CTO Sessions: Lars Rossen, Micro Focus

What makes an effective tech strategy? “Decomposable: It should be possible to understand at a very high abstraction level by non techies, and then be able to decompose in steps down to the individual products and modules.”

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Micro Focus

Name: Lars Rossen

Company: Micro Focus

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: November 2020

Location: Denmark

As CTO for Micro Focus, Lars Rossen is working on cross portfolio alignment and associated though-leadership. Before taking the role as CTO Lars was the chief cross-portfolio architect for Micro Focus. Rossen created the first version of the IT4IT Reference Architecture, which is now an international standard governed by The Open Group. Rossen serve as chair of the board of The Open Group and continue to lead the work on IT4IT. The initial work on the standard was done while Rossen was an Hewlett Packard Enterprise Fellow. In Micro Focus the IT4IT reference architecture form the basis for aligning and integrating the Micro Focus portfolio of products.

What was your first job?  I come from a small town in a small country, my dad worked at the local shipyard and I was always told that to be successful you had to work for it. My first job was distributing newspapers. The job taught me the lesson that money is not free. Fast forward to my university years, I landed a job as a developer for an investment bank. It taught me the difference between the academic aspect of computer science and the practical aspect of getting things done. My most rewarding experience was delivering a complete SW solution for computing margins on financial instruments, which was a manual job 1980’s. As a birthday present to the department head, I constructed an automated solution. This started with an interview in the morning, a prototype at noon, a production version at 4pm. I got a great pat on the shoulder for this (and a pay increase!) This was a true DevOps example, before the term have even been coined.

Did you always want to work in IT? My family was not academic, but somehow, I turned out to be the family nerd, so anything in the STEM always had my deep interest. I had this dream of becoming a professor in electronics which morphed into researching computer engineering. I even developed my Ph.D thesis on using higher order mathematics to create provable correct VLSI design.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a master’s in Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark. After that, I earned a scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in Math and Computer Science, which was partly done at the University of Glasgow. (This was around 1990 when the field of higher order logic and Functional Programming was a hot topic and many of the leading researchers were based in Glasgow.) Later, when I complemented it with an MBA in technology management, I joked about moving to the ‘Dark Side’.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I always knew that I wanted to work with technology, but my initial plan was to take an academic path. Then a friend asked me to “jump” to the commercial sector and I never looked back. Once while I was a CTO, I considered going back to school to study biology, but then the board of the company asked me to step up as CEO. From there, I stayed on the IT path.

What type of CTO are you? Explorative and unifying are the two words that come to mind. One of the important aspects of transitioning into a CTO role from an individual contributor role is to change from being “the innovator” to be the “change agent”. A great way of creating change is to connect people that do not normally work together and inspire them to collaborate on topic that propels the company in the right direction. At Micro Focus, we are an organisation with 10k+ people so my mantra is to “connect the dots” because together we are amazing.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I have always been fascinated with technologies that are not directly in my own line of business. If we manage to find a breakthrough in solid-state Lithium batteries, then the green revolution will explode. To me that implies that the supporting technologies around IoT/OF needs a massive upgrade from a connected and scalability aspect as well as a cyber resilience perspective. Second, reusable rockets signify that a completely different kind of business can be created - just look at Elon Musk’s Starlink service. IT itself has very little ‘exciting’ advancements, but Safe Type for provable secure systems could help win the battle over OT/IoT.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain. We had immutable ledgers before blockchain, and we can implement it much more efficient by other means. A derivative of this is NFTs, and while I am not against digital art, it sure looks like a bubble.

AI. love AI technologies and there is a lot we can do using these, but they are not “intelligent”, and require a lot of training to resolve the issue of “garbage in, garbage out.”

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I helped evolve the concept of a “factory for digital”, based on value stream thinking, which furthers the concept of the industrialisation of digital and DevOps. Based on that, we developed seven essential value streams that can be used to deliver and optimise that factory and are about to release this as a major update to the IT4IT standard.

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? Certainly, balancing both is really boils down to metrics and results. At the end of the day the goal is to improve the bottom line, so invest where there’s the most return. The real challenge is balancing short term and long terms gains. We talk about “run and transform” - balancing running with efficiency and at the same time leading change. It is not easy, but it is essential.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Implementing digital factories that accelerate delivery of new services, simplify operations, strengthen security and provide good insight

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? I introduced value stream thinking for digital back in 2014 with the IT4IT standard. This has now been picked up by a number of leading frameworks and analysts. Value stream thinking is about driving all IT decisions around business value. Having strong theoretical background in both tech and business helps connect these concepts.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? We are a technology company, so tech strategy defines product strategy - no conflict.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Decomposable: It should be possible to understand at a very high abstraction level by non techies, and then be able to decompose in steps down to the individual products and modules.

Long-term: it is not about selecting individual technologies and foundation. A good tech strategy can last for decades.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Some of the most successful tech companies have had a tech visionary as leader. The CTO role is to ensure that the company have a long-term viable strategy.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Creating the IT4IT standard.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Better timing. I worked on a cloud provisioning product back in 2008. It was really five years before the industry needed it. We came up with value stream thinking for IT back in 2014 with the first release of IT4I and it is only now it’s mainstream. Bad timing requires perseverance, which I fortunately have.  

What are you reading now? Heroes by Stephen Fry: (Greek mythology). Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker (I also read his Cyberpunk novels). Agent Cormac Novels by Niel Asher (Space Opera).

Most people don't know that I… Am a trained Firefighter.

In my spare time, I like to…Do house repairs, woodworking, and bicycling. I believe using your hands and getting your hard beat up is a great way to improve your mental health.

Ask me to do anything but… Doing repetitive task. I hate repetition.