The economy is shifting relentlessly from a manufacturing-based to a service economy. What does this mean for the CIO role and how should Chief Information Officers prioritize their planning and investments for 2022?

Rashmi Kumar, the Chief Information Officer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), explains what you need to know and shares her views on CIO planning and investment strategy, customer-facing priorities, women in technology, mentoring relationships, and more.

This conversation includes the following topics:

Prior to her roles at HPE, Rashmi has more than 25 years of experience serving in CIO and CTO roles for many Fortune 50 companies like McKesson, Southern California Edison, Toyota, and Tata Steel.

Transcript

Rashmi Kumar: I have close to a thousand people currently in my team. We support north of 80,000 employees and end-users across 200+ global sites as well as tens of millions of customers who subscribe to our services every day.

About HPE and Rashmi Kumar

Michael Krigsman: Today we're speaking with Rashmi Kumar, who is HPE's CIO. Give us a sense of what your role as CIO encompasses.

Rashmi Kumar: The classic CIO role from telecom infrastructure to end-user computing to data center networks, cybersecurity enablement to driving large, digital transformation not only at the core of the company (from the beginning to end of our value chain) but, at the same time, helping the company pivot to our new business models.

Michael Krigsman: From a CIO perspective, what changed? How did the role change over this last 18 months?

Rashmi Kumar: It has changed how customers now view every company in a different way. Gone are the days when CIOs are put in a box of back-end operations to keep the lights on. If you look at it by degree, those are the minors where we need to get to graduate to the majors, which are driving digital transformation and significant enhancement in the way a company delivers value to the customers.

At the depth of CIO's operating model, we need both. We need that operational excellence where we keep the lights on, we provide all the technological services to customers and employees but, at the same time, graduate to become the digital advisor of the company. We can talk more about it eventually, but I personally feel that CIOs need to think like COOs because there is nobody in the company who is looking across, connecting the dots of the silos which are purpose-built to make different operational groups within the company successful.

Michael Krigsman: I know that HPE itself has been undergoing a very significant transformation. Can you tell us about that and really weave in the role of the CIO? Ultimately, where I want to get to is where is the CIO trajectory going into 2022? But tell us about what's happening at HPE.

Rashmi Kumar: I'll talk about one program which we call HP Next, which is one of the large-scale transformations happening today. This is an industry-leading transformation program transforming literally an 85-year-old company that we are and 30-year-old processes that we have.

It builds on the largest SAP, S/4, and 60 other related ecosystem technologies which will deliver significant value to customers, the overall company, and will set up the core and the foundation to make us an edge to cloud platform as a service company. It kind of simplifies 100+ business processes.

HP was this large, $10 billion, $20 billion company and now we are a sub-$30 billion company. Antonio had this realization when he took on as CEO that he cannot run a $29 billion company on $120 billion company infrastructure and the infrastructure which hasn't been improved and looked at from a process perspective in the last couple of decades.

We started trying to transform every area of our core talking about a single source of truth for customers, for partners, for products, entire sales lifecycle, entire customer lifecycle, thinking through orders, configure price code, master data across all these subject areas. It delivers now competitive sales codes in real-time with low touch or no touch from our employees. Automation is enhanced and easier for our customers and partners to stay informed, as they interact with us.

Then it creates a foundation. It creates the ecosystem on which now we will be able to increase or do better in our M&A integration activity as well as build strategically to our strategic pivot to "as a service" company because that would not have happened in the fragmented back-end that we had before.

Michael Krigsman: You're really rethinking the company across the board. Are you looking across all the different functions of the company or how do you approach something like this?

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah, so it's across the functions, across the traditional setup. We are a global company, so are we still running across the region or do we want to look at a unified process across all the regions? How do we take away inefficiencies in those processes and make it faster? Then really thinking outside-in from customers (and sometimes our channel partner perspective) what they're looking for.

Look. I'm talking about it confidently. It's not easy. It's not easy to take an 85-year-old company that has a very different mindset and our partners who are themselves busy in their own transformation, to pull them together to create that end-to-end, more efficient ecosystem (from a process and tech perspective).

CIO role and serving external stakeholders

Michael Krigsman: It's very interesting to hear you describe the importance of that outside-in thinking because we tend to think of the CIO role as being inward-facing. Yet, the moment you start weaving in these additional outside stakeholders, it changes how the CIO actually functions and the role of IT.

Rashmi Kumar: There are frameworks and trainings that companies have brought in and out of how they work.

I started from the TQM (total quality improvement program). I worked at Toyota, so I've looked at kaizen, six sigma at many places, and now it's the design thinking.

All these frameworks (from the get-go) talk about voice of the customer, value stream maps. Understand where you are delivering value to customers.

I don't understand. Being CIOs, our purpose should be to put the customers first and not have a technology driver decision around how we implement that technology. Let's have your customers drive the technology.

I work a lot with the startup ecosystem as well, and companies and coaching. This is what I talk about with them as well. Don't try to solve a technology problem. Try to solve a customer problem.

Product/market fit that Andreessen talks about, it's really important for us as CIOs to keep our mindset very nimble and think like an entrepreneur as we want to leapfrog our companies – mostly, I work for traditional companies – into that next generation of companies which we are competing with right now.

Michael Krigsman: Then how do you reconcile the fact that the IT (information technology) is focused the technology and yet you're saying focus on the customer problem rather than the technology problem? How do you bring these together?

Rashmi Kumar: If you talk about data science, data science is a three-pronged problem. It's the knowledge of the technology and the platform, knowledge of the data, but the SME knowledge of the business process. That's where the leading change happened in the AI ML world. That's kind of a microcosm of the overall role of the CIO.

I will add another thing in transformation. When I say that CIOs need to think like COOs, the reason is that individual business unit leaders – if all of you look at your executive committee level – they are optimized to be successful in their silos because they are driven by P&L. They are driven by quarter.

We have the luxury to connect the dots across them and transform, again, thinking from outside-in, customer in. And it doesn't matter if you're doing an end-user role, right? You are looking at collaboration tools.

Always think from your employees as a customer there and think about what they're looking for because the market is crowded. You can bring Zoom in, Slack in, Teams in, Skype is still there, WebEx. [Laughter] What your employees need from that perspective and how do you do it most cost-effectively while using the best technology, that's where the success is.

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong. Is the issue then, number one, understanding the business strategy; number two, understanding the, shall we say, customer expectations; number three, understanding the tools and technologies and how we can weave those together to address points, the business needs, and the customer requirements?

Rashmi Kumar: Thank you. You said this way more eloquently than I said it. [Laughter] Thank you for doing that. Absolutely, yeah.

Michael Krigsman: As you go through this kind of process, you touched on this, but how do you begin? What's the planning process for this and where does IT fit into that?

Rashmi Kumar: I grew up in the architecture world, so I have spent a lot of time building vision, strategy, and roadmaps. I'm classically trained to start at a value chain of the company.

Take a look at how we serve businesses, and the approach is not unique to a technology company. I've worked in utilities. I've worked in financial services. I've worked in entertainment.

In every business today, the way customers want to consume services is changing at unprecedented speed.

  • If you look at entertainment, it has become about content. It's no more about the DVDs or theaters and things like that.
  • If you look at a car, now it's a mobility problem. It's not a car problem. [Laughter]
  • If you look at utilities, they are building data flow along with electron flow, and the business models are changing.

As we think about what we need in our employees, in our resources to be able to drive this, it's to start at how a company serves its customers, and that's what I call the value chain. Go down to the next level and understand the capabilities we have enabled by technology. Where do we see gaping holes?

The other layer of complexity that brings in that very quickly this two-dimensional problem become a three-dimensional problem because now you have different business units which, through the same value chain, is delivering the same set of services. How do you bring homogeneity to it?

If you look at HP Next, it's the same thing. We had separate systems running hardware sales, a separate system running services sales, a separate system running network sales, and customer support, and that does not give a unified experience.

If I'm able to explain it kind of visually, then it's the business value stream. It's the capabilities below it, the technologies that support it, and the layers of different products or services that you have.

Start thinking in a unified way to consolidate those capabilities through a common set of technologies because now that brings in another horizontal layer where you can do cyber security better. You can gather data better to drive better analytics about your customers and products and your ability to service them. You can create common infrastructure versus having fragmentation and creating a spiderweb of integration across it.

It sounds hard, but the next piece that comes after this is prioritization. What are the key value stream areas where you need to bring in technologically driven transformation faster to get the maximum customer value? If you get this framework right, you can come up with a heatmap which will drive your prioritization decisions.

Then it comes to funding. A lot of CIOs drive a lot of decisions based on funding decisions. That is not the right way to do it because then you're not spending those precious dollars (which is given to you by your stakeholder) into solving the right problems if you don't have the framework in mind to do so.

Key components of the CIO organizational operating model

Michael Krigsman: You are describing an approach that is much more strategic than I often hear IT talked about. It does sound very hard. I mean you simplify it and you explain it so well. But I'm just thinking, getting to the point where you have that heatmap and then getting buy-in from all the different stakeholders (because there are so many) to agree on the priorities, it seems like a kind of monumental task.

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah, and that's why CIOs own the organizational operating model. I'm not calling it an org model, right? An operating model is very critical because, as CIOs, we need to do that first for ourselves.

I'll bring our focus to, we spend a lot of time on the operations team and getting deals together with our partners to deliver on that operation, maintain the four nines availability. We spend a lot of time in applications creation and maintenance and support, but very little time on our architecture teams and our office of the CIO team.

Those two operating model components of the CIO organization are key to build and make sure that they have the right relationships with your operating organization and application creation build organization. It becomes even more important in the future of agile workforce and IT (where we are going) or product organization (where we are going towards) because we need to think about those products and the feature set and the enhancement that we want to bring in, again, through a bigger, longer-term roadmap lens.

How do you balance the short-term and long-term? That's the part that becomes important. Having a strong architecture team interacting with your business leaders, making them think behind the quarter – at least a year if not two years out – and then have the office of the CIO portfolio management team drive investment decisions through architectural input. It's a machinery which is not easy but we get bigger success if that works, and it's very hard to work. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: How do you accomplish that, especially with senior business executives who are running functional parts of the company that are less technical? Maybe they're in sales (or whatever it might be) or in finance.

Rashmi Kumar: The way I handle it is, first, clearly define for them their touchpoints. One is business relationship management, program management, build and maintain type functions.

The other piece is this architectural function where we set that up saying, "Hey, this will drive our longer-term discussion," and they like it because it modifies the way we do long-term planning. Now we have structured input to make into versus having a knee-jerk reaction to say, "I'm scrambling. I've got $10 million I need to go spend on this capability," versus bring in understanding from a longer-term perspective that we need to do these things as well as pivot faster when things happen in the business and we need to change something quickly.

The second piece, or the more operating tactical piece, is I engage with them on a quarterly basis. Most of my AC members join those calls. We call it QBR, and I talk about we have a lot of operational issues because we are straddling a legacy data center and a new data center. We are going through a massive amount of change through S/4 and related HP Next programs.

The purpose of the QBR is to focus on the longer term. It's to look at your three-year roadmap, to look at your long-term plan, and talk about investment prioritization. That has worked very, very well.

We have the business unit leader, their finance leader, their COOs, their different BU heads underneath them join. My finance person, architecture, business relationship, infrastructure person join. We are now on a trajectory – and I did this previously as my architect role as well – to talk about those, to look at the success (how far we have come), and measure ourselves in a very quantifiable way.

Cross-departmental communication inside the organization

Michael Krigsman: How do you get buy-in from various folks who see the priorities differently than you because they want their part of the company to be prioritized because, after all, "It's my department and we're responsible for X, Y, or Z. Without us, this company doesn't exist."

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah.

Michael Krigsman: And so, you need to do that which gets us up and running fast and better.

Rashmi Kumar: The other aspect is, "How come I'm strangled by IT transformation that's needed?" I'll use this example. This HP Next program is in its third year, completing almost its third year now. A major, heavy lift.

We are also doing a data center move, so applications need to migrate. We are going towards a new identity and access management solution. All these are very operational tasks, very strategic, but it's not bringing extra customer value.

The leaders are asking me, "How long are you going to strap me with this and not let me do customer differentiating, competition differentiating work?"

The challenge there is it's identifying the right level of resourcing, and it's not about dollars and cents. It's about people, their bandwidth. It's about technological platforms being available to drive change.

The way I have been doing it is the larger, lofty programs that our customers want to do on top of these initiatives is breaking those up in smaller pieces, so some of these supply chain stuff, inventory management, forecasting, planning that we wanted to get on. We spent this fiscal year, which is ending in October, really setting up the foundation for it and talking about it, getting everybody aligned.

Now, as we plan to kick off the program, my request to our COO was, "Let's talk through different areas. Let's do an analysis and requirements phase first instead of getting on a turnkey large program out of the gate." That concept is finding its ground with the leaders because they have also understood that just embarking upon yet another large program is not going to ensure that we will successfully complete it.

What I'm saying is there's no secret. It's more about that close touch relationship and keeping each other posted about what are the priorities but what's the art of possible in the current scenario to make it work.

Michael Krigsman: It requires, demands a very collaborative approach where you are working with them so that they understand your constraints and you understand their goals to try to then optimize the best solution that covers everybody. Is that a way to put it?

Rashmi Kumar: Absolutely. It's about teamwork. It's coming together. It's keeping them posted because IT programs are complex. It takes time. It takes a lot of money.

Always some folks think, "Oh, I can do this better than IT," right? [Laughter] How do you keep them posted about the progress, about the successes that we have seen, as well as the challenges that are coming our way?

In this new world, which has happened in the last, I would say, five months, where somebody mentioned this that there is no more war on talent, talent has won. Right? [Laughter] In this world, when it's an extremely rare resource, how do we deploy them successfully in the areas which will bring in maximum benefit for the company?

Michael Krigsman: Now, you mentioned earlier. You spoke about budget, and you said something to the effect of – I'm paraphrasing – not being subject to the tyranny of budget, but to be more strategic. Can you elaborate on that? That seems like a very important point.

Rashmi Kumar: The office of the CIO and architecture functions that I talked about, if they work well together, then you can come to a better discipline around how my run budget is performing, how my discretionary dollars are performing, and how I can make my run more efficient to fund some of the innovations that the company needs.

When I say innovation, it does not have to be consumer differentiating business programs only. Innovation could be in back-office operations also to make it more resilient. It could be providing better APM capability, better regression testing in the organization, or even better infrastructure automation.

Going to a public cloud or a private cloud does not give you automation out of the box. At the end of the day, your organization needs to make it happen.

How do you constantly think about continuous improvement and how do I take costs out from my day-to-day run organization to feed into the future operations? When you have that liberty or you have even extra dollars to put towards future innovation, then comes the prioritization framework that I talked about. Which business capabilities are higher revenue-driving but not getting enough attention from a technology perspective? How do I give it priority and go fix some of this stuff?

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like this is a kind of ongoing process for you and your team to be looking at how things are done to figure out where can we remove costs but, at the same time, not degrade the service level that we have to provide.

Rashmi Kumar: Absolutely. We have a lot of tools at our hands, the advancement that has happened in AI, ML, intelligent process automation, or the tools that are coming for developer productivity to have a unique view across an end-to-end ecosystem of a system development lifecycle. There are capabilities now in the marketplace.

It's around, how do I use them? How do I encourage my teams to be a continuous learners, to understand how the technology is evolving, and where are the places to bring efficiencies into the current process?

Michael Krigsman: That's always very challenging. They say, "Do more with less," which generally means, "Just save money at all costs." But if you approach it that way then you're not thinking about the innovation side, which is actually ultimately more important in terms of the long-term health of the organization.

Rashmi Kumar: Look. Squeezing our partners to do cheaper AMS or telling our businesses and not responding to tickets, those times are over. Those, what I call froth in our operational efficiencies, are gone. Those were like ten years ago.

Now we have streamlined a ton and the only way we will achieve better operational efficiencies is to bring in more automation (in some way), better insight, better automation. Drive our partners (if you use partners) to do operations to bring in more operational excellence. Write even contracts in a different way, which incentivize them to make it more efficient versus more inefficient, right? [Laughter]

When I look at these things and how technology is driving a different type of business outcome, it's also a huge team sport – as the operations team, the architecture team, the finance team, the vendor management team – all of us working together, as well as reaching across our partner communities and asking them of what unique capabilities they can bring to the table so that I can make it better going forward.

CIO priorities in 2022

Michael Krigsman: Rashmi, how does this all feed into where the CIO role is going into 2022, and how do you see things evolving and changing?

Rashmi Kumar: As we look at '22, we talk a lot about back-end and operations. I'm not saying it's not important. What I'm saying is these are table stakes. We have to do it in a perfect way to be able to keep our seat at the table and then drive leadership across different areas of your business to think about outside-in.

What I call my team is you guys are all digital enablers of the company. I understand marketing put together the front-end that our customers interact with the user experience, and e-commerce platforms provide that tool for them to interact with us. But everything behind that is driven by IT today.

Just having a shiny portal is not going to make our customers happy. They want to understand what kind of price I'm paying and why I'm paying this. Where is my order in the process? If it's delivered, where is it delivered?

Amazon has brought a B2C mindset which now also reflects on B2B. Now our consumers in B2B come from a B2C experience and they want to get the same experience on the B2B side.

We all, as CIOs are responsible for creating that experience, and it's not only the user experience on the front-end but the entire back-end of the company which needs to change to be able to do that. As CIOs, it's our responsibility to make it happen.

The second point I would make is, as CIOs, we need to be very cognizant of every dollar that we spend and make sure it goes to the right purpose for the company to bring in that improvement.

Then we need to be talent magnets. We need to make sure that not only do we hire the right talent, diverse talent, do the right thing for the planet but, at the same time, also drive engagement. Not only hire but develop and retain the talent because this is the most critical area on the globe right now is the technology talent and the unique capability that we have to connect business needs, customer needs, and technology.

Then last but not least, I would add here it's a lofty goal. I think a lot of CIOs are not thinking about it, but how we are contributing towards the agenda of ESG (which is environmental, social, and governance). We run technology, and that does create a sustainability issue.

That's why I'm so proud to work for HP because we build technologies which are keeping cars off the road, [laughter] like reducing the carbon generation. And there is a huge amount of excitement within HP as a company to drive that purpose. Our Green Lake solution, I was a judge for Innovation Quest this year where we will hopefully start publishing ESG data [laughter] out of our solutions to say how you as a company (by using Green Lake) is driving a reduction in carbon footprint.

Similarly, the whole social piece is extremely important because if you want to retain and attract talent, you need to have that strategy around where you are inclusive, where you are making people feel that they are wanted in this organization and you're investing in their growth and development.

Sorry. I went from a whole spectrum, but I wanted to take it a little higher than just the technology but talk about other areas that we need to be cognizant as leaders.

Michael Krigsman: You've got two things, it sounds to me, going on at the same time. One is, you have the business transformation that you were describing earlier, but then, at the same time, you have (let's just call them) innovation goals, as you were just describing, including ESG, including customer experience. How do you then keep these two layers working forward in sync making sure that you're giving equal attention or necessary attention to both?

Rashmi Kumar: Both of them need to work in balance. Otherwise, we will not be successful together.

If you look at the ERP-type transformation, I always say this – nothing against SAP or Oracle – when you go to a new ERP (I'd say from a business process perspective) it does not take our business forward. It actually takes them a step backward.

Typically, in an ERP which has been running for 20 years in your company, people develop manual workarounds, Excel spreadsheets to make their lives easier. As you go to a new ERP, all that goes out, so you need to help them again think and make the process efficient, hopefully through the same technological platform versus fragmenting it through various manual workarounds.

That's where the innovation piece comes in. one is definitely on the operations side and operational excellence but, at the same time, in what you achieve through transformation now how you keep it alive because it's not one and done like 20 years ago where you implemented in SAP and just run it for 20 years until it dies. Now you need to make these things a platform for innovation and drive all your future decisions through better architecture planning and portfolio planning through the office of the CIO to invest in growing that.

The other piece is it makes your M&A easier but it takes a better integration mindset to say, "As I'm bringing companies in, I'm going to bring them on my unified platform and integrate them quickly." That's one channel where it disintegrates very fast, and you start seeing footprints coming on.

I'm very happy to report that pre- the HP Next program, we had almost 1,200 applications. We have already retired close to 400, and the plan is to go to less than 500 – hopefully, by the end of 2023. That's a lofty goal.

One way, it seems, oh, it's a count. But it's not. It's actually simplifying the landscape so that we can do better innovation going forward. That's why I said these are not mutually exclusive, but if you can make it collectively exhaustive, it will reap benefits in the future.

How did the pandemic change IT leadership?

Michael Krigsman: We have an interesting question from Twitter, which is, "How did the pandemic change or complicate IT leadership as well collaborating with your peers across the company?

Rashmi Kumar: I'm fortunate to be on this digital transformation journey and the company pivot to digital products from physical products. That really sounds weird, right? We are a tech company. [Laughter] Why were we not digital?

No. We used to sell boxes and access points, from a network perspective, and storage, which were very physical. Now we will do it as a service.

We were already on that journey, but the companies which were not on that journey need to think differently about their products and services. One, even if it's a physical product, it needs to have very digital tracking across its lifecycle so that customers understand what's going on.

If you are fortunate enough to become a digital company where now you are selling subscription products, congratulations because your market cap will definitely go up. [Laughter] We are all looking for subscription-type models. But to pivot to a subscription-type model, it takes a whole different level of digital transformation to be run CIOs, and that's their responsibility.

I really love how Subway, the head of IT, talked about it that when COVID had just happened, they put up a very manually automated process for people to come to the door of the Subway and ring a bell so that they can get their order while they created the tracking and the app and everything. I think that was a great step because if you don't take that first step, you will never get to that second step. If COVID did not create that urgency, create that urgency in your mind of leadership.

Now come to the virtual collaboration. We are a global company. The day we logged on, which was the 14th of March – I remember vividly – my worry wasn't, "Will everybody have VPN and Skype access?" We're fortunate to have a very smart infrastructure team who, from January, the Beijing event, started thinking, "If this happens globally, what will we do?" and strengthen the infrastructure.

My challenge was, there was an immediate release for our HP Next program and I had almost 2,500 people across the globe working. Earlier, we would do a command center in Houston, in Bucharest, and in Bangalore to run that release, and here we go. [Laughter] We had to run it virtually.

I must thank my team that it went flawlessly because I think that global company rigor created that in people's minds, their ability to interact virtually. I completely agree, though, at the leadership level with the executive committee, what takes us two or three hours to solve in a virtual world would have taken five or ten minutes if we could stand in front of a whiteboard together and solution it.

Now, we are slowly going back to in-person. We opened our offices on July 19th. But then the whole delta scare happened, so attendance is still low, but we are now creating little taskforce-type teams where we are bringing them together to define a future roadmap of activities that we are taking away now.

Women in tech: Female CIO in a male-dominated field

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears slightly because I have to ask you what's it like working as a CIO in such a male-dominated field, especially engineering. HPE is such a technology-focused organization.

Rashmi Kumar: Look. I did my engineering degree in metallurgical engineering exactly 30 years ago. [Laughter] I went to work for a steel company as a metallurgical engineer where we went through a one-year training. At the time of placement, I wanted to work in a steel melting shop, and I wasn't given that opportunity back then. [Laughter]

I was told point-blank – it's a great company to work for. I was at Tata Steel – "No, we will not put a 22-year-old girl on the shop floor."

I was like, "Why?"

"Oh, no. Outages happen in the middle of the night."

I was like, "I'll come in the middle of the night."

"No, no! There are 300 labor—"

You know, there was a big discussion, but then I went to R&D, and that gave me an opportunity to get into more technology in steelmaking, so I'm fortunate that happened. But you know what? I never thought that steel making is a male-dominated engineering company and I should not be one of them, which I think today's females are struggling more because we talk about it a lot.

I would say when you work – and I've been a junior member and now I am a senior member – I think, as leadership, they want people who can create results and drive higher value for them. That's what has made me successful.

When I work on a piece of work – and you might have gotten a little bit from my description here – I'm not tunnel vision focused on my part of the work. I look up and down, left and right, and see what other areas this piece of work will impact. That creates a different level of understanding of the ecosystem.

I have always made my managers' life easier and given them more value for them to provide to the company.

I might be a little naïve. There have been incidents here and there. But in general, I think if you keep focused on driving results for the company, leaders are just pleased to see us performing at that level.

That's what I tell my peers and the people who I mentored or I get mentored from that America is a culture of performance and delivery. Minus the noise that happens around you about who you are and how you look and how you behave, let's focus on the deliverable and the work.

I personally drive it that way at HPE, prior to this at McKesson, prior to that at Toyota or Southern California Edison. Those companies have been at the forefront of driving equality in the workforce. They have tried hard and I'm very pleased to see the advancement. Definitely, we should have made more advancements, but I think I need to go back to more grassroots levels to bring it.

I'm happy to report, as I got on the journey last March also to hire a thousand more people, made it a focus. What it took is having HP to give me resources to drive that focus. How do we make it popular to bring in the roles?

At one time, I recruited 40% female in India, recruiting, which is hard to beat for myself now. [Laughter] It takes extra effort at every level to make it happen.

I hope I'm able to answer your question. I jumped around a little bit.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah. No, it's great. Perfect. Success of women in male-dominated engineering industries, how much of the success is due to the nature of their organization, as you just described – you were supported, it sounds like – versus their own activity and initiative?

Rashmi Kumar: I think it's a combination. I absolutely think it's a combination. It does take a little extra hustle, a little extra (I call it) deliberate effort on networking and letting people know that you are here and here is what you can provide to the company or to the community, reaching out not only to internal networks and external networks.

Look. I'm not only a person of color. I'm not only a female. I'm not only an executive. I’m also an immigrant. So, I don't have my school network here. I don't have my college network here. So, how do I build that?

I talk about it as having a board of directors for yourself to help you navigate the corporate world. That's true for every demographic at this point. That part, that hustle is my own. It's to look at my career strategically, myself, and think about, okay, the company is providing all the support and everything, but how do I get noticed in that space to get future opportunities to contribute more?

Michael Krigsman: How does one get noticed in that way, in that positive way?

Rashmi Kumar: That's a whole deliberate approach to networking, to talking to people about your caliber, about your work, asking for help. A lot of my junior team members, interns, and new hires, I talk to them and tell them, "Reach out to folks. Some of them will not respond to you, not because they don't want to, but they are too busy. But everybody wants to pay it forward." It's true at every level, so outreach is my responsibility.

Look. My career plan is my career plan. A company is not going to give me a career plan.

I have a career plan, I have touchpoints with the company where the company can help me, and I go to my mentors or my sponsors. That's the difference, too. It's very important to have sponsors. But not just to have sponsors. To tell them what I need from them to make me successful. They are eager and willing.

I'm eager and willing to sponsor and mentor folks, but they need to come to me with very clear action around what do they need from me and I have done that to my sponsors and mentors. Sometimes, the sponsors have also shown me what leap of faith I should take to get to that next level. Having that relationship, building that relationship was my responsibility and drive.

What are the characteristics of a good mentee?

Michael Krigsman: What are the characteristics of somebody who is a good mentee? If somebody comes to you, for example, to be a sponsor, to be a mentor, what are the characteristics that you look for?

Rashmi Kumar: Trying to become a better one of myself or himself or herself. If it is about, "Oh, I'm a manager. I want to become a director," that's not the right approach because that decision depends on many other variables.

First of all, really understanding who I am, what stage of life I am, what kind of balance I need between my life and work. What values do I have? What kind of roles and companies I want to work at, that's knowing about myself.

The second piece is really understanding who I want to be when I grow up, which is the hardest part. I still don't know clearly, [laughter] but at least know in the next few years who you want to be.

Having very transparent conversations and asking for feedback. "Hey, I think I can do this in the future. Do you think I can do this?" If somebody says, "Yes, I think you can," "Then help me. I have these three steps to be able to be successful in that. Can you give me more that I should work on?"

Having that leading conversation from a mentee perspective gives better results. Otherwise, it becomes a conversation you get to know yet another successful person, and that's fine too, but it'll not give you better results in the end.

Michael Krigsman: I know that you have given this subject of mentorship a great deal of thought, so what advice do you have for mentors in terms of how to be really helpful to the people who come to you.

Rashmi Kumar: What I have done is having some kind of reverse mentoring because if you talk about an inclusive workforce, the workplace has become diversified incredibly. It's not only on the race, sex, or region of birth, but it's from a thought perspective. The experience perspectives are very different as well.

Because talent is so difficult, people are changing roles. They're going to new areas. Trying to understand how do we as mentors really become maximizers and help our mentees achieve superior results in their careers, we really need to understand how the market is changing.

Look, we cannot just sit across the table today and talk about, "Oh, this Gen-Y is entitled and they don't appreciate what they have," [laughter] versus talking, "Oh, what drives a Gen-Y or Gen-X, and how do I need to think about getting the most about them?" that happens through that reverse mentorship person. So, grow yourself before you sign up to growing somebody else.

Michael Krigsman: Excellent and very thoughtful advice. With that, I want to say really a heartfelt thanks to Rashmi Kumar, Chief Information Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), for taking time to be with us today. Rashmi, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Rashmi Kumar: Thank you, Michael, and CXOTalk. I really appreciate it as well. It was fun.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially the folks who asked questions. We have great shows coming up. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our great newsletter, and check out CXOTalk.com. Have a great week, everybody. We have awesome shows coming up, and we will see you again soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

Rashmi Kumar: I have close to a thousand people currently in my team. We support north of 80,000 employees and end-users across 200+ global sites as well as tens of millions of customers who subscribe to our services every day.

About HPE and Rashmi Kumar

Michael Krigsman: Today we're speaking with Rashmi Kumar, who is HPE's CIO. Give us a sense of what your role as CIO encompasses.

Rashmi Kumar: The classic CIO role from telecom infrastructure to end-user computing to data center networks, cybersecurity enablement to driving large, digital transformation not only at the core of the company (from the beginning to end of our value chain) but, at the same time, helping the company pivot to our new business models.

Michael Krigsman: From a CIO perspective, what changed? How did the role change over this last 18 months?

Rashmi Kumar: It has changed how customers now view every company in a different way. Gone are the days when CIOs are put in a box of back-end operations to keep the lights on. If you look at it by degree, those are the minors where we need to get to graduate to the majors, which are driving digital transformation and significant enhancement in the way a company delivers value to the customers.

At the depth of CIO's operating model, we need both. We need that operational excellence where we keep the lights on, we provide all the technological services to customers and employees but, at the same time, graduate to become the digital advisor of the company. We can talk more about it eventually, but I personally feel that CIOs need to think like COOs because there is nobody in the company who is looking across, connecting the dots of the silos which are purpose-built to make different operational groups within the company successful.

Michael Krigsman: I know that HPE itself has been undergoing a very significant transformation. Can you tell us about that and really weave in the role of the CIO? Ultimately, where I want to get to is where is the CIO trajectory going into 2022? But tell us about what's happening at HPE.

Rashmi Kumar: I'll talk about one program which we call HP Next, which is one of the large-scale transformations happening today. This is an industry-leading transformation program transforming literally an 85-year-old company that we are and 30-year-old processes that we have.

It builds on the largest SAP, S/4, and 60 other related ecosystem technologies which will deliver significant value to customers, the overall company, and will set up the core and the foundation to make us an edge to cloud platform as a service company. It kind of simplifies 100+ business processes.

HP was this large, $10 billion, $20 billion company and now we are a sub-$30 billion company. Antonio had this realization when he took on as CEO that he cannot run a $29 billion company on $120 billion company infrastructure and the infrastructure which hasn't been improved and looked at from a process perspective in the last couple of decades.

We started trying to transform every area of our core talking about a single source of truth for customers, for partners, for products, entire sales lifecycle, entire customer lifecycle, thinking through orders, configure price code, master data across all these subject areas. It delivers now competitive sales codes in real-time with low touch or no touch from our employees. Automation is enhanced and easier for our customers and partners to stay informed, as they interact with us.

Then it creates a foundation. It creates the ecosystem on which now we will be able to increase or do better in our M&A integration activity as well as build strategically to our strategic pivot to "as a service" company because that would not have happened in the fragmented back-end that we had before.

Michael Krigsman: You're really rethinking the company across the board. Are you looking across all the different functions of the company or how do you approach something like this?

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah, so it's across the functions, across the traditional setup. We are a global company, so are we still running across the region or do we want to look at a unified process across all the regions? How do we take away inefficiencies in those processes and make it faster? Then really thinking outside-in from customers (and sometimes our channel partner perspective) what they're looking for.

Look. I'm talking about it confidently. It's not easy. It's not easy to take an 85-year-old company that has a very different mindset and our partners who are themselves busy in their own transformation, to pull them together to create that end-to-end, more efficient ecosystem (from a process and tech perspective).

CIO role and serving external stakeholders

Michael Krigsman: It's very interesting to hear you describe the importance of that outside-in thinking because we tend to think of the CIO role as being inward-facing. Yet, the moment you start weaving in these additional outside stakeholders, it changes how the CIO actually functions and the role of IT.

Rashmi Kumar: There are frameworks and trainings that companies have brought in and out of how they work.

I started from the TQM (total quality improvement program). I worked at Toyota, so I've looked at kaizen, six sigma at many places, and now it's the design thinking.

All these frameworks (from the get-go) talk about voice of the customer, value stream maps. Understand where you are delivering value to customers.

I don't understand. Being CIOs, our purpose should be to put the customers first and not have a technology driver decision around how we implement that technology. Let's have your customers drive the technology.

I work a lot with the startup ecosystem as well, and companies and coaching. This is what I talk about with them as well. Don't try to solve a technology problem. Try to solve a customer problem.

Product/market fit that Andreessen talks about, it's really important for us as CIOs to keep our mindset very nimble and think like an entrepreneur as we want to leapfrog our companies – mostly, I work for traditional companies – into that next generation of companies which we are competing with right now.

Michael Krigsman: Then how do you reconcile the fact that the IT (information technology) is focused the technology and yet you're saying focus on the customer problem rather than the technology problem? How do you bring these together?

Rashmi Kumar: If you talk about data science, data science is a three-pronged problem. It's the knowledge of the technology and the platform, knowledge of the data, but the SME knowledge of the business process. That's where the leading change happened in the AI ML world. That's kind of a microcosm of the overall role of the CIO.

I will add another thing in transformation. When I say that CIOs need to think like COOs, the reason is that individual business unit leaders – if all of you look at your executive committee level – they are optimized to be successful in their silos because they are driven by P&L. They are driven by quarter.

We have the luxury to connect the dots across them and transform, again, thinking from outside-in, customer in. And it doesn't matter if you're doing an end-user role, right? You are looking at collaboration tools.

Always think from your employees as a customer there and think about what they're looking for because the market is crowded. You can bring Zoom in, Slack in, Teams in, Skype is still there, WebEx. [Laughter] What your employees need from that perspective and how do you do it most cost-effectively while using the best technology, that's where the success is.

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong. Is the issue then, number one, understanding the business strategy; number two, understanding the, shall we say, customer expectations; number three, understanding the tools and technologies and how we can weave those together to address points, the business needs, and the customer requirements?

Rashmi Kumar: Thank you. You said this way more eloquently than I said it. [Laughter] Thank you for doing that. Absolutely, yeah.

Michael Krigsman: As you go through this kind of process, you touched on this, but how do you begin? What's the planning process for this and where does IT fit into that?

Rashmi Kumar: I grew up in the architecture world, so I have spent a lot of time building vision, strategy, and roadmaps. I'm classically trained to start at a value chain of the company.

Take a look at how we serve businesses, and the approach is not unique to a technology company. I've worked in utilities. I've worked in financial services. I've worked in entertainment.

In every business today, the way customers want to consume services is changing at unprecedented speed.

  • If you look at entertainment, it has become about content. It's no more about the DVDs or theaters and things like that.
  • If you look at a car, now it's a mobility problem. It's not a car problem. [Laughter]
  • If you look at utilities, they are building data flow along with electron flow, and the business models are changing.

As we think about what we need in our employees, in our resources to be able to drive this, it's to start at how a company serves its customers, and that's what I call the value chain. Go down to the next level and understand the capabilities we have enabled by technology. Where do we see gaping holes?

The other layer of complexity that brings in that very quickly this two-dimensional problem become a three-dimensional problem because now you have different business units which, through the same value chain, is delivering the same set of services. How do you bring homogeneity to it?

If you look at HP Next, it's the same thing. We had separate systems running hardware sales, a separate system running services sales, a separate system running network sales, and customer support, and that does not give a unified experience.

If I'm able to explain it kind of visually, then it's the business value stream. It's the capabilities below it, the technologies that support it, and the layers of different products or services that you have.

Start thinking in a unified way to consolidate those capabilities through a common set of technologies because now that brings in another horizontal layer where you can do cyber security better. You can gather data better to drive better analytics about your customers and products and your ability to service them. You can create common infrastructure versus having fragmentation and creating a spiderweb of integration across it.

It sounds hard, but the next piece that comes after this is prioritization. What are the key value stream areas where you need to bring in technologically driven transformation faster to get the maximum customer value? If you get this framework right, you can come up with a heatmap which will drive your prioritization decisions.

Then it comes to funding. A lot of CIOs drive a lot of decisions based on funding decisions. That is not the right way to do it because then you're not spending those precious dollars (which is given to you by your stakeholder) into solving the right problems if you don't have the framework in mind to do so.

Key components of the CIO organizational operating model

Michael Krigsman: You are describing an approach that is much more strategic than I often hear IT talked about. It does sound very hard. I mean you simplify it and you explain it so well. But I'm just thinking, getting to the point where you have that heatmap and then getting buy-in from all the different stakeholders (because there are so many) to agree on the priorities, it seems like a kind of monumental task.

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah, and that's why CIOs own the organizational operating model. I'm not calling it an org model, right? An operating model is very critical because, as CIOs, we need to do that first for ourselves.

I'll bring our focus to, we spend a lot of time on the operations team and getting deals together with our partners to deliver on that operation, maintain the four nines availability. We spend a lot of time in applications creation and maintenance and support, but very little time on our architecture teams and our office of the CIO team.

Those two operating model components of the CIO organization are key to build and make sure that they have the right relationships with your operating organization and application creation build organization. It becomes even more important in the future of agile workforce and IT (where we are going) or product organization (where we are going towards) because we need to think about those products and the feature set and the enhancement that we want to bring in, again, through a bigger, longer-term roadmap lens.

How do you balance the short-term and long-term? That's the part that becomes important. Having a strong architecture team interacting with your business leaders, making them think behind the quarter – at least a year if not two years out – and then have the office of the CIO portfolio management team drive investment decisions through architectural input. It's a machinery which is not easy but we get bigger success if that works, and it's very hard to work. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: How do you accomplish that, especially with senior business executives who are running functional parts of the company that are less technical? Maybe they're in sales (or whatever it might be) or in finance.

Rashmi Kumar: The way I handle it is, first, clearly define for them their touchpoints. One is business relationship management, program management, build and maintain type functions.

The other piece is this architectural function where we set that up saying, "Hey, this will drive our longer-term discussion," and they like it because it modifies the way we do long-term planning. Now we have structured input to make into versus having a knee-jerk reaction to say, "I'm scrambling. I've got $10 million I need to go spend on this capability," versus bring in understanding from a longer-term perspective that we need to do these things as well as pivot faster when things happen in the business and we need to change something quickly.

The second piece, or the more operating tactical piece, is I engage with them on a quarterly basis. Most of my AC members join those calls. We call it QBR, and I talk about we have a lot of operational issues because we are straddling a legacy data center and a new data center. We are going through a massive amount of change through S/4 and related HP Next programs.

The purpose of the QBR is to focus on the longer term. It's to look at your three-year roadmap, to look at your long-term plan, and talk about investment prioritization. That has worked very, very well.

We have the business unit leader, their finance leader, their COOs, their different BU heads underneath them join. My finance person, architecture, business relationship, infrastructure person join. We are now on a trajectory – and I did this previously as my architect role as well – to talk about those, to look at the success (how far we have come), and measure ourselves in a very quantifiable way.

Cross-departmental communication inside the organization

Michael Krigsman: How do you get buy-in from various folks who see the priorities differently than you because they want their part of the company to be prioritized because, after all, "It's my department and we're responsible for X, Y, or Z. Without us, this company doesn't exist."

Rashmi Kumar: Yeah.

Michael Krigsman: And so, you need to do that which gets us up and running fast and better.

Rashmi Kumar: The other aspect is, "How come I'm strangled by IT transformation that's needed?" I'll use this example. This HP Next program is in its third year, completing almost its third year now. A major, heavy lift.

We are also doing a data center move, so applications need to migrate. We are going towards a new identity and access management solution. All these are very operational tasks, very strategic, but it's not bringing extra customer value.

The leaders are asking me, "How long are you going to strap me with this and not let me do customer differentiating, competition differentiating work?"

The challenge there is it's identifying the right level of resourcing, and it's not about dollars and cents. It's about people, their bandwidth. It's about technological platforms being available to drive change.

The way I have been doing it is the larger, lofty programs that our customers want to do on top of these initiatives is breaking those up in smaller pieces, so some of these supply chain stuff, inventory management, forecasting, planning that we wanted to get on. We spent this fiscal year, which is ending in October, really setting up the foundation for it and talking about it, getting everybody aligned.

Now, as we plan to kick off the program, my request to our COO was, "Let's talk through different areas. Let's do an analysis and requirements phase first instead of getting on a turnkey large program out of the gate." That concept is finding its ground with the leaders because they have also understood that just embarking upon yet another large program is not going to ensure that we will successfully complete it.

What I'm saying is there's no secret. It's more about that close touch relationship and keeping each other posted about what are the priorities but what's the art of possible in the current scenario to make it work.

Michael Krigsman: It requires, demands a very collaborative approach where you are working with them so that they understand your constraints and you understand their goals to try to then optimize the best solution that covers everybody. Is that a way to put it?

Rashmi Kumar: Absolutely. It's about teamwork. It's coming together. It's keeping them posted because IT programs are complex. It takes time. It takes a lot of money.

Always some folks think, "Oh, I can do this better than IT," right? [Laughter] How do you keep them posted about the progress, about the successes that we have seen, as well as the challenges that are coming our way?

In this new world, which has happened in the last, I would say, five months, where somebody mentioned this that there is no more war on talent, talent has won. Right? [Laughter] In this world, when it's an extremely rare resource, how do we deploy them successfully in the areas which will bring in maximum benefit for the company?

Michael Krigsman: Now, you mentioned earlier. You spoke about budget, and you said something to the effect of – I'm paraphrasing – not being subject to the tyranny of budget, but to be more strategic. Can you elaborate on that? That seems like a very important point.

Rashmi Kumar: The office of the CIO and architecture functions that I talked about, if they work well together, then you can come to a better discipline around how my run budget is performing, how my discretionary dollars are performing, and how I can make my run more efficient to fund some of the innovations that the company needs.

When I say innovation, it does not have to be consumer differentiating business programs only. Innovation could be in back-office operations also to make it more resilient. It could be providing better APM capability, better regression testing in the organization, or even better infrastructure automation.

Going to a public cloud or a private cloud does not give you automation out of the box. At the end of the day, your organization needs to make it happen.

How do you constantly think about continuous improvement and how do I take costs out from my day-to-day run organization to feed into the future operations? When you have that liberty or you have even extra dollars to put towards future innovation, then comes the prioritization framework that I talked about. Which business capabilities are higher revenue-driving but not getting enough attention from a technology perspective? How do I give it priority and go fix some of this stuff?

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like this is a kind of ongoing process for you and your team to be looking at how things are done to figure out where can we remove costs but, at the same time, not degrade the service level that we have to provide.

Rashmi Kumar: Absolutely. We have a lot of tools at our hands, the advancement that has happened in AI, ML, intelligent process automation, or the tools that are coming for developer productivity to have a unique view across an end-to-end ecosystem of a system development lifecycle. There are capabilities now in the marketplace.

It's around, how do I use them? How do I encourage my teams to be a continuous learners, to understand how the technology is evolving, and where are the places to bring efficiencies into the current process?

Michael Krigsman: That's always very challenging. They say, "Do more with less," which generally means, "Just save money at all costs." But if you approach it that way then you're not thinking about the innovation side, which is actually ultimately more important in terms of the long-term health of the organization.

Rashmi Kumar: Look. Squeezing our partners to do cheaper AMS or telling our businesses and not responding to tickets, those times are over. Those, what I call froth in our operational efficiencies, are gone. Those were like ten years ago.

Now we have streamlined a ton and the only way we will achieve better operational efficiencies is to bring in more automation (in some way), better insight, better automation. Drive our partners (if you use partners) to do operations to bring in more operational excellence. Write even contracts in a different way, which incentivize them to make it more efficient versus more inefficient, right? [Laughter]

When I look at these things and how technology is driving a different type of business outcome, it's also a huge team sport – as the operations team, the architecture team, the finance team, the vendor management team – all of us working together, as well as reaching across our partner communities and asking them of what unique capabilities they can bring to the table so that I can make it better going forward.

CIO priorities in 2022

Michael Krigsman: Rashmi, how does this all feed into where the CIO role is going into 2022, and how do you see things evolving and changing?

Rashmi Kumar: As we look at '22, we talk a lot about back-end and operations. I'm not saying it's not important. What I'm saying is these are table stakes. We have to do it in a perfect way to be able to keep our seat at the table and then drive leadership across different areas of your business to think about outside-in.

What I call my team is you guys are all digital enablers of the company. I understand marketing put together the front-end that our customers interact with the user experience, and e-commerce platforms provide that tool for them to interact with us. But everything behind that is driven by IT today.

Just having a shiny portal is not going to make our customers happy. They want to understand what kind of price I'm paying and why I'm paying this. Where is my order in the process? If it's delivered, where is it delivered?

Amazon has brought a B2C mindset which now also reflects on B2B. Now our consumers in B2B come from a B2C experience and they want to get the same experience on the B2B side.

We all, as CIOs are responsible for creating that experience, and it's not only the user experience on the front-end but the entire back-end of the company which needs to change to be able to do that. As CIOs, it's our responsibility to make it happen.

The second point I would make is, as CIOs, we need to be very cognizant of every dollar that we spend and make sure it goes to the right purpose for the company to bring in that improvement.

Then we need to be talent magnets. We need to make sure that not only do we hire the right talent, diverse talent, do the right thing for the planet but, at the same time, also drive engagement. Not only hire but develop and retain the talent because this is the most critical area on the globe right now is the technology talent and the unique capability that we have to connect business needs, customer needs, and technology.

Then last but not least, I would add here it's a lofty goal. I think a lot of CIOs are not thinking about it, but how we are contributing towards the agenda of ESG (which is environmental, social, and governance). We run technology, and that does create a sustainability issue.

That's why I'm so proud to work for HP because we build technologies which are keeping cars off the road, [laughter] like reducing the carbon generation. And there is a huge amount of excitement within HP as a company to drive that purpose. Our Green Lake solution, I was a judge for Innovation Quest this year where we will hopefully start publishing ESG data [laughter] out of our solutions to say how you as a company (by using Green Lake) is driving a reduction in carbon footprint.

Similarly, the whole social piece is extremely important because if you want to retain and attract talent, you need to have that strategy around where you are inclusive, where you are making people feel that they are wanted in this organization and you're investing in their growth and development.

Sorry. I went from a whole spectrum, but I wanted to take it a little higher than just the technology but talk about other areas that we need to be cognizant as leaders.

Michael Krigsman: You've got two things, it sounds to me, going on at the same time. One is, you have the business transformation that you were describing earlier, but then, at the same time, you have (let's just call them) innovation goals, as you were just describing, including ESG, including customer experience. How do you then keep these two layers working forward in sync making sure that you're giving equal attention or necessary attention to both?

Rashmi Kumar: Both of them need to work in balance. Otherwise, we will not be successful together.

If you look at the ERP-type transformation, I always say this – nothing against SAP or Oracle – when you go to a new ERP (I'd say from a business process perspective) it does not take our business forward. It actually takes them a step backward.

Typically, in an ERP which has been running for 20 years in your company, people develop manual workarounds, Excel spreadsheets to make their lives easier. As you go to a new ERP, all that goes out, so you need to help them again think and make the process efficient, hopefully through the same technological platform versus fragmenting it through various manual workarounds.

That's where the innovation piece comes in. one is definitely on the operations side and operational excellence but, at the same time, in what you achieve through transformation now how you keep it alive because it's not one and done like 20 years ago where you implemented in SAP and just run it for 20 years until it dies. Now you need to make these things a platform for innovation and drive all your future decisions through better architecture planning and portfolio planning through the office of the CIO to invest in growing that.

The other piece is it makes your M&A easier but it takes a better integration mindset to say, "As I'm bringing companies in, I'm going to bring them on my unified platform and integrate them quickly." That's one channel where it disintegrates very fast, and you start seeing footprints coming on.

I'm very happy to report that pre- the HP Next program, we had almost 1,200 applications. We have already retired close to 400, and the plan is to go to less than 500 – hopefully, by the end of 2023. That's a lofty goal.

One way, it seems, oh, it's a count. But it's not. It's actually simplifying the landscape so that we can do better innovation going forward. That's why I said these are not mutually exclusive, but if you can make it collectively exhaustive, it will reap benefits in the future.

How did the pandemic change IT leadership?

Michael Krigsman: We have an interesting question from Twitter, which is, "How did the pandemic change or complicate IT leadership as well collaborating with your peers across the company?

Rashmi Kumar: I'm fortunate to be on this digital transformation journey and the company pivot to digital products from physical products. That really sounds weird, right? We are a tech company. [Laughter] Why were we not digital?

No. We used to sell boxes and access points, from a network perspective, and storage, which were very physical. Now we will do it as a service.

We were already on that journey, but the companies which were not on that journey need to think differently about their products and services. One, even if it's a physical product, it needs to have very digital tracking across its lifecycle so that customers understand what's going on.

If you are fortunate enough to become a digital company where now you are selling subscription products, congratulations because your market cap will definitely go up. [Laughter] We are all looking for subscription-type models. But to pivot to a subscription-type model, it takes a whole different level of digital transformation to be run CIOs, and that's their responsibility.

I really love how Subway, the head of IT, talked about it that when COVID had just happened, they put up a very manually automated process for people to come to the door of the Subway and ring a bell so that they can get their order while they created the tracking and the app and everything. I think that was a great step because if you don't take that first step, you will never get to that second step. If COVID did not create that urgency, create that urgency in your mind of leadership.

Now come to the virtual collaboration. We are a global company. The day we logged on, which was the 14th of March – I remember vividly – my worry wasn't, "Will everybody have VPN and Skype access?" We're fortunate to have a very smart infrastructure team who, from January, the Beijing event, started thinking, "If this happens globally, what will we do?" and strengthen the infrastructure.

My challenge was, there was an immediate release for our HP Next program and I had almost 2,500 people across the globe working. Earlier, we would do a command center in Houston, in Bucharest, and in Bangalore to run that release, and here we go. [Laughter] We had to run it virtually.

I must thank my team that it went flawlessly because I think that global company rigor created that in people's minds, their ability to interact virtually. I completely agree, though, at the leadership level with the executive committee, what takes us two or three hours to solve in a virtual world would have taken five or ten minutes if we could stand in front of a whiteboard together and solution it.

Now, we are slowly going back to in-person. We opened our offices on July 19th. But then the whole delta scare happened, so attendance is still low, but we are now creating little taskforce-type teams where we are bringing them together to define a future roadmap of activities that we are taking away now.

Women in tech: Female CIO in a male-dominated field

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears slightly because I have to ask you what's it like working as a CIO in such a male-dominated field, especially engineering. HPE is such a technology-focused organization.

Rashmi Kumar: Look. I did my engineering degree in metallurgical engineering exactly 30 years ago. [Laughter] I went to work for a steel company as a metallurgical engineer where we went through a one-year training. At the time of placement, I wanted to work in a steel melting shop, and I wasn't given that opportunity back then. [Laughter]

I was told point-blank – it's a great company to work for. I was at Tata Steel – "No, we will not put a 22-year-old girl on the shop floor."

I was like, "Why?"

"Oh, no. Outages happen in the middle of the night."

I was like, "I'll come in the middle of the night."

"No, no! There are 300 labor—"

You know, there was a big discussion, but then I went to R&D, and that gave me an opportunity to get into more technology in steelmaking, so I'm fortunate that happened. But you know what? I never thought that steel making is a male-dominated engineering company and I should not be one of them, which I think today's females are struggling more because we talk about it a lot.

I would say when you work – and I've been a junior member and now I am a senior member – I think, as leadership, they want people who can create results and drive higher value for them. That's what has made me successful.

When I work on a piece of work – and you might have gotten a little bit from my description here – I'm not tunnel vision focused on my part of the work. I look up and down, left and right, and see what other areas this piece of work will impact. That creates a different level of understanding of the ecosystem.

I have always made my managers' life easier and given them more value for them to provide to the company.

I might be a little naïve. There have been incidents here and there. But in general, I think if you keep focused on driving results for the company, leaders are just pleased to see us performing at that level.

That's what I tell my peers and the people who I mentored or I get mentored from that America is a culture of performance and delivery. Minus the noise that happens around you about who you are and how you look and how you behave, let's focus on the deliverable and the work.

I personally drive it that way at HPE, prior to this at McKesson, prior to that at Toyota or Southern California Edison. Those companies have been at the forefront of driving equality in the workforce. They have tried hard and I'm very pleased to see the advancement. Definitely, we should have made more advancements, but I think I need to go back to more grassroots levels to bring it.

I'm happy to report, as I got on the journey last March also to hire a thousand more people, made it a focus. What it took is having HP to give me resources to drive that focus. How do we make it popular to bring in the roles?

At one time, I recruited 40% female in India, recruiting, which is hard to beat for myself now. [Laughter] It takes extra effort at every level to make it happen.

I hope I'm able to answer your question. I jumped around a little bit.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah. No, it's great. Perfect. Success of women in male-dominated engineering industries, how much of the success is due to the nature of their organization, as you just described – you were supported, it sounds like – versus their own activity and initiative?

Rashmi Kumar: I think it's a combination. I absolutely think it's a combination. It does take a little extra hustle, a little extra (I call it) deliberate effort on networking and letting people know that you are here and here is what you can provide to the company or to the community, reaching out not only to internal networks and external networks.

Look. I'm not only a person of color. I'm not only a female. I'm not only an executive. I’m also an immigrant. So, I don't have my school network here. I don't have my college network here. So, how do I build that?

I talk about it as having a board of directors for yourself to help you navigate the corporate world. That's true for every demographic at this point. That part, that hustle is my own. It's to look at my career strategically, myself, and think about, okay, the company is providing all the support and everything, but how do I get noticed in that space to get future opportunities to contribute more?

Michael Krigsman: How does one get noticed in that way, in that positive way?

Rashmi Kumar: That's a whole deliberate approach to networking, to talking to people about your caliber, about your work, asking for help. A lot of my junior team members, interns, and new hires, I talk to them and tell them, "Reach out to folks. Some of them will not respond to you, not because they don't want to, but they are too busy. But everybody wants to pay it forward." It's true at every level, so outreach is my responsibility.

Look. My career plan is my career plan. A company is not going to give me a career plan.

I have a career plan, I have touchpoints with the company where the company can help me, and I go to my mentors or my sponsors. That's the difference, too. It's very important to have sponsors. But not just to have sponsors. To tell them what I need from them to make me successful. They are eager and willing.

I'm eager and willing to sponsor and mentor folks, but they need to come to me with very clear action around what do they need from me and I have done that to my sponsors and mentors. Sometimes, the sponsors have also shown me what leap of faith I should take to get to that next level. Having that relationship, building that relationship was my responsibility and drive.

What are the characteristics of a good mentee?

Michael Krigsman: What are the characteristics of somebody who is a good mentee? If somebody comes to you, for example, to be a sponsor, to be a mentor, what are the characteristics that you look for?

Rashmi Kumar: Trying to become a better one of myself or himself or herself. If it is about, "Oh, I'm a manager. I want to become a director," that's not the right approach because that decision depends on many other variables.

First of all, really understanding who I am, what stage of life I am, what kind of balance I need between my life and work. What values do I have? What kind of roles and companies I want to work at, that's knowing about myself.

The second piece is really understanding who I want to be when I grow up, which is the hardest part. I still don't know clearly, [laughter] but at least know in the next few years who you want to be.

Having very transparent conversations and asking for feedback. "Hey, I think I can do this in the future. Do you think I can do this?" If somebody says, "Yes, I think you can," "Then help me. I have these three steps to be able to be successful in that. Can you give me more that I should work on?"

Having that leading conversation from a mentee perspective gives better results. Otherwise, it becomes a conversation you get to know yet another successful person, and that's fine too, but it'll not give you better results in the end.

Michael Krigsman: I know that you have given this subject of mentorship a great deal of thought, so what advice do you have for mentors in terms of how to be really helpful to the people who come to you.

Rashmi Kumar: What I have done is having some kind of reverse mentoring because if you talk about an inclusive workforce, the workplace has become diversified incredibly. It's not only on the race, sex, or region of birth, but it's from a thought perspective. The experience perspectives are very different as well.

Because talent is so difficult, people are changing roles. They're going to new areas. Trying to understand how do we as mentors really become maximizers and help our mentees achieve superior results in their careers, we really need to understand how the market is changing.

Look, we cannot just sit across the table today and talk about, "Oh, this Gen-Y is entitled and they don't appreciate what they have," [laughter] versus talking, "Oh, what drives a Gen-Y or Gen-X, and how do I need to think about getting the most about them?" that happens through that reverse mentorship person. So, grow yourself before you sign up to growing somebody else.

Michael Krigsman: Excellent and very thoughtful advice. With that, I want to say really a heartfelt thanks to Rashmi Kumar, Chief Information Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), for taking time to be with us today. Rashmi, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Rashmi Kumar: Thank you, Michael, and CXOTalk. I really appreciate it as well. It was fun.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially the folks who asked questions. We have great shows coming up. Subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our great newsletter, and check out CXOTalk.com. Have a great week, everybody. We have awesome shows coming up, and we will see you again soon. Take care. Bye-bye.