CIO Spotlight: Anudeep Parhar, Entrust

What's the best career advice you ever received? “It’s easy to be a really smart technologist, but to manage a high performing team is very difficult.”


Name: Anudeep Parhar

Company: Entrust

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: February 2016

Location: Shakopee, MN

Anudeep Parhar joined Entrust in 2016 to lead the company’s rapid expansion to the cloud for all facets of the business. Parhar joined the company from Bloom Health where he served as chief technology officer. He previously held executive level IT and Technology roles at Digital River, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Thomson Reuters West.

What was your first job? I’ll focus on my first professional position out of college. I worked for subsidiary of Microsoft in India as a developer. I was there for the launch of two Windows versions. I primarily worked on building subsystems for the Windows operating system as a junior associate developer.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I did always want to work in technology. However, my definition of working in IT might be different than most. To me, it’s about building commercial and corporate technology that is what excites me the most…marrying the two together to enable a company to succeed by increase revenues, profitability and employee productivity

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both in Computer Science. I’m an engineer by trade and training, with a Bachelor of Computer Science, which taught me the science and application of technology. But, I’m a business person by profession. I attended the Carlson school of Management at the University of Minnesota, which gave me the knowledge and skills to connect my technical education with the understanding of how technology can enable a business to work efficiently and can drive innovation.

I cherish my time at these universities, especially here in MN. Our state has a deep legacy in Computer Science and engineering, both in foundational elements of computer science (a rich history of innovation in deep tech) and cultivating talent for 50+ years of for a diverse array of technology businesses. They’ve contributed a lot to the field over the years.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I haven’t really had any detours where I’ve changed course, but my career path has been a bit of a zig zag, if you will. And for me that was by design. I started as a heads-down developer and back then the way we see IT today didn’t exist – that was in the pre-internet days. In fact, I recall being on an Internet Discovery Committee to figure out if the internet was something that would really last, meaning that we had to explore if it would have significant business implications, or was it simply a tech fad.

I have a very strong background in building systems, as well as a lot of assignments in supervisory and manager roles. In the early 2000s I was given a unique opportunity with the explosion of the internet, where I was a part of an internal incubator focused on finding ways to provide solutions to new markets, and thus create new revenue for the company and increase wallet share from current customers. From that experience, I learned what it takes to sell and deliver technology to solve business needs. It was all about creating a unique, customer-centric value proposition.

I’ve also spent a lot of time learning how to build a technology business, not only through organic development, but also growing a business through mergers and acquisitions and how to operationalise them (technology, personnel, customer success, etc). Overall, my experience has prepared me for this role as someone in the c-suite managing my team and our work beyond the technology point of view, but from maximising shareholder value point of view. It’s my job to make the CEO, Board of Directors, customers and my internal business partners and colleagues successful through technology solutions.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? COVID-19 shifted the Entrust focus to three key areas: 1) acceleration of our digital transformation strategy, 2) driving more forward-thinking information security strategy, and 3) leveraging emerging tech concepts such as software driven everything and infrastructure as code to drive efficiency in our product delivery lifecycle, reducing time to market and increasing competitive advantage.

Using digital transformation as an example, our biggest internal investments include delivering on our digital marketing strategy and brand to build a sustainable marketing/sales funnel, accelerating automation of our sales processes as an enabler for using emerging machine learning and AI tech to increase sales effectiveness, and overall, we are looking to continue a culture of becoming more efficient and more automated as an organisation to better support our own remote workforce. From a customer perspective, working to better enable the delivery of services to our customers while working remotely. We proudly carry as a competitive advantage our compliance and regulatory obligations, and enabling our customers to meet theirs, our technology operational plays a leading role in this.

Entrust is leveraging infrastructure as code to decreasing time to market of our solutions by enabling infrastructure self-service for our product teams, and by massively accelerating integration of acquired businesses, it’s a matter of simply shipping  a preconfigured network device they can plug in, it calls home to make sure all pertinent configurations and policies can be enacted rapidly, and everyone there can access their new company emails, network and other corporate assets, have the same system access rights as the folks in our other offices around the globe. Those are just some examples of the really interesting things we are doing.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? It is my job to make my CEO successful by using our commercial and corporate technology operation to enable innovation of all business functions, resiliency of our business portfolio, customer success, and enterprise operating efficiency. This works hand-in-hand with ensuring Entrust manages risk and competitive advantage and stays within the bounds of global security, compliance and regulatory frameworks. This allows us to continue to innovate, to sell more, better services to our customers and colleagues, without incurring the traditional costs so our portfolio can be more resilient, and our processes are scalable, repeatable and standardised across the entirety of our portfolio.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? My answer is a resounding yes on both fronts. My philosophy is there are two types of CIOs. Traditional CIOs are what I call brokers of technology, or the COE for ‘all things technology’. Instead, I think as a CIO I should serve the role of a value creator and value broker for the C-Suite and the shareholders. With digital transformation and the proliferation of tech, I believe more CIOs should fall into this category because they are more suited to a broader operational role and general business role with increasing commercial responsibilities. This is especially critical for technology businesses.

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, we as a company are very focused on digital transformation as I stated above. As part of this, we are focused on customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency. But there are some very hard facts that drive my thinking. I believe customer centric organisations are more profitable and provide higher value to their customers.

For me, this means digital transformation is not about putting out a bunch of new technology, but rather servicing the front, middle and back office in a way that allows them to act in unison. Often times, the back office has no line of sight to the front office. For example, for sales teams it’s a better customer experience if they can provide a quote for a product or service on site and not have to consult the back office to do so. I’ve experienced it myself buying technology for the company. It is mind boggling how long the process of getting a quote sometimes takes. And, when other vendors can produce a quote on the spot, I’m much more likely to move forward with them because they are bringing me more value as a potential customer.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Because Entrust is a technology business, I think we are about a 4 on 5-point scale in terms of maturity of our digital business. We’ve spent a lot of time building a lot of cloud metrics. We measure the cost of implementation of a customer, the cycle of a sale, the journey of a lead from acquisition to payment.

From an enterprise standpoint, I think we have a bit of work to do. Our operating model has been evolving and so as we evolve our business, we are starting to measure ourselves by different KPIs.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I’m assuming this is focused on cultural fit into a CIO organisation. This might sound like pointing out the obvious, but for us, it’s important to find people who are tech-savvy and aren’t afraid of new technology to enable the business. I also really want people in my organisation that I can feel confident putting them in front of a customer. These are people who have a deep understanding of professionalism and how to properly represent the company, and who will have the customer’s best interest in mind. My team needs to understand the problem the customer needs solved and approach the problem with that mindset before offering solutions.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? It’s difficult to fill traditional cybersecurity roles. You need people in those roles who can build the technology and can service our customers. That’s a hard skill combination to find. Also, it’s hard to find forward thinking cloud engineers. People with those skill sets typically come at a premium.

However, even though these candidates have been hard to find one saving grace of this global pandemic is that we now are expanding our search areas since we are all working remotely anyway. We don’t feel restricted to look for candidates in a specific area – they can work from anywhere.

What's the best career advice you ever received? It’s easy to be a really smart technologist, but to manage a high performing team is very difficult. You have to build skills for that. That’s the best advice I’ve been given and I tell my daughter that now as she pursues a computer science degree.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I do have a succession plan. The only real challenge for me with training up high-performing colleagues is actually in the follow through, in making sure that a talent development program is in place and that you find real stretch opportunities. I see it as part of my job to make time for developing my team. One important part of succession planning is to make sure that the stretch assignments are structured in a way that allows for failure. Given the society we are all living in today, that can be difficult. People expect excellence all the time so it would mean moving from an excellence environment to a learning environment.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My advice is pretty simple – Don’t take shortcuts. Be curious and have a penchant for learning, technology, business, finance, marketing, compliance...all of it. Having a strong work ethic is so very important, as well as an understanding that no work is bad work. Internalise and understand that you as a leader are only as good as your team and the people you work with.

I also always follow this basic principle - put your best people on your toughest problem, not only the sexiest problem. IT teams have a lot of day-to-day, nitty-gritty projects that make our business run. It may not be considered flashy work, but it’s the heartbeat of the business and the most necessary.

What has been your greatest career achievement? You know, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of building, selling and implementing dozens of technology platforms and solutions, worked for five great companies of varying sizes, complexity and geographies, and I’ve been a part of some pretty amazing projects, but for me the biggest accomplishment I’ve had, always comes down to building high performing teams and leaders. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve positively impacted people’s careers and they have grown and developed into strong leaders themselves to help their business succeed. It’s equally important to me that when I leave an organisation, it is in a better position than before I got there. It’s a point of pride to see people and organisations succeed and know you had influence on that.

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