CIO Changes IT Into Driver of Innovation

By Peter High  |  Posted 06-17-2015 Print Email

The CIO of Mentor Graphics helped make IT an objective-driven department, with every IT employee's purpose directly connected to the organization's mission.

Mentor Graphics is a $1.2 billion multinational company, based in Wilsonville, Ore. It is a leader in supporting electronic design automation, which enables companies to develop better electronic products faster and more cost-effectively. The company's engineers conquer design challenges in the increasingly complex worlds of board and chip design.

When Ananthan Thandri joined the company eight years ago, IT was a regional player in the company, and it largely had an order-taking role. In this interview by CIO Insight contributor Peter High, Thandri discusses the cultural and technical changes that he has made to change IT's culture, improving user satisfaction and aggrandizing his own portfolio of responsibilities in the process.

CIO Insight: When you joined Mentor Graphics eight and a half years ago, the department was a classic "order-taking" function. What steps did you undertake to change the culture of IT to be proactive and involved in innovation?

Ananthan Thandri: First and foremost, we focused on bringing the IT talent to the forefront. We had abundant IT talent when I started at Mentor and with some changes in middle management that brought talent from the outside, we have encouraged the culture to become more innovative. For example, we changed the organization to be a global function rather than regional, which helped create a global perspective in IT solutions. We also made IT an objective-driven organization, with every IT employee's objective directly connected to the overall organization's objective. We increased communication within IT and between IT and the rest of the business and invested in new technologies to help increase productivity, while bringing quantitative (metrics-driven) data into decision making. By empowering our IT leaders and employees, we gave them opportunities to come up with innovative ideas to solve business problems. The overall result has been to transform IT into a partner, not just a naysayer, making customer satisfaction the responsibility of everyone, not just the CIO.

CIO Insight: You are a customer-facing CIO, can you speak about the ways in which you and your team engage external customers?

Thandri: Mentor IT has been involved with external customers for quite some time with Emulation Hardware Field Support and providing a secured collaborative environment between Mentor and its customers.

Emulation Hardware support involves Mentor IT system administrators located around the world who provide first-level support (diagnosis of problem, replacement hardware) at customer locations. As our emulation business grew significantly over the last several years, the need arose for more manpower and expertise around the globe to support our external customers. IT stepped in with the full support and confidence of the president of the company and designed and built a scalable support organization and practice. This model is instrumental in providing support turnaround times quickly for our customers. Mentor IT also helps with emulation benchmark activity with customers and helps qualify new emulation servers and systems.

Customer Collaborative Environment (CCE) is a secure workspace that provides remote access technologies for secure collaboration between Mentor and its customers. Today's complex designs require the ability for designers to collaborate in secure and easily accessible development environments. Mentor's secure collaborative workspace allows real-time interaction between Mentor and its customers. This significantly reduces the time for test case development as well as provisioning of same design data while protecting both Mentor and customers' IP. This also helps Mentor better leverage our key talent around the world to help customers be successful. There are several engagements happening at any given time.

CIO Insight: Security is a concern of any IT leader, but it is also something you have gotten involved with on behalf of your customers. Please explain.

Thandri: Protecting customer IP is critical at Mentor Graphics. IT plays a central role in securing Mentor and customer design data. When interacting with a customer and their data, we follow the highest standards of encryption, cryptography, authentication, granular access control, with full audit capabilities. This ensures that both customer and Mentor IP are protected.

CIO Insight: You run both information and physical security. What advantages are there in having a single executive in charge of both?

Thandri: Combining physical and information security into one organization has helped foster a more transparent security model and mindset. Physical security relies on technology and so it makes sense to have a unified security organization. The unified organization helps with holistic risk management; it provides a balanced view when designing/investing in mitigating controls for threats to physical assets and IP which co-exist. IT is known for process control, and has used this strength to produce singular policies and procedures between physical and information security. There is also a side benefit of creating an employee career path for those working in physical security who are completing education related to information security and want to move into information security. Finally, there is a cost savings aspect as well, with both physical and information security under single management.

CIO Insight: You think about ways to maximize your colleagues' productivity. What methods have you employed?

Thandri: Mentor is a global company with over 80 offices in 29 countries. Our product engineering happens in several countries so for us it is important to provide tools and technology for our engineers to work collaboratively from anywhere, any time. We have rolled out world-class collaboration technologies for audio, video, file sharing as well as enterprise social engagement. With our state-of-the-art data centers in the U.S. and Europe, we make our infrastructure always available. Keeping in mind IT's vision of enabling Mentor to win through innovation, we continue to provide innovative technologies to enable our engineers to bring world-class products to market in a shorter timeframe. As our business continues to grow, our business models continually evolve or new ones are introduced to support our customer needs. Attached to the hip with the business functions, IT rolls out systems to support those changes regularly, whether it is in the core ERP/CRM systems or building predictive models with our BI infrastructure. To support engineering demands on computing we leverage cloud infrastructure as a service for peak usage.

CIO Insight: What technology trends particularly excite you as you look out, say, two or three years?

Thandri: I continue to be fascinated by on-demand computing on the cloud; mobile and its impact on how we engage with our users; machine learning or deep learning which is creating new opportunities; and predictive intelligence to help in being more proactive in thwarting cyber-attacks

I am also excited to see vendors of enterprise applications realize the need to provide consumer-friendly experience with their applications. This is certainly the most pressing need, as more and more Millennials enter the workforce.

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.



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