By Peter High, published on Forbes
The marriage between chief information officers and venture capital firms is a logical one, as CIOs are often the consumers of the enterprise portfolios of the venture community. There is a small but growing list of CIOs who are getting more involved in venture, including venture arms within their enterprises.
Eash Sundaram is one of those CIOs. In addition to being the Chief Digital and Technology Officer at JetBlue, he is also the Chair of JetBlue Technology Ventures. With this combination of roles, Sundaram is at the center of a tremendous amount of innovation through creative use of information and technology and through the digital transformation he has helped usher in. He also leads an innovation lab. In this interview, he describes his various areas of responsibility, the interplay between these functions, and reasons why he believes more CIOs will take on a wider array of responsibilities, as he has, among other topics.
Peter High: Please describe your purview as the Chief Digital and Technology Officer at JetBlue and the Chair of JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Eash Sundaram: I have three distinct functions. First, I oversee Digital, which encompasses all of e-commerce. Second, the core technology functions report to me. Lastly, I have oversight of JetBlue Technology Ventures, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of JetBlue that was founded in early 2016. JetBlue Technology Ventures invests in travel, hospitality, and transportation verticals that will enable, through technology, the next chapter of JetBlue’s innovation.
High: From our past conversations, I know that you are working on the next generation of the customer experience. What are some of the things you are developing?
Sundaram: From its founding days, JetBlue’s mission has been “to bring humanity back to air travel.” Our latest vision of inspiring humanity touches every part of the travel experience. For JetBlue, the core of the customer experience starts with the mission of being personal, helpful, and simple. Our mission is tied to two things JetBlue takes tremendous pride in innovation and a culture of hospitality. For example, we are exploring the use of biometrics for improving the travel experience. Working with Customs and Border Protection and our partners at SITA, we have launched a biometric boarding process for select international flights at Boston Logan International Airport. We have seen some early success. The traditional process at a gate is people come in, scan their boarding pass, and wait in lanes. Biometrics improves the process because now people quickly have their picture taken and walk on through; all of the transactions behind the scenes are automated. Not only is this simpler for customers, but it also lets crewmembers focus on meaningful interactions with their customers, instead of transactions.
High: You are the chairman of JetBlue Technology Ventures, which is headquartered in Silicon Valley. What was your rationale for that location?