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  • Google Cloud Chief Executive Thomas Kurian discusses the changing role of the CIO in a world of e-everything

Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Alphabet Inc.’s Google Cloud, says the role of the chief information officer has changed materially as technology has grown more important to business. Increasingly, CEOs view technology as a differentiator and look to the CIO for expertise, he said.
Mr. Kurian has been CEO of Google Cloud since 2019. Google has taken equity stakes in companies including Univision Communications Inc. and CME Group Inc. and received commitments to its cloud service from those companies worth as much as $1 billion or more, The Wall Street Journal reported. As of late 2021, Google claimed 6% of the cloud market, up 1 percentage point from a year earlier, though lagging behind Inc.’s 41% share and Microsoft Corp.’s 20%.
Previously, Mr. Kurian was president of software company Oracle Corp., where he worked for more than two decades.
Here are edited highlights of the conversation with Mr. Kurian. Portions of this interview appeared in a roundtable discussion the Journal published earlier this month.
WSJ: How has the relationship between business and technology changed during the last 10 years?
Mr. Kurian: If you look at what has really fundamentally changed in technology, I would say it is the pervasiveness and speed with which new technology has been predominant. Part of it is the ease with which technology can now be adopted with many things being delivered, from computing as a service…Today everyone in the organization is a digital worker. Fifteen years ago, before smartphones, people would not have said that.
Nurses all have digital tools. Airports, every staff member has a digital tool. With cloud computing, every company is becoming a technology company. Automotive companies are increasingly computerized. Banks, insurance companies, everyone, is doing what retailers did 15 years ago, opening up their front door to a digital medium. Data is becoming a very important asset. Once you make the adoption of technology materially more convenient, you see a rapid pickup in the adoption of that technology.
WSJ: How have the roles of CIO and technology leader evolved?
Mr. Kurian: I think we’re in a period where CEOs in particular…see technology as a source of differentiation.
If you talk to financial institutions, they really want to serve customers better. They’re adopting AI in a number of places to streamline operations, and it’s in these circumstances you see a business leader like the head of consumer banking working with the CIO to define what that experience could be. If you look at the supply-chain crisis globally, many organizations are adopting new solutions to understand where the bottlenecks are. Again, that’s a joint effort between the technology team or the CIO’s team and the business.
And so it’s a great opportunity for CIOs. Technology adoption is becoming much easier, so they can show value more quickly. The pandemic made it even more clear that technology is critical to differentiating how an organization [engages with] customers. And so the role of the CIO has changed materially. CIOs are not just managing a portfolio of applications…they are also building competency in software engineering, in areas like cybersecurity, which is becoming a big risk for organizations. CEOs see that being a technology-enabled organization requires them to have some core competencies, and one of them is software development. And so we see CIOs also needing to build that long-term core competency and people capability.
WSJ: How has the role of CIO among customers evolved?
Mr. Kurian: We see three styles of CIOs. Some of them are core CIOs that have the central IT responsibility. They work with us a lot in adopting technology, in portfolio management, in enabling software development skills. In some companies, the CIO is increasingly also the CDO, the chief data officer. And then, the third is where the CIO is also given the title of chief transformation officer.
WSJ: How will the role of technology in business continue to change?
Mr. Kurian: Every industry over the next five to eight years will completely transform the way it’s digitizing its relationships with its customers. We have seen a big shift in e-everything: e-commerce, e-banking, e-insurance, e-healthcare. Two, we see that in order to do that really well, you have to really understand your data. So we see a lot of organizations applying new capabilities to understand data at a materially different scale over the next several years. Third, we see companies using machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate processes and organizations. Artificial intelligence will just be a capability within software to serve customer needs better. And then, lastly…collaboration technology will change. I think in several years’ time, the notion of you and I having a meeting is not going to be just looking at each other on a screen. It’s going to be much more immersive. It’s going to link the physical and digital worlds in a materially different way.
WSJ: What business risks and challenges does technology pose?
Mr. Kurian: As assets like data become much more central, the pace and rate at which cyber becomes a risk is growing. Many devices that have small sensors don’t have security technology embedded. So the number of places through which attacks come in is growing. We think it’s important that the industry embrace new tools and processes and designs to protect against those things.
We have committed to training 40 million people with Google Cloud skills to make technology more accessible. We want technology to be much more equitable around the world. If technology is going to be the differentiator we don’t want a set of companies that have access and a set of companies that do not have access. And that applies not just in the United States, but globally.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text
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