CTO Sessions – Soma Somasundaram, Infor

What type of CTO are you? "My view of being a CTO is to take my business background and my technical capabilities to create a business solution – there is no room for technology for technology’s sake."

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Infor

Name: Soma Somasundaram

Company: Infor

Job title: CTO, president of products

Date started current role: (as CTO) - March 2018

Location: New York / Philadelphia

In his current role of Chief Technology Officer, President of Products, Soma Somasundaram defines Infor's technology strategy and manages the design and rollout of the company's full suite of business applications. He has 30 years of global business experience in enterprise resource planning, supply chain, and financial applications. Somasundaram has been with Infor from the start and has continually applied his comprehensive understanding of the IT industry to play an integral role in the growth and development of Infor.

What was your first job? I started out in 1982 at Wang Laboratories, Lovell MA, working with minicomputers as a system developer.

Did you always want to work in IT? Before Wang, I was not really exposed to IT, but once I joined I fell in love with the industry and never looked back.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I attended school in North-west India. I took a 5-year programme in management and system engineering. This gave me a very strong functional business background combined with clear technical grounding.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After my time at Wang, I worked at Unisys (in the competitive systems division), then Novartis and then Infor – though throughout this time I did get a few stamps in my passport – from Bahrain, to Germany, the UK, Singapore, Switzerland, and Australia.

What type of CTO are you? My view of being a CTO is to take my business background and my technical capabilities to create a business solution – there is no room for technology for technology’s sake. I have always liked the idea of proximity to customers and I have kept close to the customer base that then enables us to differentiate Infor so much.  As a result, I set a challenging business strategy for our army of developers and technical talent – especially in light of our industry specific strategy that is based around continual innovation

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Despite the hype, the potential of AI is massive – we are driven to become more and more productive and AI (from the perspective of re-engineering business processes) can now take over the human element.  This is not to alienate humans but to free us from babysitting systems to adding value to customers – and this is the potential of AI.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I would have to say Blockchain. I can see that Blockchain has a lot of relevance in specific places – cryptocurrency / distributed ledger for example, but there are a lot of solutions looking for a problem… and the history of technology is not kind to that sort of approach.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? It is not really confined to the last year but the Infor journey has been about building software that addresses industry specific issues: latex allergies in healthcare, vat temperatures for brewing and the like.  It is our evolution of taking these into the cloud – our CloudSuites – that I look back on with great pride.

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? We do have the ‘Infor on Infor’ initiative, where we use our own software – for example expense management and analytics via Birst. And we are continually evolving how we interact with customers and looking to see how we can leverage technologies to improve those interactions.  

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Customers are facing the realities of a retiring IT workforce and realising they have no idea of how their solutions were implemented or the extent and nature of a lifetime of customisation. And they also face this issue as they look to exploit the undeniable benefits of cloud technology – so combined the biggest issue can be summed up as the move from customised, legacy on-premise software to cloud based technology.  

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? All customers now want to get rid of customisation and want ‘last mile’ functionality built in; but they also want a smooth path of evolution and to avoid the all or nothing big bang, so hybrid deployments and doing  whatever it takes to get the customer to get where they need to be is the core of our alignment.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? / What makes an effective tech strategy? The best strategy is one where the adoption has been thought through and is at the core of decisions.  We always remember that firstly we are trying to solve a problem and then secondly that the solution has to be built with technologies THAT DRIVE ADOPTION. The APPLICATION of the technology is what matters, not the technology itself to solve a problem. For example, no one wants a mobile app that needs a lot of training.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTO successes of the future will focus on how they partner with the business – be it internally or with customers.  The critical skill will be to listen to, and remain close to, customers and learn to dig and hold conversations that identify the underlying problem they have and solve it elegantly.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I have been in tech for 37 years and there has been ferocious change - the internet, mobiles, smart phones, the cloud.  Just sticking around has itself been quite an achievement – especially as I feel I have continued to learn, adapt and USE that experience

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Not really – everything I have been part of has enabled me to explore a lot of cultures and I have had some extensive travels as well as shaped a lot of businesses. It has been incredibly gratifying.

What are you reading now? I am not a massive fiction reader but as you mighty expect, I read up a lot on current technologies.

Most people don't know that I… get priority notifications on new wines in my area: I am a bit of wine fan and whenever a new bottle arrives in a hotel or store, I get an early warning.

In my spare time, I like to…run and hike, far away from technology and business.

Ask me to do anything but… eat salads, even though I am vegetarian.