Every company is a technology company on some level today, says Sanjay Macwan, CIO of Vonage, a Holmdel, New Jersey, company that provides unified communications, contact centers and programmable communications APIs, built on a cloud communications platform. He argues that a key to getting your tech right is nurturing the developer community.
Macwan spoke with StrategicCIO360 about myriad ways CIOs can best lead their company’s digital transformations, how to foster innovation and how AI is changing is everything.
What role do developers play within an organization when it comes to digital transformation?
The current communications revolution is all encompassing, where human to machine, machine to human, and machine to machine workflows enable rich experiences in our lives.
One can talk to smart speakers to perform many tasks and these machines communicate back with information, answers and entertainment content. A system in a grocery store can send a push notification to a smart device when an order is ready for a safe curbside pick up. One can attend an instructor-led fitness class or consult a physician via video from the safety of one’s home. A set of machines—cameras, on-board radar, a variety of sensors, to name a few—engage in an intricate machine to machine digital workflow to give us autonomous driving. The recent pandemic not only underscored the importance of these transformations but has accelerated them further.
At the heart of this digital transformation are the developers as they rapidly innovate in software and infrastructure to digitize workflows across all industries. Every company in some meaningful way has to be a technology company. You don’t just create the best-tasting pizza but also must ensure your customers are able to order it in an omnichannel way and stay informed of its preparation, delivery progress, and be able to provide feedback—all through digital channels that are intuitive and easy for them. As such, developers are critical to enable and accelerate an organization’s digital transformation. Newer building blocks such as APIs will enable more dynamic, customizable and embeddable capabilities that organizations—and their customers—desire.
As business operations continue to evolve into hybrid models often involving cloud capabilities, how can CIOs manage risk, ensuring continuous protection from cybersecurity threats?
It comes as no surprise that many organizations were forced to adapt overnight and speed along their digital transformation due to the pandemic. The trifecta of cloud computing, software advances and ubiquitous connectivity allowed the organizations to stay connected with their employees and their customers. The models of remote work, remote education, remote engagement—be it telehealth or fitness sessions—all suddenly expanded the attack surface for the threat actors. The rise in phishing and ransomware is testament to how a strong cybersecurity posture is a critical business imperative for organizations of any size and in any industry.
CIOs need to champion and ensure a culture of security, privacy, trust and compliance by design and not let it be an afterthought. Implementing a Zero Trust architecture—a security approach requiring all users to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated for security configuration and posture before being given access to any resource—is critical to manage risk. Equally important is to maintain the highest standards of security hygiene—secure configurations, security testing throughout the software development lifecycle, vulnerability management and patching, and ensuring robust security visibility and analysis—to detect and neutralize threats.
Another key aspect to protecting against cyber threats is the continuous education of employees. Investing in employee training is crucial as employees can often unknowingly be targets for phishing, as an example.
More hybrid models mean more cloud communications, so where do artificial intelligence capabilities fit in? How can organizations elevate AI capabilities as they embrace cloud?
Recent rapid advances in AI are enabling machines to mimic, with high accuracy, many human cognitive functions, including speech and natural language processing, vision, perception and decisioning. As the pandemic accelerated hybrid work and business models, employees and customers alike expected their hybrid experiences to be frictionless, engaging and come as close to in-person experiences as possible.
For example, many of us have experienced the frustrations of being called out “you are on mute” when trying to speak during a video conference or inadvertently forgetting to mute when having a personal conversation with a child or a spouse in the background. An AI capability that intuitively recognizes the flow of conversation and the intent of the participants and either unmutes the microphone when the participant is looking and speaking at the camera in front or mutes the microphone when their head is turned over, talking to another voice in the background in the room—these are examples of how AI can elevate the hybrid experience.
Cloud infrastructure and cloud-based communications afford rapid experimentation and rich data analytics that can lead to rapid training of AI models to fine tune such capabilities. To elevate their AI capabilities, organizations and CIOs need to purposefully define what use cases are most valuable to their constituents, what AI techniques are most suited for these use cases, what first and second party data can train and perfect these models, and how to ensure real-word biases don’t take roots in these AI models.
Can you discuss the Vonage for Startups program? How does this program build a sustained culture of innovation at the organization?
The nature of communications has fundamentally changed, which is why working to continuously innovate and provide forward-thinking tools to accelerate the world’s ability to connect is crucial to future success. As startups are often the lifeblood of innovation, it is important to work with them and offer them technological building blocks—APIs, SDKs, example use cases, domain specific tutorials and other educational resources—as well as the supportive environment they need to incubate and scale next generation breakthroughs.
For example, going forward, nurturing the developer community through programs like Vonage for Startups, allows companies of all sizes to build products faster, efficiently and effectively, and help fuel the developer ecosystem. This is all with the goal of creating and providing diverse capabilities for communications to connect easier and enhance experiences for customers and companies of all sizes.
The key question is, how do we continue a high-quality and successful culture of innovation in a hybrid environment? One way is to connect developers with best-in-class products, people and APIs that help them incubate, rapidly test and iterate, and finally scale their breakthrough ideas. The Vonage for Startups program is designed to meet those individualized startup needs allowing access to curated educational resources that offer lessons on how to save time in development, for example, in addition to offering access to products and tools that enable them to reach more customers and grow their business.