NetApp CEO Kurian lays out four principles for leading in a data-driven world

While digital transformation has become a motherhood term in the tech industry, NetApp CEO George Kurian kicked off the opening keynote at NetApp Insight by saying NetApp is now emphasizing that successful digital transformation requires adherence to four core principles.

George Kurian, NetApp’s CEO, onstage during his keynote

LAS VEGAS – Data-driven digital transformation is increasingly necessary for organizations to deliver strong business results. And NetApp intends to be at the vanguard of that transformation. That was the core message of NetApp CEO George Kurian’s opening keynote at the NetApp Insight customer event here. The data-driven theme is central to this year’s Insight event, and while many aspects of this are things that Kurian has said before, he distilled the theme of the event’s messaging down to four cornerstone principles, which revolve around changes to people, processes, the strategy of the company and the technology portfolio.

“Digital transformation is a top digital priority among all of our customers, which enables them to create extraordinary new customer experiences and new business models,” Kurian told his audience. “Data is the fuel for digital transformation. Software is the engine that makes sense of the transformation to drive digital transformation.”

Kurian noted that while in 2006, only 1 of the top 10 companies in the world was data driven, 6 of the top 10 companies in 2017 were data-driven digital companies.

“Becoming data driven requires a fundamental change,” he stressed. “These changes start by being data driven. Incumbents who were not born digital – your data is your single most important strategic advantage. Data-driven companies have 3x increased profitability and 6x improvements in operational efficiency, according to NetApp research done with IDC over the last two years. Data driven digital transformation is much more capable of delivering world class business results.”

Kurian emphasized that being digital-driven requires a digital strategy, that identifies places where companies can use a digital model to change the game, and where.

“We have four cornerstone principles for being digitally-driven,” he stated.

First, digital transformation requires IT transformation.

“Cloud is the new benchmark,” he said. “It requires you to change the way IT and business operate together, and the portfolio of things that IT does.” Leaders need to simplify these things in piloted projects, to move to delivering more services.

The principles of cloud are key in this transformation,” Kurian stressed. It helps customers reduce IT overhead by 30-40 per cent, and scale IT processes much more efficiently. They leverage the big public clouds, build hybrid private clouds, and modernize existing architectures.

The second principle is that speed is the new scale.

“Speed is the new benchmark of competitive advantage,” he said. “Advantage used to go to companies that could scale, but speed replaces scale in digital businesses. If you don’t move quickly, you can get disrupted quickly.”

The third principle is that customers need a hybrid multi-cloud architecture, which has become the de facto modern architecture.

“Some parts will remain on-prem, but others will use the services of the biggest public clouds,” he said. “However, if you don’t keep your data strategy front and centre, you will fragment your data into siloes, and it will be even harder to have a data-driven business. You should leverage information on the biggest public clouds, using industry standard containers and microservices, and using Kubernetes and Istio as a cloud-native control plane.”

Build a data strategy that moves from data centres to data fabrics is the fourth principle.

“You need to move from data centres to a data fabric – from siloes to integration,” he said. “To make a data-driven company, you need to integrate all the different places and types of data and apply it to a broad range of applications, including containers, and microservices. This is something that we have been working on for four years.

“You need the best multi-protocol scale-out data services,” Kurian declared. “We give you that. You need software and standalone systems for your data centre, all accessible through programmable APIs. We give you that. You need connectors through all the major APIs. We give you that.”

This data fabric is substantially complete today, with the final elements slated to arrive by the middle of next year, Kurian said.

“Data driven organizations like Dreamworlds build data fabrics,” he stressed. He also highlighted the genomic work of another customer, WuXi NextCODE.

Finally, Kurian emphasized the need to have a digital strategy that is driven by data, but defined by humanity.

“The world is defined by humanity and driven by data,” he said. “Having insight, content and meaning and the human aspects of leading change are as essential as the data itself.”