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BMC’s CTO on 2020’s “Quest” for Corporate Transformation

“Our premise is that every company is going to become a tech-driven company by 2025 or thereabouts,” said BMC CTO Ram Chakravarti, in a session at BMC Exchange, the company’s annual customer event (this year online, of course). BMC is a leading enterprise software company that serves customers with a wide range of corporate systems ranging from legacy mainframes to the most modern architectures. Chakravarti was speaking with me and my Techonomy colleague Drew Ianni, who runs the CDX event series, which focuses on digital transformation.

But Chakravarti continued by saying that becoming “tech-driven,” hard as it may be for some companies, is just table stakes. The real goal is to become what BMC calls an “Autonomous Digital Enterprise.” That is a very particular kind of intelligent, data-driven, automation-centric operation, he explained: “It’s an entity that is comprised of intelligent, interconnected tech-enabled value-creating systems that operate with minimal human involvement across both internal functions and an external network of partners.” Clearly not a simple proposition. Such highly-efficient organizations are rare.

BMC itself, Chakravarti explained, is on a “quest” to become such an organization. That’s how, he explained, it will best be able to serve as a strategic partner with its own customers as they journey towards becoming their own autonomous digital enterprises (ADEs). He detailed some of the major steps BMC has taken on its path to such transformation. To be an ADE, he says, you cannot operate in what he called “traditional mode.” Even corporate structure must often change, for a company to be able to function at sufficient speed and dexterity, empowered by software. For example, while BMC previously operated through a variety of business units, “now we are operating as one company across our entire mainframe and distributed systems portfolio.” It has unified its sales organization, put all its products under one chief product officer, and placed all operations under a centralized operations team.

BMC has identified five specific “tech enablers” a company, including itself, needs to put in place to continue moving on the path towards being an ADE: transcendent customer experience; automation everywhere; enterprise DevOps; data-driven business; and adaptive cybersecurity. But Chakravarti has concrete and reassuring advice for how companies daunted by that list can address such a challenging set of mandates. “Don’t look at all of these through the same lens,” he said. “Rather, baseline where you are in each of these dimensions.” Then, he said, you can find your gaps, or “pain points,” and selectively focus on addressing those. The alternative would be massive investment in all five at once, which is impractical.

But 2020 is a different kind of year, which makes such efforts more welcome at all kinds of companies. Digital transformation did accelerate this year across industries in a way nobody could have predicted. It’s become clear that digital is the way to do business during the pandemic, because in so many ways there is no other choice. CTOs and CIOs, many of whom have been trying to motivate their companies towards wholesale digital change for some time, found their work far easier. Chakravarti spoke enthusiastically about what he’s heard recently from several top corporate tech leaders: “They said our agenda has come more to the forefront…They are doubling down as their spend has increased in technology, and they are really excited. They want to embrace this and enable people in a remote setting.” He continued: “They’re looking for new ways to become more customer-centric, digitally.”

While the pandemic may have led to an epiphany across business about the importance of digital, it of course also posed gigantic challenges to every company in every industry. At many customers “the innovation agenda hit a major pause button,” Chakravarti said. Cost controls were often imposed immediately. BMC was able to help, since it has a leading set of software products in intelligent cost and capacity optimization. In the end, across industries, the CTO said he was gratified to see customer after customer become more adaptive in the face of what became “constant change.”

But shifting large segments of the workforce almost overnight to work-at-home mode wasn’t easy. At BMC, Chakravarti found innovative ways to keep morale and productivity up in his own organization. Happily, it already had a culture that embraced remote work for many employees. But suddenly that necessarily encompassed everyone. Camaraderie, the CTO conceded, suddenly became much harder to maintain. So he instituted happy hours with the entire technology organization. But most creative was the launch of a project that brought employees together across the organization, extending beyond the tech team to HR, finance, and other areas. Embraced by much of the company was the least of all technological innovations: a fantasy football league.

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