The CIO’s New Mission: Making IT Part of the Strategic Conversation & Corporate Strategy

Ram Reddy
CTO, Retail, Life Sciences & Enterprise Solutions at Nagarro; ex-CIO at Rockport
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Announcer (00:15):

You're listening to the TechTables podcast, a weekly Q&A podcast dedicated to interviewing industry leaders from across the world, ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, mixing it up each week with topics ranging from design and product innovation to IoT and Industry 4.0. Let's do this.

Joe Toste (00:33):

Hey guys, we're back for another week in the world of TechTables, mixing the best in design and tech innovations with me, Joe Toste. I'd love to connect with you behind the scenes on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. There you can even message me questions for future guests coming on the show. But for today, I'm really excited. We're going to shift our focus to retail and lean on the experience and insight of Ram Ready, thank you to Ron for taking time to come from Boston to New York to meet me ahead of our scheduled dinner tonight, but that's quite enough for me. Without further ado, I'm thrilled to welcome Ram Reddy, the ex-CIO at Rockport and CTO of Retail & Enterprise Solutions at Nagarro.

Joe Toste (01:07):

Let's kick off today a little bit about you, Ram, and your background at Rockport and the move to CTO and Enterprise Solutions at Nagarro. Let's start with that.

Ram Reddy (01:15):

So I've been in the retail industry for 20 plus years in the IT department and growing up the chain, and Nagarro was a little bit of a change in that sense that I'm now working for a lot of companies, not just one. I'm advising a lot of companies on what their next steps need to be from an IT perspective. So it's almost like every week I'm talking to a CIO or a VP of IT and advising them on what changes are happening in the retail world nowadays.

Ram Reddy (01:45):

So it's more exciting now because now I'm talking a lot more companies using all my experience from Rockport and the various companies that I worked, and applying it to the companies that need my help today.

Joe Toste (01:56):

That's awesome. Let's take a step back towards Rockport. Maybe you can just kind of give us a high overview level, just a little bit about that experience. What is Rockport for people who aren't familiar?

Ram Reddy (02:06):

Rockport is a footwear company, and Rockport originally was part of Reebok and Reebok had been purchased by Adidas about 15 years back. And Adidas decided to spin off Rockport into an independent company in 2015. The CEO made one of the first key hires that of a CIO. And that's how I ended up as the Rockport CIO.

Ram Reddy (02:27):

The CEO understood that that was a pretty key role. And that was one of the things that he wanted out of the gate to have somebody who has experience in the retail apparel footwear industry to take Rockport to the next level on its own, standing on its own.

Joe Toste (02:43):

That's awesome. Well, that's a great segue. I mean, I'm here in New York for NRF there I have conference and two big things that stand out this year are vision and innovation. Where do you see vision and innovation taking place in the retail world specifically, on the IT side of the aisle?

Ram Reddy (02:59):

Very good question, Joe. I think two of the key things that we are seeing is AI and real-time customer service. These are the two main things I see as CTO for Nagarro, where folks are realizing the power of AI and also the power of real-time customer service. Real-time data is available, but how you take the data and make it applicable to customer service is the key.

Joe Toste (03:23):

That's great. Some executives don't give CIOs as CIO leadership table. I was reading a fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal this morning on Wells Fargo's technology mess. The new CEO just appointed is making technology a priority now after the mess with regulators and his customers after the infrastructure failed. Do talk about your experience leading by Rockport to implement a flexible ERP system and process with SAP fashion management, while investing in a cloud solution that hosts in SAP and non SAP applications.

Ram Reddy (03:56):

You bring up a good point about IT not being an enabler for a company. And IT used to be for most of my earlier life reporting into the CFO or the COO. At Rockport, I reported into the CEO initially, and that helped give the company a technology focus. And this is exactly what many other companies are finding that you need the IT person to have a seat at the table. The IT person is not part of a call center. And that helped me at Rockport because CEO was vested in trying to make us into a technology company, as well as sell shoes at the end of the day.

Ram Reddy (04:33):

And that helped architect an IT infrastructure, an IT application strategy that fits with what the future of Rockford was going to be. So that helped me build a cloud infrastructure, helped me build a real-time analytics system, helped a global process for Rockport from the ground up. And this was only helped because I had direct access to the CEO and the board of directors.

Joe Toste (04:59):

That's awesome. That sounds great. Yeah. A lot of conversations that I have where the CIO will report to the CFO. And I just like what you said about the direct access piece.

Ram Reddy (05:11):

It has changed. It has changed. I think nowadays you will see this more often than not that the CIO or the CTO is directly reporting into the CEO and CFOs and COOs had their spots and they are busy with their stuff and they don't have to be just managing the IT person because they aren't experts in technology.

Joe Toste (05:30):

Yeah, that's great. And I definitely see the CEO and leadership team leaning more on the CIO and the CTO of the organization. So I love this quote you previously said, "When we do have to build an IT organization, it's not because we love IT, is because we want to have the business do better worldwide partnering with IBM to put a real-world system with SAP fashion management in the cloud, gives the business a good headstart to accomplish that" End quote.

Joe Toste (06:00):

What I love about that quote was that the piece that you said, "We want to help the business do better worldwide. IT's function isn't a sweep under the rug, how the ex-CIO of Wells Fargo was running the company, but IT, helps the business streamline its systems and processes to help the company deliver and execute on those goals." Can you talk about the outcomes achieved while you were at Rockport?

Ram Reddy (06:24):

So my goal that Rockford as head of IT was to sell shoes. It is funny, but people would say "No, but you are a technology person." Technology has to help shoes at the end of the day. That's Rockport's business. And how I build a system could be where I use technology, but at the end of the day, if it doesn't help me sell more shoes globally, I've failed.

Ram Reddy (06:47):

So one of the key things we decided is to have an enterprise architecture that was global. That was real-time and that had omnichannel written all over it. These three things global, real-time, and omnichannel really, really helped Rockport build that structure for everything worldwide. It was not a US implementation that we, later on, went to Europe and Asia with. It was an implementation for Rockport worldwide that we had these three pillars and it stood on that it has to be global. It had to be real-time, and it had to be omnichannel.

Joe Toste (07:21):

Yeah, that's great. And how many people, just if you can recall, how many people were on that team on that implementation worldwide?

Ram Reddy (07:28):

So we had about 25 IT folks. A lot of them in India, a lot of them in the US, a few people in other parts of Europe and Asia as well, but we had about 25 plus or minus people in IT, all working with these three goals in mind, whatever we do cannot be specific to a country, cannot be batch managed at the end of the week or end of the month. It has to be real-time. And it has to be omnichannel. We could not create the silos of channels that did not work well with each other.

Joe Toste (07:57):

Yeah, that's really great. I love those three big things you ere talking about, and actually, another really great transition as far as when we roll into the new year or the new decade is how companies are leveraging big data. Naturally, this leads to some talk of BI or Business Intelligence strategy on the IT and technology side. What advice would you give to retail CIOs who are looking to layer on a BI strategy to help with their business around the globe?

Ram Reddy (08:23):

So two words enterprise, architecture, I think one of the key things people forget is if they want to implement a BI strategy, don't go. I would advise them to not go and buy a BI product first, have an enterprise architecture diagram of all your systems future-proofing and then go and pick a product that you want to implement a BI strategy but, people tend to buy the software and then decide to fit this architecture strategy into that box. It's very difficult to do that because every company has silos of data. So you have come up with an enterprise architecture strategy first, then the BI strategy just automatically flows out of that easier to implement. So I keep telling people enterprise architecture, that's the key.

Joe Toste (09:05):

And when you say... you said a really great term, future-proofing, can you just unpack that a little bit?

Ram Reddy (09:10):

So these CIOs, when they join companies, see that they have a visual diagram of all of these systems talking to each other, and that is great. It works great. They're able to sell product today, but what about tomorrow? Technology has changed a lot. Cloud has come in 25 years ago nobody talked about cloud. Nobody talked about real-time data. Now, everything is different. So you have to have an enterprise architecture redrawn, but then also your worry about it, that it's not going to be outdated in two years or four years or six years.

Ram Reddy (09:40):

So you have to have the means to change it as needed, but have it such that you have enterprise architecture, future-proofed so that you don't let up in the situation for five years later you have to revamp all of your systems. So what Nagarro helps companies do is future proof the enterprise architecture and new enterprise architecture or the modified one, or a completely new one is not something that can be implemented in one day. It might take two, three, four years. So we help companies productize what systems they need to replace when in the life cycles. So that in three years, or in two years now, they're in their fully modified, new enterprise architecture.

Joe Toste (10:19):

Yeah, that's really great. But you hinted at this earlier, but when you meet with VPs, CIO, CTOs of retail clients, and they talk about their business problems, what are you hearing on the ground right now?

Ram Reddy (10:30):

So it's funny, but one of the key things CIOs tell me is what should they not do? Because this is... It's a tough situation. There are too many vendors in the marketplace, there are too many choices that a CIO has to make, and you have the CEO and the CFO and the COO putting pressure on the CIO on, "I need everything today." And you have all of these products out there saying that they can magically do stuff. And it's very easy to get it and made by going to a conference and seeing that have this sexy product out there and I want to buy it.

Ram Reddy (11:03):

Sometimes you need to eliminate some of the things. And that's what CIOs ask is, do I really need to invest in ABC? Or should I just worry about DEF? And this is where you knock off the non-priority things and work on the priority things. And that's what CIO asked me is, what are the things that should not be worried about? And one of the things they should focus on for the next two years, so that I can obviously grow the business, but also see that I'm not lost the lead to my competitor?

Joe Toste (11:32):

Yeah. That's really it. I talked to two different CIOs, and I was like, "Oh, are you going to interact with," and one of them said, "No, coming on board, it's just pure execution mode right now." So, okay. The other one said, "Yeah, we're looking at new stuff right now." So now that's really good. What makes the world of IT and technology so fascinating to you today?

Ram Reddy (11:52):

The pace at which it's moving, and 25 years ago, I think people's biggest fears were Y2K. And that was the only thing. And if you could cross the Y2K hurdle, you achieved long-term success, today it's not like that. Today, you have technology changing every single minute, there're competitors coming out that are lean nimble, and you need to be aware of technology even as a CEO or CFO or COO.

Ram Reddy (12:18):

So there's a lot of knowledge out there about technology, and people are aware of it. And you need to get ahead of the competition by understanding technology every single day. And that's what makes my job exciting.

Joe Toste (12:32):

Love it. After Rockport, you moved to the consulting side of the table at Nagarro, a 400 million-plus revenue software strategy and development company. Now probably more than ever you're seeing more and more use cases across all of our retail clients. How are you leveraging your previous experience at Rockport to help our customers today?

Ram Reddy (12:51):

So a lot of companies come and say, "What did you learn from Rockport?" And one of the key things at Rockport I learned these people are the key. Technology is changing all the time, but having the right people will make your organization successful. And it doesn't matter whether you're in Silicon Valley or in Boston or in New York City. Getting the right people in your team is what makes IT group successful. And that's one of the things I keep telling people is you could have software, but it needs good people implement it. You could have a lot of great processes, but you need people in house who understand those processes. Because again, you're taking these processes and thinking across a world as a global process. So you need good people, whether in IT or on the business side and with the matter of technology and good people, you will succeed.

Joe Toste (13:37):

You're talking about good people. What are some of your favorite leadership lessons when you think about good people and investing in good people as a leader in an IT organization?

Ram Reddy (13:47):

So, this is somebody else's escort, always hired people smarter than you. They keep saying. And I agree with that 100%, all the people that are hired are smarter than me, who I have hired were smarter than me. And I think the key in that is to network unconsciously because a lot of times, networking is not about, I need fill a job, and I need to go out and find out who else is in the marketplace looking for that position.

Ram Reddy (14:13):

The key is to find people when you're not looking, and that only successful by networking and I've built a network in the last 25 years, and I can reach out to them in one, two days notice and find good people for good companies when they call me about a problem that they're having. And sometimes that pays me back when people help me place people at Nagarro.

Ram Reddy (14:33):

So trying to be proactive in the networking sphere helps me understand what is good in people and what positions they can work with and leverage that for Nagarro and for themselves as well.

Joe Toste (14:46):

I love it. And one of those guys is going to be staged tomorrow. I'm really excited to interview on the SAP side. So you're in Boston. When you're looking to hire and scale-out an IT or engineering team, how does being outside of Silicon Valley affect your ability to hire top talent as ex-CIO and CTO today?

Ram Reddy (15:05):

So like I mentioned previously, everything is global today, and getting global talent is very important. It doesn't matter where the people are. Whether they in Boston or Silicon Valley, you get the best talent, and they will add value to your organization, irrespective of where they're geographically placed.

Ram Reddy (15:23):

So I network with people across the world because sometimes there are projects that require people to be local to that part of the world. And I think that's what companies should focus on and not try to build particular group of people in a particular headquarters. Try to make it a little bit more virtual, and you'll get the best people.

Joe Toste (15:42):

Now I love that. Yeah. Especially I was reading an article today about how this next decade is going to be the decade of remote workers, and it's going to be exciting.

Ram Reddy (15:50):

I totally agree.

Joe Toste (15:51):

I love that. Okay. Lastly, before we hit the 60 seconds seeking breakthrough segment, what's the number one problem you were seeking to solve while you were the CIO of Rockport?

Ram Reddy (16:01):

I think sell more shoes is a simple answer to it, but also trying to build a company from scratch. Greenfield is not easy, and try to build it on a global scale was the goal-goal for me and in a two-year timeframe, which is what Adidas have given Rockport. So trying to build a company from scratch from an IT perspective in two years, what's the ultimate goal, which was achieved in two years.

Joe Toste (16:27):

That's awesome. Okay. So here's what I call the 60 seconds seeking breakthroughs, rapid-fire, quick answer. What do you know, number one, what do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning?

Ram Reddy (16:38):

I would say nothing because I did my research. I mean, I think this is one of the key things to not don't make hasty decisions. So I knew what I was getting into. It was a tough situation where there was not much information. So we had a few months to figure out what all data we had from Adidas. So we went in with our eyes opened realizing that we had to hire the right people in IT because it was a greenfield IT department. There was nobody there. I was employee number one. So going in, we expected a lot of new things thrown at us, and we were ready for that.

Joe Toste (17:11):

I love it. Number two, what were the three most important priorities as the CIO at Rockport?

Ram Reddy (17:17):

I mentioned it previously is global. We needed a global company. We did not need a US company with the subsidiary in Europe, with subsidiary in Japan build a global company wanted. So, therefore, the processes for this company, Rockport worldwide, would be identical across all geographies. We wanted everything real-time. We do not want this batch processing mindset where things would be posted on the weekend or on the month-end. We want it real-time. It's just like you go to Amazon today and see that status update on your order. You can get it immediately.

Ram Reddy (17:48):

The third thing is omnichannel, where retailers now are selling through every possible channel. And how do you work as a company that manufactures product and sells it across all the channels to be seamless as possible because the customer wants seamless experience?

Joe Toste (18:02):

I love it. Number three, last one. What keeps a CIO up at night?

Ram Reddy (18:05):

I think one of the things that I did not mention till now is security. And the brand is very important to everybody at the organization, and you could lose a lot of value for the brand with one hack or one security breach. And that is something that keeps even with all the cloud, the security that you can have. That is something that keeps CIOs awake in the night.

Joe Toste (18:26):

Awesome. Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Announcer (18:29):

If you're interested in seeing what Nagarro, a high-end technology solutions company to some of the world's leading organizations, can do for your business, you can email Joe at joe.toste@nagarro.com, J-O-E.T-O-S-T-E@nagarro.com or message Joe, on LinkedIn for all information on Nagarro, check out nagarro.com. That's N-A-G-A-R-R-O.com.

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Joe Toste
Joe Toste
Host of TechTables Podcast

Host of TechTables 🎙- Conversations with Top Technology Leaders