‘Digital transformation can no longer be an afterthought’

4 Jun 2021

Cathleen Southwick. Image: Pure Storage

Pure Storage CIO Cathleen Southwick discusses 5G’s impact on the data storage industry and gives her thoughts on digital transformation and cybersecurity.

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Cathleen Southwick is a tech leader with more than 25 years of experience defining and executing IT strategies for multibillion-dollar businesses and Fortune 100 companies.

In her current role as chief information officer of California-headquartered data storage company Pure Storage, Southwick leads a global IT strategy and helps the company deliver next-generation technology and capabilities.

Prior to Pure, Southwick held executive leadership positions at AT&T, including vice-president of technology engineering and vice-president of cloud planning and engineering. Before that, she spent 11 years at Viking Freight System, where she held leadership positions across a variety of fields, including IT architecture and planning, software development and merger integration.

‘5G’s unprecedented level of connectivity will require robust infrastructure and powerful data storage and processing’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As CIO of Pure Storage, I primarily focus on setting and prioritising IT strategies that will move the needle for our team and for our customers, such as increasing productivity gains and meeting the customer where they are, just as we’re doing with our subscription model.

Catalysed by the pandemic, my role has expanded beyond just identifying and executing IT strategies. I now find myself bringing IT, business and operations to the same table, which encourages our business to think more deeply about technology and the opportunities it can bring to the organisation as well as to the market.

But what hasn’t changed is how interwoven my work within my team and with our customers is. In order to drive forward Pure’s tech strategy in our hybrid world today, I’m currently prioritising strategies that keep our team productive, engaged and safe while working remotely so that we can best serve our customer base entirely digitally.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

In order to boost workforce collaboration amid the pandemic, we’ve prioritised how we can recreate parts of in-person collaboration in a fully remote environment, particularly for our engineers. So far, we’ve rolled out collaboration tools for casual and advanced collaborators and implemented a Pure employee resource centre coupling 24/7 bots and services that answer employee questions no matter their time zone.

We continue to work on initiatives that drive business and customer value such as standardising technology and platforms, as with Service Now, and implementing new enterprise resource planning systems. These initiatives not only allow our teams to work more efficiently but fundamentally create a better experience and engagement with our customers.

Additionally, we have been focused on improving the overall experience for our sales teams by automating and building self-help tools for account execs to customise proposals, thereby eliminating manual work and improving their response times for customers.

How big is your team?

We have a team of about 125 members who work under four main areas: business enterprise applications, enterprise infrastructure/ IT, cybersecurity, and workforce collaboration and productivity. Of these areas, currently my top priority is boosting workforce collaboration, productivity and security and strengthening talent development and retention, particularly around diversity and inclusion.

We use a flexible staffing model that allows us to benefit from having employees and non-employees around the globe support our business. We also importantly maintain strategic relationships with key providers that allow us to handle logistics, application support, and additional service.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

As soon as the pandemic hit, digital transformation could no longer be an afterthought – as it had been for some organisations for far too long.

From the very start, we quickly took additional steps to ensure that the business would never be negatively impacted by IT disruptions and that employees could work comfortably and productively from day one. My team developed a robust plan that, among other things, created a virtual service desk appointment system, adapted our Zoom licensing model to meet a dramatic increase in demand, and explored contact-tracing application research and long-term remote working strategies.

While digital transformation became the name of the game last year, it’s clear that it will remain a top business priority for many years. My team at Pure Storage is continuously assessing opportunities for further digital transformation, as the employee and customer experience continue to evolve and, even through small adjustments, can always be improved.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

As a former VP at AT&T, I think one of the most impactful and fascinating tech trends shaping our world and the data storage industry today is telecommunications’ transition to 5G.

As 5G inevitably catches fire, its unprecedented level of connectivity will require robust infrastructure and powerful data storage and processing. Importantly, these needs will come at a cost.

Companies will need to invest in storage space, teams to manage their data centres, and mechanisms to cool them down, which will require a data partner who offers the utmost flexibility, security and reliability. While many might point to the cloud as the right infrastructure to enable this transformation, I believe that the hybrid cloud offers the greatest flexibility – with greater power.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Last year, cybersecurity became top of mind for everyone, from CIOs down to everyday consumers, when major data breaches and cyberattacks across essential institutions, including businesses, healthcare providers and municipal governments, came to light.

As the permanence of the workforce transformation kicked off by Covid becomes increasingly apparent, with more and more companies announcing fully remote or hybrid work models, it’s clear that cybersecurity will only require greater attention and investment moving forward.

Despite the benefits of remote working, it has vastly distributed enterprises’ endpoints and escalated employees’ exposure to cybersecurity threats such as targeted phishing and malware attacks. Despite increased tech investment, four in 10 IT leaders experienced more cyberattacks last year, which was compounded by the struggle to find skilled cybersecurity professionals to support the global shift online.

As a result, it’s critical that CIOs invest in secure infrastructure such as confidential computing, the virtual private cloud, and rapid backup and recovery systems. For example, after the pandemic hit, we deployed security awareness training focused on remote working security threats like phishing and malware infections and enhanced security monitoring across critical applications and systems to identify potential security threats.

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