A few weeks ago, I co-hosted a meeting with Gamiel Gran of the venture capital firm, Mayfield Fund. It was held in New York, and it included a dozen leading area CIOs. The executives offered thoughts on topics that have them excited and others that keep them up at night. Ultimately, there were five topics that rose to the top of the minds of the gathered CIOs:

  • Driving innovation at scale
  • Adapting to a multi-cloud world
  • Making technology a board-level conversation (beyond security)
  • Balancing cost savings while driving revenue
  • Maintaining relentless customer focus

Universal Music Group (UMG), a leader in music-based entertainment, today announced Dan Morales has been appointed Chief Information Officer (CIO), overseeing UMG’s global technology platforms and developing new systems to expand the company’s advanced analytics and data platforms.

Morales joins UMG from eBay Inc., where he also served as CIO. In his new role, Morales will now oversee UMG’s global Information Technology team, as well as the company’s internal and external networks. Additionally, he will a develop insights from data across UMG’s organization through analytics, reporting and data intelligence. Morales, whose appointment is effective April 15, will be based at UMG’s global headquarters in Santa Monica and report to Boyd Muir, UMG’s Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and President of Operations.

Singularity University (SU), a global community with a mission to educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to help solve humanity’s grand challenges, has acquired the consulting and training firm Uncommon Partners (UP) to expand its capabilities for clients and partners.

Co-founded in 2018 by SU faculty member Kyle Nel and Amanda Manna, UP brings expertise in corporate innovation and specialized capabilities for strategy, research, and emerging technology development that enhance SU’s product offerings. UP also trains leaders to apply lessons from behavioral science to the human challenges of transformation, using tools like narrative, neuroscience, and experimental design. These behavioral transformation tools will be integrated into SU’s portfolio of enterprise solutions, equipping organizations with new advanced tools for driving business transformation.

Craig Richardville has been named Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of SCL Health, a $2.6 billion faith-based nonprofit healthcare organization based in Denver, Colorado that operates eight care sites and more than 100 physician clinics in addition to home health care, hospice and other facilities.

His responsibilities include leading all aspects of the health system’s information technology strategy and operations, including enterprise systems and applications, information security, core infrastructure and leading the system’s digital transformation and information automation.

“I look forward to working with our executive team, medical group leaders and IT associates to further simplify and modernize our technology ecosystem so that we can be as efficient as possible in advancing patient care through analytics and high-performance business and clinical systems,” Richardville said. “Some key focus areas will include looking at how to apply big data and artificial intelligence technology to help to efficiently and effectively engage patients and staying proactive with cyber security to protect our organization,” he added.

At the Forbes CIO Summit at the Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay, the theme of the conference this year is The Digital CIO Takes Charge, as the CIO is now positioned to drive product, revenue and customer experience. At our conference you will see these trends personified.

I have been enormously encouraged by the number of CIOs who have taken digital responsibilities in part or completely for the enterprises they are a part of. As they do, they tend to get more involved in product development, as well. In the process, these grade A CIOs are getting more involved in driving revenue growth for their companies in addition to the traditional purview of CIOs of cost cutting.

We will hear from a number of leading lights who are shaping the technology landscape. Former Cisco CEO, John Chambers will join me on stage to talk about his career in addition to his current work as a venture capitalist.

Timothy Kasbe has been named the Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand and Global Large Enterprise for Zoho Corporation. A Chennai, India based software development company, Zoho’s business apps are targeted at sales, marketing, customer support, accounting and back-office operations. The company also has an array of productivity and collaboration tools. An experienced technology leader, Kasbe has held positions as Chief Information and Digital Officer at several major global companies including IBM, Reliance Industries, Sears Holdings, and Intrexon, he also was the Chief Operating Officer of Gloria Jeans Company in Russia.

When asked about his goals for the Australian and New Zealand markets, Zoho founder and CEO Sridhar Vembu noted, “Our expansion in Australia and New Zealand is a crucial part of our global expansion. We are committed to serving customers in those markets with a strong local footprint, including a cloud data center build-out in 2019 – our seventh cloud in the world. Our strategy is to locate and store the data in each of the major markets, which is well-suited for large enterprises and public sector customers. With some of the highest rates of tech and mobile adoption, Australia and New Zealand gives us a big enough platform to go test and pilot innovative solutions for the English speaking market.”

Life insurance does not seem like the sexiest of segments. Most of the major players in the industry were founded 150 years ago or more. They often develop such scale and recurring revenue streams that they can develop a bit of strategic laziness, as well. These were among the reasons why entrepreneur, Peter Colis, saw opportunity as he evaluated the life insurance industry.

Colis had a job in advertising prior to attending Stanford Business School. When he arrived in Palo Alto, he met Lingke Wang, a computer scientist who also had an entrepreneurial bent. As they scoured industries that presented opportunities, life insurance checked a lot of boxes suggesting major opportunities. Investors have agreed, as the company has a stable of A-grade venture capital firms have invested in their company, Ethos Life, including Sequoia, (see my interview with Sequoia’s lead investor in Ethos Life here), Accel, and GV, Google’s venture arm. Additionally, Jay-Z and Kevin Durant have also invested in the company.

Life insurance was attractive for two reasons. First, the product is difficult to obtain. It is time intensive, confusing, and it requires many tests to validate coverage. Second, Colis highlights that the incentives for brokers, who are paid on commission, often lead to consumers purchasing coverage that is beyond their needs and their means.

In this interview, Colis describes his entrepreneurial journey, the growth and team composition of Ethos Life, as well as his thoughts on what is next.

Peter High: You are the Co-founder and CEO of Ethos Life, a San Francisco-based company that you founded in September 2016. Your organization has caught quite a bit of momentum, especially in the investor community. Could you talk about the business and the problem that you were looking to solve when you created it?

Peter Colis: My partner Lingke Wang and I started Ethos when we were roommates at Stanford Business School. I came from a background in advertising, and Lingke came from a technical background. Originally, we got interested in a different aspect of life insurance, and we learned a great deal about it. In doing so, we came to understand that life insurance is incredibly important. More than five percent of children in the U.S. are going to lose a parent by the time they turn 18, and 70 percent of families are so unprepared that if they lose a breadwinner, they would be in total financial ruin within three months. This data implies that Americans are vastly unprepared for the loss of a breadwinner. While this is an important industry, we realized that it is executed poorly by the existing players, so we saw an opportunity to dramatically improve how it is executed with technology.

Ethos is a modern and ethical life insurance company. Unlike the traditional life insurance experiences, with Ethos, you go to our website, you fill out an application online in ten minutes, and then you are done. There are no medical exams, no blood tests, no paper applications, and no pushy agents. We launched in early 2018, we are now processing thousands of applications per month, and we look forward to continued growth.

The World Economic Forum recently concluded in Davos, Switzerland. As one scans the highlights from across the sessions, whether conversations with industry titans or presentations by government dignitaries, technology was focal.

For the second year in a row, I asked Jacob Jofe, a Vice President at Index Ventures where he focuses on the firm’s enterprise investments, to provide some thoughts on themes he found particularly poignant. He highlights two areas that have now become CEO-level topics of conversation: the rise of open source software, and the importance of observability.

Peter High: Jacob, you mentioned open source software was one of the most talked about topics at the World Economic Forum. Please explain what that was.

Jacob Jofe: At its heart, its all about people. The best developers want to use the best technology, and today, the best technology is open source. So, its adoption has become central to attracting and retaining the best engineering talent. Conversely, denying access to open source has become a serious roadblock to hiring the best talent. One of the reasons for this is, some of today’s most interesting technology is developed at companies with scarce expertise, which is then contributed to the open source domain. Example include the Tensorflow and Kubernetes projects from Google, and the Kafka project which originated at LinkedIn. Developers want to take advantage of this, which I think is a win-win for everyone. It used to be that a technology decision was buy versus build — its now download versus buy versus build.

Commvault, a global enterprise software leader in the management of data for cloud and on premises environments, today announced the appointment of Sanjay Mirchandani as President and Chief Executive Officer and member of the Board, effective immediately. Mirchandani, previously the CEO of DevOps leader Puppet, replaces retiring President and CEO Bob Hammer. Hammer has led the company for more than two decades, growing it to a $3.1 billion market cap. Also announced today was the appointment of Nick Adamo as Chairman of the Board, replacing Hammer who will remain on the Board as Chairman Emeritus; both changes will become effective April 18, 2019.

From detailed homework review to back office automation, progress in artificial intelligence will continue to explode in the year ahead. In 2018, Metis Strategy interviewed nearly 40 CIOs, CDOs and CTOs of companies with over $1 billion in revenue as part of our Technovation podcast and column. When asked to identify the emerging technologies that are of growing interest or are making their way onto their 2019 roadmap, 75 percent of the technology leaders highlighted artificial intelligence, while 40 percent said blockchain and 13 percent cited the Internet of Things.

AI, an umbrella term for technologies that enable machines to accomplish tasks that previously required human intelligence, could rapidly upend the competitive landscape across industries. While many companies continue to explore AI business cases, seek executive support, and mature their foundational IT and data capabilities, a growing number of enterprises are deploying the technology at scale.

1. Walmart deploys hundreds of bots to automate back office processes

Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue, has deployed more than 500 bots into its internal environment to automate processes and drive efficiencies, CIO Clay Johnson said. Early use cases focused on automating processes such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and compensation and benefits. More recently, robotic process automation (RPA) has been applied to Walmart’s Shared Services organization, where it automates ERP exception handling such as matching purchase orders to invoices.

As expectations rise for technology to unlock business value, Clay is looking to scale AI across the company. Having recently adopted a product model and end-to-end ownership, the company is well positioned to apply machine learning to everything from merchandising operations, which coordinates supplier-relation interactions and affects the in-store displays across more than 5,000 US stores, to improving the productivity of the world’s largest private workforce.

For more insight from Clay, listen to the podcast.

2. Western Digital saves CapEx by using AI to optimize test equipment

One of the biggest expenses in hard drive manufacturing can be test equipment, so for $19 billion Western Digital, optimizing the test environment can save hundreds of millions of dollars in CapEx. Given the foresight with which the company has developed its AI and big data strategy, it’s no surprise that among its most advanced AI use cases is optimizing that test environment. “We’re using advanced machine learning and convolutional neural networks to improve our wafer yield management,” said CIO Steve Phillpott. “And we’re using those same algorithms to start identifying and optimizing our test processes, which can help us save hundreds of millions of dollars in capital.”

With a global workforce of 68,000, Western Digital has built a big data and analytics platform that supports a variety of workloads, architectures, and technologies to deliver value to business users of all skill levels. While entry-level analysts can leverage the platform to visualize data in Tableau or perform ad-hoc queries in RStudio, data scientists can make use of advanced techniques to monitor and optimize manufacturing and operations capabilities.

As Western Digital finds increasingly advanced AI use cases in 2019, its flexible platform ensures that the organization continues realizing value while its analytics capabilities mature.

For more insight from Steve, listen to the podcast.

3. Bank of America and Harvard team up on responsible AI development

As companies race to develop and deploy increasingly powerful AI systems, there’s a growing recognition of the responsibility companies have to mitigate unintended consequences. Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and former FCC CIO David Bray have noted that engineers often don’t have the capacity to fully imagine the implications of the technology they develop. That’s one reason why Bank of America (BoA) Chief Operations and Technology Officer Cathy Bessant has teamed up with Harvard Kennedy School to create the Council on the Responsible Use of AI.

While BoA’s most visible application of AI may be Erica, its virtual banking assistant, the Fortune 25 company is increasingly exploring how AI can be applied to fraud detection and anti-money laundering. As proponent of “responsible automated intelligence,” Cathy recognizes that the bank must maintain transparency into the decision-making models and ensure that outcomes are unbiased. Further, as employees begin to question how AI might impact their jobs, Cathy is thinking proactively about how to guide career transformation and development in the age of AI. To explore these critical questions, the Council on the Responsible Use of AI will convene leaders from government, business, academia, and civil society, including Bessant, to discuss emerging legal, moral, and policy implications of AI.

“If you’re a company where your business strategy can be described by the two words, ‘responsible growth,’ then the concept of responsible AI is not a stretch,” says Cathy. “In fact, it is the tough soul of who we are.”

For more insight from Cathy, listen to the podcast.

4. 7-Eleven leverages chatbots and voice to innovate on the user experience

7-Eleven defined convenience for a generation, but today, the most convenient storefront is the one in consumer’s pockets. In a 2018 interview, CIO/CDO Gurmeet Singh discussed how the company uses new technologies to reduce friction for customers and improve their overall experience.

7-Eleven thinks about technology in two broad categories: proven technologies that are ready to scale, and emerging technologies. For emerging technologies, the company has adopted a fast follower approach, which Gurmeet describes as “watch closely and actively experiment.” In addition to operating several global R&D labs, Gurmeet has tasked the company’s CTO with testing new technologies and conducting proof-of-concept tests. Already, 7-Eleven has deployed a Facebook Messenger chatbot that allows users to sign up for the 7Rewards® loyalty program, find a store location, learn about the latest discount offers, and more. The bot, which was developed through a partnership with the tech firm Conversable, is part of Gurmeet’s strategy to redefine the customer experience through technology.

In 2019, 7-Eleven’s technology organization will leverage open-sourced AI libraries such as TensorFlow to explore how AI can streamline back-office processes such as merchandising and operations. They’ll also look to apply voice interfaces to redefine the customer experience.

For more insight from Gurmeet, listen to the podcast.

5. At 174-year-old Pearson, AI is at the heart of the latest product innovations

Albert Hitchcock is the CIO turned COO and CTO of 174-year-old education company Pearson, where he oversees not just IT and digital transformation, but also product development, procurement, supply chain, customer service, and more. Given his broad purview, Hitchcock is well positioned to apply AI across the business. “AI is not five years out. It’s real and it’s happening today,” he said in a 2018 interview. “We’re looking at how we transform all spokes of our business using AI, from how we transform customer call centers using chatbots to how we bring AI, learning design, pedagogy, and insights into brain functions to create a personalized learning experience.”

Machine learning is at the heart of many of Pearson’s most recent product innovations, from authentic assessments and automated essay scoring to adaptive learning and intelligent tutoring. To accelerate the infusion of AI into current and future products and services, the company has hired Intel veteran Milena Marinovaas its first SVP, AI Products and Solutions. While Marinova’s initial focus is updating Pearson’s math homework tool to provide more detailed feedback, the vision to to create omniscient virtual tutors personalized for every student. “[Education] is different for every human and therefore you can potentially accelerate learning and delivery, improve outcomes, and help everyone progress in their lives of learning,” notes Hitchcock. “AI is at the center of that thinking.”

For more insight from Albert, listen to the podcast.