CTO Sessions: Yan Noblot, Webhelp

What has been your greatest career achievement? “Secured the IT for two Olympic Games.”

Headshot of Yan Noblot, Group CTO at Webhelp

Name: Yan Noblot

Company: Webhelp

Job title: Group CTO

Date started current role: November 2018

Location: Paris, France

Yan Noblot is Webhelp’s group Chief Technology Officer, setting Webhelp’s global IT strategy and ensuring that all systems are in place to support the group’s operations and objectives. Prior to joining Webhelp, Noblot was the Senior Vice President for ATOS, running the Global Digital practice for its application business. Before that, Noblot was responsible for the security and operations of the division delivering and operating critical systems for the Olympic Games.

What was your first job? I started as a network and systems engineer working for an oil and gas company in Houston, Texas.

Did you always want to work in IT? I have always been attracted to science and as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, I wear glasses and could not take the exams to enter pilot training. I went for the next best thing.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a MS in Telecommunications from Telecom Paris and an MBA from RSM Erasmus in Rotterdam.

I used to hold several technical certifications (now expired): CISSP, CISA, CCNA, CCNP, Solaris 2.8 Administrator, Checkpoint Firewall-1 Administrator.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Early in my career, I started as a systems and network engineer, then moved to information security and became a project manager. I had the opportunity to work on five Olympic Games and managed business units for an IT service company. I took a detour when I held corporate functions and was head of performance management for a listed company. Now I am looking after the IT systems (infrastructure, security, business application and IT service management) for Webhelp, a leader in customer experience. My journey took me to 8 countries and 3 continents.

What type of CTO are you? I am very pragmatic and try to lead by applying a few simple rules:

  • Care about the people and build strong teams.
  • Make sure everybody understands that they work for the business.
  • Stay passionate about technology and…
    Never let go

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I am really excited about the prospect offered by the metaverse. It will take some time to mature and reach its full potential, but I really believe it will transform the way we consume information, data and entertainment, the way we work, buy goods and services and the way we interact with people. It could change our life the way the internet did in the 2000s.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? In my view, the current state of AI is in this category. Don’t get me wrong, AI will change our lives and will affect us in ways that no one can predict; even my favourite SF authors 😉. The point I am trying to make is that today, AI is making baby steps. It is very good in some use cases (image recognition, for example) but not that good in many other use cases. It will get there eventually, but today it is nowhere near the level of maturity that the buzz would lead us to believe.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Out of the many initiatives that we have rolled out over the last 12 months, I am very proud of three in particular. We have built and are currently rolling-out, a global Data Lake. We are gathering and processing data from many internal and external sources to provide granular business insights about projects, accounts, HR, finance, sales and more. We have set up a global Cyber Risk Center covering security monitoring, vulnerability management, threat intelligence, incident response and security engineering. Last but not least, we are rolling out a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) running on a hybrid cloud to support the secure, flexible and fast deployment of our business operations everywhere in the world.  

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 undergoing an important digital transformation aiming at supporting the growth of the company and improving the efficiency of the operations. Revenue growth and operational efficiency are two faces of the same coin as it’s difficult to improve efficiency without growth and impossible to grow (organically) without being competitive in the market. In this context, all IT initiatives must have an ROI. Besides the obvious cost optimisation of some initiatives, we are looking at ROI coming from better business insight, lower business risk, faster time to market and other business benefits.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Our industry is all about providing the best customer experience with the right economics. To reach this goal, we are embedding more and more technology such as omnichannel, automation and data analytics. These technologies provide a superior customer experience, help our clients understand their customers better and process the activities that can be automated so that our advisors can focus on the tasks that need a human touch.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We have the privilege to have a very clear business strategy supported by Widely Important Goals (WIGs). My goal as group CTO is to contribute to the definition of the WIGs and then support them with the technology under my control. The technology strategy and the initiatives and programs that support it are directly linked to the WIGs.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Yes of course. Most technology providers are moving to a cloud-based subscription model. This works in many situations, but not when dealing with large-scale, mature technology which has had many years’ investment including the building of strong internal expertise. In addition, many of the AI-based technologies that we use are not mature enough or specifically designed to address our needs. In this case we develop/train our own models that match our context: Speech recognition with specific accents, and quality management, for example.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one that produces an outcome for which the business or the clients are happy to pay.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTOs are going to become the heads of In-house Systems Integration. Managing workstations, data centres and network infrastructure is not going away, but this is getting more and more automated and some of it will move to the cloud. As clients, functions and the business in general are moving more and more toward SaaS and cloud-based solutions, the CTO will have to assemble cloud, on-prem and customer-provided bricks to deliver solutions that meet the specific needs of a specific customer. This is exactly the role I had when I was leading a systems integration practice for a large IT service company.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Secured the IT for two Olympic Games.

Won a 10 year/4 Olympic Games contract for application development, IT integration, operations and security.

Led the turnaround of a 30,000-employee IT service division.

Led a 4,000-employee digital practice into double digit growth.

Leading the transformation of the IT department of a 100,000-employee company.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing. No regrets. I enjoyed the successes and learned from the failures I’ve had.

What are you reading now? The Call of Cthulhu and other weird stories, by H.P. Lovecraft. I am a big SF fan and have been since the day my grandma took me to watch “Return of the Jedi” at the movie theatre when I was 8.

Most people don't know that I… am Judo Black belt.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my wife and two kids

Ask me to do anything but… Be dishonest with my team or my management of the clients. I’d much rather have a tough discussion upfront, put issues on the table right away and build a solution together than take advantage of the misunderstanding to favour one agenda or another.