CIO Spotlight: Vishal Gupta, Lexmark International

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “A convergence of C-suite roles is the only way forward, due to the importance now placed in technology.”

Headshot of Vishal Gupta, Global CIO & CTO at Lexmark International
Lexmark International

Name: Vishal Gupta

Company: Lexmark International

Job title: Global CTO & CIO, SVP Connected Technology

Date started current role: February 2021

Location: Washington, D.C.

Vishal Gupta is senior vice president and chief information and technology officer for Lexmark International. He leads global information technology, software development, data science, corporate strategy and Lexmark Ventures in a unified Connected Technology and Ventures team responsible for making connections — between customers, employees, products and strategy. Gupta joined Lexmark as CITO in February 2021. Prior to Lexmark, Gupta was global chief technology officer and senior vice president of Products and Platforms for Unisys Corporation, where he led a team of more than 1,500 engineers and drove innovation through emerging technologies like cloud and AI. Gupta is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, Wall Street Journal CIO council and founding board member of WashingtonExec CTO council. He is frequently quoted in the media as a technology expert.

What was your first job? My first job was that of a management consultant, after I had finished my master’s at Dartmouth College. I was lucky to have four job offers, and I picked the management consulting role since I wanted to learn about strategy and how to implement it.

Did you always want to work in IT? I always wanted to work in technology and spent the first 10 years of my career learning about all facets of technology, including strategy, services, pre-sales and finally – building technology solutions. I always sought to build and implement new products. Software and hardware technologies both fascinated me.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India where I achieved a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering. Then, it was onto Dartmouth College in the U.S. where I earned a master's degree in computer engineering. Following Dartmouth, I received an MBA as a Palmer scholar at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania – graduating among the top five percent of my class.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have always been fascinated by the power of technology, and I wanted to develop a solid foundation in both technology and business. That is why I worked across many functions in the first dozen years of my career, which helped me develop both a rounded perspective and empathy when driving a transformation – a critical component for large rollouts of systems. I also invested in an MBA, so I could be a valuable business partner whether I was leading IT or developing software products. Both these decisions paved the way to obtain more functional responsibility. The final piece that helped me was my tenure at Cisco, where I learned to lead large teams and operate in complex global and matrixed environments. Ultimately, it is all about people and the ability to motivate a large team, partner with business stakeholders effectively and drive a culture of learning so large transformations can get driven.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? IoT is a huge tech initiative within Lexmark. We’ve been doing it for more than 20 years as the foundation of our managed print business. This involves remote oversight of over seven million devices across more than 200,000 customer sites worldwide. We are also using IoT on our assembly lines for real time visual inspection of products.

In 2021, we realised we had all this great in-house expertise with IoT, so why not do something that moves our business forward in a radical new way? That led to the launch of Lexmark Optra IoT – a package of IoT tools, accelerators and Lexmark’s own IoT know-how that we now sell to other manufacturers who want to stand up their own IoT operation. It has received a tremendous reception in the industry, thus far. In 2023, we’re looking to expand by selling Optra IoT solutions tailored for retail, manufacturing and transportation. This is a completely new revenue generator for the company born out of our investments in IT.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The three key priorities of Lexmark CEO Allen Waugerman are to grow our core imaging business, position our adjacencies for success and scale our Lexmark Ventures – which looks at new markets for existing technology innovations. Underlying all these priorities is digital transformation, which enables us to drive better automation, more agility, lower costs and better customer and employee experiences – which in turn accelerates our growth. Thus, I am partnering with our CEO and our executive team across all three priorities.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? A convergence of C-suite roles is the only way forward, due to the importance now placed in technology. CIOs were previously relegated to improving the digital experience for employees, but the same factors that drove the transformation for those internal experiences are also driving better experiences for customers and partners, who fall under the purview of the CTO. They are both dealing with the same things and working with the same underlying technology. For example, a remote workforce is likely accessing applications and other corporate assets via a cloud – the same type of cloud technology that is delivering pay-as-you-go services to customers. The CIO and CTO are basically pulling water from the same well. This is why it makes sense to cross-mingle the roles. In my case, I am both CIO and CTO at Lexmark, which gives me broad authority to properly leverage our IT resources across the entire company. It’s a silo-breaking manoeuvre, which you need to have when operating a large, global tech company because internal separation can only lead to stagnation.

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? Absolutely. We’ve been on a digital transformation journey for a couple of years now with the emphasis on better experiences for customers and employees alike. For customers, it’s about delivering added value benefits on top of services we provide. We made that possible through an IoT platform that can predict when printing supplies are low and order replacement toner when necessary. For employees, it’s about creating new ways for them to collaborate, participate and benefit from our digital transformation. That can be working with the IT help desk or automating the product inspection line, so that our people can prioritise critical tasks.

How do we achieve that balance? We stood up a steering committee, where the five key leaders of our business units came together to define our digital transformation. Our commercial lead would evaluate the best way to engage our customer. A product lead would figure out the manufacturing process and an IT person would figure out the best way to process a support ticket. A digital transformation committee defined what we wanted to do and how to measure it – to keep us on track. Remember, it’s a never-ending, multi-year journey. You don’t wake up one day and say I achieved digital nirvana and stop. You need to be constantly transforming to stay ahead of changing trends. You can easily get lost if you don’t have a guiding principle to the business outcomes you’re striving for.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We’ve had the benefit of having a 20-year head start in becoming a digital business. We started doing IoT before IoT even had a name. Work group printers were among the first types of devices that were strung together. We’ve been putting sensors in our printers and managing hundreds of data points in them – from alerts to internal diagnostics.   

When it comes to KPIs for our IoT-powered managed print business, we’ve been able to resolve 70 percent of customer device support issues remotely, increase profitability by 25 percent via optimised utilisation and improve engineering efficiency by 30 percent. IoT also enabled us to add new, as-a-service offerings to achieve 40 percent in contractual or recurring revenue. Internally, we hit such a creative zenith with our IoT business that it just made sense to “productize” it into Lexmark Optra IoT and share it with the rest of the industry.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Lexmark is built on a culture of innovation where every employee has the agency to bring new ideas and experiences to the table. We foster it in a number of ways. We run a technology rotation program, where workers get embedded in different groups to learn how those groups work and thus, get exposed to new ways of doing things. It breaks down silos and creates more well-rounded workers. We also have an internal competition program where workers are spilt into different groups to ideate a new piece of technology. The winning technology then gets considered for a protype as a possible solution offering. Many of the pieces that went into our Optra IoT offering came about this way.

Worker flexibility also brings out the best in people. Last March, we implemented Flex@Lexmark, where our employees could customise their work schedule in partnership with their immediate manager. Employees are allowed to work remotely for up to two days a week. As a team, they determine which days are ideal to come into the office to maximise in-person collaboration. The same goes with the start and end times to their workday. This has markedly improved work and life balance in our return-to-office while also attracting, retaining and getting the very best in talent. Our employee engagement scores are 10-12 points higher than the tech industry average, which is itself higher than other fields.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Data scientists are a prized commodity. Even a rudimentary IoT or online operation is generating a metric ton of data. One can very easily get overwhelmed and fail to capitalize on it. That’s why data scientists are so crucial as they are on the frontlines of turning that data into ways for improving operations, creating new services, remedying potential problems and improving the bottom line. Recent hiring upheavals caused by the Great Resignation have made these roles more difficult to fill.

At Lexmark, we’ve taken the initiative in elevating our existing staff with the skills to fill those roles. Nearly 80 percent of Lexmark’s talent comes from our existing employee base, while 20 percent is from the outside. Our current pool of data scientists was built via a training and accreditation program we established with North Carolina State University. They are given a deep dive into cloud, IoT and AI. That program produced a 50-person strong data scientist team on top of the three people we initially had before, all of them pre-existing Lexmark employees.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The best career advice I received was early in my career. It was about taking initiative, doing any work to the best of my ability and viewing things from the perspective of a customer or the CEO. This helped me both articulate what needed to be changed and then taking that initiative to motivate a team to drive change.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I have a succession plan, not just for my role, but also for all critical roles in my CTV (Connected Technologies and Ventures) team. At Lexmark, we prioritise internal development of talent and expose them to different experiences that enable them to take advantage of new opportunities across the corporate ladder. To facilitate that, we create very structured career journeys including career rotations, broad exposure, and talent and skill development to put our best and brightest people in positions of leaderships.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Any digital transformation large or small is a journey, so you first need to know your destination to get there. Outline the business outcomes you want to achieve with any new IT implementation. Then, figure out a way to make it happen. If you don’t have a business need driving your project, then you are just burning money, effort and brain capital on a treadmill going nowhere.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I regard the turnarounds that I have been associated with as the biggest achievements that I had the privilege to lead. When I joined Symantec, my products were declining over 15% annually for the past three years. With new innovations, moving to SAS and leveraging AI, the team grew – with the same budget – those products by double-digits. I have been fortunate to see similar turnarounds in Unisys, and we are now on the cusp of great breakthroughs at Lexmark.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I am very happy with my life. I believe in destiny, so I don’t have a lot of regrets. The one area that I would have done differently would be to invest more in my health and serving the community right from the start of my career.

What are you reading now? Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock is an exciting book written by a Google Insider on how to live and lead.

Most people don't know that I… have travelled to over 80 countries and 500 cities for work and pleasure.

In my spare time, I like to…travel to learn about new places and cultures, play tennis and golf as well as partner with early entrepreneurs – especially in emerging countries where opportunity is limited and zest for innovation is great.

Ask me to do anything but… simply maintain the status quo. I like to transform and improve processes, talent, products, experience and outcomes.