The five-minute CIO: Roland Tritsch, Nitro

4 Dec 2015

Roland Tritsch, vice president of Infrastructure Engineering at Nitro

“At Nitro we are pushing some of the biggest trends in the industry to unleash the value behind them for our customers,” says Roland Tritsch, vice president of infrastructure engineering at Nitro.

Australian-founded and San Francisco-headquartered, Nitro is changing the way the world works with documents. The company established its EMEA headquarters in Dublin in October 2013, with plans to hire 50 staff in its first two years of operation.

Since then, growth expectations have doubled, with plans now to hire more than 100 staff by the end of 2016. The expansion in Europe has coincided with over 50pc growth in the EMEA customer base since opening the Dublin office

Based in Dublin, Tritsch will lead the global infrastructure engineering function, which to date has been primarily located in the company’s San Francisco headquarters, helping to execute on Nitro’s mission to make documents smarter and companies more productive.

‘We are working very hard to turn that knowledge into insight and expose it to our customers so that they can make better decisions faster’

Tritsch, a German native living in Ireland for the past decade, brings more than 20 years of industry experience in creating and supporting global distributed software systems, having most recently overseen the applications services organisation for Fujitsu in Ireland.

Prior to that, Tritsch held the role of VP of infrastructure engineering for the online shopping powerhouse Gilt Groupe. He also spent almost 10 years in key leadership roles at Irish software success story Iona Technologies.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

At Nitro, using technology is at the core of our existence. One way to look at it is to say that Nitro is in the business of turning technology into value for our users. For example: we are combining our PDF productivity experience with leading-edge Spark and Scala-based machine learning to give our users unprecedented insight into how to process a given document in the most optimal way. Rolling out these new technologies is not necessarily something that we do every year or every quarter, but more every month or every week.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

Our internal and external IT strategy revolves around the customer and what the customer wants and needs. Our vision for our internal IT strategy is focused on reducing friction to deliver value to customers. We do everything we can to support our employees to become as effective as possible and that means, for instance, that we always try to run the smallest number of systems. Externally a lot of what we do from an IT strategy point of view is targeted at building trust with customers. That trust comes in a lot of different dimensions; clearly the most important is the trust that the data is safe and secure, but there are more. For instance, it is also important that the customer trusts Nitro to be available any time the customer needs Nitro to be available. The service needs to be predictable and reliable. Same goes for the functionality. The customer should never be surprised. Or at least not in a bad way.

 Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

At the current point in time, we are running mainly on virtualised bare metal in our data centre in the US. At the same time, we are investing heavily in moving bits and pieces of our production stack and corporate IT stack to the cloud. Given that we are in the business of processing documents with machine learning we are heavy on disk space, disk i/o, memory and CPU. The production stack is based on Docker, Mesos, Kafka, Spark and Scala. The frontend is Angular.js. This stack is composed of leading-edge and state-of-the–art software-components. The secret is in making it all work together.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

This question can be answered from two points of views: our own internal point of view and the point of view of the CIOs with whom we work. Internally, we aim to own what matters and what makes a difference to our customers and provides the biggest value to our customers. For instance, we are clearly not in the business of owning and running the best email infrastructure in the world. That is something that we will always buy as a SaaS solution. At the other end of the spectrum, we definitely want to run our own data analytics and data engineering platform. The CIOs we do business with have a similar approach. They run banks or large construction companies or large government organisations. PDF productivity and smart document management is not something they want to own, it is something they want to use. And they want to use it with the least amount of operational overhead possible, meaning they prefer SaaS over on-premise installations.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it? 

Given that we used to run most of our IT infrastructure in-house and on our own hardware, we have some historical complexity that can be simplified and we are actively [doing this] by moving them to SaaS solutions or outsourcing the entire process. We are on the way and we are making good progress.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

We have a world-class, leading-edge IT and engineering team here in Dublin and across our global locations and we are heavily investing in it. As mentioned above, we want to own what matters and that means we need to have the people to achieve that. This is especially true for our core intellectual property in the area of smart document management. At the same time, we are using SaaS and PaaS and IaaS solutions where possible and appropriate.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

As VP of infrastructure engineering, and given that we are a fast-growing company, I am spending most of my time on hiring, building the organisation and setting the direction. At the same time, I have a personal interest in technology and I am always trying to contribute something technical or learn something technical every week. Right now I am learning Rust (that’s a programming language with interesting memory management concepts).

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

At Nitro, we are pushing some of the biggest trends in the industry to unleash the value behind them for our customers. Two obvious ones are mobile computing and data-driven decision-making. Mobile computing is essential to make our vision of smart document management anytime and everywhere a reality. Data-driven decision-making is at the core of what we do. Not only internally, but also, and especially, for our customers. We know a lot about how users use the product and what they do with the documents and we also know a lot about the documents we process. We are working very hard to turn that knowledge into insight and expose it to our customers so that they can make better decisions faster. Internally we are obsessed to use leading-edge industry trends like Agile Software Engineering and DevOps to build an engineering organisation that can be fast, right and cost-effective in the presence of uncertainty.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

There are a lot of metrics that we use to drive and measure how certain areas of IT and engineering are performing. For instance, on the infrastructure side of the house we use uptime, innovation and cost. We are looking to maximise uptime, while increasing innovation (getting stuff into production as fast as possible), at the lowest cost possible.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

One area we are passionate about is reactive software engineering. We believe that, if you build using reactive software engineering and you build a reactive infrastructure platform, you can get a reactive organisation (elastic, responsive, resilient and message-driven). If we make that happen, it would make IT a shaper of organisational structures and culture and that would be remarkable.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

For the first half of the year, we have three main initiatives. One is to finish our transition to the cloud and use this transition to transform the way we build and deploy our solution. Second, we will accelerate the productisation of our research and, last but not least, we will double in size, both from a revenue run rate point of view and the people point of view. It is going to be a wild ride.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years