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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

Optimizing technology value through cross-border talent

Brian Shannon & Niladri Ray
Brian Shannon CTO Flexera
Niladri Ray VP, Engineering & Country Head - India Flexera

How are enterprises optimizing hybrid IT environments facing rising costs and security threats?
Brian Shannon, CTO, Flexera and Niladri Ray, VP of Engineering, and Country Head – India, Flexera, sat with Pari Natarajan, CEO, Zinnov to discuss key trends like cloud migration, IT cost management, and vulnerability remediation in this episode of our podcast.

Hear insights on leveraging a data-driven approach to gain visibility and control over hybrid estates, driving innovation through global collaboration, realizing significant cost savings, and building an empowering engineering culture.

Whether you’re an IT leader looking to optimize your infrastructure, an engineer interested in impactful work, or anyone curious about how enterprises are transforming digitally, this episode provides an enlightening industry perspective. The discussion covers the challenges that organizations are facing an increasingly complex technological landscape and how leaders can navigate them efficiently.


01:04Emerging Technology themes
03:50Current Innovations in R&D
05:50Driving Innovation from tech hubs
09:30Taking back control of the IT spend
11:40Addressing cybersecurity
13:02How GenAI is helping productivity
17:12Managing and retaining talent


Pari: Welcome back to our Business Resilience podcast. I’m your host, CEO of Zinnov, Pari Natarajan. Zinnov is a management consulting firm, we help organizations build and transform their global technology hubs, as well as work with tech and tech services companies in helping them with their growth strategies, both organic as well as inorganic.

I’m very excited to have two really interesting speakers today from Flexera, a leader in software optimization and management. And we have Brian Shannon, the CTO of Flexera. Niladri Ray, VP of Engineering and Country Head of India at Flexera. Brian and Niladri, great having you here.

Both of you have excellent experience in building software. Building global software, agile transformation, global quality engineering and both of you are prominent leaders of innovation as well as customer experience. It’s super exciting to have you here.

Niladri: Thank you, Pari.

Pari: And if you look at what’s happening today, there is an acceleration in technology adoption among companies, right? If you talk to any CIO, any CEO, CIOs were in the back room, you know, 10 years ago. Today they’re called into the boardroom. Hey, what is happening in AI? What’s happening in blockchain? All of the new technology areas.

And one of the things Flexera has, is that you have a bird’s eye view on what is happening in enterprise. Be it in a pharmaceutical company, in a bank, in a technology company. So what are some of these technology trends which is driving, helping your customers transform?

Brian: I’d say one of the things I’ve been seeing recently is that in the last five years, when you’d ask a CIO what his CEO wants him to do, or her to do, they would say cloud first. Always cloud, let’s go to the Cloud.

And recent times have told us that you want to maybe optimize, you know, whether you are in a public cloud or you’re hosting your own, you know, services. And so we’re hearing more and more about that from our customers that they’re being asked to really evaluate – is the cloud the right solution?

Or should we now be, you know, rationalizing back into maybe our own data centers or some other services like that?

Pari: So that’s a big change in how they’re thinking about.

Brian: That’s right.

Pari: And during COVID, we saw customers moving into the Cloud quite rapidly, right? You saw the consumption numbers go up. And one of the hyperscalers, you know said that they have 50 billion dollars of order book waiting to be consumed. And, and then suddenly, CIOs are surprised. They say hey, I didn’t realize it’s going to cost so much to be able to drive it, how do you help them in these scenarios?

Brian: Yeah, so when we look at the market, about 53% of spend out there is now with the cloud. And about 47% is with on prem. And when we look at especially our large customers, the division around what they actually spend is about that.

And so what we do is we help them understand what we call a hybrid estate. So we help them understand what are you spending in the cloud, what are you spending in your on-prem environments, what are you spending in software licensing and hardware licensing, and then we help them to optimize so that they can then solve the problem I was talking about earlier where, you know, they’re trying to rationalize, back into what makes sense really, and not, you know, say cloud just for cloud’s sake.

Pari: Got it. And to be able to help these companies that are different environments, and these are again, global enterprises that have a lot of complexity in the IT environment – what are the kind of innovations you are driving in your engineering and R& D organization, which helps you keep up with what’s happening in your customer environments?

Brian: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, as a lot of companies are talking about today, especially software companies, we’re talking about how they are a data company. And I joined Flexera about two and a half years ago, and when I got in, I really, started to recognize that that was true for Flexera. And so, if you’re familiar with technologies like Databricks, that is where a lot of industry software companies are going as they realize that. Because what it does is it then allows you to start to pull together data from other adjacent markets or adjacent metadata that might be coming in and then solve additional customer use cases. And platforms like Databricks help you do that very, very easily and then you can create powerful solutions for your customers.

And so that’s kind of where we’re driving forward for our customers because when we ask them, you know, what do you do with our data? Well, often times they will actually pull our data and then add it to their own data lakes. So we want to provide that same sort of functionality within our Flexera One platform.

Pari: Brian talked about some of the innovation you’re building, these platform data lakes. You’re running one of the larger technology hubs for the company. How do you drive innovation from the technology hub? Tell us a little bit about how you build this out.

Niladri: Yeah. So, on the innovation part, I think it’s first important to understand the organization’s context and what they do. The areas that Brian spoke about, we happen to be in the top half of the magic quadrant for Gartner for IT Asset management and Forrester for Cloud optimization, we’re again on the top half. And why I’m saying this is because this organization has got a very proud legacy of what they have built for all the several customers we have across all the various segments.

So on the innovation piece, and I’ve been in this company for a year and a half right now, we’ve been very blessed because a lot of the founding members; the people who actually wrote the code, who understand the customers from a geo perspective sit across the entire world. So we’ve got some fantastic architects. And leaders in Australia. You’ve got, thanks to COVID now, you’ve got a full distributed workforce of SMEs globally. We’ve got this in the UK. We’ve got in the West Coast and the East Coast. So the India teams, and from a innovation perspective, you always have this piece of what the experts who are facing the market, have problems that they want to get solved and the innovation and the places where you actually have the talent supply. You know, you have the entrepreneurship spirit in places like India. They want to solve problems. So innovation is about how do you bring that network together? And I think we’ve been in a limited time being very successful in being able to bring together the experts across all the various geos, across the silos and tap into the talent pools we have across the company to run innovation experiments across.

So, you know, all the areas we’re talking about on convergence, in terms of, you know, the fin ops and the ITAMS (IT Asset Management) side, for example, some experiments have already been run. We ran a major hackathon across the company globally from India recently. It was the largest we had. And we had some fantastic experiments that allowed people to work across silos.

You are an expert from Australia, there’s somebody from the UK and an engineer from India and solution sales from the U. S. powered through solutions that we now know are viable for a go to market. So we’ve done some very good stuff in bringing it together and a lot more to be done.

Pari: Interesting. I think you’ve been able to follow a very integrated model of leveraging talent from across and that is allowing the engineers to drive innovation. One of the challenges when you have global tech hubs is they don’t have access to customers, right? Your customers are all over the world, the engineering team is 5000 miles away from customers. How are you able to solve the customer access problem when you’re driving innovation?

Niladri: So we’ve been a bit blessed because, you know, across the house for the buyer side, the supplier side of the business, we actually have pockets where we have deep product expertise even in India. In fact, people who are doing product strategy, working directly with customers, we’ve got some great case studies as part of that. But, the company also has a very strong culture of people helping each other.

So we’ve got product owners that bridge between the technology functions and the business functions who act as translators in terms of being able to, on an agile perspective, give immediate context of what are we really adding value to the customer context. And not just for one customer for several customers because some of our use cases do cut over. So we’ve been able to leverage what we already have. Bring in external talent now that is able to mesh very nicely with the current ones and power this.

Pari: And Brian coming back to you. Going back to your customer problems, the spend is starting to go up, tech spending. 9:40 Gartner says it is 4 Tn – IT spend and that number will continue to go up. And, somehow the CIOs we speak to, they feel that they’re lacking control on their spend. Before they had everything in the data center, they could figure it out. Right now, 10:02 CEOs are coming and saying – Hey, I want you to train the LLM models on our own data, right?
And suddenly they go and ask, and the bill comes with 20 Million for training the data because you need so much of services and so on. So it seemed like they were worried that they were lacking some control. How are you helping your customers in taking back control on their spend?

Brian: That’s a great question. I just happened to do a keynote recently about taking back control of your hybrid IT estate. So yes, we absolutely help our customers do that. One of the things that so we talk about how we help our customers manage cost and risk. Those are kind of the two. Cost is somewhat straightforward.
Like you talked about out of control IT spend. I get asked by my CFO to keep that under control. And I have my own programs that I use to do that. But there’s also risk. We talk about software vulnerabilities. How do you manage that risk as it comes into your estate? Make sure that you’re protected.

Talk about audits either coming from vendors or regulatory environments. And we help our customers kind of build out reports or information that they need in order to push back or satisfy, any of those risk factors. So that’s sort of how we help them to take that control. Because with the Flexera product, you can see your entire IT estate.
We have some of the best discovery technology in the world, where you can really hone in on, on what is actually out there and how it’s contributing to, you know, that cost or risk and then you can actually manage it effectively.

Pari:. Interesting. You also touched upon security, right? And tell us a little bit about how you help- because cybersecurity is another big concern. They really don’t know, certain products they have, is it vulnerable or not? How is Flexera helping in that?

Brian: Yeah, so we have a couple of products around security. We have our software vulnerability management product and our software vulnerability response product, SVM and SVR. And they apply to both – hardware and software, primarily software, though in the world today. And they’re really able to very precisely get down to, you know, a build has this particular CVE in it. And, hey maybe you should go resolve that.

In fact, we have a great example when the, I believe it was a Log4J issue was going on a couple years ago, I was actually sitting in a customer advisory board, and one of the customers got pinged on it while we were in there. And within 10 minutes, he could figure out where the areas of risk were in his business and could send his team off to go and either, you know, remediate or not, depending on the finding. But within 10 minutes, we found out within a very large estate where those vulnerabilities exist and they could go and take care of them.

Pari: Interesting. I’m coming back to you, Niladri. It looks like there is a whole lot of innovation you need to drive, right? Because customer environment is changing. Adoption is changing. Hybrid cloud is going to get only complex. How are you driving productivity of your engineering team to keep up with this? There are Gen AI tools coming up. Are you now adopting Gen AI to improve productivity? How are you keeping up with all of this?

Niladri: Yes, I’ll come to that. I want to just add a bit to what Brian was saying on the customer context. Because, you know, on our customers, we are also hearing about functions shifting around. We had a customer who talked about cyber security coming under SAM, and as a 13:38 board metric, they have to report the number of publishers they actually have and what exactly goes behind the scenes. And Flexera is the golden copy for them to be able to do that.

Another customer, actually made this comment and this is a leading exchange globally – For every dollar we invest in the SAM function, we’re giving $10 back to the business. Because the unlimited visibility you get into the real estate, it’s not just about the cloud or the non-cloud piece of it. So, you know, it could be, you know, AWS, Google Cloud, Alibaba, but there are also other areas that you take in, in terms of the software licenses, for example, and other information that you start putting in together. That’s the inform piece, but what do you do next with that piece in terms of optimizing the real estate is where Flexera really, you know, comes in to be able to allocate costs on the billing centers and then take actions in terms of usage and reduction.

And why I’m saying all this is because this is a changing paradigm, on the hybrid real estate. So on your Gen AI question, I think Brian alluded to this we’ve been observing this space very carefully, very carefully, and I think we sit on the side where, the cost of what you’re doing in Gen AI and the number of GPU cycles you were talking about training, we’re not seeing commensurate ROI at this point in time. And how does this translate to real customer value?

But what we are doing right now is we’re looking at the full food chain from the developer productivity perspective in terms of an end-to-end GitHub integration with the visualization piece and looking at what tooling is already out there to be able to get the best bang for the buck. So there are a lot of GitHub copilots out there, which allow you to be able to power away, develop a productivity in terms of doing development. And then, you know, on the data layer, we are after a lot evaluation, we are looking to go with Databricks. Databricks has a very power, powerful data Databricks, Lakehouse IQ, product line, which allows you to converse with the data layer in very English language.

And then if I add the visualization piece, and I’ll just take one example for Power BI, which we are trying to do as a simple visualization, they’ve got a Power BI copilot as well. So right now where we are at is how do we put these pieces of the puzzle to make the developer be able to optimize its deliverables right up to the food chain and do a show and tell where we have the customer, or the customer proxy validate what we are doing. And we’re making some very good inroads as part of that. And that’s the way we are going to look to approach this.

Pari: Refactoring of the code is also easier. Coming back to Brian, we talked about the different customer scenarios. Give us an ideal case study of a customer who is leveraging Flexera to the maximum. What are the outcomes you are able to deliver for them?

Brian: Yeah. So we believe over the years we’ve saved our customers, tens of billions of dollars, tens of billions. And, and in that there’s, there’s two categories, obviously there’s the actual savings, like bottom line savings of – you had a service, you know, bought it, optimized it. But then there’s preventing. You know, preventing costs as well.

And so, one particular example of a company, we have helped them to save about half a billion dollars over the last few years or so in both the preventative and actual bottom line costs.
And so it’s very meaningful, very, very meaningful dollars that can come right back that can help you then fund, other values that you’d like to bring to the organization.

Pari: What we see is, talent across the world wants to work on deeper technology, core technology. I think you seem to provide the opportunity for talent to work on some of those areas.

Niladri: Yeah, I mean, from, you say full stack engineers, and then, you know, there are a lot of other dimensions. You know, people want to work on microservices and Cloud. We have all of it. And people love us for it. But I think the important thing is, what do you do with that? Yeah. And how do you produce value very quickly? And the discipline we kind of have behind it.

That’s an X factor in terms of the overall thing, like building this platform. Like an AI for example, the AI is as good as the data, and we’ve been very, very focused on ensuring that the data pipelines and normalization ensuring clean data is a priority. And then you can do all the experiments around our. But please first focus on the data first. The data engineering part becomes extremely key. And the data engineering part, I keep saying, data engineering from a context of, you know, from source to target. And ensuring the full lineage of the whole flow. The engineer sees that as one of the DNAs of how we want to operate. The technology becomes an enabler in how we kind of make that happen.

Pari: And Brian, what is your philosophy of global delivery? The future is all engineers spread across the world. And what’s your philosophy that your teams here in the US, your teams in Australia, teams in India, how do you enable them? What are the foundational principles you believe in?

Brian: So, I’ll maybe answer in two ways. So the first I’ll add a little bit to what Niladri talked about of why it’s great to work here. The culture I want to create in the engineering organization is what I like to call virtuous cycles. And what that means is that I want to be pushing autonomy and decision making and empowering down all the way to an intern, you know, from VPs to interns.
What I mean by virtuous cycle is it’s where someone has the autonomy and decision-making power in their world to be better, to always be better and to get better. So whether that’s an intern or whether that’s a sprint team or whether that’s a VP, you’re always empowered to be able to get better. And to me, I know  when I was coding regularly, that was the environment that I just loved.

And so, to me, that’s the culture I want to create across the world, across the globe, so that everyone feels, you know, autonomous,  accountable to what they’re going to be delivering and empowered to do that. And in terms of actually the global delivery, one of the keys is to make sure that each team within any location really feels ownership of something.

So I think you talked maybe earlier about this. We want the team in India, we want the team in Australia, we want the team in the US, all of them to feel like they have true ownership of something true ownership and true outcomes that they’re driving towards. Rather than feeling like order takers or rather than feeling like the B team or to me. I want every single engineer here to feel like they are contributing to the greater good of the greater whole. Even if sometimes, you know, you can’t always work on, you know, the data lake house or AI or these things. But I always want them to feel like whatever they’re doing, they’re progressing and that they’re feeling empowered to just kind of be the best engineer they could be.

Niladri: If I may just add to that, you know, Brian’s themes are extremely powerful, and this kind of includes the CEO’s themes. We had a theme of – Ruthless, Predictable Execution, a year and a half back. This time we’ve got – Uncompromising excellence. And these are words. But these mean a lot in terms of what it packs and in terms of what we expect people to do and the sense of ownership comes when you can translate these into action.

Pari: Got it. Thank you, Brian. Thank you Niladri. It was great to have this conversation about technology, about what customers are doing. More importantly about Flexera as culture in how you build great technology and the opportunities you provide for the talent, not just in the U.S, India, but all over the world, like what the opportunity equitable opportunity of providing to engineers that I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for joining this podcast. Thank you, everyone, for joining the podcast, till next time, stay safe and stay curious.

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