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CxO Downloads: AboveNet's Rajiv Datta

3:25 PM -- Rajiv Datta is CTO of AboveNet Inc. (NYSE: ABVT), and has responsibility for engineering, IT, and product management across all of the carrier’s metro, long-haul, and wide-area networks.

What has been your biggest challenge this year?
Our growth strategy has been ruling my world. Our need to grow impacts our internal organization, process, and our products.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge in 2011?
Managing complexity. We have an extensive portfolio of products with lots of knobs and bells. As CTO, I need to manage this increasing complexity as we keep adding services and make sure that we are positioning ourselves to support scalable growth.

How are you working with your CIO?
Well, IT reports to me. I think that investing in systems and automation, in terms of IT impact to the business, is one of the critical dimensions for managing the scale of our business. What should be our future investments in IT, how do we keep growth going? We need to look at our ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems, and tie them into network management, giving customers visibility to our services. Ideally you want traditional back-office functions, ordering, finance, and network management and monitoring all tightly integrated across boundaries to create an exception customer experience. Investing in IT is one of the key ways to manage scale and volume.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give someone who wants to be CTO of a service provider?
I’d say to understand the criticality of communication. Generally speaking, engineer types become CTOs, and typically only communicate when they think there is something worth communicating. You need to understand the importance of communicating to sales, your customers, your vendors, not just to your technology team. To actually achieve something that really want to do, you have to effectively communicate will all the stakeholders. It’s the most enduring lesson to learn, and I learn it every day. Communications is a journey that never ends.

Your biggest mistake?
I probably could have been more confident in knowing, or predicting the growth of Ethernet services. If we knew then what we know now, we would have invested more.

Your biggest success?
I’m most proud of the fact that not just have we been able to create a well-regarded network infrastructure product portfolio, but that we’ve been able to build a profitable business with those things. It’s not just been about technological innovation, but within business context to deliver actual financial performance.

What is your advice for telecom vendors trying to sell you something?
Equipment vendors need to understand for a service provider to add more vendors to the stable is going to really impact complexity, from a technology roadmap and operational perspective. There is a real cost to adding a vendor to your mix. Vendors have to do one of two things: Either give me some capability to offer service to customers that I can’t do right now. Or, they need to have such compelling pricing structure to give me a reason to buy. Ten to 15 percent is not enough an incentive to overcome this complexity issue. If vendor has both of these, it’s a slam dunk. But if a vendor doesn’t at least have one of those two things, it’s very unlikely that a service provider would undergo incremental complexity to add an additional vendor.

What book are you reading now?
Picked up Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. The Economist.

— Joe Braue, Group Director and SVP, Light Reading

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