Disrupt yourself or somebody else will – Aryaka Dreamers and Doers Podcast featuring Volex, PLC.
Volex, PLC is a amazing UK-based company with a rich heritage going all the way back to 1892! They describe themselves as a leading manufacturing specialist for performance-critical applications and power products. They pride themselves on their differentiation based on their global footprint, quality and delivering scale. They are also an Aryaka customer with their headquarters in the United Kingdom and with global office locations as well as manufacturing sites across Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America.
They are one of the few manufacturers that do address both the categories of high customization/low volume and Low customization/high volume products. You may read about their fascinating story here.
For Episode #2 of the Dreamers and Doers podcast, I had an opportunity to converse with Lucas Goh, a forward-thinking IT leader responsible for overseeing their infrastructure and operations for the entire group, from his office in Singapore.
It isn’t everyday that I get to talk to someone from a company that has been around a 100 years! Our conversation is hosted here –
Lucas brought a wealth of knowledge to the conversation and was a candid speaker, who was self-aware and knew the value of being direct.
Here are eight takeaways I summarized from the conversation –
1. For a company to say they have a cloud-first approach and focus on SaaS applications, the infrastructure also needs to support a cloud-first model
Lucas talked about how the organization was clearly aligned towards a cloud-first approach, but the network and therefore IT was a bottleneck. The underlying WAN protocol was MPLS, but this was costly, complex, and inflexible, that made it very difficult to be agile. There were performance issues on top. All this impacted business agility. Adding a new factory or setting up a new production plant in another country were very challenging as a result, even if a company were to have a lot of resources and deep pockets. A cloud-first approach could not be built on the status quo with a MPLS WAN, ergo their search for a new architecture and how they ended up with Aryaka. Clearly change could not happen by doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.
2. Connectivity to China is a whole new ballgame
Any manufacturing company with locations in China knows that connectivity to that location from other regions in the world is no walk in the park. Meeting the regulatory requirements, taking care of application performance and security issues, while ensuring productivity of employees – all at a reasonable cost – are hard things to do. Solving this in the right manner with the right architecture can grease the skids for the entire organization. Lucas had already experienced this with a previous employer, and therefore knew exactly what solution he could bring into the equation right away. Smart experience is always portable and a huge bonus in a new role!
3. Know when you can do something yourself versus outsource; The right managed service can increase business velocity
Many CIOs like to have their internal teams build and own things. There is a certain degree of comfort and assurance in building your own. However, cloud change a lot of these perceptions about owning versus outsourcing. The same concept extends to a DIY versus managed services approach. Evaluating the organizational skillset and matching it against what’s required not just to build, but rather operate is something organizations should definitely assess when it pertains to managed services. At times it can exponentially aid transformation velocity and bring cost of ownership down.
4. Innovation is Change, Unwillingness to change is risking survival
Lucas made an excellent point about managing change equating it with Innovation. He made a powerful point stating that if any organization is unable to change, or unwilling to, then it is just risking its survival.
It is an insightful comment. Innovation is always to bring about a positive change that is different from the status quo, to aspire for something better. However, organizations have to deal with resistance to change. Inertia is a happy comfort zone. Disruption can happen gradually, in increments and if there’s isn’t a strong champion for leading change, a once healthy organization can struggle to cross the chasm. A change agent in the organization also takes risk to get the buy-in of others, upsetting political equations and may have to build the business case for change in a convincing manner. They have to educate and inform their peers and superiors in the organization in an objective manner to effect the change. Done right, the infrastructure and IT teams can truly enable their company to increase their competitive advantage and be significantly agile, whether it be in adopting new architectures, facilitating M&As or just becoming more efficient.
5. Delivering greater customer experience is better than delivering a good product
This is worthy of a whole blog by itself. While a customer is usually looking for a certain solution, most vendors are providers take a narrow view of providing a technical response. They don’t take a consultative approach. The pre-sales part of the equation, the post sales support and the actual solution itself – all contribute to the customer experience, and thereby to their loyalty and endorsement. Good organizations deliver solutions. Great organizations deliver a stellar customer experience. Making promises and delivering on them in a timely manner will make such them true partners of such customers and help change agents improve their own credibility within their organizations, thereby increasing the transformation velocity.
6. The Pandemic has redefined the security perimeter; The network architecture has to adapt as well
This is a common theme I’m hearing not just from Lucas both several others as well. The fact that a certain portion of the workforce is not going to be in the office anymore is going to impact the design of security, availability, systems and disaster recovery (DR) to name a few. Questions like – “If an entire country is shut down suddenly, does the current DR design accommodate it?” are popping up, forcing both technology and business leaders to rethink their architecture. He also predicts that cost analysis will be a big factor. IT budgets aren’t necessarily going to increase to accommodate these rapid changes and they have to cost optimize.
7. “Situational leadership” and “push-pull” tactics can be a powerful tool for leaders to master. A good leader not just leads change but is willing to change themselves.
I was really impressed with the concept of situational leadership as Lucas defined it. Situations change. So the leadership (and communications) style cannot be the same, but rather adapt to the needs of the situation. This can at times, appear confusing to the team because they expect the leader to behave in a certain manner in all situations, but as they organization matures, they see the multi-dimensional value such a leader brings and they begin to better adapt themselves to the situation as well. I am comfortable with being a player/coach based on what the situation warrants, but sometimes I see some members of the team expecting me to be a coach all the time. A leader also needs to be comfortable in knowing when to push a team versus pull them in to prevent burnout. Empathy is very important.
8. AR, AI and ML have great use-case applicability in the coming decade
Augmented Reality (AR) in training and simulations, exposing people to do complex tasks when they don’t have training labs or are spread out can be a powerful learning tool. Likewise, while they’re over abused buzzwords, bringing more sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) based constructs to security and SD-WAN in a consistent manner can bring tremendous value. While there are companies and tools that are doing this, the trust boundaries are not completely infallible and it will take time to mature those. Whether it is in threat detection, prevention or creating the next-generation of software defined networks that are “self-adjusting”, such capabilities can go a long way in making infrastructure more consumable.