CTO Sessions: Andreas Gabriel, Beyond by BearingPoint

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? “The technology that is still driving a lot of our technology strategy is cloud computing. It’s been out there for a while… but it is constantly evolving.”

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BearingPoint//Beyond

Name: Andreas Gabriel

Company: Beyond by BearingPoint

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: September 2017

Location: Graz, Austria

Andreas Gabriel leads the technology strategy for Beyond by BearingPoint, a rapidly growing SaaS-based BSS and digital platform solution provider, bringing more than 15 years of experience to the role. He is responsible for fostering innovation within the business, adopting new technologies and ensuring a market-relevant product development roadmap. Gabriel was the driving force behind the migration to a fully cloud-native offering, namely the company’s flagship Infonova Digital Business Platform as a SaaS solution. Gabriel collaborates with leading industry players and works closely with customers, across both business and IT facets, to solve the technical challenges of transforming into the agile and open environment necessary for an advanced operation.

What was your first job? I began my career at BearingPoint back in 2003 as a Software Developer. A couple of years later I moved into a solution architecture role where I was designing and implementing business and support systems, primarily for telecoms customers.  

Did you always want to work in IT? I’ve always wanted to do something with computers. I started to get interested in software development with my first computer, a Commodore C64 and later on continued developing small applications with my first PC while I was at school. My studies and internships helped reinforce my love for software and pursue a career in this field.  

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My studies were a combination of computer science and electrical engineering. I quickly realised that I was more interested in the software than the hardware and therefore focused the second half of my studies on software engineering.   

I have a Master of Science in Information and Computer Engineering from Graz University of Technology (Austria). As part of my studies, I spent a year at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. During my work I had the opportunity to attend a Leadership Skills program at The Yale School of Management.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I haven’t taken any detours in my career. I started as a software developer, spent a lot of time coding and gradually led software development teams before moving into a solution architecture role. In 2010, I had the opportunity to become VP of Product Management and led the software product management of the Infonova Software product. Our company at that time was moving from being a professional services project-based company to a product and solutions-based company. It was a very exciting time as it was completely different to what I had done before. I was leading the setup of a product engineering organisation, establishing governance and processes for the roadmap and release planning as well as support and maintenance. Then in 2018, after the company became BearingPoint//Beyond and started focusing on Digital Business Platforms and SaaS solutions, I became the CTO and the person responsible for the technology strategy, R&D and delivery of those SaaS solutions.   

What type of CTO are you?  There are two things that I see as the most important in my role:

  • Management and coaching – Bringing the right engineers into the right jobs, empowering them, giving them the space and the guidance to develop professionally, while at the same time, allowing them the freedom to initiate and test new ideas and cultivate innovation. I encourage the team to think further and challenge decisions or “ways of working” in order to keep improving how we run our organisation and support our customers.
  • Staying close to our customers and understanding their needs – As a CTO, I don’t see technology as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For me, it’s just a means to solve customers’ problems. It doesn’t help if you use the latest and greatest technology and make sophisticated solutions if your customers don’t really need them. Therefore, as a CTO, I’m in regular contact with customers, partners, sales, industry bodies and analysts, inputting as much of that knowledge into our technology roadmap as possible.

From a character perspective, my team would likely say I’m very much into the details. I want to understand everything, what we are using and why we are using it. If I don’t understand it, I won’t be able to explain it to my customers. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? The technology that is still driving a lot of our technology strategy is cloud computing. It’s been out there for a while and is not considered an emerging technology anymore, but it is constantly evolving. There is so much more to come from it. If you look at serverless computing for example, it has really transformed the way software development works and makes it easier for scalable solutions to be developed.

If you also think about AI and the expansion to the Edge with new technologies like 5G, IoT etc., all of that is inconceivable without having proper cloud computing in place. I think the constant evolution of cloud computing is one area that will continue to impact us most and I’m really excited to see what’s coming next.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Blockchain – it is so overhyped. There was a time when it was perceived as the silver bullet for everything and I remember senior members in our organisation telling us we needed a roadmap for blockchain. However, no one could really explain to me why our customers would need this. It’s a great technology and I understand the value of it, it’s fantastic if you implement distributed ledgers, but it’s not one to explore for everyone.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? The one initiative that is the most exciting is that we started to incorporate analytics and intelligence into our solutions. It’s amazing what we can find in data when we drill down into the details. Embedding data and AI in our digital business platforms will expand the possibilities and will unlock a lot of opportunities for our customers and their partner ecosystem.

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 are a digital company by nature, so we’ve never really led explicit digital transformation initiatives but continuously transform the way we deliver our solutions. Operational efficiencies and customer experience are always very important topics and we continuously work on improving both, but we are not running a specific digital transformation initiative like other companies would do. However, we're already cloud-native and our years of experience developing a SaaS solution that leverages the flexibility of the cloud to drive speed, higher efficiency and agility means we can impart this knowledge to help our customers thrive on their digital transformation journey.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Our customers are predominantly in the telecoms industry so one of the main issues they are currently facing is that connectivity services have become commodity and it is very difficult for them to grow revenue. At the same time there are a lot of new technologies such as IoT, 5G, Cloud/Edge, AI that represent an opportunity for them to grow beyond connectivity, especially by building advanced solutions to their B2B customers. To build these solutions they will have to collaborate and co-create solutions with an ecosystem of technology partners and vertical specialists. However, they are struggling to do this as a lot of their IT systems do not provide the required level of flexibility and agility to go beyond connectivity and start selling these solutions. This is where we come in. Our digital business platform solutions enable them to quickly launch and monetise solutions comprised of multiple elements and partners. 

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? The one thing you always have to keep in mind is that technology is only a means to solve the problems of your customers, not using technology just for the sake of it. If you put customers first and think about how and which technology can help them, this implicitly aligns your technology with your business goals. For example, think of global CSPs who invest in buying assets in different markets. While they enjoy success on a local market level, they can’t maximise the benefit on a global level, so they don’t benefit from economy of scale. We use our digital business platform to enable organisations to develop something in one country or centrally, and then automatically and seamlessly sell it locally.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Constantly. You always have to balance quick wins and immediate requirements coming in from customers which interferes with the long-term strategy, market evolution and technology plans. We regularly have debates about how to solve immediate problems without creating too much distribution to the long-term goals.

As long as these decisions are transparent and everyone understands the pros and cons, I don’t think it is a big issue. One important thing we do is always reserve some capacity to handle any customer requirements that may arise, so they don’t have too much impact on our long-term plans.

What makes an effective tech strategy? That’s a really good question. I would boil it down to four things:

  • Listen to your customers and anticipate their future needs – keep in mind what your customers want to achieve whilst also looking ahead and preparing for their future needs.
  • Focus on consistency and repeatability – engineers are very often innovators and don’t like to do the same thing twice. Therefore, it’s very important that you direct the focus to the right topics and establish repeatability and consistency in your technology stack and solutions as this is the only way you can scale and be successful. You can’t reinvent the wheel every day and every week.
  • Having said that, never stop to innovate and consistently transform – it’s important to be consistent and repeatable but you always need to invest in innovation and make sure that your technology stack constantly improves and you experiment with cutting-edge technologies. It doesn’t work if you have to rebuild everything from scratch every three years when new technology arises. It’s much better to continuously transform your architecture in small steps in order to move forward.
  • Don’t forget the people – there is no such thing as resources in the technology domain. You should not talk about engineers or developers as resources and ask how many you need. Your technology strategy and the technology you are using needs to align with their skills and capabilities. You need to take them on the journey, you need to continuously invest in them and make sure they improve but it doesn’t help to get the latest and greatest technology, throw it to your team and ask them to get something out of it.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? It very much depends on the company, its business environment, organisational structure, and people you are working with. But the one thing I believe will always be the responsibility of the CTO is making sure your company consistently innovates, keeps track with the latest developments in technology and identifies how you can make best use of them for your customers.

What has been your greatest career achievement? The one thing I’m particularly proud of is how we managed to transform a rather large piece of software in a very lean and agile way over the last 10+ years. Today, this means our customers benefit from mature, function-rich software with the advantage of cutting-edge cloud native technology. Our software is more than 10 years old, and we are now in a position where we have on one hand a functional, mature piece of software that is out there in the market with lots of customers using it. While on the other hand, we’ve managed to keep track of the evolution of technology, so we are not on a technology stack with legacy technology. We have transformed it continuously, so we now have a cloud-native architecture. We didn’t need to undergo any major re-writes or a costly rebuilding of the entire solution. It’s something I’m proud of and the whole team should be proud of too.  

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? You always learn from the past and there are so many things you would have done differently if you had the knowledge you have now. But I prefer to not look back at 2020 and look forward instead, it’s more important.  

What are you reading now? I’m actually reading a book which really fits perfectly into my stereotype as a CTO. The book is called Fighting Churn with Data: The Science and Strategy of Customer Retention by Carl Gold. It’s about how to use data and technology to identify customers that are likely to churn a subscription model. It’s an exciting topic we are looking into as a business at the moment.

Most people don't know that I… was programming a simulator for a real battle tank during my military service in Austria.

In my spare time, I like to…be outside, enjoy nature and combine it with different types of physical exercise such as running, cycling, hiking or mountain biking.

Ask me to do anything but… offshoring and treating employees as resources or numbers.