Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stay close to the customers! An interview with comForte 21 CTO, Thomas Burg.


It’s always good to get to the source. A short time ago, I interviewed comForte 21 CTO, Thomas Burg and what follows here is a summary of that exchange as he describes his role as well as his views on comForte 21.
This week I was scrolling through older posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View when I came across the September 8, 2007 post, Whereto, CTO? The role of CTO was evolving, I had said back then, as a preface to observations about technical leadership. An IT manager (who really does understand that he needs a technical leader as well as possibly a group responsible for architecture) had asked, “how does one motivate such a team, and how do you convince your CEO”?

In other words, who is the voice of IT among other C level executives? The Chief Technology Officer (CTO), obviously! Nevertheless, in that post I also made the observation - don’t put too much distance between (architecture) team and the folks charged with getting their hands on the code. As you descend into smaller ISVs, the role is not necessarily a full time job – often the founder performs this function.

It so happens that this is perhaps the perfect way to introduce comForte CTO, Thomas Burg. Over the course of this year we have had many conversations on a variety of topics, some of which we agreed to disagree but a few days ago, I had the opportunity to interview him at length. What led to the interview was the subject of HP’s publicly stated main focus areas of Mobility, Security, Big Data and Clouds and the impact that these stated directions were likely to have on vendors even those whose primary focus area is the NonStop platform.

“At the highest level - 50,000 feet if you like – I see comForte as a company you should turn to for everything you need for NonStop,” Burg began. “We are focused on the NonStop platform, having developed very special skills over the years and we believe the NonStop platform will be with us for many years to come. When it comes to categorizing comForte the company, there’s always discussions about whether we are a tools vendor, a middleware provider, or even a contributor to infrastructure deployments. However, here at comForte we have many excellent software architects and developers working in the R&D team – yes we do like to develop smart software and we are good at it. So abiding by any label isn’t what we are about.”

If the earlier observations about there being a need among ISVs for their technical leaders not to put too much distance between themselves and those with their hands in the code, Burg is a great example of such a leader. “The role of the CTO within comForte is twofold – to work with customers and to work up ideas and develop plans, based on those conversations with customers, with the company’ Chief Architect, Michael Horst”, Burg then explained.

“At comForte we believe in the inherent strengths that come with a team and with Michael Horst and myself, there are the requisite checks-and-balances a company needs to have in order to remain successful in business. Working with customers is important for me and I spend as much time as I can with customers and every bit as importantly, in engaging with HP itself.”

Of the key focus areas that HP is championing, clearly Security is something close to Burg’s heart. Giving it the attention that HP is now doing is certainly going to be advantageous to comForte. “Security and the securing of applications and data on NonStop systems is very important for comForte.

In many ways, we are really concerned about how little attention the typical NonStop shop pays to security today even as those interested in breaking into systems are becoming more aggressive and better skilled”, Burg was quick to point out to me.

“Getting the right security in place is also about modernization – you cannot consider yourself as having a modern platform unless you are proactively refining your defenses against the many breaches that are being perpetrated on the unwary. And you can never ease up – it’s a never-ending process – you have to work nonstop at securing your NonStop system.”

I then asked Burg whether comForte too had focus areas, he began by explaining that, “While we separate our products into different categories, Connect, Protect, Modernize, Streamline, this is for the benefit of customers and prospects to help them locate specific products and features but I see them as a whole, all instrumental in helping customers move forward with NonStop.”

However, the subject quickly returned to security as Burg acknowledged, “We see the securing of NonStop systems as one of our core practices and so much of my time is being spent on educating users – there’s no option to sit out the next ten years, say, and hope for solutions as was done for the past ten and even twenty years.”

Burg wasn’t finished and in another example of how it’s important for CTO’s to never be too far from the code and best practices, and when it comes to security, “It requires real steps being taken. With this in mind, we are doing our own development, as well as working with other vendors, on deep ports of solutions to better protect all NonStop systems.

Furthermore, we are actively involved with the PCI Council; being a member organization, attending events and participating in a select number of SIGs we believe is valuable for all in the NonStop community depending upon our products and expertise. Earlier this year comForte joined the
Accredited Standards Committee X9 (ASC X9) and we view this as an important investment of our time and a clear demonstration of our commitment to standards. Information about this can be found on our web site at http://www.comforte.com/news/joins-asc-x9/ ”

As I was ending the interview with Burg, he went back to comments made by HP and put them into even tighter context given comForte’s own plans for the NonStop platform. “Of course, on the surface, we see opportunities in all four key focus areas of HP – Mobility, Security, Big Data and Cloud – but again, it is more important for us to listen to our customers before we make any further investments,” Burg told me.

“When you get below the buzzwords including Cloud and look at the actual technology requirements, we often see instances where existing products can fit the bill rather well when it comes to implementing new technologies,” a reference Burg was equally as quick to make, referring to the work done to demo CSL working from within a public Cloud, as a service, and where a demo can be found at ,
www.comforte.com/cloud9

The enthusiasm and passion of comForte’s CTO, Burg is inescapable, just as his desire to stay close to customers and to be close to the code. With an alignment that’s in tune with HPs main focus areas of Mobility, Security, Big Data and Clouds, comForte customers can expect products and features of value in these areas continuing to come from comForte. While the discussions about CTO roles within IT will continue unabated when it comes to comForte, there’s no ambiguity; Burg is the CTO.  

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