CAS Discusses the Increasing Importance of Collaboration and Teamwork in Development
Joe Sjostrom - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
Director of Application Technology
Founder and President
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Director of Application Technology for CAS, Joe Sjostrom, discusses the increasing importance of collaboration and teamwork in development.
BK: We are here today with Joe Sjostrom, who's the Director of Application Technology at CAS, which is an organization based in Columbus, Ohio, and they specialize as a scientific solution provider. My name is Bryan Kaiser. I'm the Founder and President of Vernovis and also part of the executive host committee of comSpark. I will be your guest moderator today, so let's get started. Joe, how you doing?
JS: Doing great, Bryan. Nice to meet you.
BK: Wonderful. Thanks for your time. You too. So, how have you seen technology change over the last 35 years, and how do you see it continuing to change over the next three to five?
JS: Wow. So, great question. Um, obviously I have been in technology for 35 years. I came into my current position right out of graduate school at Ohio State, and I've been in application development for all of that time – started as a programmer and worked up through architecture and eventually in management. And frankly, it's been a very dramatic change that I've seen. Uh, in the early days, um, programming itself was a very, uh, solo activity. Engineers building solutions primarily on a mainframe, that kind of thing. As the technology has evolved, as the business climates evolve, the need for development to become a much more highly collaborative activity, uh, has dominated, and the tools and the processes have enabled that. And I, that's, it's a very dramatic change and has required significant change to our organization, both from a management perspective as well as from the engineer perspective.
BK: What other changes have you seen outside of, uh, outside of programming in the last 35 years?
JS: Well, the business climate that we operate in has changed significantly. CAS as a, as an information solution provider, has been a monopoly for the most part of our, of our 110-year career. But it's a much more competitive environment. Obviously the internet is, in the last 35 years, probably the biggest technology change that that's impacted us, obviously, and everyone else.
BK: So, is the internet of sorts, kind of a competitor in a way?
JS: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. And our first online service offering was in 1980, well before there was any well-established internet, and since that time, you know, the internet, the availability of free and cheap information sources has certainly impacted our business.
BK: So what are some of the things you guys have done to combat that? The internet as a competitor over the, over the rise of popularity?
JS: Yep. Well our competitive differentiator really is the 400 Ph.D. chemists that we have that, that build and curate this database of scientific information that we provide and that really can't be challenged by the free and cheap sources. But, it is a challenge for us to have to figure out how to continue to derive value out of that data and provide that to our customers.
BK: So, in your opinion, what is one of the most exciting disruptive technologies that you're seeing out there?
JS: I would have to say, being in the application technology space, that the biggest change from my perspective is in the processes. So lean/agile development processes, uh, absolutely are critical to being able to deliver business value at the pace that the, that the external climate demands that change. Again, in the old days was solo programmers, um, fairly predictive applications that we were building. It was a very different world and uh, you know, the, the lean/agile approaches have enabled, you know, much greater velocity in terms of delivering business value, but it has huge impacts for all elements of the organization. It's been, historically it’s been primarily a technology-driven thing, but critical to that success, it has to be embraced by the entire organization, and that's one of the big challenges.
BK: So, how are you fueling innovation efforts on your team?
JS: Yeah, innovation is critical, I think, to any business. And the big challenge, as I see it today, is pushing that down as far as you can in the organization. I think we've learned collectively, as an industry, that innovation doesn't happen in a well-defined innovation departments. You know, we've all tried that, but I think pushing it down and empowering those who are closest to the work and closest to the users to have an opportunity to provide their perspectives on innovation is, is how it's really going to drive the business forward.
BK: So, as your business needs change, how do you balance maintaining quality with challenging timelines?
JS: Yeah, those, those challenges never go away. Um, it's dominated – um, we always had the iron triangle of project management, of, of cost, resources and time. And I think the, the reality is that, going back to the lean/agile approaches, they enable the test automation, the team-based approach, cross-functional, dedicated cross-functional teams, um, enables delivering value. But the biggest factor in that is related to partnering with the business. The business has to be engaged and we've actually had great success in CAS in, in getting that engagement. But the business has to be engaged, because those timelines and those quality determinants are driven by the business need, not just the technology. So, throwing requirements over a wall, that kind of thing – it doesn't work. And we, we've had, we know that now, we've learned that, but getting the entire business, you know, engaged in that activity is the key. And again, I think you can achieve those quality, um, and timelines by that, that joint partnership.
BK: So, why do you invest your time in the Central Ohio IT community?
JS: CAS in particular, I think, is a, is a well-kept secret, and Columbus, in the large, I think, has an enormous potential from a technology perspective. And, you know, having fairly recently gotten engaged in the technology community here in Columbus, it's, um, it's really impressive to me the extent to which this is a hotbed of very progressive technology startups, really a very central point for agile processes. Um, so getting engaged in the, in the local tech community has enabled us to really beef up our ability to attract talent, share talent with other folks in town and understand the common challenges we all face. Sharing, um, sharing war stories, as it were. And there's a lot of that that goes on here. And I think it's fantastic.
BK: Well, I found it interesting as I've learned about the Columbus technology community that you're competing for some of the same talents.
BK: However, you're very cooperative. “Coopertition,” is what I might call that. So, what do you think that is? That's pretty special to be competing for the same people, but also being willing to share and help each other.
JS: Right. Well, I think it's, it's a, to use a cliché, it's, you know, the rising tide lifts all boats. And I think there's a really, a very, as you mentioned, a very cooperative spirit within the tech community here in Columbus. I don't know if that's unique, you know, I've grown up mostly in the Columbus area, so I don't have the experience of other places, but, um, it is definitely a very powerful force here in Columbus.
BK: I would agree. So, what aspects of technology do you view as most important over the next three years?
JS: Uh, the obvious answers I think are cloud and big data. For us, big data has always been a priority. You know, again, we, we manage the world's largest database of chemistry and scientific-related, scientific information. Um, so I think the challenge for all of us collectively is, we understand now, storage is cheap. We're collecting everything, we've all got data – how do we use it? And, you know, the advances and the push of data science is going to continue to dominate. Cloud obviously is, is very important. Um, but I see cloud as less of a technology initiative, and much more of a business strategy. There's certainly, in the context of application development, there are certainly technologies that are movement of applications, the, the advances in virtualization, containerization, orchestration of containers, all those things enable cloud. But as the bumper sticker goes, cloud’s just somebody else's computer. And I'd see it as much more of a, it's a business model more than, uh, than a technology in itself. But those are definitely going to impact, continue to impact significantly.
BK: We've talked a lot about some of the proactive things that you're doing and your organization is doing. What keeps you up at night?
JS: Um, well again, being in the application technology space, uh, my teams own and operate all of the revenue generating applications, uh, at CAS, and it's keeping those things. Make sure those, those are running, make sure the lights are on and the customers are happy. You know, we're, we're providing those solutions. And we have a very good record doing that, by the way. though.
BK: Well, keep doing that!
BK: That'll be good for, for you and for your customers. So, folks, that's it for our time today. This is Bryan Kaiser from Vernovis, Joe Sjostrom from CAS. To learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech, and have a great day.
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