CTO Sessions: Adam Spearing, Salesforce

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? "I think that the term “Digital Transformation” is somewhat overhyped. If you’re just focusing on doing what you do better, you’re not transforming."


Name: Adam Spearing

Company: Salesforce

Job title: EMEA Field CTO & SVP Solution Consulting UKI

Date started current role: September 2018

Location: Surrey, United Kingdom

Adam Spearing is the Field CTO for Salesforce EMEA. He is responsible for guiding CIOs on “how” to change to get the full value out of the Salesforce portfolio for their organisations. He is also responsible for partnerships with technology companies, such as Google and Amazon, as well as the work with Venture Capital and Private Equity. Spearing also drives strategy ensuring Salesforce have enough marketplace skills in the EMEA. In the 6 years prior to this, Spearing grew the EMEA Platform business and has been instrumental in many of the large transformation programs. Spearing’s joined Salesforce in 2012 and has a 27-year career in the technology industry including time with Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystem’s and a few start-ups.

What was your first job? Working for a small local company who dealt with power protection equipment for offices and manufacturing facilities. My role was to make sure equipment would keep running in the event of a power failure, a complicated role which required technical understanding I learned from my degree and allowed me to gain commercial experience.

Did you always want to work in IT? The short answer is, no. I’m an engineer by education but I realised during my degree that I didn’t want to be in engineering. I wanted to be in a client facing role and at the time I didn’t know what that looked like, or in what industry.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Bradford. During my degree I had placements with Eastman Kodak, working at a manufacturing plant doing engineering work on the manufacturing tracks. I chose not to follow the chartered engineering status and I went straight into a sales and marketing role after graduating instead.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I qualified with my degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering. As part of that, I did three industrial placements at Eastman Kodak. The first two placements were focused on engineering but during my third placement, I worked in the company’s imaging business. As part of my role, I wrote the Eastman Kodak’s ISO9000 procedure guides for the business. It was in that third placement that I got to experience what it was like to work in a customer facing, sales and marketing environment. I decided then, I no longer wanted to be an engineer, but I wanted to use what I’d learnt.

My first job in software started in January 1993 for a company called LabVantage as an ‘inside sales rep’ chasing leads. From there, I worked at a number of companies including HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems, before joining Salesforce in 2012. After learning about the platform and the developers, I realised the technology was right in my sweet spot.

I joined Salesforce with a team of five sellers across Europe in 2012 and we grew the business massively. I’ve worn a number of hats, most recently helping to set up four specific functions for the business - a CTO team, a technology relationships team, a team focused on venture capital and private equity engagements and another on people resources. Since 2018, I have also been running the solutions engineering team in the UK, which I do alongside my CTO role.

What type of CTO are you? I am a Field CTO. I’m not specifically responsible for our technology, but for helping others get the most out of it, including how to augment it with existing strategic technology. I spend a lot of time sharing what I’ve seen in the industry, and the lessons learnt about how to drive a true digital transformation and not just improve a department or a function.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly underpin much of our personal and professional lives in years to come. It’s already improving and simplifying our lives in more ways than many people realise, directly within our computers, smartphones and other connected devices. It’s enhancing patient services in healthcare, making online shopping easier and even proactively running diagnostics on our vehicles to keep us and our loved ones safe. And there’s huge potential for it to go further.

Everyone has a responsibility on how they use AI. Ethics must be baked into its application and usage from the very outset. In the majority of cases, AI is being used practically and with the sole intention of making people's’ lives easier. If businesses understand what it can do and treat it with the right approach, they will be able to transform entire operations to be faster, more accurate, and provide a better service. This is where our Salesforce platform, Einstein, can help to provide a layer of artificial intelligence which can be anything from a smart personal assistant to a real-time sales enablement tool.

As a society we have much more to learn about AI, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think that the term “Digital Transformation” is somewhat overhyped. If you’re just focusing on doing what you do better, you’re not transforming.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I’m really proud to have set up our undergraduate apprenticeship programme. When I first started out someone had to give me an opportunity, so I decided some while ago that I need to give the opportunity to others as well.

We’re currently on our second cohort who have joined from a variety of backgrounds; we’ve deliberately selected people who wouldn’t necessarily have access or the opportunities to complete a formal degree. While the majority of their time is with Salesforce, there are days where they go to college to learn their degree material. After three years, the students have a role, a degree and three years experience. I believe I have the youngest employees in the company in my team; I’m very proud of that.

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 tend to advise on strategy rather than delivering projects. There are several that I’ve been working with over the last few months and they are all focussed on improving customer and/or employee experience. By doing so, you both improve top line and build resilience into business so they can adapt. If you’re not capturing all your ideation and creating new ways to engage with customers (and revenue streams) then that’s not a true digital transformation.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Over recent months the way we live and do business has transformed forever. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen business strategies rewritten and technological innovations implemented within weeks which previously would have taken years. The shift to digital shows no signs of slowing down, yet our economies risk prioritising short-term results over sustainable success.

According to a recent Salesforce survey of business leaders across Europe, 82% of respondents say that they have digitally transformed their business as a result of the pandemic, however nearly 60% believe these innovations are only temporary. The top concerns they raise include ensuring cybersecurity, serving customers effectively, and engaging their workforce. All of which are only going to become more complex as the digital economy evolves.

Many businesses are looking for trusted advisors to help navigate them through these uncertain times. As consumer expectations go through the roof, organisations must understand that digital transformation is not an IT project.

Transformation is not achieved by simply improving things, but constitutes a company-wide change in behaviour. Technology teams and partners need full visibility across the entire organisation to execute it. The role of a trusted digital advisor, therefore, is to be prescriptive about what a business should be doing, and at Salesforce we’ve stepped up to do this. There are two speeds of engagement: helping customers run the business and helping them change the business.

How do you align your technology to meet business goals? One of the unique selling points (USPs) of Salesforce is that our technology is designed for everyone not just technical people. You can do almost everything on the Salesforce portfolio with a mouse or a keyboard. The last thing a CIO needs is a solution which requires a heavy lift from the IT team. CIOs need a platform that can be easily configured and reconfigured to the needs of the business and that’s what our platform and our applications do. By doing this we can unlock innovation in the business, rapidly deliver it with IT and absolutely transform the customer experience. This becomes a continuous cycle.

Because of how our technology works, it fundamentally changes the relationship between the business and IT. Traditionally this can be a confrontational relationship, but the Salesforce low-code CRM platform delivers a service which business teams as well as IT teams can take a role in configuring, developing apps on, and plugging in the relevant data sets. As a result, it becomes a co-creation. Delivery through the cloud means customers get three significant platform upgrades a year offering new functionalities, tools and speed of service.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Sometimes it’s not straightforward, however with the right compromises it can always be solved. The key is to start with the customer value and work backwards.

What makes an effective tech strategy? One that has minimal technology. Organisations overcomplicate and try to solve everything by having everything. Quite often they are given a choice of either buying best of breed or buying a piece of everything and as such, end up with a complicated stack of technology. If I was sitting as a CIO and looking at my technology, I’d look for the leanest stack, with the minimum amount of overlap with the best fit for purpose capability and maximum flexibility. I’d also pick my strategic partners, work collaboratively with them and cut out all the RFI/RFP/RFQ processes that waste time and often don’t deliver the right result - needs change faster than these processes.

An effective tech strategy must also focus on the customer, who should be at the centre of every business process. Having a 360-degree customer view is crucial for enabling brands to have more contextually aware interactions with customers. For retailers this may be understanding the most apt time to offer customers in-store or online discounts. Whereas manufacturers can gain invaluable insights which mean they can get ahead of demand based on what their customers are ordering and what decades of data suggest they usually need at a specific time of year. The data exists to inform the right approach at the right time across all industries – but by organising this data into a singular, 360-degree view, brands have better capability to avoid the former and execute on the latter.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTO is becoming one of the most important positions in the business. What we’ve seen and the way business has changed in the last few years, is that the CIO used to own technology related workstreams, and the CTO used to be the advisor to the CIO. What’s happening now, especially during this crisis, is that technology is more important than ever before and a strategy is needed. As a result, the CTO is now advising the board on what they can do and achieve.

What has been your greatest career achievement? It has been incredible playing a part in the hyper growth of Salesforce. Since 2012 our headcount has grown 10x and the breadth of our product portfolio has grown 20x, and I truly believe we’ve only just started.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I think, I would have taken more risk. We regret more what we didn’t do than what we did.

What are you reading now? Rebel ideas by Matthew Syed.

Most people don't know that I… Hitchhiked from Bradford to Paris and back in a weekend as a student, it was a bet.

In my spare time, I like to…Exercise and be with my family.

Ask me to do anything but… Write code!