PagerDuty CIO: ‘Automation is an organisation’s friend when it comes to security’

10 Feb 2023

Sesh Tirumala. Image: PagerDuty.

PagerDuty’s Sesh Tirumala speaks to about his role as CIO and the vital role of automation in digital transformation.

Sesh Tirumala is the CIO of PagerDuty, a cloud computing company specialising in a SaaS incident response platform for IT departments.

Prior to joining PagerDuty, Tirumala served as divisional CIO at software company Cisco Systems. He then went on to serve as the CIO at Anaplan, where he oversaw IT and partnered closely with Anaplan’s product, go-to-market and business operations and systems teams.

In his current role, Tirumala and his team are responsible for creating data-driven relationships with customers while improving operational efficiency and streamlining employee experience.

“At the end of the day, I’m responsible for ensuring that PagerDuty retains the trust of our customers when it comes to all things information and data,” he told

‘Many organisations can tell you what happened yesterday, but very few can tell you what will happen tomorrow’


What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

The current IT landscape is defined by a set of challenges, all colliding simultaneously. IT leaders are facing downward budget pressure to consolidate vendors, deal with understaffed and overworked teams, and generally do more with less. The digital operations they manage are more important to their business’ success than ever and consumer expectations continue to rise.

So, IT leaders must stay laser focused on improving customer experience amid their organisations’ digital transformations. Forrester says that 82pc of customers say they are likely to spend more with brands that make them feel appreciated and respected. Delivering on that requires a lot of internal collaboration between customer-facing teams and the developers and engineers who are responsible for delivering interactions they don’t often see themselves!

This leads onto another challenge – how can tech help create a culture of accountability as companies grow? DevOps encodes for a culture of accountability. You might say ‘don’t wait for things to break – test, fix and innovate before they break’. Cloud, automation, and great communications and software are needed to make this happen.

Operational efficiency will need to be a big mantra. Learning to love automation and AIOps is key – but it involves keeping staff happy with processes so the technology works for the domain experts, not the people working to tech’s rule. That’s a recipe for burnout and specialists quitting.

As most organisations must, PagerDuty continues to increase and improve our security posture in an environment where security threats are rapidly changing and generally increasing year-over-year. All of these challenges are vital for trust.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Covid-19 brought opportunities for companies who invested early in their digital operations. Those that struggled found employee burnout and many of them were the main victims of the ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’. But now, every business is a digital business and transformation can’t be halted midway through.

Part of the solution lies in the adoption of automation across IT and the rest of the organisation. Most places of work have a digital offering, either their own customer or internal services. Where there are digital operations, there is room to use automation to support faster and more agile work.

PagerDuty works to improve our customers’ digital operations by resolving incidents faster, automating tasks across teams, and helping our users build more resilient services. While helping drive customers’ digital transformation journeys, we’re also implementing practices learned along the way into our own business. Design thinking and agility are at the heart of how we work, but staying close to our users, listening to their needs and pivoting our own models is just as crucial in transforming our customers’ and employees’ experiences.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

Being a modern SaaS company, we’re naturally asset light. Everything is consumed as a service. That means no data centres, no lab infrastructures and so on. We view this as a key part of our own sustainability measures.

Integrating environmental, social and governance goals into daily operations is critical to corporate resiliency. Making efficient operations a major goal is key, not only for environmental sustainability, but for measuring and solving broader social goals. IT can help make this easier, but again, to not add to the burden, automation is a critical component in taking away burdens, time and energy from valuable people’s remits.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

Businesses need to think about DataOps as inseparable from DevOps – especially if you want to treat data, both structured and unstructured, as an asset. As businesses have found with DevOps and digital operations already, they need to move to a proactive stance to achieve the best efficiency. Many organisations can tell you what happened yesterday, but very few can tell you what will happen tomorrow, and as an industry we need to collectively change that orientation. When we mature our customers’ digital operations, we can deliver that foresight to them.

Investments in DevOps that power teams to accelerate operational maturity means more consistent working hours for teams and fewer fire alarms going off in the middle of the night, which improves attrition and burnout rates. And finally, operational maturity and investment in modern practices leads to better response time and more even distribution of work across teammates.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

Organisations have come to understand the risk of external threats, but we need to continue proactively looking for the weakest link within an organisation. It may sound pessimistic, but one of the biggest threats facing an enterprise is that of internal threats. Taking this approach requires continuous monitoring and evaluation of software passage levels, admin access, software updates and more.

In addition to taking stock of internal processes, it’s imperative to have an outside-in view, where organisations evaluate what industry peers are doing and implement the best practices.

Lastly, automation is an organisation’s friend when it comes to security. Consider an employee who may have previously had top-level security clearance and access within an organisation who changed roles and no longer needs those same privileges. By leveraging automation, seemingly tedious (but nevertheless critical) processes such as provisioning and deprovisioning become more consistent and leave less room for operational error.

The key to facing ever-evolving security threats is to have a similarly ever-evolving mindset of learning. Consider what you learnt from a previous incident and what the root cause was. From there, we can strengthen processes and establish guardrails, and create a formula for success with the right people, the right processes, and the right technologies.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.