CIO Spotlight: Prashanti Aduma, Dialpad

Do you have a succession plan? “I always look at how people can grow into my shoes... I see succession as mentoring people on a daily basis to ensure that they will one day be ready for the role.”

Headshot of Prashanti Aduma, CIO at Dialpad

Name: Prashanti Aduma

Company: Dialpad

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: November 2022

Location: San Francisco

Prashanti Aduma is a transformative leader with more than 20 years of leadership experience at high-growth startups and enterprises. She is the company's first ever CIO and plays a significant part in advancing the core business systems, data, and security framework in concert with Dialpad's rapid growth and global scale.

What was your first job? My first role was an Applications Developer at Stanford University. I was born and raised in India. I am a mechanical engineering graduate and also completed my post-graduation diploma in computer applications before moving to Silicon Valley. I quickly realised I was getting super bored and there were not many entry-level opportunities for mechanical engineering. At the time every company in Silicon Valley was very anxious to resolve the Y2K flaw, more famously known as the ‘millennium bug’ and there was a lot of demand for young programmers. As the saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’

That’s when I updated my resume, went to a tech job fair and got my first job at Stanford University.

Did you always want to work in IT? I had always been interested in engineering as my dad was a mechanical engineer, so I had grown up around it, but never actually considered IT. I landed in the IT sector by accident, but fell in love with the field and I never looked back. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time - there was so much innovation going on in this field. I had an opportunity to work not only in different segments of the IT field but also in a variety of industries that helped me to gain 360-degree experience on various business processes and corresponding technology.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied mechanical engineering at Osmania University in India, then went on to complete a postgraduate degree in computer applications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Working in the technology sector was a beautiful accident. I never planned to become a CIO, but always had the student mindset to constantly seek and learn new things. I was never hesitant to take on projects and sign up for things I had no clue about and execute them. That's how I learnt a lot! I always focused on solving the problems and with every successful execution, the next set of opportunities and promotions followed.

Having great mentors and managers also helped me to see the bigger picture and realise the potential I had. They helped me to push the boundaries.

I have a lot of affinity to startups, Dialpad is my fifth startup. I joined the company as its first CIO. Startups have been a highlight of my career path as you are given the freedom to build the company from the ground up. In addition to startups, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of industry verticals. After starting my career at Stanford, I worked at a variety of companies including VMWare, where I managed worldwide IT applications, Vlocity, where I was responsible for the full suite of front and back office business applications, and Salesforce, as Senior Director of Enterprise Services.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Digital and data transformation will be the most significant focus for us. The pandemic changed how we do business overnight, and companies now have to be able to seamlessly collaborate around the world. Digital transformation and embracing new technologies will drive IT investments in our organisation as it is the key to bringing productivity and efficiency to the company.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? For the CEO, digital transformation is also going to be his top priority. This year is all about automations, data driving business decisions, as well as driving customer experience, value and growth. We are focusing on setting up foundations for a state-of-the-art technology framework.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of the CIO in a startup is completely different from a large enterprise, so I have more than the typical CIO responsibilities, and often have to wear many hats – this can often be distracting but ultimately it comes with the job. I do believe the role of the CIO is changing. Now we have bigger technology responsibilities and have to make a lot more decisions. The role has changed since the pandemic, and CIOs need to be flexible.

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 definitely leading a digital transformation. We are ensuring that all GTM functions are streamlined to industry standard through digital transformation and also looking at how it can transform customer experiences. Our digital transformation initiatives are focused to drive our customer experience, drive retention and expedite the growth of our clients.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our most important KPIs are net new revenue growth ( Net new ARR), customer experience, customer retention and free cash flow – we measure ourselves with a customer first mindset. Everything is based around the customer, so we look to see how our systems can help the external customer experience. Our KPIs are not just internal, they are also external. Every business function is looked at from a customer addition and customer  retention lens. When I first started at Dialpad, the company was not very digitally mature, so a lot of work was put in to ensure that we could measure Dialpad’s ability to create value through digital.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A culture that I encourage at Dialpad is one of empowerment, empathy and respect. To cultivate this, I enjoy empowering team members to make the right decisions, embrace more challenges and think differently. I always remind them what they can do to make a difference. People are able to think more creatively if you empower and reassure them – this is really important for employee experience and company culture.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The roles that we are expecting to be the most difficult to fill are those that require specific skill sets and training, such as those in the security, risk, data science and artificial intelligence/machine learning space. There is often a gap in the market for these roles, so it is important to consider candidates with technical backgrounds that may have transferable skills from other industries. This could range from individuals with a background in mathematics, research or other fields that require strong analytical and research skills.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The best career advice that I ever received was to face my fears. It may seem simple, but once you confront what you’re afraid of in life, you can learn, grow and do things that you may have never thought possible. This is the reason why I am in the role that I am in today, and has permanently opened my mindset to embracing new challenges.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I always look at how people can grow into my shoes. Do they have listening skills, an empathetic character and the passion that they need to do this job? These are the traits that I look for when I hire leaders that come into my organisations. I see succession as mentoring people on a daily basis to ensure that they will one day be ready for the role. It is all about having a ‘student mindset’ and making sure that your successors are always willing and open to learn.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Although there is no certain methodology to becoming an IT leader, there are personality traits and technology skill sets that people can learn and adopt in order to become a great leader. Having a leadership mentality, creating an environment of trust, always ensuring you are accountable, being authentic and respectful to everyone. Leaders also have to aspire to a purpose that’s greater than themselves, have great listening skills and always be open to feedback.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest career achievement was at a previous company when I made the ‘impossible’ possible. I was brought in to manage corporate operations, but the Chief Technology Officer called me and asked if I wanted to revamp their ecommerce strategy. There were significant challenges to overcome, but within 6 months we were able to stabilise and set up the company to scale for next few years. There was another group at the time that was building an ecommerce platform that was going to be ready in a year. They went live on the new platform and within three weeks they had to shut down, as it had so many issues. We were given five days to sort out a crisis and revert to the old system – it was the biggest challenge I’ve ever experienced! For five days we didn’t leave the office, but we rolled back successfully and scaled the entire system again and we got the opportunity to build something brand new.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Looking back, I feel I could have taken more risks, been more proactive in learning new technologies at an accelerated pace and mentored more.

What are you reading now? The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups By Daniel Coyle. It's a great book that provides a step by step guide on how to build efficient, effective and happy organisations. A must read for all the leaders!

Most people don't know that I… am a trained Indian classical dancer and received a national award for a ballet at the age of 10.

In my spare time, I like to…Read, go for hikes and spend quality time with my family.

Ask me to do anything but… Make sure it has a good purpose, can be conducted with honesty and empathy.