CIO Spotlight: Avon Puri, Rubrik

CIO Spotlight: Avon Puri, Rubrik

Name: Avon Puri

Company: Rubrik

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: July 2018

Location: Santa Clara, California

Avon Puri is the CIO at Rubrik. Previously, he led business applications at VMware as VP of Business IT. He was recognised as a 2016 ‘Premiere 100' technology leader by Computerworld.

What was your first job?  My first job was at IBM. When I joined, the company was transitioning from mainframe to Lotus Notes, and I was part of the team handling this change.

Did you always want to work in IT? Initially, I wanted to be a doctor, as many children do. However, I moved to the US in the mid-nineties in the midst of the IT revolution. I landed my first job in IT at IBM and have never looked back.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied a Masters course in Computer Science at New York's Pace University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started out at IBM, but I really wanted to move into application development, so after a year or so I took a role in an insurance company building apps to distribute data through web technologies. In the late nineties, after a brief stint at Hewlett-Packard, I started a consulting role at Deloitte, where I worked on significant systems integration and customer development projects, and implemented large scale distributed applications. Fast forward through, after running the sales and marketing IT department for Franklin Templeton Investments I found myself at VMWare, where I ran all business applications, leading an IT organisation for a company that became a $8B+ business and the market leader in virtualisation. Throughout my career I've been very fortunate to be on the front line of implementing emerging tech in a business context, leading many companies through digital transformation journeys. All of my IT transformation work led me to where I am now at Rubrik, where I'm just as excited as ever to be driving change.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year?  There are three initiatives that I plan to prioritise in the coming year. Rubrik is growing very rapidly, so my first order of business is to plan out the structure and processes that will set a foundation for the future growth of the company. We focus on making developers more productive -- leveraging our solution to replicate data across multiple data centers and help developers get access to the data they need faster. The second initiative is to build a data-driven enterprise. We can achieve this by leveraging AI/ML to start driving business focus in areas including sales, using predictive sales opportunities, and creating a more predictive, proactive support model that will make our customers happier. The final initiative is to showcase the best of our product.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Rubrik's CEO, Bipul Sinha's, top priorities for IT are aligned with mine as CIO: to set a foundation for growth, build a data-driven enterprise leveraging AI/ML, and to showcase the best of our product.

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 is becoming more and more of a business role. Previously IT was a service, but now, top CIOs are meeting with customers to discuss business transformation initiatives, provide product consultation around best use cases and strategise on how they can move their businesses forward. Especially for a high-tech company that builds software and products primarily consumed by IT, there is an important value an internal IT organisation can provide to the company.

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're in a growth phase, so very much focused on both. As a new company born in the cloud era, we have the opportunity to build a next-gen IT organisation. As Rubrik continues to scale rapidly, a big part of managing and growing our business is to have real-time data available for our executive team to make informed decisions across departments. As we are a ‘born in the cloud' company, our IT applications that support core processes e.g. Quote to Cash, Procure to Pay, Hire to Retire etc. all run on SaaS applications. Now, we are managing our digital transformation by moving to a platform that can provide real-time calculated metrics which help employees and executive management quickly make informed decisions that drive company's continued growth and operational efficiency. Part of this transformation is an architecture that enables product and business analytics to be calculated on the same SaaS-based infrastructure. We have enabled more than 25 metrics so far across multiple areas including product usage by customers, discount management, current bookings attainment, growth, sales forecasting and planning, inventory management and planning, and employee metrics.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As early cloud adopters, we're fortunate enough not to have legacy baggage and are always leading with next-gen technology. Rubrik is a metrics-driven business, and the previous model of looking at IT tickets doesn't accurately quantify the business value that IT can bring to an organisation. We mainly look at speed and time saved for our customers as a key metric

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We are constructing a well-seasoned leadership team, and the next step is to build out the organisation with digital native developers on their first job out of college so we can teach them the Rubrik way. Our priority is to build a balanced organisation that is globally distributed.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? We are always looking for good architects that can think about infrastructure as code, since data centers are becoming more and more software driven. Previously constructed private data centres are evolving to a multi-cloud setup, where you have software-driven data centres and public clouds, so traditional IT operations and infrastructure roles need to be fluent in software development. No one can focus solely on hardware anymore, and it's especially valuable to find good IT engineers who can form strong relationships cross-functionally through business processes.

What's the best career advice you ever received? A bad decision is better than indecision. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes. Job shadowing. I am working to stay ahead of these challenges by partnering on key business decisions and interactions with my team. 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? As an IT leader, you are in charge of your own destiny. Don't wait for people to tell you what to do. Create great projects of your own initiative that will bring business value. Stay technical. Generally, IT leaders become too hands-off very early on. You need to keep your skills sharp. If you are in a management role you have the opportunity to do something interesting with emerging technologies that you can use in a business context, this will help further your career.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Aside from securing my current role? :-). It would have to be IT transformation at my previous job at VMWare. It was a complex set of systems with significant legacy and approximately 11 million lines of code, and we moved to an agile and DevOps-based delivery model from a traditional waterfall, resulting in significant cost savings and improved speed of delivery. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a 50-person, pre-IPO company and I took the safer position at a large multinational. I wish I had jumped at the opportunity.

What are you reading now? When I have downtime, I like reading history books -- it's a big contrast from my day job. I've probably read about every battle that has ever been fought!

Most people don't know that I… I am a travel buff and have visited every continent except for Antarctica.

In my spare time, I like to…Play field hockey with my children. At 14 and eight, it's getting harder to keep up with them!p>

Ask me to do anything but… Cookie cutter training. I like to do hands-on learning at my own pace and through gaining experi-ence -- which is great if you're in IT.


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