Careers: Interviews
Allen Atwell, Top International IT Expert and Authority, Leading Senior Executive; Chief Technology Officer MessageLabs

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Allen Atwell.

Allen AtwellAs Chief Technology Officer, Allen drives all global research and development to further evolve MessageLabs product vision and long-term technology strategy worldwide.

Prior to joining MessageLabs, Allen served as Senior Vice President EMEA Telecom Consulting for Oracle where he successfully built a comprehensive regional team of telecom architects and consultants in three delivery centers across EMEA. Prior to Oracle, Allen was CTO of Trader.com and has held key positions at S.W.I.F.T. as Head of Technology Strategy and Telecommunications and with AT&T's Bell Labs as EMEA Director of Research and Development architecting international ISP's. Allen also spent ten years at Digital Equipment as worldwide Telecom Software Engineering Manager. He started his career as a distributed software engineer/analyst at Dallas-based Texas Instruments. Allen has a BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Rhode Island complemented by International Advanced Management Programs at INSEAD.

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/

Index and links to Questions
Q1   Our audience consists of varying levels of both ICT/Business professionals and those in management. What valuable career and business insights can you share from your tenure with:
Q2   What five key lessons can you provide taken from your global management experience?
Q3   Profile your current specific role at MessageLabs and your own personal: vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives, typical work period.
Q4   In your current role, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions? How does this relate to business?
Q5   Please share a story (something surprising, unexpected, amazing, or humorous) from your work?
Q6   In your view, what are the most serious roadblocks for businesses and what are their solutions?
Q7   What are some of the top technology issues presently facing business and how do you propose they can be solved?
Q8   Provide your predictions of future IT/Business trends and their implications/opportunities.
Q9   As a leading senior executive over a long successful career, what specific advice would you give to make managers more effective?
Q10   Which are your top recommended resources and why?
Q11   Provide commentary on a topic of your choosing.

DISCUSSION:

Opening Comment: Allen, you bring a lifetime of proven top-ranking international leadership and technology experience combined with substantial contributions to the industry, through your sustained history of many successes. Considering your impossible schedule, we thank you for doing this interview with us.

A: Thank you for having me.

Q1: Our audience consists of varying levels of both ICT/Business professionals and those in management. What valuable career and business insights can you share from your tenure with:

A:

  • Texas Instruments: As a fresh software engineer, I continued to develop my university programming skills with seasoned professionals at TI. I worked with hexadecimal code to maximize the limited CPU and memory constraints of distributed computing. I was required to rely on algorithms to accomplish highly technical projects. I also gained insight into internationalization when Headquarters rolled out an application internationally and sent me to Denmark to confront the challenges of an international language, character sets and custom legal requirements. A six-month expatriate assignment turned into six years abroad living in eight countries. I learned the value of an international business perspective and how to think creatively to solve problems for which there were no ready-made solutions.

  • Digital Equipment: Distributed, scalable solutions and Internationalization were again key while I was managing the datacenter monitoring and telecommunications engineering team in Sophia-Antipolis, the Technology Park in the South of France. European telecommunications requirements were much stricter than those of North America. The position required diversity and specialization in telecommunications and telecom solutions as well as a keen sense of mobility as we logged into remote systems securely via the first emerging mobile laptops from Texas Instruments, Toshiba & Fujitsu decades before it became mainstream as it is today.

  • Bell Labs/ AT&T: I specialized in the design and innovation of ISPs for telecommunications operators around the globe, which required thinking creatively to deploy technology that would meet the evolving needs of the telecom industry. In the 1990s, when Internet became a public domain, my team was asked to co-architect AT&T's Worldnet Service. From 'day zero', the goal was to ensure it was fully internationalized, a feature I was fully prepared to deliver given my previous international experience.

  • S.W.I.F.T.: My first experience with world-class security and reliability was for S.W.I.F.T., a banking managed service provider that has never lost a message since its inception more than 40 years ago. Here, I designed their worldwide mission-critical, triple-protection IP network and dealt with high security alerts even prior to 9/11. Failure was not an option at S.W.I.F.T. As Head of Telecoms and Technology Strategy, I endeavored to provide new value added services to customers. This required not only re-architecting the entire worldwide network with multiple Service Providers but also effectively anticipating and responding to customer needs.

  • Trader.com: As the company moved its 260 paper publications online across 17 countries, it endeavored to go public at the same time. To accomplish this, I managed a rapid talent recruitment process hiring 50 top software engineers in a four-week timeframe in preparation for the rapidly approaching IPO. I had to draw on all my networked resources and think quickly to select the best in the industry -- those who I knew were most capable of rising to the challenge. Our team brought the company to IPO in six months.

  • Oracle: Returning to my roots in mobility and telecommunications, I first managed Oracle's B2B Marketplace Exchange Service, a managed service application. These were high volume, high value service delivery platforms for very large consolidated global businesses, including large telecom operators. I built on all previous lessons of security, managed services, internationalization and telecommunications expertise.

Q2: What five key lessons can you provide taken from your global management experience?

A:

  1. Culture and language: The ability to listen and communicate with customers and employees is crucial. I learned the value of this by living and working around the world. I believe it is impossible to learn this culture from a book or class room. It's a real-life experience.

  2. Employee management: Managers can reap the most benefit from their employees when they learn how to effectively identify and build on individual strengths with positive reinforcement.

  3. Honesty: Being honest with customers is always the best policy. Act as a trusted advisor clueing them in to how to obtain longevity and reliability from recommended solutions to help customers stretch the limits of what is available on the market.

  4. Risk management: As business becomes increasingly globalized, managers must be adept at understanding and mitigating global risks including cultural miscommunications, currency fluctuations, embargos and both natural and man-made disasters.

  5. Effective problem solving: Make new mistakes while repeating success; Eighty percent of a customer solution can often be re-used to benefit another customer with a similar challenge.

Q3: Profile your current specific role at MessageLabs and your own personal: vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives, typical work period.

A: As CTO of MessageLabs, a provider of integrated messaging and web security services to businesses worldwide, I am responsible for driving all global research and development to further evolve MessageLabs product vision and long-term technology strategy worldwide.

  • Vision: My vision for MessageLabs is that we can build on the great existing momentum through continual innovation that will allow us to maintain our leadership in threat protection for clients around the world. My vision in my role as CTO is that I will be working within an environment at MessageLabs that has the right infrastructure, people and critical mass to be able to take MessageLabs to the next level - to be respected on a global scale as a world technology leader in our field of expertise.

  • Mission: MessageLabs mission is to deliver managed security service solutions in a predictable, reliable manner, helping customers whose expertise is not secure communications, by delivering a service that adds value so they can concentrate on their core business.

  • Strategy: My strategy is to ensure that the MessageLabs solution is world class and continue to generate and improve our intellectual property by research, documentation and patenting.

  • Goals: To generate and implement intellectual property on a cost effective infrastructure that is fail-proof.

  • Objectives: Our key objectives involve publication and delivery on a predictable and reliable roadmap by building and re-shaping the organization of R&D as well as instilling a work ethic and environment that is enjoyable and promotes the exchange of ideas.

  • Details of a typical work period: As CTO of a Global organization which follows the sun, I start my day at 8 a.m. in our Gloucester, England office responding to our APAC colleagues by phone/email at the end of their workday. I then get straight into work with our EMEA team, meeting with executives. After lunch, I continue meetings with our North American team to review/address challenges. I usually end my work day listening to employee concerns and ideas for intellectual property. I dedicate weekends to my personal interests like hiking, biking and private aviation.

Q4: In your current role, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions? How does this relate to business?

A:
Challenge one: Implementing various technology and cultural changes that will help leapfrog the business forward.

Solution: Spending time with and getting to know employees while encouraging them to push the limits of what they can achieve.

Challenge two: Continue to improve customer satisfaction levels by escalating solution implementation to meet changing customer requirements.

Solution: Committing to R&D and a product roadmap as well as specialized employee training to deliver on both.

Challenge three: Shifting the organizational dynamics to further encourage teamwork.

Solution: Build on an organizational structure of delegation and accountability to foster team cohesiveness for overcoming challenges and achieving exceptional performance.

Challenge four: Diversifying the workplace.

Solution: Encouraging employees to rotate job functions/locations and responsibilities to stretch their capabilities and challenge them to make new mistakes.

Q5: Please share a story (something surprising, unexpected, amazing, or humorous) from your work?

A: I found a candidate for a project that had specific experience with complex software running on a silicon hardware solution. I asked the candidate on a Friday to provide a resume which is typical procedure during the hiring process. On the following Monday, instead of his resume, he handed me a prototype of the technology we discussed. I hired him on the spot.

Q6: In your view, what are the most serious roadblocks for businesses and what are their solutions?

A:

  • Roadblock 1: People who are afraid to ask questions

    Solution: Such people need to be constantly stimulated and challenged with new projects

  • Roadblock 2: Management losing contact with employees

    Solution: An office culture that encourages management of employee interaction through structure and strategy

  • Roadblock 3: Failure to localize business

    Solution: Learn the regional customs, language, laws and industry standards and adapt the business accordingly

  • Roadblock 4: Assuming competition exists internally

    Solution: Look outside the four walls of the business and study the industry. Become familiar with all industry players and learn how to identify potential competition.

Q7: What are some of the top technology issues presently facing business and how do you propose they can be solved?

A:

  • Issue 1: Network latency in geographically remote locations

    Solution: Correct positioning of infrastructure in the field for optimal performance

  • Issue 2: Heat required in data centers

    Solution: Reduce the footprint and number of machines in use with new technology

Q8: Provide your predictions of future IT/Business trends and their implications/opportunities?

A:

  • Trend 1: Managed services will become standard

    Implication/opportunities: This will allow all businesses to focus on their core competencies to become more profitable

  • Trend 2: Cost of Ownership will become a priority

    Implication/opportunities: CFOs will become more involved in making investments in tandem with the CIO

  • Trend 3: Management by SLAs will increase in popularity

    Implication/opportunities: Decisions will no longer be made on price alone. Customers will be prepared to pay more if the service provider exceeds expectations

Q9: As a leading senior executive over a long successful career, what specific advice would you give to make managers more effective?

A:

  1. Walk the floors of the business
  2. Meet with customers
  3. Take calculated risks
  4. Make new mistakes
  5. Spend time with employees at all levels in the company
  6. Get to know all aspects of the business
  7. Meet colleagues after work - go out to dinner or invite them over
  8. Have a passion

Q10: Which are your top recommended resources and why?

A:

  1. Networks of colleagues: Mine from TI, Digital Equipment, AT&T, SWIFT, Trade.com and Oracle will all be good friends/colleagues for life.

  2. The Internet: I regularly log on to professional networking sites such as Linkedin.com to find talent, call on resources and locate references.

  3. Mentors: John White, Texas Instruments, John Newell, AT&T Bell Labs and Sergio Giacoletto, Digital Equipment, AT&T & Oracle.

  4. Competitors: Competitors are instrumental in setting high standards to stay ahead of the curve.

  5. Suppliers: I especially enjoy working with Telecom Service Providers (both Fixed & Mobile) as partners and customers. With the rapidly evolving technology, providing solutions to very large distributed populations at a low cost may compensate the 'Digital Divide'.

Q11: Provide commentary on a topic of your choosing.

A: It is rare I will turn down an opportunity to talk to someone. There is something to be gained by every communication. In doing so, you learn how much to give and how much to take away from every encounter.

Closing Comment: Allen, we will continue to follow your significant contributions to the IT industry. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with us.

A: Thank you, it's my pleasure.

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