Ashwin Rangan, ICANN's CIO, explains how he provides separate, though related, services to distinctly different internal and external constituents.
High: How do you engage with and provide services to the broader ICANN community?
Rangan: Since the ICANN community is so unique, there are virtually no off-the-shelf solutions to address its needs. The best available off-the-shelf solutions typically address a small fraction of the need space as expressed by the community. As such, the ICANN community's needs are best met with fit-for-purpose, custom-crafted solutions.
In order to define, develop and deliver to these unique needs, the organization employs a small, smart team of product managers. Our product managers get close to our stakeholders, seek out the specifics of the requirements, and render their understanding as functional requirements. The engineering arm uses these as inputs to develop and deliver solutions, leveraging industry-standard agile processes. In this regard, the engineering function is exactly like a product development team in a for-profit company.
High: You provide leadership, management and strategic guidance to the L-Root operations team. Please describe the purview of that team.
Rangan: The Domain Name System (DNS) Engineering team actually does a little more than the engineering and operations of the root servers that ICANN operates. While they certainly put substantial effort into ensuring that our root servers meet the operational expectations of security, stability and resiliency for a deployment constellation that is defined by 160 locations and a 24x7 commitment, they also coordinate with the other organizations. [These organizations] operate root servers, engage with the RSSAC (Root Server System Advisory Committee) community on policy related to the root server system, track standards development related to the DNS, and keep touch with global DNS operations and research communities to maintain a watching brief on any changes to the technical landscape.
Lastly, the DNS Engineering team, as a part of the E&IT function, operates all the infrastructure that DNSSEC signs and serves the portfolio of ICANN domain names (such as ICANN.ORG).
High: You have been an IT executive at a diverse array of companies, including Edwards Lifesciences, MarketShare, Walmart and Rockwell Semiconductors. Generally speaking, what aspects of IT management have you found to be common, and what aspects are unique to a company?
Rangan: I think IT management has been pretty much the same across all of these companies: dealing with data centers, infrastructure, desktop support, help desks, back-office financial planning and accounting, MRP wherever there was procurement, manufacturing or distribution, front-office CRM and more.
What has been unique to each are the context and content.
From a context point of view, nuances make all the difference. For example, Edwards Lifesciences, while it manufactures heart valves and cardiovascular medical devices, is an innovation and value-driven company. That is the nuanced context that determined the emphasis vector for their IT needs.
From a content point of view, there are additional considerations. For example, MarketShare (prior to acquisition) was an innovator like Edwards, but with minimal needs for traditional IT. It was almost exclusively about understanding the business context and delivering appropriate content. In MarketShare's case, [that included] a strong suite of marketing analytics tools, delivered by leveraging cloud services.
It is easy to understand the commonalities, but significantly more difficult to understand the uniqueness of every business. In the end, responding appropriately to the unique needs of each organization sets apart successful and impactful heads of technology from the rest.
High: What trends particularly excite you as you look to the future?
Rangan: I feel excited about the prospect of autonomous systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchains and the internet of things (IoT). These are all at the bleeding edge of technology. The possibilities opened up by these new technologies are literally endless and mind-boggling, and practically every one of these leverages the internet as the backbone for data transportation.
It feels like we are at the leading edge of another wave—a post-industrial, machine-centric wave. The size of this wave is just starting to shape up, but it feels like a monster wave.
When this wave forms, crests and washes over, I anticipate the structure of work, workplaces, organizations, industries, communities and economies will all change. This is not a distant possibility, but an emerging reality in the foreseeable future. We will likely see early exemplars within the next three to 10 years.
Just as the search-based advertising industry did not exist 20 years ago, I expect entire new industries to emerge on the back of new exemplars. Old lessons will need to be forgotten, and new lessons will be learned. Entirely new business models will likely emerge. Contractual and legal foundations will likely be put through gut-wrenching changes, as traditional boundaries and borders get redefined.
Data security and data privacy considerations will become more central to global discussions. Jurisdiction issues will become blurred and important, as geographic location becomes less important. The list of considerations goes on and on.
As Thomas Friedman put it, we should all adopt a set of five strategies: Think like immigrants, act like artisans, think like an innovator, act like an entrepreneur, and think of the equation PQ + CQ = IQ, where passion and curiosity are more important than mere intelligence.
The future is exciting. It is here, now!