CTO Sessions: Stanley Huang, Moxtra

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? “Absolutely. There’s trouble every day – but determining how to handle that trouble is more critical than reducing it.”

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Moxtra

Name: Stanley Huang

Company: Moxtra

Job title: Co-Founder & CTO

Date started current role: May 2012

Location: Cupertino, California

Stanley Huang is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Moxtra, and a veteran and pioneer of the collaboration industry. A seasoned architect of full tech stack coverage for cloud service and software development, Huang is a named inventor on more than 10 issued and pending patents. At Moxtra, Huang manages the entire product lifecycle from business alignment to service delivery, as well as development, data center operations and more. Prior to Moxtra, he was a Principal Engineer in the Cisco Collaboration Group, focused on the development and delivery of Cisco's next generation collaboration platform.

What was your first job? I started my career as a PHP Web Developer at WebEx Communications. This was back in the late 90’s and when I saw the WebEx demo with no software installation required – it was just the browser and allowed you to view another computer’s screen, voice, annotate and more – it was truly an eye-opening experience. I had no hesitation to join and was excited to be a part of this innovative new realm of technology. My first role at WebEx was focused on converting Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) web code to PHP code along with the overall company tech stack shifting from a Microsoft server system to Linux.

I have continued to find passion every day in where my career has gone since that first job and, looking back, I realise just how impressive the SaaS and cloud computing technology has been in leading the industry for the last two decades.

Did you always want to work in IT? For the most part, yes. In the early stages of my career, when I could not program a stable daemon agent running on a customer’s machine for months, I was discouraged. However, after accepting some of the uncertainty inherent in the career path, rather than relying on the comfort of certainty, I was able to utilise that as the fundamental philosophy to drive my passion for IT.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I attended the University of Science and Technology of China where I earned my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Automation.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Before I co-founded Moxtra as the Chief Technology Officer a little over a dozen years into my career, I had changed my position and role, as well as my technical focus every one or two years. I worked at one company (WebEx/Cisco) for that entire time, but in roles across almost every technical team and functional segment of technologies including Web, Client, Server, Data Centre Operations, SWAT style Task Force, Platform, API, etc.

This was a purposeful pathway to gain broad insights into all areas of the operation. Every shift in focus doubled, if not tripled, the level of challenge and influence on my understanding and skillset. Along with all those shifts in focus, my road to analysis and application of simplicity and clarity through fundamental logic has never changed. That is the path I use to build my philosophy of (IT) architecture, through understanding, alignment and balance.

What type of CTO are you? In line with that philosophy of Architecture, I consider myself an architect type of CTO. I am an architect of technology, business alignment and practical execution.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I see tremendous potential and opportunity with AI to aid in the operational process and lead to more meaningful human interactivity. I believe that it will lead the next growing wave of computing technology innovation for the next 30 years, particularly due to the ability to enhance and integrate with the human component.

For the past 30 years, computer technology has focused on computing “certainty”- providing consistent results where computing speed is the source of the power. However, AI is more than just that static computing power and the results it provides. AI adds another dimension on top of that incorporating judgement, understanding, learning and concluding, all which helps facilitate and enhances human interactions. AI will allow humans to invest time typically spent in more tactical or executional areas and free that up for people to focus on better service and higher-level creativity and thinking.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think that chatbots are overhyped and overused to a certain extent. There is much more brilliant innovation available to go beyond just simulating human interaction the way that chatbots do, especially with all the advancements that have been made with AI.

I think, in general, people are sceptical of chatbots and find them frustrating more often than they are truly helpful. With AI, there’s a stronger tool to facilitate human connectivity and interaction. For example, with AI you can employ highly interactive visual tools like video or virtual experiences to not only facilitate but enhance human connection. There is now so much more opportunity to correlate human interaction and high touch service through digital platforms which improves the customer experience and helps companies maintain customer loyalty.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Every day, I’m juggling at least five balls at the same time – but I’m extremely proud of the work being accomplished by our team. Each day presents new challenges, or a new stage of a challenge on the way to the pursuit of excellence in how we execute.

The latest initiative for us – and one we’ve been actively working through since late last year – is service re-packaging. Basically, exploring the best way to scale from what was already working successfully. So, we’re continuing to work through a variety of questions and problems at the same time, such as:

  • What is the best way to scale?
  • How do we align that with our current technology? Which sections might be compromised?
  • How do we make what was already working continuously keep working that way?
  • How do we influence experience for all stages of customers?
  • How do we control the risk if our predicted “best way” is not right?
  • How do we balance the team’s focus and bandwidth?

I’m proud of the work our team has done to tackle this exciting stage in Moxtra’s evolution. But at the same time, we are continuing to learn at each step in this process and adjust our strategy to continuously maximise our success. That constant navigation and adjustment is extremely rewarding.

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 live in a digital world. So, we are focused on providing a solution that meets today's digital expectations. However, we don’t think of ourselves as leading a digital transformation as much as we feel that we are helping businesses, and providing a solution to business, to transform digitally.

Today, digital transformation is essentially about enabling a business’s mobility model. With Moxtra, we are able to provide customers with a branded digital branch that is available right there, conveniently in their customer’s pocket, which provides a secure extension of the company across digital channels.

From a vendor point of view, the best digital transformation is a win-win scenario --  your customer experience is improved and thus that improvement can organically accelerate revenue growth. Behind the improvement is your operational efficiency. The way that we work to help make this win-win situation happen at a reasonable cost is to provide customers with a solution from a new dimension which focuses on the customer’s experience and provides a OneStop solution for the customer’s customer.

 What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? It goes back to that win-win scenario. We’re focused on creating that win-win solution to aid in our customers’ digital transformation to drive revenue growth.

 How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Technology should be serving the business. That’s an easy thing to say and understand, but it can be hard to do in the real world, especially for startups. The starting point of aligning technology and your business goals is to understand the vision of the business. Start with that outside-in value positioning and use it as a lens for any decision made about technology. Once you’ve put the business vision at the centre of your focus, you can decide how technology can best serve that vision.

I’ve seen instances where CTOs put the technology in the centre of their focus, which can confuse the decision-making process. The CTO should always have the overall business vision at its heart. At that point, the strategy to support the vision is critical. But without execution, nothing matters. Delivery through execution is the step to closing the loop to serve the business vision as a CTO.

 Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Absolutely. There’s trouble every day – but determining how to handle that trouble is more critical than reducing it. The key is to identify the level of trouble you’re in, then identifying how to address that mess from bubbling up to levels of concern above/beyond the impact area it’s currently affecting.

I’ve noticed too many examples where trouble-solving created an even bigger trouble-making situation due to a lack of understanding of the overall picture. To combat this, as soon as the CTO has a clear overall view of his or her technology, product, business with its abstract layers, and is able to identify troubles inside of this context, 80% of the trouble is already solved. From that angle, not all trouble is truly “trouble,” but rather it’s good exposure of the weakness within your system which you can then set out to solve.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Essentially, it’s the simple combination of aligning your business vision with your strategy and then executing against that strategy. The strongest tech strategy starts with an understanding of context. Then, it must align with the business model. Finally, you must have balanced execution among the layers to create the foundational factors that will help you to realise that vision.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? My definition of the CTO role is to support the CEO and the company’s business success – and so the role of the CTO will evolve with the evolving expectations that CEOs and operational leaders have for the way to increase business success with a technology strategy. That said, I believe that the CTO role will start to lean in deeper with the business side and increasingly help to bridge the business vision and engineering’s daily execution. The execution currently in most CTO roles will soon land more within the roles at the VP level.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Co-founding Moxtra, with the support from my partner and teammates has been my greatest career achievement – as well as continuously riding a journey of dynamic change. Before WebEx was acquired by Cisco, I served as the engineering manager for WebEx’s flagship product line which ended up contributing more than 70 percent of the company’s revenue at one point. So, I was very proud of the work my team and I did to drive such a successful product. Also, after the acquisition, I was extremely proud of the work driving Cisco Collaboration Service Group (CSG) and our next generation collaboration platform development efforts.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Not much. I believe that no single day is wasted and that every single dot is connected at a later stage.

What are you reading now? On War by Carl von Clausewitz and Memoires de Guerre by Charles De Gaulle.

Most people don't know that I… I am a very lucky person who has had the chance to work side-by-side with many brilliant people throughout my career.

In my spare time, I like to…Try anything fun and cool such as hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, photography, skiing, snowboarding, reading, and of also raising my kids and training my pets.

Ask me to do anything but… Always make sure that you did your homework on whatever I assigned you, since I will ask you questions about it before I dive in myself.