CTO Sessions: Simon Wilson, Aruba

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? “First you have to understand the business goals and that means listening to the different parts of the business and their daily challenges.”

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Aruba

Name: Simon Wilson

Company: Aruba, A Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company

Job title: CTO, UK & Ireland

Date started current role: November 2017

Location: London

Simon Wilson is CTO, UK & Ireland for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company. In this role he works as a brand ambassador articulating the Aruba vision for experience driven infrastructure. Wilson also works closely with Aruba customers and partners across all markets to design smart and secure workspaces that maximise business productivity. With over 25 years’ experience in the networking industry, Wilson joined HPE in March 2014. Before this, Wilson was with Nortel/Avaya for sixteen years where he worked across product management, marketing and channel operations roles. His experience also spans network design and electronic engineering.

What was your first job? My first job (after doing a paper rounds as a kid) was as an Electronics Apprentice for GEC’s Londex division in south London. The first year was off the job training at the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) centre in Croydon where I did 18 weeks broad based Engineering (Turning, Milling, Welding, Fitting, Fabrication and Electrical, followed by 18 weeks focussed on Electronics.

Did you always want to work in IT? Probably. I say that because although I was ‘bitten by the Micro bug’ – as my computer studies teacher said – back in school, I did not see a way for me the get there. I wasn’t particularly academic and thought that without a University degree (which I didn’t see myself achieving) it would be off limits.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I did my ‘O’ levels at Kelsey Park school in Beckenham and initially went back to start ‘A’ levels but it wasn’t for me. I left the A level course after 5 weeks to start my apprenticeship with GEC. Part of my Apprenticeship included day release to Croydon College where I obtained BTEC in electronics.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Absolutely. GEC Londex specialised in relays and electronics controls. However, GEC sold the company and the new owners scaled down the apprenticeship program, so I was made redundant. From there I went to work for an office equipment firm in Bethnal green, where my job was to repair electronic typewriters. From typewriters to word processors and serial communications. Then to PCs, small multi-user computers and then networking.

What type of CTO are you? I try to make things simpler to understand and I always try to see things from the customers point of view. I like to look past what something does and ask myself what will it do for them and why would they do it? I see my role as the interface between technology and business. To take what I know about technology and to find ways technology can help business. There’s nothing I like better than having a conversation around the art of the possible.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Actually, there are two. From a personal perspective I see Home automation as an exciting area that could help people live healthier lives and help achieve sustainability goals. The challenge is that the big tech companies need to get it right. I see too many instances where an exciting start-up gets acquired by big tech, only for ‘big tech’ to change direction and leave early adopter consumers high and dry. The other is AI from both a personal and business perspective. I see AI and is ability to spot patterns or anomalies, issues and behaviours faster than any human could (even of they were looking for it) as a tremendous time and resource saver. Who wouldn’t want to know what’s in the fridge and what you could make for dinner in 30 mins while on the way home? What IT team would not want to spot unusual device behaviour 2 weeks before they realise it’s a ransomware attack?

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Also AI. I see too many situations where simple automation is being passed off as AI. It’s an unfortunate trait of our industry that when the analysts cite a new category of technology as a game changer, many existing products get re-painted with that label. Unfortunately, it seems every new technology has to go through Gartner’s Hype curve. I think we need to get better at calling out when a label isn’t justified.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Changing the way we tell our story and the way we demonstrate our capabilities to better reflect customer environments. Throughput my career I have seen great technologies fail to catch on simply because the engineers were so proud of what they had done they just expected everyone to get it. At Aruba, we have really great technology, so I want to make sure that great technology does not get outshone by a better story or a slicker demo.

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? The two go hand in hand. Great experiences deliver the best operational efficiencies. The better the experience, the more people will use it and the more you benefit. The key is to be able to quantify not just the immediate and easy to measure benefits, but also the longer term more challenging ones like productivity and employee wellbeing.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Helping them reimagine the workplace as we emerge form lockdown and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses know the world will never be the same. The only question is what it will look like and how to spend limited budgets most effectively to out innovate their competition. A high proportion of workers will want to continue working remotely for at least a proportion of the time so how can we help make that work for the business and how can we help IT deliver a more distributed, yet more secure network.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? First you have to understand the business goals and that means listening to the different parts of the business and their daily challenges. The best customer conversations I have is when IT brings the different lines of business into the room. That’s when the ideas really start to flow.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Sometimes not every part of the business understands the tech strategy and how it will work for them. This can lead to a fractured strategy where different Lines of Busines go their own way. Its critical everyone knows the overall IT direction and what it will do for them.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Gaining buy-in from all parts of the business.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTOs will need to become more engaged with the experience to make sure IT investments fully deliver. I see the role evolving into a CTEO (Chief Technology Experience Officer)

What has been your greatest career achievement? Working on the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Many, many things. It must be my engineering background that makes me analyse most things I do and figure out a way I could have done it better. The business and personal side of me tries to move on though. If I had to pick one think – and this is more of a wondering rather than a regret - I think it would be running my own company. I ran a small IT reseller business back in the 90s but sold out when I got an offer to join Bay Networks. I don’t regret my time at Bay, probably the best in my career. However, I do wonder where my life would have led if I have continued with my own business.

What are you reading now? Get started with MicroPython on Raspberry Pi Pico – I am interested in microcontrollers and trying to get back into coding, but after 30 years it’s an uphill struggle.

Most people don't know that I… Can play the guitar and many who see me do it still think that.

In my spare time, I like to…Walk and Cycle.

Ask me to do anything but… Watch reality TV.