CTO Sessions: Marc Price, MATRIXX Software

What makes an effective tech strategy? "Having vision and a long-range plan is essential."

Name: Marc Price

Company: MATRIXX Software

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: March 2019

Location: Washington DC

As Global Chief Technology Officer, Marc Price accelerates MATRIXX Software's worldwide growth through key software and solutions delivery initiatives. With almost thirty years of experience in the telecommunications market, Price has held pivotal roles during the establishment of the real-time charging model, the changing landscape of digital transformation and the move to hybrid clouds and IoT. Prior to joining MATRIXX, he worked for Openet serving as CTO for the Americas where he led initiatives for software development, systems consulting and business development. 

What was your first job? My first job was with a company called AMS, providing software for an emerging business unit in the telecommunications industry. I knew very little about telecommunications before I took the job. In fact, telecom back then meant wireline communications. Little did I know that something called the world wide web was about to take off, or that mobile phones would soon mean we'd have the Internet in our pockets. I started working on solutions to help these companies roll out new services and monetise them.  It's been an incredibly dynamic journey.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I have worked with computers since a young age, but I generally thought of them as a tool to get other things done. I built software programs for fun, and to help family members and friends, even as I focused on other academic areas and career interests. I even worked as the IT tech guy for the Dean's office at the University of Pennsylvania as one of my jobs to pay for college. But I never thought I would end up in a career involving software or IT.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have two very different degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, in International Relations and Engineering. I modelled my academic career on what the University calls Management & Technology (M&T). That academic path involves degrees from Wharton (business) and Engineering. In my case, I wanted a college degree rather than a business degree. International Relations intrigued me with disciplines across Economics, History, and Political Science. With my math and science background, I opted to work towards an Engineering degree rather than a discipline like Physics. I think ultimately my education helped me understand how best to learn, in both business and technology, rather than providing specific knowledge in any domain. Things change so quickly that having a foundation and ability to constantly learn is more important than any facts learned along the way.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I had three different job opportunities coming out of University. I could have worked in R&D for a packaged goods company, Management Consulting for a high-end firm, or Software Development for an IT company. I chose the last one, largely because I really liked the people I interacted with during the interview process. They were interested in how I thought, rather than what I knew. One interview question was, "Do you think there is life in outer space, and why would you say so?" This was not a traditional company, but one that would push into new fields.

What type of CTO are you? One of the things I realised early on is that I am part of a team, and my job is making the team better. My management style is managing both up and down, by putting myself in others' shoes and making sure I help them with the right resources to get their jobs done. Your boss has a job to do, so as part of the team how do you help them accomplish what their boss has asked them to do? If you manage people, then it's your job to make sure they can accomplish their tasks and feel fulfilled in doing so. As a CTO I focus both internally and externally on our products and our customers. Internally, our product management and engineering teams need to stay abreast of leading technical developments without being distracted by those that aren't core to our future. Externally, our sales and marketing teams benefit from thought-leadership and vision. I believe a good CTO is essential to a company's strategy, even if many people are involved in crafting that strategy, from the CEO, to the product team, to sales and marketing.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Cloud technologies are emerging that simplify deployment challenges and reduce infrastructure costs involved with the lifecycle of software applications. Most software applications require significant changes however before they are suited to cloud. This is particularly true in telecommunications, where high volume, low latency services, including those on new 5G networks, are increasingly required for a dizzying number of emerging devices and applications.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Network Function Virtualization (NFV) was supposed to provide substantial benefits in cost reduction and avoidance of vendor lock-in, and for a variety of reasons it has not achieved these benefits in real-world deployments. Cloud has the promise of superseding some of these technologies and providing even greater benefits with web-scale technologies beyond the limitations of telecom specific protocols and design patterns.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? We've done a lot recently to evolve the MATRIXX architecture towards a fully cloud-native architecture, embracing web-scale tools like Kubernetes to orchestrate Docker containers supporting our own microservices. These changes position us well for 5G, which has a very good chance of substantially impacting not only telecommunications, but many other industries as the Internet of Things (IoT) really begins to take off. 

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? That's actually one of our key focus areas, as we help our customers achieve digital transformation in multiple dimensions. Our belief is that increasingly telecommunications customers want to engage with their service providers using digital channels, shedding costly and time-consuming processes such as legacy customer care and paper invoicing. We have a track record of improving our operators' customer experience, leading to increased revenues and a reduction in churn. And while greater loyalty and higher average revenue per user (ARPU) may be the focus, it is correlated with a reduction in costs associated with operational efficiency. In essence, the two really do go hand-in-hand. 

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Digital transformation is the biggest area we help our customers with at the moment. We also have customers launching 5G services, and we're preparing them to succeed in monetising an increasingly dynamic set of services in a highly fragmented world. Both consumer and enterprise customers have changing expectations, and the ability to be responsive to these needs with digital capabilities is essential for a modern service provider.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Our customers' business goals involve highly demanding network-grade performance, and the bar is always moving. Managing and monetising network activity for the largest and most innovative service providers in the world means we must handle trillions of events a day, with single digit millisecond latencies. And as we are a real-time system, the calculations we perform and store must always be 100% accurate, with zero down time. Eventual consistency is not an option. Nor are occasional delays acceptable. Despite these demanding performance requirements, our customers require agility. Competition drives rapid responsiveness to market needs. Our customers are seeking to lower their costs and increase the speed with which new offers can be extended, all-the-while putting more control in the hands of digital consumers.

Making technology decisions in such a demanding and cutting-edge environment is not easy. A new generation of telephony technologies is launched every few years, with 5G a focus now and for the next few years. Open source technologies have become extremely relevant as web-scale technologies mature. The business goals of our customers are paramount, and the ways by which we achieve these must overperform and meet future needs in a rapidly paced industry. High volume, low latency solutions like MATRIXX are specialised, and with the right design decisions and application of our patents we help our customers pare legacy technologies and embrace new ways to achieve more with less. The real lesson is that choosing the right technologies to use is important. So is choosing when to move off old technologies that are no longer fit for purpose. In some cases, that latter decision is hardest.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Product strategies are more often aligned with technology strategies than not. The technologies we invest in relate to product innovations necessary in a highly dynamic environment, aligned with continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD). The most difficult decisions require a longer-term vision, ensuring that we keep up with the latest technologies and make wise investments in a future-proof architecture, rather than merely jumping on the latest bandwagon. We aim to develop upon the most promising proven technologies suited to our customers' unique and cutting-edge challenges. As we do so, the product strategy is to ensure our customers can benefit from these advances with terrific agility in highly dynamic markets.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Having vision and a long-range plan is essential. Some of the best technologies to utilise are obvious right away, and others aren't so clear.  Safe bets aren't always the answer, nor are risky ones. Ultimately we build on what makes our product great, and make it better by use of targeted technologies that extend its usefulness. We focus on what makes our industry different - namely supporting dynamic and easily configured decisions for unanticipated business needs, handling enormous volumes of data with extremely low latency, in support of an increasing number of real-time applications requiring greater elasticity and resilience than has been possible in the past.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Network and IT technologies are rapidly converging. The CTO of the future will be both CTO and CIO, supporting strategies that cover connectivity management, network bandwidth, and data center needs. Strategy will remain an essential focus of the job, with eye to emerging technologies. The CTO of the future, as now, will seek to maximise the best use of present applications, but must make the difficult choice when legacy applications should be retired in favor of new ones.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Being part of the team that helped monetise the launch of the iPhone and iPad in conjunction with Apple and AT&T was both an honor and a privilege. Those initiatives were some of the most exciting projects I've been a part of, as we knew that they were game-changing moments for our industry. Much of the strategy for pricing and packaging in the digital era has stemmed from those launches, even as we're now entering a new comparable era with emerging technologies for 5G networks and devices.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? The telecom world struggled with adoption of technologies like Network Function Virtualization and Software Defined Networks. If it were possible to know that telcos would ultimately move to align with web-scale technologies, it would have been ideal to have invested in cloud earlier. Technologies like Kubernetes align exceptionally well with our needs, supporting elasticity and resiliency when applications are well designed.

What are you reading now? I just finished reading The Four: The Hidden DNA of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway.

Most people don't know that I… Enjoy horseback riding with my daughter in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a great way to get away. Where we ride, they don't even have cell phone coverage.

In my spare time, I like to…Catch up with my local sports teams, visit parks both natural and historic, enjoy a good glass of red wine.

Ask me to do anything but… Leave me some time for my family. They will always come first. Work hard and accomplish much, but balance is important in life.