Headshot of Sumit Johar, CIO at Automation Anywhere

Name: Sumit Johar

Company: Automation Anywhere

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: July 2021

Location: San Jose, California

Sumit Johar is chief information officer at Automation Anywhere, responsible for leading and overseeing the vision, strategy, and operations of the company’s IT department globally. Johar provides strategic IT leadership to all business units and functions while fostering innovation and is streamlining operations with the company’s Automation 360 platform. Prior to joining Automation Anywhere, Johar served as CIO at MobileIron and led enterprise applications at TIBCO Software.

What was your first job? I started as a programmer with Tata Consultancy Services. My first assignment was to fix outdated mainframe systems to address the date format problem ahead of Y2K. Mainframes were extremely rigid systems and writing a simple program would take days, compared to hours or minutes with modern programming languages like Java and Python. It was fulfilling, as I had the chance to work with large, multinational banking organisations and learn how they operated.

Did you always want to work in IT? Being a programmer, I always wanted to build new products. But after spending a few years in product development, I started feeling confined. I realised that my products were playing a small part in the big puzzle, and I wanted to help solve end-to-end business problems. Over time, I got a chance to work on an IT project, just to help out. I really enjoyed the cross-functional nature of the work and was excited to learn about business operations. It inspired me to make IT my permanent home.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a bachelor’s degree in technology with a major in computer science and engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra. I hold a CISM certification—an industry-leading certification for cybersecurity leaders. I am also a member of two CIO communities: the Consortium of Information System Executives (CISE) and the Society for Information Management (SIM).

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I spent a large part of my career helping clients solve their automation and system integration challenges. In those days, providing real-time integration between separate systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) was very challenging. In 2016, I decided to switch gears to a role at MobileIron, which built a product to keep corporate data secure and separate from personal data. But my roots were always in automation, and in 2021, I decided to join Automation Anywhere, given the big opportunity to turn the traditional automation experience into something far more intelligent and interactive.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? The IT lansdscape has evolved significantly in the last 10-15 years, both in terms of systems and team structure. IT organisations hardly spend any time running data centers or building custom apps, since most IT infrastructure runs on public cloud and most apps are procured as software as a service (SaaS) subscriptions.

This is creating huge demand for process orchestration and automation. The scope of automation is moving from background technology to bots that work hand-in-hand with humans. Also, organisations are creating and consuming far more data—both structured and unstructured—and IT needs to find actionable insights out of that to drive growth. I expect a focus on data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to continue for the foreseeable future.

What are the CEO’s top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO, Mihir Shukla, is not only a visionary in the automation space but also a great believer that quality of internal operations can be a competitive advantage. He expects my team to be the best consumer of our own technology. Inspired by discussions with him, I started a customer-zero program to maximise the use of our technology and share feedback with our product and engineering teams. We’ve adopted bots to help streamline IT tasks, such as “Auditron” to execute audits and “Helpdesk Helper” to automate business application access.

Mihir and I both advocate that the true potential of any technology can only be reached by democratising it. When the concept of citizen development emerged, he asked that we try it internally before evangelising it with our customers. That experience provided valuable learnings to leverage in our customer engagements and helped inform the development of our training and certification resource, Automation Anywhere University.

Mihir is a forward-thinking leader who doesn’t look at an IT organisation as only a cost center, and he constantly encourages me to partner with GTM organisations.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO role has evolved considerably in the past 10 years. Traditionally, the CIO was the chief technology buyer. As technology becomes easier to consume and manage, business teams are starting to invest in it with their own budgets. However, CIOs are still responsible for overall enterprise architecture. This requires a very different mindset and relationship with the line of business.

An emerging trend is citizen development, where business teams take on more development work. Many CIOs are seeking ways to adopt this without risking quality and security of business operations. I am a strong proponent of delegating some development work to my business teams while providing necessary oversight and training supported by a center of excellence.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Automation Anywhere is helping customers drive digital transformation with its intelligent automation platform. Simultaneously, I am leading the same transformation within our organisation.

Our technology drives efficiency and improves cutomer experience by allowing humans and bots, or “digital workers,” to work together. At present, we save around 75,000 hours per year with the help of 600 bots that we have collectively built. For instance, a bot named “Bill” validates and creates vendor invoices for our finance department in Workday, while “Tess” works 24/7 on talent retention to support our people experience group. “Connie,” “Val,” “Hancock,” “Kozhi,” and “MoneyPenny” automate tasks for our contracts operations group, including updating document requests and obtaining e-signatures.

Although we are growing our automation savings by 50% every year, I feel we are just scratching the surface.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our organisation relies on a few KPIs that explain the impact and quality of IT operations. They include percent of budget spent on day-to-day operations vs. strategic transformational work, as well as annual automation-led savings in terms of person hours. We have well-defined service-level agreements (SLAs), such as uptime, response time, and net promoter score (NPS), that help me measure the quality of operations. We also report on return on investment (ROI) for every IT initiative.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I strongly believe that you need to create the right environment for employees to leverage their strengths. Our human resources team invests time and effort in building a culture valuing passion, innovation, and customer-first and team mindsets. Additionally, I personally pay attention to values and characteristics like transparency, accountability, and willingness to learn and adapt.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? As business teams become more technology-savvy, there is a need for IT teams to become more business-savvy. It’s relatively easy to find pure technical talent, but it’s harder to find professionals who are equally effective in both business and technology, which is important for teams that run cross-functional transformation initiatives. Cybersecurity is another challenging area—it’s highly technical, but it’s hard to find skilled and experienced professionals.

What’s the best career advice you ever received? Early in my career, I used to get impatient when my ideas were not heard or when I thought I deserved better. A former manager said to me, “The technology business is less about technology and more about people. Adaptability to diverse people, ideas, and culture is key to success. CIOs are known to be smart introverts—you need to challenge yourself and learn to connect with the rest of the organisation.”

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I can focus on real, strategic priorities when I have properly delegated to my team. That’s only possible if I invest in building strong leadership within my team, which requires identifying and nurturing high-performing candidates early on. They need their own space, encouragement, and challenging work to stay motivated. You can’t always tell them how to solve a problem; they need to know that you have their back and it’s okay to try out their own approaches. I am fortunate to have a strong bench of leaders on my team who I know can keep the ship moving.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Find a way to directly contribute to organisational goals like revenue growth, so you aren’t considered strictly a cost center. One way that I do it is by running a customer-zero program that helps sales, product, and engineering teams. My team loves drinking our own champagne, and we proudly share our success stories with our customers.

What has been your greatest career achievement? One of my past employers got acquired by a private equity firm. We were asked to rip and replace our entire front office and back office ecosystem within a span of six months, and I was leading the IT side of the project. These systems were built over 20 years, and replacing them with a modern tool stack was a humongous task. It was the most tiring but rewarding experience in my entire career to date.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Early on in my career, I wasn’t as focused on networking with my peers in the industry. Over time, I realised that your network plays a big role in your growth and most learnings come from mutual sharing of ideas.

What are you reading now? I have a huge interest in learning how AI is evolving to work hand-in-hand with humans. Right now, I am reading the book Working with AI: Real Stories of Human-Machine Collaboration by Thomas H. Davenport and Steven M. Miller. This book breaks through the hype and the doom and gloom surrounding automation and the deployment of AI-enabled smart systems of work.

Most people don’t know that I… wanted to become an astrophysicist while growing up. I still follow astrophysicists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku.

In my spare time, I like to…Read about how the universe and life might have started, how stars and planets are born. I must have watched hundreds of videos explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity, yet find it hard to fully grasp the idea that time and space are interconnected.

Ask me to do anything but… Skydiving. I have a fear of heights.

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