Simplifying the management of organisations’ IT estates

Simplifying the management of organisations’ IT estates

ControlUp equips IT teams with the tools to quickly resolve issues, proactively prevent tickets and minimise costs. Its headquarters is in San Francisco and it has about 500 employees. Last year, Jed Ayres was appointed as its CEO. He took the time to tell us more about his own career path and what first made him think about a career in technology.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

In my previous leadership role, I took an unknown Germany company, IGEL, based in Bremen, and changed it from being thin client hardware-focused to software to address the booming VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] and DaaS [Desktop-as-a-Service] workspace market dominated by Amazon Web Services, Citrix, Microsoft and VMware. We also completely modernised IGEL’s whole licensing model – from no recurring revenue to perpetual to subscription – took the business global and then sold it to private equity. There aren’t that many CEOs of tech firms who have done this kind of strategic transformational shift successfully and I am proud of what we achieved.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I was very lucky to go to a high school that got a grant from NASA in 1990 to put computers and Internet into our school. That sparked my interest so when I graduated, I studied business with a focus on management information systems.

Then in 1995, whilst I was studying for an MBA and living in San Francisco, a family friend got in touch. He was the president of AmeriData Technologies, a large computer reseller, and needed an IT savvy intern for the summer to work on migrating its whole paper-based product catalogue to the Internet and introducing order tracking. The catalogue listed everything it sold like PCs, monitors and peripherals along with pricing. It ran into literally hundreds of pages.

As a courtesy, I went to the interview but turned them down as I really didn’t fancy working in their offices in nearby Sacramento. I’d also just got a job at Perry’s – one of the coolest bars in town – which I thought would be much more fun. He wouldn’t let me fob him off though and called back and said: “No isn’t the answer, I’ve got you lodging and you’re taking this job.” So, I ended up doing both – weekends at the bar and weekdays at AmeriData. I then joined the company as an inside sales rep when I graduated. The business was subsequently sold to GE Capital Services in 1996 and, by aged 24, I was managing a US$60 million branch which was the most successful in what became GE Capital’s IT Solutions business. So, as the story shows, getting into IT was a bit planned and a bit of an accident.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

As a manager, I adopt a non-hierarchical, transparent, collaborative, the door is always open style which aligns people around a common vision. This empowers staff to really do their best work to help us figure out how to achieve our corporate goals. I abhor micromanagement and believe you have to create an environment where great ideas win and people are free to think outside of the box. If you want to do something truly extraordinary, you have to have this kind of mentality.

In addition, to build a great company, you have to regularly listen to your customers, your partners and your employees with equal weight. If you have a listening philosophy, and codify what you’re hearing, synthesise it, activate on it and use it to formulate how you’re going to run the company, you’ll be in a much better position than sitting in a corporate ivory tower.

What do you think emerged as the technology trend of last year and why?

Clearly AI is the big trend at the moment as everyone knows. When it comes to IT service management, most legacy tools are looking in the rear-view mirror. In other words, what happened to IT infrastructure and apps in the past? It’s a bit like a doctor looking at a patient’s blood pressure chart from a month ago. That’s no good – it needs to be current and immediate. This is what ControlUp is focused on: the real-time monitoring and remediation of an organisation’s whole IT estate such that we simplify the management of it for time pressed IT staff. This guarantees the digital experience for employees is second to none. This is key.

If businesses truly want to deliver excellent customer service – so they delight their clients and achieve serious growth – they need to ensure their employee experience excels too. Happy staff tend to equal happy customers. This matters as evidenced by the fact that many Fortune 500 firms now have customer experience officers on their boards. In order to do this effectively, IT management tools need to be real-time and this then generates loads of data which AI can be applied to so that issues are identified quickly and resolved even faster so that business performance isn’t affected.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

The simple answer is AI, AI, AI. Everyone is talking about it and it’s the most common question I am asked: “Jed, what’s your AI roadmap at ControlUp?”

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?

I’m passionate about cooking. Every Sunday, we have a big family dinner and I work hard to surprise my extended family with something creative and delicious. It’s a great way to de-stress. Actually, I love being around and serving people. Between 2002 and 2005, I took a four-year sabbatical away from the IT industry and bought a hotel/restaurant called MacCallum House in Mendocino on the northern coast of California, my hometown. There’s a story here, too. When I was 15, I got my first job there as dishwasher. Twenty years later, when I bought the business, the chef that hired me was still there and became an employee which was wonderful.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I don’t think that it’s great in life to have regrets and that every decision, even if it’s a bad one, shapes you. Life’s too short to worry about whether you should have done something differently. You learn from your experiences and mistakes, they happen for a reason and they make you more capable, humble and smarter the next time around.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?

In Europe versus the USA, there’s a much sharper focus on data protection and the rules and penalties around data sovereignty. In addition, when it comes to staffing, the social protections available to employees reduce the speed and agility that businesses have because you have long on and offboarding of people which tends to be slower and more expensive.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

CEOs are under more pressure to deliver profit. We have the same expectations from our board regarding achieving continued growth, but there’s a lot more focus and scrutiny on generating money given ‘cash is king’. This is writ large as money is more expensive today. Furthermore, there’s real drive about whether we can we do more with less, do we really have to spend as much, can we be leaner and more efficient – ultimately it is to answer the question, what is the return on the investment from any expenditure?

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?

Business is about organising people to do something extraordinary and the best advice I ever received on this was from my grandfather. He instilled in me two things:

  1. A strong work ethic as nothing in life comes easy. You need to find something you believe in and put your heart into it. 110%.
  2. Teamwork given nothing great is ever done alone. Find people who complement you, respect them, challenge them and empower them. Great things will happen.

My mother also once said to me: “Leave things better than you found them.” I’ve always tried to do that in relationships in business. Living by that maxim, you’re always looking to help others and the world at large. It’s what I call a ‘servant heart’. Any aspiring C-suite executive should remember this as they climb the corporate ladder.

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