CTO Sessions: Eric Raab, KX

What makes an effective tech strategy? “An effective tech strategy is one that delivers an unfair advantage to your business.”

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KX

Name: Eric Raab

Company: KX

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: March 2021

Location: New York

Eric Raab has responsibility for research and development and the technology roadmap at KX, with a focus on accelerating the expansion of the KX platform across industries. As an accomplished technologist and leader in software, cloud technologies, infrastructure, and SaaS product delivery, Raab brings a wealth of CTO experience gained at high-growth technology companies serving a broad range of industries including most recently Information Builders. Prior to that, Raab was CTO of Yodle Inc. a digital marketing firm acquired by Web.com (NASDAQ: WEB) and has also held CTO and senior engineering positions within telecoms and networking firms, including at M5 Networks and Line2.

What was your first job? My first job was as a stock clerk for an auto parts company. Within the technology sector, my first job was doing applied research for Bell Laboratories, working on diffraction-limited laser optics.

Did you always want to work in IT? I always had an interest in math and was a physics major, so I’ve always had at least tangential interest in this space. IT has really evolved in recent years, and software has taken over the world. So, it was almost inevitable that I ended up in IT.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career in applied research, where I spent seven years before transitioning to a CTO role. Since then, I’ve spent the last 25+ years in the role of CTO or VP of engineering for different types of tech companies. That role is one I really enjoy, which has driven my career trajectory.

What type of CTO are you? I’d like to think a good one. My strength is aligning the overall business strategy with technical design and delivery. As a CTO you really need to straddle both worlds. There isn’t a CTO out there who has the luxury of not getting into the gritty details of either the technology or the business.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Streaming analytics! It’s an essential technology for things most people don’t even realise. Soon, the wider world will better understand the capabilities and impact it can have. No data is static and it’s all constantly evolving over time. Understanding where and how and new ways to apply it will revolutionise industries.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I tend to avoid being negative toward other peoples’ passions and life work.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? My team recently took on-premise software that was single tenant and created a multi-tenant version that was cloud-native. Everyone told us after that they didn’t think it was possible, so we were really proud to be able to deliver. It partially inspired my recent move to KX (a part of FD Technologies), as this task fits in to what we’re doing here with our recently launched KX Insights. It’s essentially the same thing, but bigger and better.

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? At my last company, we moved from running off mainframes for tasks like managing our accounts payable etc., to a more modern infrastructure that integrates with other easily accessible tools. Currently, we are doing similar things at KX, and more broadly throughout FD Technologies, with our IT systems. We have two repositories at the moment and there are multiple ways of cataloguing. So, we are going through our own digital transformation to make workflows more efficient.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? For many customers, the software they are using is really slow. With that, they’ve built out applications that are full of various features, but it remains all too slow. We are coming to them with a streaming analytics platform up to three orders of magnitude faster, which allows them to do a wider array of things that they were previously incapable of doing.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? I have an in-depth planning and communication process I used that is at the core of our workflows. When dealing with the intersection of technology and business, there are so many variables and dependencies that it requires transparency first and foremost. We mandate that and promote publicising internally the tasks and strategies that everyone is working on across the organisation.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not at all. Technology almost always evolves incrementally, so future innovations are based off previous inventions. The product strategy typically solves one or more problems that arise due to shortcomings of existing technologies, and there is usually a technical path to finding that solution. The only tension that arises is due to timing: The business naturally wants solutions delivered as soon as possible, but engineering needs time to build and test properly before a release. 

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one that delivers an unfair advantage to your business. You need to have at least one technical solution that nobody else has. You can then leverage your “monopoly” power to drive sales and increase market share.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTOs serve at an interesting crossroads within organisations. To be effective, you need to straddle being involved in the minute technical details while also playing a role in the larger business strategy. For organisations of the future, CTOs will need to ensure technology is placed at the forefront of overall business strategy.

What has been your greatest career achievement? To me, my greatest achievement has been seeing the great growth from my colleagues. Overall, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great people and great companies. Collectively, we’ve been a part of some great launches and career developments.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Tons of things! I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

What are you reading now? I am reading the Three Body Problem trilogy by Ciximn Liu. I highly recommend it, even if you are not a science fiction fan.

Most people don't know that I… Would win most games of Jeopardy, given the chance!

In my spare time, I like to…Cook, read, garden, ride my carbon-frame road bike, and walk in the woods.

Ask me to do anything but… Paint your house!