ComSpark Podcast - Brian Berning, Chairman of the Board for The Circuit

ComSpark Thought Leader

Brian Berning, Chairman of the Board

The Circuit


Vernon Kennedy

ComSpark Executive Host Committee; President and CEO of ActiveWrite

To listen to the podcast click here!

Hello and welcome to the ComSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more visit

Vernon Kennedy: Hello. We are here today with Brian Berning, who's Chairman of the Board of The Circuit here in Greater Cincinnati. My name is Vernon Kennedy. I'm a member of the ComSpark executive host committee. I'm also a president and CEO of ActiveWrite and I will be the guest moderator today. Okay, let's get started. Brian, I'm from Columbus, Central Ohio and I come down here and quite a lot and I'm also in the IT community. How would you describe the IT community in Greater Cincinnati and how it's evolved over the last several years?

Brian Berning: I think first, start off with the positives. I think one thing you find about Cincinnati, it's a very parochial community, is very philanthropic, as well. So, you're going to get a lot of support. It's very much about relationships here in Cincinnati, being a parochial community. And so, the IT community does an outstanding job of really staying connected, if you will. That's one thing that really stands out about the IT community here in Cincinnati. They're engaged, they're involved, they're committed to not only their organization but also to the community.

Community means a lot to the IT leaders and they demonstrate that through their leadership, not only in their own organizations but externally and organizations like the circuit. In terms of maybe what areas that I think we can improve, if you will, as an IT community. Talent aside, obviously talent is as need anywhere and everywhere. There are communities, no different. But I think one of the things that I see is perhaps and fragmentation a lot of organizations doing the same thing, that would probably be better served to align or collaborate more or a little bit more. So, there's a little less what I call flight planning and a little bit more collaboration. That's something that I see that I think we are, we can improve upon as the supporting organizations, trade associations like The Circuit among others that you know, to really focus in on, you know, collaborating more and bring our resources together as opposed to separating those resources. There's an opportunity here I think, and with that scale because this greater opportunities to advance more and more wisely as opposed to the way it's segregated now.

VK: Right. Are you seeing that more through your community meetings and everything? How many IT organizations are a member of The Circuit and over the years have you seen them actually be more open to sharing best practices and things of that nature?

BB: Yeah, I mean, so there's roughly, I would say close to 186 members in total. That's based on the organizations if you will. And The Circuit’s membership is really, I mean it's an organization dedicated to technologists and the organizations they support. So, you not only have what I call the C-Suite level CIO, CTO, but you also have organizations that support those technologists that play a vital role in the membership and the sustainability of that organization. So that's what the memberships largely comprised of.

VK: Well, going back to where we started the conversation earlier, you talked about the IT community here in being truly community focused and that's probably one of their best attributes. But what else would you say that the IT community here in Cincinnati should be proud of?

BB: Great question. You know, I think one of the things they can be very proud of is how well they advocate for each other. You know, it's, you know, it's, they really look out for each other's. They develop deep friendships with each other, you know, it's that advocate and the advocate. So, the best way to put it, they advocate a not only within their organization, but you know, one of their strengths I think is they just do a fantastic job of networking among each other, sharing best practices, you know, what The Circuit there is an exchange, private exchange that they can communicate with each other in a a vendor free environment. The traffic that I see with is, is I get access to is, is really, really very assuring and they really trust each other. And that's part of the secret sauce, if you will, love of this community. It's just a high level of trust with each other, even though they're working for different organizations, you know, no one's exchanging trade secrets, but they really are very open and transparent in terms of sharing information and seeking guidance around that really is one thing.

I'm not necessarily focusing on maybe a technical attribute, right? But what I'm focusing on is as a community and how they interact with each other.

VK: Well you only been around since 1996? I would imagine that's how your membership stays strong in that if I can, if I can define what you might mean, and correct me if I'm wrong. By a vendor free environment, you mean you facilitate The Circuit kind of facilitates a way for people to get together that are from the IT background in an environment where they can sort of feel free to let their hair down and don't have to worry about the other person on the other side of the table constantly trying to sell them something. Is that what you mean by vendor free?

BB: That's exactly. It's, you know, that gives them a high level of comfort, you know, obviously these are, these are buyers and they get a, they get, they're more than their fair share of a solicitations. And so, this is an option. This is a peer network for them. They can exchange ideas with peers. That's a trusted environment for them. That's why. That's one of the reasons the CIO circle in particular has been, has been what I call the flagship of that organization. And those are, these are high level C-Suite leaders and they're heavily engaged and they're very passionate about The Circuit and that's that secret sauce that makes that organization successful. And over the years I'd say there's good or better years and some also, but it's all been predicated on leadership. You know, if the right leadership in place and then you also have the right content that you're delivering, then then obviously it bodes well for the organization.

VK: Right, right. Absolutely. So what type of, what type of IT talent, you know, the kids, I'm, I'm an adjunct professor, um, when I'm not running my own software company. And so, I see all these bright kids that are about to graduate from the universities and everything and a lot of them are going into the IT space. So what type of talent and what type of special needs do you see not only within, say The Circuit, but then also within your peer network and the other organizations, what talents are out there that people are really looking for?

BB:  While I would say if you look at it, I think it starts with data scientists, right? Folks that can convert data into intelligence and figured out how to monetize it. So that makes sense. So, for me, you know, when you're polling organizations in terms of what their needs are, you're talking to even the financial leaders, these organizations, you're going to hear two things. And that's the two areas of talent. One is analytics. Folks that specialize in data analytics, data and intelligence, how to monetize that data out of extracted efficiently. So, data scientists by far and away, I believe is, you know, is, is number one, one A. And one B is professionals that specialize in security, right? Because obviously cybersecurity is a great need for an organization. It's a threat to an organization. So those are the two areas that, you know, I think every organization, no matter what their, you know, their size, right, there's a lot of things that you can outsource, right? But you really need a good CISO. You really need a good team that can-do analytics and analytics isn't something that's necessarily project based. Now it's something that it's the kind of perpetual, right? And those are the areas that I see and that every organization needs some, some level and where there is an opportunity for growth.

VK: Now let's talk about more of a macro level. Let's talk about Cincinnati, that community. Why, why would you, if you know, if I'm a young person coming out of college or if I want a change of scenery and I'm leaving Columbus or Cleveland or some other place in the Midwest, why do I pick Cincinnati to come here and be a technologist?

BB: Yeah. Well, I think again, as being a parochial community, it's a fantastic place to raise a family. That's what you hear to hear from everyone. It's outstanding. It's a small enough community where it's less than one degree of separation. You can become famous in this community very quickly and be, even if you're not born and raised in this community, right? You don't have to necessarily go to high school. They'll ask you that question, but it's a small enough community where you can really make an impact. You know? That's the thing that I hear often. Yeah, you can really make an impact. And you know, I'm a fan of building an effective network, right? And it's the type of community that, you can have five or six individuals that are part of your own want to quote unquote private country club and you know, if you have those five or six individuals, you're less than one degree of separation from an opportunity.

VK: That's fantastic.

BB: Yeah, it's just that type. It's a small enough community to where you won't be lost in its size, right? You can become famous if you will, but it's large enough to have a lot of the amenities you want. Nice restaurants, great museums, great, what I call quality of life if you will.

VK: And that makes complete sense. And that's also what I tell I tell my students and I also tell young people in my organization is that you really have to, you're doing yourself a disservice if you're not out there building the right professional network. You know, it's not where you grew up. It's how you apply yourself now that you're grow You know, in terms of getting out there and just know that likability factor.

BB: In unlike maybe, perhaps some other communities. And I, I wouldn't, I don't know for certain, but I will say this one, it's very loyal. That network you build follows you anywhere and everywhere you go. So, if you're in transition from job A, to job B that network really is supportive and I've been there. So now it's like, and you know, it's amazing how that community, if you will, steps up and is incredibly supportive of you during a period of transition. You know, that's the thing that stands out. It's just an outstanding community that's very loyal too. It is very much about relationships. That's why there's that loyalty you know, as long as the organization you have has the resources and you're responsive and then the decisions are about relationships. Price matters still, but it's not the primary reason, right? It's more.  I understand three Rs, the resources, the relationships, and the response of those. So those three are in place, then yeah, price matters, but you know, those three things really weigh heavily on people's decision making here in the complete sense.

VK: Well, look, I've taken up a few of your minutes here and uh, I know time is precious. We truly do appreciate all the time you've given us today, Brian Burning. Thank you very much.

BB: Thank you.