In the middle of a burgeoning career that saw him earn prominent spots at global consultancy firms, Paul Lombardo did something unique.
“I joined the Peace Corps mid-career, believe it or not, in the former Soviet Union, really helping businesses through their economic transition.”
It was through this experience that Lombardo got a taste for international business and engagement. Over his 30-year career, Lombardo has lived in North America, Europe and Asia—working for companies such as Andersen Consulting, Logica and EDS/Mphasis. In 2009, he joined Ness Digital Engineering to head up the software engineering services firm’s European business. After leading a 10-fold growth of that business, he took over the CEO role in 2014.
Lombardo recently sat down with Chief Executive to talk about the big challenges in digital disruption, how he educates himself by traveling and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.
What would you say are the big challenges that Ness is trying to solve for its clients?
More than 80% of our work is helping our customers drive revenue because we’ve been building products or building platforms that underpin their products. And so, the challenges that we’re helping customers with are, how do they drive more revenue? More competitive differentiation? More brand and customer loyalty? How do they drive a more digital business to compete more effectively in the marketplace? And that’s particularly relevant in some of the areas where we’ve chosen to focus.
We focus in certain business areas where we see a lot of market disruption. We call these areas domains. The domains we focus on are things like smart commerce which is about new payment methods, customer loyalty, and being able to transact business in an increasingly digital world. Things like how do you use content, video, music, etc. to create new data products or services to your customers? How do you monetize those and how do you distribute them and make them easy to consume? Some of our domains will cut across multiple industries.
For example, payments are certainly a financial services issue, but also a retail, traveling, ticketing and media consumption issue. How people pay is an issue that spans multiple industries. Another important domain for us is smart machines. We’re working with some customers to take a huge ingest of data coming from IoT sensors to figure out how they can use that data to be more intelligent about how they manage the life of machines. How they can turn their business from selling a piece of equipment to a customer to more of an equipment as a service model. This thinking can be applied to jet engines and the power turbines, for example.
We put a service wrapper around those using IoT technologies. Many industries and many business areas are experiencing disruptive business models, and our goal is to help our customers lead those disruptions. In many cases our clients need to respond to the disruptions that are being driven by other competitors.
So, my follow-up to that is then, what’s the thread that you see with the CEOs and the business leaders in these companies that are having these disruptions and these transformations?
First of all, they see continuing and accelerating disruption in their markets, so they know they need to move fast. And like I said, in some cases, they’re trying to lead that disruption, in some cases they’re responding to it. Secondly, they know technology is central to their success, but their internal IT organizations are not necessarily designed yet to be responsive enough to a constantly changing marketplace.
The IT industry has historically catered to an internal captive audience, but as software becomes more relevant to their ability to compete and do business with customers directly, the pace that they need to respond to changes in the marketplace is a lot faster. And so, their internal IT organizations are really struggling to align with the demands of the business in a way they haven’t had to before. The successful CIOs that I know are taking more of a CTO approach, and working with executive teams to drive the change. Others that may be struggling more are sitting back not knowing how to respond, it’s difficult.
A third factor is technology as a differentiator and how you leverage emerging technologies to actually provide a differentiation in the marketplace. Lastly, I’d say, surrounding these technologies with flexible, agile business operations is a key to success.
Getting the flexibility and agility in processes around things like customer onboarding and service provisioning is also important. We’ve been doing more than that, and, in fact, earlier this year we acquired a company called Linium, which specializes in process automation especially in the kinds of processes that surround the digital platforms that we’ve been building for many years. Those are the key themes I think that I see in talking to business leaders and CEOs that are in our customer base.
How do you educate yourself as a CEO?
For me, the most important mechanism is really staying in touch with what’s going on in the market and what we’re doing and what our customers need. One of my favorite things is spending time with customers. Getting out there talking with them, hearing what they’re trying to do, understanding what we’re doing for them, what else we could be doing for them. And spending time with my staff in our global development centers in cities throughout India and Eastern Europe is also important.
One of the reasons why I travel a lot is because, spending time with customers and with our development teams is a great way to stay in touch, identify opportunities, figure out what we could be doing better, and fine tune the direction of the company and inform the investments we make are helping us to stay at the top of our field.
What advice do you have to your fellow CEOs as they navigate digital disruption?
Listen to your customers, listen to your staff, and be genuine. Those are the three things I try to do. Also, recognize that it’s okay not to know everything.,
I feel like we’re in a golden age of software and technology, and it is changing the way we live our lives. Just think about the way we bank and travel and consume media. I think it’s a very exciting time to be in this industry and I think the opportunities for our company and for our customers are enormous.