Oktane19 Afternoon Super-Session Keynote



Speaker 1: Whether it is your first, your second, or your seventh Oktane, I'm honored to welcome you here today. I have actually had the wonderful opportunity to work on Oktane since our very humble beginnings at the hotel just next door. For Oktane 13, we actually had to pack my car filled with whiteboards and cram all the Tshirts in the trunk, in order to get them from our office down to the hotel. Needless to say, I don't think everything that we fit in that car and everything that we have here at Moscone would fit in my car today. So, we're very excited about how far we've come, and we thank you for joining us today.

I love looking out and seeing so many familiar faces here. Over the course of my time working here at Okta, I've had the wonderful opportunity to get to know so many of you customers. When people ask me what I love about working Okta, I always tell them it is the people. It's the team members that make the product and the programs like this even possible. It's the leadership team that sets the vision and guides this company every day. And, of course, it's you, all of our customers, and Oktane is the one chance that we have to get all of these groups together, and be together. So thank you again for joining us.

I hope that you've had a great first day at Oktane. I hope that you've learned a lot in the breakout sessions, that you've been able to network with your peers, and that you've also taken the chance to get to know our sponsors. One of the best things about being at Oktane is being able to see all those customers. Customers like Phil Ibarrola from ThoughtWorks, who's been a longtime advocate and champion for us, and has helped us push and innovate our product in new ways. Or customers like Pradeep Manikarra, who's been a customer not once, not twice, but actually three times. Or customers like Elena from MGM resorts, who participated in our very first ever Women in Tech event at Oktane a couple of years ago, of course, a program is very near and dear to my heart.

Seeing all of these customers is what makes Oktane so great, so thank you again for joining us. Earlier today, you heard us talk about trust, and Todd shared some exciting information about how we're innovating our products to deliver more trust. This afternoon, we will continue that conversation to talk about the evolving role of technology in business.

Our next guest, Michelle Peluso is the SVP of Digital Sales and Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, where she is responsible for protecting and promoting one of the world's most iconic technology brands. Previously, she served as the CEO of Travelocity and Guilt, and the Global Consumer Chief Marketing and Internet Officer at Citi. Given Michelle's business, marketing, and technology experience, she will share some interesting perspectives on how brands think about building trust in a conversation with our very own Chief Marketing Officer, Ryan Carlson, who I've had the opportunity to work with and learn from for the past six years. Before they join us, let's play a short video about IBM.

Speaker 2: Dear Tech.

Mayim Bialik: Dear Tech.

Janelle Monae: Let's talk.

Speaker 5: We have a pretty good relationship.

Speaker 2: You're done a lot of good for the world.

Mayim Bialik: But I feel like you have the potential to do so much more.

Tarana Burke: Are you working for all of us or just a few of us?

Speaker 7: Can we build AI without bias?

Janelle Monae: AI that fights bias?

Tarana Burke: AI that helps us see the bias in ourselves?

Mayim Bialik: We need tech that helps people understand each other.

Speaker 5: And understands my business.

Speaker 8: Dear tech.

Speaker 7: Dear Tech.

Speaker 9: Dear tech.

Speaker 10: Dear tech.

Speaker 2: Let's champion data rights as human rights.

Speaker 9: Let's use blockchain to help reduce poverty.

Speaker 11: Let's develop new solutions with the help of quantum technology.

Speaker 10: Let's show girl that STEM isn't just a boys' club.

Speaker 12: Let's make a difference in people's lives.

Janelle Monae: Let's do it all.

Mayim Bialik: Together.

Speaker 5: Let's expect more from technology.

Speaker 8: Let's put smart to work.

Speaker 13: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Okta's Chief Marketing Officer, Ryan Carlson, and IBM's Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle Peluso.

Ryan Carlson: Thanks for joining us here.

Michelle Peluso: My pleasure.

Ryan Carlson: Let's talk about that video. I love that video. Can I ask a couple questions about it?

Michelle Peluso: Yes, please do.

Ryan Carlson: How much did it cost to make?

Michelle Peluso: Everybody was so passionate, it was free.

Ryan Carlson: I love that. Oh, really? Janelle Monae? Was that Soleil Moon Frye.

Michelle Peluso: No, that's her TV name. No, Mayim Bialik.

Ryan Carlson: Oh, Mayim. Sorry.

Michelle Peluso: Who's also a neuroscientist.

Ryan Carlson: Is she really?

Michelle Peluso: She's very passionate about the issues of technology, in fairness.

Ryan Carlson: I didn't really want to ask how much that that video cost, but I do want to talk about it. I think you were behind that Dear Tech campaign, is that right? I'd love to get your thoughts on how does a campaign like that, at a company like IBM, come together?

Michelle Peluso: I think when you're a brand, you're always thinking, of course, about your product. What are the products we sell? What are the experiences, who are our clients? But for company like IBM, 108 years as a high tech company, I mean, I don't know if there's another one. What has changed many times about IBM and our reinvention is the products we sell. What has not changed is the values, the core values about who we are.

And so things like how we usher in new technology, this issue of trust, responsibility, what we should all expect from technology. These are issues critical to the IBM brand. It's a really interesting time. Anytime you're launching a brand campaign, you really think about what's the conversation happening in society, and when you're lucky, you intercept that conversation in a really positive way.

I think part of the conversation we'll have, I'm sure, is that there's so many people really trying to figure out, is technology going to work for everybody or is it just working for a few of us? Is data my data or is it your data? Is AI actually going to be something that's a force for good in the world, or is it actually going to create job dislocation and all sorts of other challenges? How do we prepare the next generation of workers for a world that we will be massively transformed?

So, it felt like the right time to have a conversation about what we should expect from technology, what we should expect from a technology brand.

Ryan Carlson: I love that. And we're going to talk about a lot of those topics you just mentioned. Let's talk about the IBM brand in particular. It's often said, certainly in technology, and in audiences like this, it was often said, and I think still is, nobody gets fired for buying IBM. As we think about a brand, a 108 year old technology brand, as it necessarily needs to evolve, how do you think about retaining what makes it special, versus taking on the new parts of a brand that it has to?

Michelle Peluso: I think, for IBM there's sort of really three things that have always been constant. The first one is being at the forefront of the most innovative technology. Now, decades and decades ago, that was tabulators, and even for a while, cheese slicers, believe it or not. But of course, being at the forefront, we invest more than really almost anyone on the planet on research. We have more patents every year than anyone. So, being at the forefront of what technology matters, and how that's going to affect society, our clients, and being able to really distinguish and differentiate what is hype versus what are things that are really gonna make a difference.

Secondly, industry expertise. You can't change the way the stock market works if you don't understand the underbelly of the stock market. Right? So, really grounded in the hundreds of thousands of consultants we have, who understand industry, who can think about how do you apply this new technology in an industry context.

And then third, of course, is this idea of trust and responsibility. And that's an easy thing to say, but I think part of being a company that's 108 years old in tech, is these are issues we've had to think about a lot. How do you usher in new technology? How do you prepare society in the next generation of workers? What is the issue of inclusion? What does inclusion mean? What does diversity mean? And of course security, foremost, so I think for us, the brand is really always an expression of those three ideas.

Ryan Carlson: You know, when there's an interviewer who asks a question and answers it themselves, they do that really annoying thing? I'm about to do that. So, when you think about brand, and then, for me, when I think about brand, and I think about a company's culture, they're inextricably linked. Because a lot about a brand is authenticity. You can't just tell the world, "This is what IBM stands for," if IBM doesn't actually stand for that. How do you think about a company as big as IBM and the culture of IBM as it relates to brand?

Michelle Peluso: Yeah, well, it's a great question. I think that there's something really fundamental about the IBMer, and it's a phrase that's used all around the world. An IBMer is someone who's incessantly curious about what's coming next. But also, there are certain values in our company and our culture that had been around for far longer than any of us that are in management now have been there.

So, for instance, the issue of inclusion and diversity. It's a hot topic right now, but for IBM, it was a hot topic in the 1930s. We passed our first equal pay rules in the 1930s for the company. It was 1953 that our chairman wrote Policy Letter #4. It was a nondiscrimination policy. That was a decade before the Civil Rights Act that you could not make a decision on hiring, retaining, promoting, all these things based on race, gender, creed, et Cetera.

So, we've been really involved in issues like Dreamers and transgender rights, bathroom rights, all these things for a long, long time. And so I think, when you're at a company like that, your job is to be a steward of something that people long before us with a lot of imagination, a lot of creativity, lot of foresight built from a cultural perspective. And of course, to adapt and change. We have to change practices, policies, the way we go about things. The conversation of inclusion now is even more important. So we've got to raise the bar.

Ryan Carlson: I want to come back to diversity and inclusion because I think it's obviously an important topic, but I want to give some more context about some of your other roles, because I think that that helps with the topic of diversity and inclusion. So, your CMO at IBM, but you're also the SVP of Digital Sales, and I think you were a CEO three different times before, at Site 59, at Travelocity, and at Gilt Group. Is that right?

Michelle Peluso: Yeah.

Ryan Carlson: And so I want to talk about the term that is overused these days. Digital transformation, everybody uses it. It's lost any specificity in its meeting, but there is something there, and you have a unique viewpoint, I think, on that being involved with technology companies, not just on the marketing side but also on just the CEO and leadership side. I'd like to get your take on the term digital transformation, but then really what's behind that.

Michelle Peluso: I think what's really interesting, what I've started at Travelocity's company, was a couple of years old, small, relatively still. And it was such a fascinating time because it was the beginning of the Internet and there were so many amazing things happening, and obviously there were search engines and social sites and all these things changing.

And really, almost everything about digital transformation was how do you change the customer experience? How do you innovate from the outside in? How do you change the periphery of the company, the client, customer experience, customer support. Because we had these new digital tools available, and arguably, the past decade, two decades, have been companies catching up with that idea, making banking easier for the customer, making fashion, these you're making travel easier, et cetera.

I actually think now, some of the most interesting companies are thinking about it from the inside out. So, how do we leverage all the data we have? How do we digitize workflow, the way we work together, the way we do HR, the way we do call centers? How do we infuse AI into these intelligent ways of working, and new ways of working?

And so I think what we see, at least, is when you look across dozens and dozens of industries, every country in the world, et Cetera, is companies have done the polishing of the edges and they have digital experiences for their clients and customers. Now, they're doing the really much more interesting and hard work of how do we harness all the data we have to find new insights, to find new ways of working, to transform the way teams are formed and build and create things?

So, we see HR departments completely overhauling. There's nothing to do with a client per se, or the customer per se, or customer service departments totally changing. So, I think that our marketing, certainly, is on a massive transformation agenda, enabled by data, enabled by AI, enabled by new technologies, even like blockchain.

So, when I think about digital transformation, I think the word is dramatically overused, too, but I think if the first generation was how do we change the customer experience, the next chain generation's how do we change ourselves?

Ryan Carlson: Interesting. Digital transformation, I think the term that we sometimes use that isn't as overused as software [inaudible 00:12:19]. Marc Andreessen said that, and as every company rushes to become a technology company, to use technology to move themselves forward, I think a topic of conversation that's increasingly common is are they doing so responsibly. And you and I talked about that backstage. The video talked about the responsible use of AI. I'd love to get your take on the responsible use of this technology, doing it, using it, not just for technology's sake, not just to move faster, but to do it in the right way, because that ultimately comes back to your brand and comes back trust.

Michelle Peluso: Yeah, and I don't think, by the way, software is really the big fundamental difference right now. I actually think it's data, just to be clear. I think that all of us are realizing the massive reserves of data we have access to, but frankly, that's scratching the surface. I mean, we were at CES, showing how devices on your fingers can take biometric and predict things like Parkinson's and stuff decades ahead. So, the amount of biometric data, even, that's going to come on, I mean there's so much more information about each of us, and the environments we live in, that is increasingly available. And certainly with edge computing you're seeing that.

So, I think the real interesting question is not so much about software and are companies being technology companies. I actually think it's are companies data companies. Who harnesses data in the most interesting ways. That, of course, raises huge questions about responsibility and trust and ethics. At IBM, at least, we have three principles we live by when it comes to AI. One, that we really feel passionately that artificial intelligence needs to augment, not replace human intelligence and capacity.

Secondly, that we need to always make sure that the AI models and the training is transparent and traceable. So, we are really passionate about that. And lastly, we have a real commitment and passion to ushering the new technology in, in ways that empower society, and also that your data is your data. We really believe data is owned by the individual or the company.

These are things that, when we're doing things like facial recognition technology, or when we're doing things like any of the ways AI as applying to changing customer service centers and the like, those principles are front and center for us.

Ryan Carlson: When you look at the responsible use of data by technology companies, I think what often comes up, what's the incentive of that company? What's the business model? A company like Apple will say their business model's very clear. They're selling devices. The data that they use is there to make those devices have a better user experience, but it's all in a secure enclave on the device, for example.

Michelle Peluso: Right. Business model's not you.

Ryan Carlson: Business model really matters. How do you think about that when it comes to AI?

Michelle Peluso: Well, our business model, of course, is to make the client successful. So, that's not our data. It's our client's data. It's not our insights, it's their insights. So, we have to create technology and create an environment where they can actually do their best work. So, it's a little different and, frankly, easier for us as an enterprise company in that regard. The data they own, the data they sit on is theirs to mine.

Ryan Carlson: I want to go back to the marketing side, but I'll do it with kind of a transition question. As a CEO and CMO in different capacities, when you had your CEO hat on, how did you think of marketing? What was the role that marketing played in your company when you were a CEO?

Michelle Peluso: I'm a math and data geek through and through, and technology geek. I think marketing, at its best, has intuition of humanity and that just incredibly graceful understanding of what people need and want. But more and more, it's science. And it's sort of data and technology. So, I think the best marketers in the world for a CEO, figure how to bring that together, how to be the person at the table who offers the humanity about the customer, the client, the experience, the needs, the anticipation of those needs, the intuition, the positioning, but matches that with really powerful use of data to support and explain how the company can bet best grow.

Ryan Carlson: You've talked about how you use data as a marketeer, but also you and I were talking backstage about how you are increasingly using technology in marketing, and not just technology but almost software engineering methodologies and marketing. Would love to hear some thoughts on that.

Michelle Peluso: Sure. So, two questions there, right? One is how do we operate. So, when I was CEO of Travelocity, it was a really interesting time, because it was 2001, 2002, early 2002, 2003, and the first Agile Conference in the agile mountains had just taken place [inaudible] Lots of people were really fired up about that. And we became one of the first companies to move to Agile as a software methodology at scale.

I've always been really passionate about that, but I've always wondered, can you bring it to other disciplines? We have 400000 people at IBM, so it's not an easy thing to do. I have about 10000 people on my team, in marketing. We decided to go full scale, I have about 6000 marketers. We decided to go full scale into Agile as a discipline. And that was an incredibly hard thing to do, because it meant, all of a sudden, that we really had to clarify where people sat, what their locations were, what their squads were. We had to change our office space environment. We had to do a lot.

There's sort of this layer that Agile often breaks down on, because if you really believe in Agile, and you really believe in self-empowered teams, all that layer that obviously had built up over time of middle management isn't really as needed, the traditional information sherpas of a company. They take information down and pass it up and down the organization. And so, it requires a huge amount of structural change to a company, to go Agile.

We put our people through six months of training, so this wasn't just like, "Let's be Agile as an adjective." This was really as a discipline. We had to work with all of our agents' partners as marketers, to figure out who could actually make the journey with us and who couldn't.

Ryan Carlson: I was going to ask. 6000 people changing the way they work from waterfall to Agile, and these are not engineers, these are marketers. How many of them struggle with that? Sounds like it wouldn't be easy.

Michelle Peluso: So, part of this was location strategy, too, which was really difficult. But we lost plenty of marketers early in the journey, who either didn't want to start working in the office again, didn't want to move to a squad or an Agile team. Interestingly, it turns out we needed a bit less than we had. When it really moved itself in power teams and you really get clear on the mission, the only thing is now our engagement scores, our productivity, went way, way higher than its ever been. So, this process, this journey is saying, "Come with us on this journey, and, by the way," as I always tell my team, "You will be the most recruitable marketer on the planet, to be this steeped in Agile, to be this good at the discipline of Agile and the routines and practices makes you really invaluable as a marketer." Which is exciting.

So, it's been really difficult, but incredibly rewarding and fun journey.

Ryan Carlson: I bet you've learned a lot in managing and leading teams of different sizes. I think the company that you were CEO of, that was bought by Travelocity, was very small. You were the founder of that company, is that right?

Michelle Peluso: I was, yeah.

Ryan Carlson: And now, you have a team, as you just mentioned, of 10000 people in different industries. What's been the most surprising thing, or maybe the most insightful thing that you've learned, of leading groups as different sizes?

Michelle Peluso: You know, I actually think most of it's the same. I mean, the means change, because, you know, when you're right in this small group, you know everybody. But at the end of the day, to me, teams, if you can find diverse groups of people, and I mean diversity in lots of different ways, including different skills, and you can help them be on a mission together, and they fundamentally believe that you are looking out for them as humans, as people, and that means their career advancement, but it means their own human development, too, you can really accomplish remarkable things. I think, given the right environment, teams tilt toward success. Teams tilt towards wanting more and achieving more.

So, my job is always just to get obstacles out of their way, to be really clear about the mission, to be really clear about what success looks like, and then to do everything I can to support and nurture, whether that's 100 people, or whether that's 10000 people.

Ryan Carlson: That's great.

Michelle Peluso: The means change, of course, but thankfully, with technology, there's an awful lot you can do to stay very connected.

Ryan Carlson: That's great. You brought up diversity again, in terms of getting a team to be high performing. I want to come back to that. You recently co-authored a report at IBM around inclusion and diversity, and there's a bunch of things in that report I want to talk about. But maybe you could just tell everybody about that report, and have a couple of specific questions.

Michelle Peluso: I run the Women's Initiative at IBM, and this is a fascinating one, because it's certainly my belief that we're not making fast enough progress. If we're going to make further progress, it's going to take everybody. This isn't a women's issue. It's really an issue for all.

So, we did a survey of 2300 C-suite execs across country, this was across industry, so this was a pretty large scale survey. And there were some interesting findings. I think on the slightly challenging side, 79% of respondents said that gender inclusion was not actually a business priority at their company. And so, that really tells the whole story, because as you know, as an individual, you can't say, "I want to get healthy," and not actually exercise or eat better. You have to actually walk the walk.

What these companies are implicitly saying, in not being a business priority, it's a nice to have, but it's not that imperative, and so you don't actually have goals, and you don't actually hold people accountable, and there's not rewards and punishments. The same way you would say, "I business priorities are to enter Europe this year," or, "Our business priority is to enter a new segment, grow profit," whatever it is.

So, that was a little bit, the troubling aspect of the report, that almost everybody felt like it's important, almost everybody said they wanted to do it, but very few companies have taken the steps to say, "We're formalizing this as a business priority."

The second thing that was really fascinating about the report, though, was that there were 11% of companies, we call them the first movers, that had made way more progress than other companies on gender inclusion. And, by the way, they're outperforming their peers, stock price, revenue growth, innovation, and employee engagement, so lots of dimensions.

Those companies have formally made it a business priority, they have measurable goals that are published, they hold people accountable, there's penalties and rewards for actually achieving greater inclusion. And, of course, they work.

The good news about this, so we say to, especially the CEOs, this will be the easiest business priority for you. If you set this as a business priority, if you actually care about inclusion, if you fundamentally believe all the data that says that more inclusive teams produce better results, if you believe that and you make this a priority, it will be the easiest thing you do. It will be the easiest thing you do.

Because we have better pipelines than ever before, we have more tools, more technology, more capability to make sure that we're creating really inclusive teams. So, the question no longer is one of, "Hmm, what needs to happen?" We know what needs to happen, and it starts with all of us making it actually a business priority. So, it's one very concrete thing, I think, we can all do as leaders, especially as advocates in our own company, is about just actually formalizing it.

Ryan Carlson: That's well said. Yeah, you touched on the thing I was going to ask about, which was the first movers, the people in your study, the companies in your study who had made more progress. They had done better. And when we talk about inclusion and diversity, a big part of why we want to do it is because we want to win. We want to get the very best people, and the way to do that, is to include everybody as you possibly can to do that.

We're wrapping up here on time in a second. I want to come back to one of your other roles at IBM. So, you're not just CMO, curating and enhancing and managing one of the world's most trusted brands, you're also in charge of online, digital sales, which is a huge business for IBM. So, as part of that, trust has to come into how you connect digitally with your customers. I wonder if you can talk and kind of in closing comments about how trust factors into how you manage the customer relationship with online sales at IBM.

Michelle Peluso: Yeah, it's from HS, but I also think it's just brilliant customer experience. And we always have a ways to go, just to be clear. One of the things, I've taken on this new role, marketing commercial and digital sales, so two big parts of our business, on top of my day job, is really, really being sort of aggressively thoughtful about the customer experience.

So, from when they do their first web search to when they do their first trial, to when they do a live chat experience, to when they're talking to one of our reps, to when they're having their first experience, to maybe they're buying SAS and it's installed, to what their in [inaudible] experience is. So, we have a long way, always, to go, to say, "How do we leverage data, technology, etc. to make sure that the customer experience is brilliant?"

So, my biggest passion point in this whole topic, and I think, when you do that, you earn trust. When you use the interactions with customers wisely and smartly, you earn trust. So, one of the things we're just incredibly passionate about, and I'm spending a lot of my time on, is making sure we're really thoughtful about every single interaction, how it connects to other interactions a client has had in this digital journey, and how we bring together the silos of IBM for the client.

Ryan Carlson: That's great. Well, Michelle, you, as a CMO, aspiring to be a CMO who does many more things like you've done, I learned a lot from you and talking with you, and talking with you here. Please join me in thanking Michelle Peluso for her time. Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle Peluso: Thank you very much, Ryan. Great. Thank you.

Hear from Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Michelle Peluso on the Oktane19 main stage.