Spirent CEO: Engineers Are Human, Too
CW: We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and machine learning. From your perspective, is this still hype or are you actually seeing this at work in service provider networks? If so, where?
EH: We've really been seeing machine learning starting to come through. That's really based upon all of the analytics processes that are going on. That's enabling some of the machine-learning processes to start to be used to develop more robust or effective systems, high quality. Artificial intelligence is very much just being discussed, talked about. We're all trying to understand how that could be built in and used. If you like that hype, that's more hype. These are still relatively early days.
CW: What do you see as the barriers to using artificial intelligence? Is it just the systems aren't available yet or it's not clear how it could be used?
EH: Think about what happens today. We're presenting the results of myriad different monitoring systems and data. At the moment, the only way to make sense of [potential next steps] is having a highly experienced expert looking at some of these results and then saying, "Okay, the next thing we should be doing is we should be looking at these basestations in a certain area or we should be looking at certain network elements." It's partly because that expert has seen that before and thinks that's where it's going to be, but doesn't really know. [The expert's] data input doesn't provide clear guidelines. Artificial intelligence will replace that human intervention into the process. That's where the value's going to come from, but those systems haven't been developed yet.
CW: Finally, circling back to where we started with your new strategic initiative. What's been the reaction in the industry?
EH: The reaction is it's a fresh approach. It's different. One of the challenges in our industry is that if you look at everything that everybody says, if you remove the company name and the logos and maybe some of the colors, you find it a real challenge to work out who is who. We all sound the same. This is a fresh approach. It's looking at the business requirements. It's elevating the conversation to a different level. We're starting to get some very positive feedback from it in the way that it's being perceived by customers, potential customers and indeed our own people.
CW: What about internally? Are you changing the internal culture at Spirent?
EH: We're having different discussions internally. We're going out of our way to put our people through different development training processes. We've got select people that we're bringing through and may start to have a different dialogue with our customers but also internally. We're changing the way that we talk about the business to our own people. It's very much about bringing clarity to customer complexity. For a long time, a lot of our people were very much focused on the technology, what they're doing about the technology and less about what it really means to the customer at the end of the day.
We are having the dialogue to raise our profile with customers who've known us for a long time for leadership in testing. Now we've got customers, directors, boards starting to recognize us helping customers. You resonate, I guess, on a more human level with people. There's a bit more of an emotional feedback process as opposed to a very technical one. The engineering world is becoming maybe a bit more human. Gosh, that's a claim, isn't it?
CW: Last question: Spirent has been known for doing acquisitions -- are there specific areas of expertise you are still looking to acquire or do you feel like you've got what you need?
EH: In terms of realizing our strategy, I don't have to acquire the technology or a capability or a footprint, but at some stage we might want to accelerate the expansion by maybe merging with some companies that are closely adjacent so that we would expand our capability, particularly across the service assurance market in more performance management, maybe deep fault management capability, for example. On service assurance, we're very much a North American-based business. Acquiring a business that's got a bigger footprint in Europe, Middle East or parts of Asia, that could make business sense. But at the moment I don't feel the need to go acquire something in order to be successful with our strategic direction.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading