Commvault CEO: Chief Information Officer (CIO) Strategy and Agenda 2021

The CIO role offers unprecedented opportunities for Chief Information Officers who understand how information technology can support core innovation agendas in the enterprise. To learn more, we speak with Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO of Commvault.


Nov 12, 2020

The CIO role offers unprecedented opportunities for Chief Information Officers who understand how information technology can support core innovation agendas in the enterprise. To learn more, we speak with Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO of data management supplier Commvault. Among the important topics that Sanjay covers are cloud strategy and advice for CIOs.

Sanjay Mirchandani is a customer-driven CEO determined to deliver Commvault solutions that impact the business and lives of our customers. Sanjay joined Commvault from the software maker Puppet, where he served as CEO for more than two years. Prior to that, he spent two decades in senior leadership roles at Microsoft, VMware, and EMC Corp.


This transcript has been lightly edited.

Introduction: About Commvault

Michael Krigsman: We're talking with Sanjay Mirchandani. He's the CEO of Commvault. In addition to being CEO, he has experience as a chief information officer, so this is going to be a fascinating conversation. Sanjay, how are you today?

Sanjay Mirchandani: Very well, Michael. Thanks for having me on your show.

Michael Krigsman: Sanjay, tell us about Commvault and your role.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Commvault is in the data business. We're a company that specializes in helping customers with their journey with data. It's particularly important, the time that we're in right now where data is the center of our businesses. It really puts trust in Commvault in mission-critical capabilities for our customers.

That's all we do. We do data. We do data from a store, protect, optimize, and use lifecycle. It's not a sprinkling of something we do. It's all we do, as a company, even though we've been around for a while.

When I was a chief information officer, data was kind of a bad word. You wanted to store it, compress it, deduplicate it, and hope that when you really needed it, you had it safely. Why? Because of the cost of storing data, the cost of manipulating data, analyzing, it was prohibitive.

All that has changed in a short window of time where now data has become the lifeblood of every good company. If this environment that we're in has taught us anything, it's that companies that are using data in rich ways that are surviving and moving towards thriving because it allows you to truly be agile.

How does data increase business agility?

Michael Krigsman: That point about agility is very interesting. Can you draw the link for us between the role of data and agility, as you just described it?

Sanjay Mirchandani: Oversimplifying it, if I was a CIO and I had five data centers, business continuity probably meant that two of them would be up at all times, three were down, and we would still be able to run our operations – or some math like that. Nobody expected the world to go off at the same time. Okay?

Now, when I have conversations with clients and customers on business continuity, it's the same conversation I had with my CIO. I go, "How immune are we to core things running, like being attacked or being affected? How agile are we to build new capability should we need it?"

I don't just mean more desktops or laptops in homes. I mean can we really build new systems quickly because we see an opportunity.

How are we helping innovation? We're a company that prides itself on innovation. How are we enabling our engineering, our go-to-market, our customers, our support organization, our customer success organization to innovate and deliver?

I would say to you, I had a ringside seat as a CIO to how hard that job is, that job for IT professionals. IT professionals just got their lives turned upside down over the course of this pandemic and their lives got super difficult.

We're asking these heroes, really, to get out there, do unnatural things for their business, help them grow the business all in an environment where they can't even go to their data centers. They can't even go to their place of work. They can't even get to the systems that they use to support their businesses with and we're asking them to do more.

Heck. As an IT provider, we owe them. We owe them good answers. We owe them good solutions.

Digital transformation and cloud computing strategy

Michael Krigsman: I'm sure you're speaking with customers all the time, observing patterns across your customers.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: What are you seeing regarding their use of data?

Sanjay Mirchandani: The conversations we are having are exactly the conversations we wish to have because we believe we can add value around our customers' hard problems. There are two things that you see in these conversations that come up all the time.

I don't want to geek out on you, but the way it's working is digital transformation or, said more simply, the desire to embrace cloud infrastructure quickly, there's been a massive compression. If somebody had it on their roadmap for the next 18 to 24 months, well, that just came in into a quarter or two. That's one.

The second is, while we're all trying to figure out how to restructure our businesses to run in this new world order, the bad guys are emboldened. They have more capabilities, more equipment, more infrastructure, more people to attack customers that aren't really ready for those kinds of ransomware and malware attacks that are now coming at our business because our defenses are down.

These are the two themes that customers keep saying to me, "Okay, how can you help me move to the cloud faster and how can you keep our data secure?" You get those two right, you get the agility that we talked about earlier.

Michael Krigsman: You have external events, this global health crisis, thrust onto your customers. Your customers are seeing this thrust upon them, forcing them to adopt cloud and other technologies to transform more rapidly.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: At the same time, the bad guys are learning, adapting, and changing very quickly as well. You've got this dual focus that you have to deal with if you're a CIO today.

Sanjay Mirchandani: It's all about the data. What are they trying to take? Data. What is the hardest problem in moving to the cloud? Data; getting your data to be ubiquitous across legacy applications and new applications.

Data has never been more valuable and, at the same time, data has never been more vulnerable because you're opening up flanks for attack. The way we build technology and the conversations we're having with customers is, we're enabling your data journey into the world of public cloud or hybrid cloud while giving you built-in capabilities to protect that information the best you can and then use that information.

If you spend all your time protecting, when are you going to use it? It should be implicit, it should be natural, it should be seamless, and that's how we think about it.

Business continuity and recovery strategies: the modern strategic advantage

Michael Krigsman: Historically, the idea of business continuity was not particularly sexy. As you said, we had disaster recovery and, in case the lights went out, we had to have our data redundantly in a different location. You've just elevated business continuity, redefined it to a strategic imperative that's directly linked to innovation and the ability of your business to be responsive and agile to customers in changing market conditions. That's an enormous shift.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Yes, it is. It's gone from being something you hope you never have to do to something that's top of mind. This is not about fear, uncertainty, and doubt. This is all about the fact that if this were to happen again, or is this the world we now live in, how do we not miss a heartbeat and just keep going?

Bringing technologies or capabilities like public cloud into your fabric, into your mainstream, gives you that new level of insurance, gives you that new level of capabilities, gives you that new level of agility that businesses need. You're not exactly going out there and hiring thousands of IT professionals for your business just because your challenges have evolved very quickly. You're asking the same people, or less people, to do so much more, to learn so many new things.

The biggest issue for any business today, any CIO today, and CEO today is the human capital that their businesses rely on. When we ask people to do unnatural things – and I keep saying it's unnatural things because that's not how our businesses are wired, the way we run them today – and we're saying to them, "Do all these things and more," you've got to help them. Business continuity suddenly went from being something you thought about as an insurance policy to something that's a living thing and you've got to make sure you're ready to move with.

A whole new conversation, a whole new opportunity for businesses to really shake off the old and get into a new way of thinking about it. A lot of companies are not wasting this difficult time. They're innovating themselves. They're reinventing themselves in ways with technology that allow them to be a little more future-proof.

Cloud enables business resiliency

Michael Krigsman: You've mentioned cloud several times. Where does cloud fit into these kinds of changes and the ability to be agile and adapt to what's going on?

Sanjay Mirchandani: It gives you a universal capability to scale. It also, done right, eliminates a lot of single points of failure that, over time, customers have had to build solutions around. That's the way technology worked together. It was tightly engineered stacks that had to be fine-tuned, that had to be run by experts, and that did the job well, but that's how it was built.

Now, there's a commoditization, if you would, of a certain layer of the fabric of the infrastructure. If you're building applications, new applications, in the cloud, pretty much it's a given that you're using Kubernetes, containers, and that sort of thing. Then you've got to think about new data models and you've got to think of your security models.

Cloud can make things easier, done right, but it is a journey. I think the companies that are really embracing it are starting to see the results. Those are the conversations we have every single day with customers.

Cloud adoption and migration strategy

Michael Krigsman: Sanjay, as you speak with your customers, what are some of the challenges that they face with the movement to cloud?

Sanjay Mirchandani: I learned this as CIO that you could have the best designs, the best technology, you could have the best data centers, the best cloud. It's the people. It's the people that make the difference.

Number one is making sure that the skills customers have match up their desire with the technology they're building. As a provider, we've got to make sure that we're enabling and preserving skills that they have.

Number two, the conversations translate. I take it as something that I have to be super focused on in the role I play is making sure that the promises we make we deliver against. Our technology over-delivers.

We're not putting the ownness on the customer to go integrate things. If we say it works with something, it actually really works with something, it works well, and it's easy to use.

Three, giving them a rich roadmap of innovation so that you're one step ahead of what the next problem is that they're going to encounter or the next challenge they're going to have. We've already solved for that. Not to be ten steps ahead but be one or two steps ahead so that you're fitting their roadmaps of engagement and delivery.

Power of the Chief Information Officer role

Michael Krigsman: Sanjay, you used the term "IT heroes" earlier. You yourself were a chief information officer and now, of course, you're CEO. Tell us about that transition.

Sanjay Mirchandani: It was not something I aspired to or built a career around. My CEO at the time, who I have an incredible amount of regard for, said, "Sanjay, we need you to come in," and I said, "Why?" He said, "Because you need to give us bragging rights on how we run our business." Those are the marching orders I got.

I translated that into, be customer number one for the technology you produce because you have to be that voice. You have to be that representative voice for the customer.

Honestly, I was blessed that I had IT professionals on my staff, on my team, in my organization that had more IT experience in their pinkies than I would have in a lifetime. I was surrounded by smart people who understood it, who cared about the company and taught me the technology elements of what it takes to run IT.

From the outside in, most people think about IT as build and deploy. Well, that's the easy part, if you can call it that. The hard part is actually running IT.

Whether I liked it or not, I got a ringside seat to that for many years. It taught me every aspect of the business. I got more sitting in the data center and understanding how systems were built, run, troubleshooting, war rooms. I learned more about how things ran or didn't run right there than I did in the boardroom. I think it was a great training ground for me and it helped me solidify my thinking as to what I wanted to do next.

I make a ton of mistakes every day as a human being, as a CEO. I'm humbled to have the role I have, but I'm better because I was a CIO.

Understanding CIO priorities

Michael Krigsman: Why was sitting in the data center observing IT operations so pivotal to understanding the business?

Sanjay Mirchandani: Businesses pride themselves on being agile, but IT of the old built institutionalized processes because they wanted robustness. To support the business, they had to build a lot of institutional structure to say, "This thing is robust. This thing will work as designed."

Then when the business goes this way or needs to go this way, and the structure has been built this way, it's hard. That's why cloud is so exciting because it gives you that level of agility.

When something broke, or if something didn't work right, or when something had a critical milestone that you had to meet and you were all huddled in there with the business, with IT, with infrastructure, with security, with the partners trying to get something right, you learn why something doesn't work. You understand what the nuances of that particular process are. You understand where the systems either work or let you down.

It is an incredible emersion in all things business when you're sitting there trying to understand when there's chaos because something is down or something is not working. You figure out how to come out of it and you get so much smarter about how things should work. It's a great lens to have.

Advice on the transformational CIO role and the CIO agenda

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for CIOs who are listening to this and saying, "Yeah, I want to do this too, but there are roadblocks, there are obstacles, and I'm not sure how to do it"? What advice do you have for CIOs?

Sanjay Mirchandani: One, insert yourself into a business conversation or many business conversations, whether you're comfortable with it or not, because that's the only way you will understand the impact.

If your business allows you to own a line of business of some kind, embrace that. It's more work, it's a bigger challenge, but then you become a customer of your own services from IT and you know how good, how bad, what improvement areas, where you excel, where you don't. You get to see it first-hand. It's a great litmus test for how things are going and what it takes to run a business with IT as a provider.

Those two perspectives really, really help widen the experience base for potentially being a CEO.

Michael Krigsman: As a business leader, what do you look or when you're hiring a CIO?

Sanjay Mirchandani: Customer centricity. I want my CIOs to have the best customer perspective. Sit in the seat of the customer, your internal customer, your external customer – it doesn't matter. Gauge how you build things, how you deliver things, the quality, from that lens.

Don't look at it as a one-way service delivery capability. You will fail.

Michael Krigsman: It's interesting that you don't look first at their technical capabilities, technical skills, and shops.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Honestly, Michael, I think the technology element of that CIO job is rapidly decreasing. I am not saying technology is easy, but the contention around technology choices is reduced, broadly.

Yes, of course, you need to be technically astute and be able to make right decisions and drive direction. The conversation that CIOs have are far more business valuable, if you would, than technology-oriented. I think that that's going to be the differentiator between good CIOs and great CIOs when we come out of this pandemic; those that have helped their businesses accelerate versus those that have kept the lights on.

Michael Krigsman: Sanjay, as we finish up, I have to ask you about this period of uncertainty that we're in. How do you manage? How do you think about Commvault and your place in the world, the movements of the market, given so much uncertainty?

Sanjay Mirchandani: It's amazing how much time myself and the leadership team spend on this. It's a difficult time. I'm not going to play it down. We're all blessed and lucky that our companies are strong enough to hopefully survive the length and the tenure of this pandemic.

When we come out, and our customers come out and they're ready to hit the road and do things that they've put on hold for a while, that we're right there with them and that we're making them and ourselves both future-proof. It's the prioritization thing we talked about earlier. There's no science to it. It's instinct.

At the end of it, this pandemic is about people. It's affecting people, right? We have to put people first as we get through this – period.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Sanjay Mirchandani, CEO of Commvault, thank you so much for taking time to have a very fascinating conversation today.

Sanjay Mirchandani: Thank you, Michael. Good to be here.

Published Date: Nov 12, 2020

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 678