IT Life: Cloud e-Commerce On The Brain


Carl Theobald predicts one day we’ll be doing our cloud computing through brain implants

Carl Theobald is chief executive of cloud e-commerce provider Avangate. He has been in the IT industry for 20 years, including a spell as an Oracle vice-president working on customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce. He also co-founded collaboration software firm RubiconSoft.

What has been your favourite project so far?
Hands down my favourite project is leading Avangate and not just because it’s my current project. We have a world-class team – culturally diverse, passionate, and collaborative – and are serving a rapidly growing market that is undergoing massive transformation with the shift to the Cloud and software as a service (SaaS).

Cloud computing © Sashkin Shutterstock 2012Our customers include a Fortune 100 company that had been struggling with how to move a portion of their technology business to an online sales channel. They had dozens of new products they wanted to sell online internationally, and after nearly a year building a home grown system, they had only managed to get one of their products in their online store – and only for sale in the US (with only English language and USD currency support).

Avangate was able to to give them an agile commerce-as-a-service platform, and get prod
ucts on sale in less than 30 days with full localisation in over 100 countries.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago in tech seems like an eternity and but amazing to see what tech has achieved in these ten years! The cloud was barely a concept at that stage, outsourcing your IT infrastructure must have sounded like madness.

At the time, I was trying (or should I say failing?) to get a software start-up off the ground focused on a new, collaborative approach at demand planning for manufacturing companies. It was way ahead of its time… or at least that’s what I tell myself. It is good to see the technology we have now can help employees collaborate, bring the business closer together.

Brain interfaces are on their way

IBM Brain chipWhat tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
I expect to be able to interact with devices with my mind. Sounds crazy and similar to Harry Potter, but it’s coming. There may be some intrusion to humans as chips may need to be inserted to graph the movements in our mind and translate that to actions on the device, for example.

I think that disruption is likely to start with video game controllers, we already have gamepads which interact with the way our body moves right now, so the next step would be the mind, right?

Who’s your tech hero?
Steve Jobs. The man was a true genius at understanding the needs of his customers – even better than they understood their own needs! Every product he made at Apple had this philosophy and he was a pioneer of our time. The iPod disrupted the way music was consumed and ended our reliance on CD walkmans.

More interestingly, I remember there were doubts about the iPad with feedback such as “How would I carry such a thing? Why would I need a tablet?”. But he was proved right yet again as tablets and smartphones became a part of our everyday routine and most cannot live without them.

Steve Jobs biographyWho’s your tech villain?
Steve Jobs. Although I admired his vision for customers, I am not a fan of his insistence of creating a closed system. I understand the business reason behind having a closed system, as Jobs may have felt too many cooks spoil the broth but the consequence of this is the rise of devices which are built on more open systems. The open platforms appeal to programmers who are looking to transform concept to a product at a lower cost than the same journey with a closed platform.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Tough one! The personal computer and the internet tie for first and I use both too much. In fact, I started using (and programming) a computer when I was 10 years old. It was the Apple II and it was love at first sight (more insight as to why Steve Jobs is my tech hero).

Mobile devices are cool, but they are really just little computers with fancier I/O systems. The personal computer will always have a place in my heart and I don’t believe in its demise. Regarding which technologies I use the most today, it’s my laptop followed by the internet, followed by my iPhone.

What is your budget outlook going forward?
We are in growth mode, our market is in growth mode and we will certainly continue to invest to fuel our growth. As a result, our target market is growing at a whopping 24 percent! We’ve had an 85 percent CAGR over the last five years. I expect our annual budgets to grow consistently in the 50 to100 percent range over the next few years.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
Apple – because it has successfully reinvented itself several times over the years through innovation and a willingness to take risks.. I think technology companies will not succeed if they do not take risks because the two come hand in hand. Technology is there to make our lives easier and if it doesn’t, it has failed.

Smartphone appsEmbrace consumerisation

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
IT needs to see itself as a technology enabler helping the lines of business to move faster.

Tech spend is moving away from central IT and into the lines of business especially as they can now access SaaS solutions on their own. Employees are bringing their devices to work. Vendors that sell business-to-business (B2B) technology are adapting their offers to the needs of the individual buyer, and changing their business and revenue models to include subscriptions, pay as you go and freemium. This entices trials, then usage and on-going renewals.

All of this creates an increasing challenge for IT to enable productivity and speed for the business while still maintaining a secure and reliable environment.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Absolutely to Cloud. Look, the proliferation of cloud services and increase in user trust is now a reality. Proof point: eight  out of ten start-ups these days are SaaS companies born in the Cloud.

What’s more interesting is that there is also a fundamental change happening in the way customers are buying software and services today – consumers are more informed than ever, and business are buying more like consumers. So it’s not just about delivering your solution in the cloud, but it’s also about enabling your customers to try your product and buy your product in the cloud. SaaS companies today have to extend their customer-facing systems to not only engage with these empowered buyers at every touch point, but to service and transact there as well – consistently and efficiently.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
When my parents asked me what I wanted to be, I always answered the same: “an inventor”. From an early age I always enjoyed creating and building things and eventually this led me to my two passions: music composition and programming.

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