CTO Sessions: Giovanni Lanfranchi, HERE Technologies

What type of CTO are you? “I try to be quite a hands-on CTO, without losing sight of the strategic ‘big picture’ ahead.”

HERE Technologies

Name: Giovanni Lanfranchi

Company: HERE Technologies

Job title: CTO and SVP Development

Date started current role: January 2019

Location: Berlin

Giovanni Lanfranchi is Senior Vice President Development and CTO at HERE Technologies, the location data and technology platform. He is steering HERE Technologies into the next generation of location-based services based on platform-enabled applications and solutions in areas such as autonomous driving, transport & logistics, urban mobility, leveraging blockchain and AI/ML. Lanfranchi joined HERE Technologies from IBM in 2018, where he served as Vice President Global Technology Services and Head of WW Service Delivery Architecture & Technology, in charge of the overall IBM Services Platform with Watson. 

What was your first job? I started my career as an engineer working in the CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided Design/Manufacturing) area for various companies in the automotive and aerospace space. I soon realised it was more fun to build CAD/CAM software directly rather than just using it, so I moved into software development.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes. Even though my family was hoping I would pursue a career in education, I always wanted to work in tech and make things happen.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a PhD in Physics from the University of Milan. During my tenure at IBM, I also received the qualification of ‘Master Inventor’ because of my prolific patent portfolio and my active role in promoting innovation to junior technical employees, with a specific focus on minority groups.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I changed jobs and companies several times but there have been four major phases in my career to date. Firstly, I started in the CAD/CAM area as a user and then as a developer, where I was working on parametric and variational systems, which was leading edge technology at the time. I then moved into service management, where I led software development organisations to develop solutions to manage large and complex IT data centres. After this, I went on to develop the IBM Services Delivery Platform with Watson to streamline the entire service delivery lifecycle, leveraging cloud, AI and ML. Finally, I joined HERE Technologies to drive the HERE location platform, enabling location intelligence use cases for various industries.

What type of CTO are you? I try to be quite a hands-on CTO, without losing sight of the strategic ‘big picture’ ahead.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Rather than just one specific technology, I think it is very exciting to see the convergence of a number of important technology trends. For instance, deep learning has reached some maturity and a productivity plateau. Distributed protocols, such as blockchain, allow for secure and trustful cooperation across multiple parties and agents. Additionally, the rapid extension of cloud computing to the edge, in conjunction with technologies like 5G, is something to be excited about. When we apply these technology trends to location-centric use cases, I believe this will spawn several watershed moments and killer applications.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? In some sense, especially in the beginning, any technology trend tends to be overhyped - partly because everyone thinks they have finally discovered some ‘holy grail’ and partly because of the extensive marketing campaigns of the involved vendors. This was the case with AR, cryptocurrency, and many others. I believe that it is the job of a CTO to pragmatically look at all these trends and always evaluate them in terms of real customer problems they can address in the short- to medium-term.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Leading a team of over 3,000 people to create and develop the HERE location platform, building all the technology steps across it, starting from the foundation, the map content, the location services and multiple functions in terms of plug-ins. It didn’t come without its challenges though - all the assets needed to be integrated into a cohesive architecture and technology stack, and in order to do this, I had to change the team’s mindset to a more agile DevOps way of thinking. The final challenge was to ensure that all the assets on the location platform are easy to consume from a customer standpoint.

In terms of what else makes me proud, that would definitely include seeing the HERE platform not only supporting customers in their location-based value chains but also enabling their innovation and facilitating partnerships and ecosystems. Additionally, I am proud of watching my team grow and mature as a DevOps organisation, constantly learning and enjoying their work. For example, last year, I launched a ‘HERE Special Edition Hackathon Against COVID-19’ to which I invited all my developers to leverage the HERE location platform and build applications to help address some of the challenges created as a result of COVID-19. The results were impressive - both in terms of participation and application creation. Some of the applications are still being used by governments and municipalities to better address some of the impacts of the spread of COVID-19.

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? I am leading a major digital transformation – transforming HERE Technologies from a well-respected, global location data provider to a market-leading location platform that supports a wide set of industries, such as Automotive, TMT, Transportation & Logistics, across all their supply chains where location plays a fundamental role.  To meet this challenge, customer experience, revenue growth and operational excellence are key ingredients but rather than trying to find trade-offs between these, I always tend to apply lean start-up practices based on an agile continuous learning feedback loop, keeping the customer at the very centre of the process.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Leveraging a huge amount of sensor data in a secure and reliable way to rapidly produce ‘location intelligence applications’ to address use cases across various industries, such as highly autonomous driving or last mile delivery. In this context, ‘privacy first’ is a key area I always need to help our customers address.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? The end goal is all about the customer. We needed to make sure we did not build our location platform in our lab in isolation, but instead involve customers throughout the process. This way, we knew our platform would really maximise the value of customer data in an open and secure environment.

Of course, the alignment of technology and business goals is a continuous process and I found that leveraging agile methodologies was very effective for this purpose. Concerning software development, I am a big fan of involving customers along all phases of the software development lifecycle - all our products have key customers as ‘sponsor users’ and, when it makes business sense, we also consider customer co-creation possibilities.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Fortunately, at HERE Technologies, we have great alignment between product management and technology development. We tend to follow a ‘design thinking’ approach by which we develop end-to-end business scenarios and customer personas together as a team. From there, we determine the best fit into our HERE platform technology stack and focus on the market differentiation we need to derive from it.

What makes an effective tech strategy? There are many characteristics of an effective tech strategy but let me just point out the primary ones; a winning tech strategy should exhibit:

  • Service orientation: to enable flexibility and provide clear modular components with published interfaces
  • Openness: to enable third parties and external players to contribute and foster ecosystem creation
  • Technology differentiation: to provide technology differentiation while leveraging core company assets
  • Flexibility: to allow a variety of deployment models (e.g. multicloud, hybrid cloud) and consumption models (e.g. cloud, edge)

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I believe the role will become increasingly critical and expand in several directions. It will require greater customer understanding and better synergy with internal product management and product marketing functions. We’ll also see maniacal focus on ‘innovation that matters’ and the ability to leverage an effective learning feedback loop. I also think the CTO of the future will need to collaborate more with ecosystems, standards bodies, industry consortiums and open communities.

What has been your greatest career achievement? It is always best to let customers be the judge of that! That said, the realisation and creation of the current HERE location platform technology stack which enables customers from multiple industries and multiple geographies, to innovate on the HERE location platform in a highly collaborative and secure manner, makes me really proud.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have further accelerated the recruitment and hiring of talent to fill important senior technical positions within the company. Bringing in new skills and leadership competences is helping me to further evolve the company culture and this is an important enabler for digital transformation and for HERE to become the market-leading location platform.   

What are you reading now? It may seem bizarre, but I am rediscovering some authors that I did not enjoy so much at school; for example, I am reading books by some of the leading epistemologists such as Kant, Russel and Plato. With so much time spent on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, it is fascinating to see how knowledge can be considered from a different viewpoint.

Most people don't know that I… I grew up in the mountains, so I have no problems with skis, but I have a tough time in the swimming pool!

In my spare time, I like to…I love outdoor sports: soccer, tennis, skiing. During these times of COVID-19, I enjoy running around Berlin’s public parks.

Ask me to do anything but… Sing… a friend of mine had a theory that everyone can sing nicely since it is only matter of leveraging the right technique. With me, he ultimately changed his mind!