to grow. As businesses continue to become more dependent on their data to function and transact, and business availability becomes even more crucial, we've ensured that they can adapt to these changes by going beyond traditional backup and restoration to availability using cloud native and continuous data protection technologies.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not really, as we ensure that all parties are involved from the start - from customer feedback and tech support to market analysts and pricing.

What makes an effective tech strategy? In today's world, it comes down to being prepared to evolve and experiment with different technologies - all while keeping the needs of the customer in mind. Having a proactive technology strategy that is focused on how products and services are delivered to customers is now critical and could be the difference between success and failure.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The role of the CTO has evolved over the last ten years, and this trend will continue in the future. The role is now less about adhering to standards and more about creating value beyond technology or specific products by focusing on services, processes and business models. Over the coming years, CTOs will have to elevate their thinking even further by focusing on enabling business growth. They will need a greater understanding on the future direction of the company as a whole, rather than getting too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of the technology itself.

What has been your greatest career achievement? The productising of ideas has been a great accomplishment of mine; building something from the ground up. Seeing a solution brought to life is not only enjoyable but is also very fulfilling.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have started my career in software development earlier as that's really where I found my passion. I think the more you learn, the more you can find new ways of doing things, which is why I love doing what I do.

What are you reading now? Letting Go by David Hawkins. It's a book which details simple and effective ways to overcome stress and negativity in life.

Most people don't know that I… I have a black belt in Judo! It's a very physically demanding sport and requires you to be disciplined and fast on your feet.

In my spare time, I like to…I have a son who's in his twenties and two daughters who are eleven and thirteen, so I like spending as much time with them as possible, especially as they are heavily involved in sports. I love getting involved when they're training and supporting them from the sidelines at their games.

Ask me to do anything but… Don't ask me to do the same thing twice in the same way; the second time must be more efficient.